The Shanghai Fine Arts College: Art Education
and Modern Women Artists in the 1920s and 1930s

By Jane Zheng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 192-235

This essay examines art college education and its influence on modern women artists and their art in Republican China, using the Shanghai Fine Arts College as an example. Based on school archives and other primary sources, the author argues that by implementing coeducation, the College contributed to enlarging the public sphere for women artists’ and created both modern career women that the nation needed and those known as “modern Shanghai ladies.” However, the influence of the College did not result in any change in the subordinate position of women artists and their art in the art world.

Supporting evidence for this argument is presented in three sections. The first section analyzes the socio-historical context and distinguishes the categories of demand for women’s art education that led to the initiation of coeducation in the College. The second section demonstrates the purpose of coeducation as a response to political and gender reforms in the May Fourth era and examines three types of graduates bearing distinct influences of the College’s education. The third section draws on the evidence of women’s artworks to show that women artists followed the same track in artistic development as male artists.