The twentieth century witnesses the fall of the Qing dynasty, and with it, the ancient imperial system. A republic evolves amidst warlordism and conflicts between the Nationalist and the Communist parties. After World War II, the Communists prevail and establish the People’s Republic of China.
Artists in the first four decades of the century actively participate in reform movements to promote nationalism and modernism. Many major masters receive training abroad. Traditionalist and imported styles coexist, often taking elements from each other. Private art societies that provide members with exhibition opportunities proliferate. Painting is the dominant practice among the “fine arts,” an imported term that connotes nobility and beauty beyond the functional. Many of the age-old arts, such as textiles, ceramics, and jade carving, continue to survive as “crafts” and are excluded from the professional training at the modern art schools and university art departments around the country.
Starting in the 1940s, the Communist party imposes standards on art production. Departures from Socialist Realism and Communist themes are criticized by Chairman Mao Zedong and his supporters until the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). From the mid-1980s, a new generation of artists emerges to test boundaries, experimenting with formerly taboo subjects and unconventional mediums.