Seventeen Letters

Xu Beihong Chinese

Not on view

This handscroll consists of seventeen letters written by Xu Beihong between 1938 and 1948. The first fifteen were written to Lin Yutang, and the last two to Lin's daughter Taiyi. The letters remained separate sheets until the 1980s, when Lin Taiyi had them remounted chronologically as a handscroll.

The letters exemplify Xu Beihong's distinct calligraphic style, which is angular and tense with no concern for charm. More importantly, they document early attempts at cultural exchange between China and the United States, as Xu enlisted Lin Yutang's assistance in organizing a touring exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in America to gain support for China during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45).

Xu Beihong may have come up with this ambitious plan with Lin Yutang in mind. Lin moved to New York in 1936. After the publication of two widely acclaimed best sellers, by 1938 Lin's influence and connections had made him China's unofficial cultural ambassador. In addition, he was an outspoken critic of Japanese militarism. Xu also suggested that Lin Yutang involve his close friends Pearl Buck (1892–1973) and her husband Richard Walsh in planning the proposed exhibition. The majority of the letters chronicle in detail Xu's preparations for his trip to the U.S. Plans were finalized for him to leave Singapore for San Francisco on December 6, 1941. Unfortunately, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the next day caused the entire project to be aborted.

#7422. Seventeen Letters

Seventeen Letters, Xu Beihong (Chinese, 1895–1953), Handscroll; ink on paper, China

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