top of page
Fang Junbi_edited_edited.jpg

Nühuajia in the News

Primary Sources on Women Artists in Early Twentieth-Century China

Amanda Wangwright 

Anchor 1

Although they are now largely forgotten, the women of early twentieth-century China produced some of the most innovative artworks of their day. Mass-printed publications lauded women artists (nühuajia 女畫家) as professionals and celebrated their paintings and sculptures as paradigm-changing contributions to Chinese art. As New Women (xin nüxing 新女性) of the modernizing nation, women artists graduated from the top art schools, both domestic and overseas, joined leading art organizations, prominently displayed their work in print and in exhibitions, and found professional employment as art professors at major universities. 


Over the intervening years, however, the germinative artworks by pioneering female artists suffered chronic undervaluation or, more frequently, were simply lost and forgotten. This online database of contemporary print media coverage aims to readdress such oversights by shedding new light on the transformative accomplishments of the women artists active in China in the early twentieth-century.


Nühuajia in the News is an English/Chinese bilingual website cataloguing and providing open access to an archive of sources on Chinese women artists. Resources for the digital repository consist of printed documents from early twentieth-century China and include newspaper and magazine articles, editorials, theoretical essays, art show reviews, and biographic profiles. In addition to articles of varying lengths, database entries contain photographs of the women and reproductions of their artworks, including paintings, prints, illustrations, fashion designs, and cartoons.


The idea to create such a database originated with University of Oregon History of Art and Architecture Professor Emeritus Ellen Johnston Laing’s archive of Republican-period press coverage on women artists, which came in a package unexpectedly delivered to my office at the beginning of my second year as an assistant professor in September 2013. Dr. Laing’s archive consists of photocopies of primary source materials on women artist, primarily from Beiyang huabao, which she had accumulated over her career. In the years following her generous gift, I have been adding digital archival material collected in the process of my own research.


As a digital archiving project, Nühuajia in the News intertwines with my recent book, The Golden Key: Modern Women Artists and Gender Negotiations in Republican China (1911-1949), which concentrates on women artists who worked in xihua 西畫 (western-style painting) during the quarter of a century spanning the late 1920s to mid 1940s. By exploring themes of modernization and the role of art in the newly formed nation, the status of women in China’s rapidly changing society, and the impact of modernist theory in the avant-garde art world, The Golden Key demonstrates that women artists were integral to the development of modern art in China.


But even a book-length study only scratches the surface of women’s involvement in the arts of modern China. While many primary sources are cited and discussed in The Golden Key, scores more fell outside the scope of my monograph. Thus, as an online database, the Nühuajia in the News digital archive website builds upon Dr. Laing’s archive as well as resources uncovered during research for The Golden Key by making scores of previously unstudied primary resources publicly accessible.


The Nühuajia in the News website is the culmination of a multi-part digital humanities project. The first phase of this project was the initial creation of a private digital archive and was funded by a Provost Humanities Grant in 2016. The first phase designed the framework of the database system for data entry. The span of three semesters saw the completion of an initial archive with hundreds of articles, with each entry containing full bibliographic information, data on the content of the article, and its digital image. A College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Research Grant in 2020 facilitated the second phase of the project, which entailed making the digital archive publicly accessible online as well as the further expansion of the archive with the addition of new material. It is hoped that as a public website this collection of primary sources on an understudied group will contribute a valuable and widely accessible resource to the scholarly community. 

The Artists

New Women of Modern China

bottom of page