Learning traditional Chinese painting the digital way

Michelle Leung

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As a traditional art, Chinese paintings can not only help cultivate art and culture and enrich the quality of social and cultural life, but also represent 5,000 years of China’s rich cultural history. To promote students’ understanding of Chinese paintings and the history of the art of painting, the Run Run Shaw Library of City University of Hong Kong (CityU) invited Mr Ho Chuan-hsing, Chief Curator of the Department of Painting and Calligraphy at Taipei Palace Museum, to deliver a talk and present prizes for an online quiz “A Quick Introduction to Chinese Paintings” at CityU on 17 May.

The celebrated Chinese painting “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains,” which was burnt into two pieces during the Qing Dynasty, has attracted wide attention from the media and the general public since Premier Wen Jiabao quoted this masterpiece to describe the current cross-strait relationship after the 2010 sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March.

“Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” is regarded as one of the top 10 Chinese paintings, enjoying the same status as the masterpiece “A Riverside Scene during the Qingming Festival”. It was painted by Huang Gongwang, the most prominent among the Four Great Masters of Yuan paintings. The divided parts of “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” are currently kept in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum and Taipei Palace Museum respectively. Speaking to students about ancient Chinese painters and their paintings, Mr Ho described the life of the renowned painter and explained his artistic style, as well as the features of the painting.

The learning programme “A Quick Introduction to Chinese Paintings” was held last spring by the Library in collaboration with the Chinese Civilisation Centre and the Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics. Learning activities and assessment criteria were specially designed for the programme. Based on the online database of Taipei Palace Museum, 33 Chinese paintings of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, including the “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains,” were included as electronic learning materials for the programme. Through diverse learning media such as a specially-compiled handbook, the Library’s electronic monitors and a specially-designed website, students could learn about the classification, historical development and techniques of Chinese paintings.

Professor Steve Ching Hsiang-hoo, the University Librarian, pointed out that the Library has constantly organised activities to transform information into knowledge. By using computer technologies, knowledge is accessible outside classroom, meeting the needs of modern readers. In the past, people had to travel long distances to visit museums or art galleries to see art works. With data of most art works digitalised, students can now appreciate paintings and listen to music via computers without the hassle of travelling.

“However, art is a special discipline that needs guidance for understanding and appreciation. In this regard, the Library can act as a bridge to help students learn about the subject. Through activities and learning materials, the Library promotes general education by linking up factual data with appropriate learning channels to help students make use of digital learning materials and effectively explore new areas of knowledge,” said Professor Ching.

The Library also designed an online quiz to allow students to test their knowledge about Chinese paintings. The quiz received an overwhelming response with more than 400 entries.

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