Today my program organized an auxiliary trip the house of a 68 year old artist named Rosie. Her English name is Rosie, but she is actually a Beijing native. The reason for the trip was because last week during our 21st Century Beijing class we were discussing the concept of ti yong. Ti yong was formed during the reform era and used by Confucian reformers who were tasked with deciding what to preserve from Chinese imperial culture and what they could use practically from the West. The ti or “essence” refers to Chinese society and what was important in order for cultural preservation, and the yong refers to “usage” such as infrastructure and economic developments used by the Western powers.
This concept was actually invented by Rosie’s Great-grandfather who was a famous Confucian reformist. One of our CET professors knew Rosie quite well and when we started talking about this in class she offered for us to visit Rosie’s house and see some of her paintings. The trip was organized and we went the following week.
Rosie’s home was a typical Chinese style apartment on the east side of Beijing. Inside was atypical. Inside there were stacks on stacks of traditional style Chinese paintings and calligraphy. I would estimate over 500 works of art. I should also mention that what makes Rosie’s work so impressive is that she suffers from MS and is confined to a wheel chair and has limited mobility in her hands. This, however, has not slowed down her painting. She still produces fabulous works on a daily basis and much of it from memory. When we came in she was showing us a recent painting of the Summer Palace in Beijing that she reconstructed from memory. The details were uncanny. Rosie’s husband also suffers from debilitating Alzheimer’s disease. Due to both of their health problems they have a full time nurse working at their home. I mentioned before that Rosie was not slowed down by her own illness, but instead her husband frequently slows her down. This is because he likes to hide her brushes and paint in random spots around the house. It is sad to see considering they were both very active and healthy painters not so long ago, but old age has really taken a toll on their physical health. Rosie is still very communicative, although she has trouble moving part of her face.
I ended up sifting through the paintings and buying a small Chinese landscape and calligraphy of a famous Li Bai poem. I also made two special orders which I will pick up in May to add to my art collection I started in Yunan. I asked her to paint the calligraphy of ti yong (体用 ). I felt like this had significance not only what it represents in Chinese society, but also the fact that her Great-grandfather was the man who came up with the phrase. I also requested a painting of a dragon (my birth year). I discussed with her how I wanted a black dragon coming out of the water. He would be leaving a turbulent winter scene and entering a spring landscape. Right away, Rosie took my idea and ran with it and from her rough sketch I am very excited to see what she comes up with.
The trip was quite an experience and it really shows the great things that can come about during an abroad program. I can always hang these paintings in my house and have meaningful stories to go along with them that will allow me to recall the experience I had while studying in China.
Jordan J. Foley