Per­fect Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Chi­na’s As­ton­ish­ing Art — Ku­lang­su’s Very Own Xu Manke

Ku­lang­su — home of the no­blest and most el­e­gant women.

“Ku­lang­su’s Daugh­ter”

She walked in gra­cious­ly from the Xinzhuang Gar­den in her el­e­gant cheongsam. In­stant­ly you can feel a spe­cial au­ra around her — a typ­i­cal ori­en­tal no­ble tem­pera­ment. She is gen­tle, qui­et, and el­e­gant, just like Ms. Song Meil­ing that Amer­i­cans got to know in the 1940s. Her name is Xu Manke, an in­cred­i­bly tal­ent­ed painter from Ku­lang­su Is­land, and the woman who best re­flects the en­er­gy of mod­ern Ku­lang­su.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke
Pro­fes­sor Pan William and Xu Manke

Xu Manke’s fa­ther is a pro­fes­sor at the Ku­lang­su In­sti­tute of Arts and Crafts, an in­sti­tu­tion that has earned a great rep­u­ta­tion in Chi­na. Many out­stand­ing painters and sculp­tors came from this in­sti­tute, and to­day their art graces the Great Hall of the Peo­ple in Bei­jing and the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s Of­fice. Pro­fes­sor Man Wen’s fa­ther, pro­fes­sor Xu Wen­hou, is a fa­mous Chi­nese painter, and he spe­cial­izes in bring­ing dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters to life in his paint­ings. For in­stance, his south­ern girl is very af­fec­tion­ate, the north­west­ern man is bold, and an­cient Chi­nese po­ets and he­roes are very spe­cif­ic. In the of­fice of Cao Fang, the di­rec­tor of the Ku­lang­su Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee, I saw an in­ter­est­ing paint­ing of a bell paint­ed by her fa­ther, which, in Cao Fang’s words, sig­ni­fies pro­tec­tion and bless­ing for Ku­lang­su. His paint­ings are very pop­u­lar, es­pe­cial­ly Zhong Rong’s eyes, Zhong Rong be­ing a ghost hero in an­cient Chi­nese leg­ends.  

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

Manke lived in Ku­lang­su from an ear­ly age, in the cam­pus of Ku­lang­su In­sti­tute of Arts and Craft. She says she ap­pre­ci­at­ed the di­ver­si­ty of art and the vast ocean of knowl­edge the in­sti­tute of­fers. The sketch­es and cre­ations of teach­ers and stu­dents have in­flu­enced and shaped her style, while books of the in­sti­tute li­brary have broad­ened her hori­zons. The beau­ty of Ku­lang­su Is­land and the unique calm­ness and seren­i­ty it of­fers nour­ish her gen­tle and qui­et char­ac­ter. Her el­e­men­tary school, Kang­tai Road El­e­men­tary School, used to be a Chris­t­ian Church, rep­re­sent­ing unique Eu­ro­pean artis­tic in­flu­ence. The Xi­a­men II, where she con­tin­ued her ed­u­ca­tion, was orig­i­nal­ly called Yinghua Mid­dle School, which al­so used to be a re­li­gious fa­cil­i­ty. About twen­ty years ago, Mank passed through the qui­et al­leys of Ku­lang­su and walked on­to her cam­pus. Her no­ble tem­pera­ment must have blend­ed right in with the qui­et al­leys and the beau­ti­ful cam­pus.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

In­nate In­spi­ra­tion and Tal­ent

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school, Mank was ad­mit­ted to Xi­a­men Uni­ver­si­ty — hands-down the most beau­ti­ful uni­ver­si­ty in Chi­na, which al­so hap­pens to be where I work. The trio of the most rec­og­nized Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties in­cludes Peking Uni­ver­si­ty, Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty, and fi­nal­ly, at the very top of the list — Xi­a­men Uni­ver­si­ty. What may come as a sur­prise is that Manke did not study art, but jour­nal­ism. How­ev­er, genes played a ma­jor role in her ca­reer choice, as her un­de­ni­able paint­ing tal­ent she in­her­it­ed from her fa­ther made her grav­i­tate to­wards art. At first, she start­ed paint­ing as a hob­by at the uni­ver­si­ty. Her paint­ing of flow­ers and birds proved to be a turn­ing point in her life, as fel­low stu­dents were so im­pressed by it they or­ga­nized an ex­hi­bi­tion for her in the stu­dent ac­tiv­i­ty cen­ter. This ex­hi­bi­tion aroused the at­ten­tion of many teach­ers and stu­dents at Xi­a­men Uni­ver­si­ty, es­pe­cial­ly Hong Huizhen, a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent and her teacher, who gave her fa­ther a call and praised her raw tal­ent and im­pec­ca­ble style.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

Mank is an out­stand­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Chi­nese metic­u­lous paint­ing style. Her paint­ings are qui­et and fresh, and the pre­sen­ta­tion of flow­ers and in­sects in her work is ex­quis­ite and del­i­cate. Her work cap­tures the beau­ty of life, her life ex­pe­ri­ence, and her deep­est am­bi­tions. Mas­ter Yu Ji­gao, vice pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Paint­ing and Cal­lig­ra­phy So­ci­ety, com­ment­ed: “Xu Manke’s paint­ings por­tray pure aes­theti­cism and fo­cus on life in its rawest form. Her paint­ings are el­e­gant, pure, and sim­ply breath­tak­ing”.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

Most of Mank’s art was cre­at­ed in the pri­va­cy of her stu­dio, as she nev­er cared too much to pro­mote her­self. When­ev­er her friends men­tion all the awards and the ex­hi­bi­tions her art had been dis­played in, she just smiles. Be­sides paint­ing, Manke’s fa­vorite ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude walk­ing and read­ing. At a cer­tain point in her life, she left Ku­lang­su for ten years. Dur­ing this pe­ri­od, she went to the Chi­na Acad­e­my of Art in Hangzhou and the Nan­jing Art Col­lege to con­tin­ue her stud­ies and per­fect her craft. When she re­turned to Ku­lang­su, she did not come emp­ty-hand­ed — she brought dozens of box­es loaded with books.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

In her paint­ings, we don’t on­ly rec­og­nize her in­cred­i­ble skill and tech­nique, but al­so the el­e­gance that ra­di­ates from her style. Her mas­ter stu­dent at the Nan­jing Acad­e­my of Art, Jiang Hong­wei, said: “Xu Manke’s vi­sion has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way the flow­ers and birds paint­ed, por­tray­ing el­e­ments from na­ture in unique set­tings. She man­ages to cre­ate a spe­cif­ic con­text, re­flect­ing emo­tions of the mod­ern age, while in­clud­ing her own feel­ings and state of mind.”

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

Manke seems to draw most of her in­spi­ra­tion from na­ture, and her art of­ten de­picts themes such as el­e­gant and col­or­ful bou­quets, live­ly in­sects on the leaves of flow­ers, and birds. These vivid por­tray­als of na­ture can cre­ate the il­lu­sion of wind howl­ing, leaves rustling, or birds’ wings flap­ping.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

Manke has her own artis­tic vi­sion, as she be­lieves that art and life have clear bound­aries. Her art is stripped from life, as she’s pur­su­ing her own il­lu­so­ry re­al­i­ty. She strong­ly be­lieves in re­al­iz­ing the spe­cial pur­pose in every in­di­vid­u­al’s life, which is where art orig­i­nates from. As far as she’s con­cerned words of the British writer Maug are words to live by: “On­ly when skill, deep emo­tions, and good for­tune are com­bined, in an ex­treme­ly rare sit­u­a­tion, an artist, whether a po­et or a painter, can cre­ate beau­ty”.

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

In Manke’s paint­ings, we can rec­og­nize the im­pact of West­ern cul­ture and art on her, as well as the deeply-root­ed Chi­nese cul­ture.

Au­thor: Pan William

Trans­la­tion: Jiang Chaowei

Perfect Representative of China's Astonishing Art - Kulangsu's Very Own Xu Manke

In 1988, Pan William re­signed as the vice pres­i­dent of the First Se­cu­ri­ties Com­pa­ny in the Unit­ed States. He moved to Xi­a­men and start­ed teach­ing at the MBA Cen­ter of the Xi­a­men Uni­ver­si­ty School of Man­age­ment, where he has been teach­ing for 30 years. He was the first for­eign­er to set­tle in Xi­a­men, the first for­eign per­ma­nent res­i­dent in Fu­jian Province, and one of the first for­eign teach­ers to in­tro­duce an MBA pro­gram in Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties. He re­ceived the Na­tion­al For­eign Ex­perts Friend­ship Award, and was al­so named the Hon­orary Cit­i­zen of Fu­jian Province, Xi­a­men City.