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East Meets West: The Fifth Moon Movement

The Modernization of Chinese Ink Painting
Jessica Ketz, Digital Communications Manager
May 13, 2021
From the Series: The Coming, 1970. Liu Kuo-sung (Chinese, b. 1932). 1970.111

As the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new digital communications manager, I have the pleasure of showcasing the diversity of the collection on a daily basis, highlighting artists and artworks from all walks of life and from around the world via our digital presence on our blog, social media accounts, and e-newsletters. As a Chinese-American, I am acutely aware of the shared experiences of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian communities. Considering the rise of hate crimes against members of these groups in the past year and the growth of the Stop Asian Hate movement, I am inspired to contribute my voice.

There are two histories and two cultures that come together to define my cultural identity as a Chinese American. In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, I would like to highlight two influential artists who have helped me connect the tradition-filled past with an understanding of the present — in their art and in my own cultural identity. While I grew up in a predominantly white area of Cleveland, fortunately I was introduced to other diverse environments very early in life. In particular, I attended Chinese school every Saturday, where I learned Mandarin and traditional Chinese art forms, especially brush painting, calligraphy, and dancing. Although the language aspect fell by the wayside, my interest in Chinese art has persisted as a way to relate to my heritage.

Liu Kuo-sung (劉國松) and Hung Hsien (also known as Margaret Chang) were both crucial to the modernization of ink painting by building the bridge between traditional Chinese brush painting and Western-style abstract art in the post-war years. The Fifth Moon movement (五月畫會) was founded in 1957 by Liu and the other seven painters of the Fifth Moon Group, all graduates from National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). The movement revolutionized modern art in Taiwan, greatly influenced the development of art in China as well as across the globe, and ushered in a new era of Chinese contemporary art.

Photo: Ko Si-Chi (柯锡杰)

Born in Anhui Province in 1932, Liu Kuo-sung started his training in traditional Chinese painting at the early age of 14. He moved to Taiwan at 17, changed course to study Western painting, and graduated from NTNU in 1956. One year later, he founded the Fifth Moon Group with core members and fellow classmates: Zhuang Zhe (莊喆), Feng Zhongrui (馮鍾睿), Guo Dongrong (郭東榮), Li Fangzhi (李芳枝), Guo Yulun (郭豫倫), Chen Jingrong (陳景容), and Gu Fusheng (顧福生). Regarded as the father of modern ink painting in light of his devotion to the art form, Liu became the driving force of the Fifth Moon movement during the 1960s and 1970s. His artworks have been collected worldwide by more than 60 museums and galleries, and he continues to break barriers for future generations of artists, including me.

“Imitating the new cannot replace imitating the old; copying from Western art cannot replace copying from Chinese art.” —Liu Kuo-sung

From the Series: The Coming, 1970. Liu Kuo-sung (Chinese, b. 1932). Hanging scroll; ink and collage on paper; overall: 207.4 x 81.1 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Ku Yin Lin, 1970.111.

Inspired by the Apollo missions that culminated in the historic moment of the first humans landing on the moon in 1969, Liu created a series of moonscapes called taikong hua (太空畫). This painting from the CMA’s collection is a hanging scroll made with ink and collage on paper and is part of that series. When viewing this work, my eye is drawn to the gradual stylistic transformation from top to bottom, traditional ink painting to Western abstract painting. The two worlds meet at the moon’s horizon, creating a natural blend of two cultures influencing each other. I notice the bold calligraphic brush-strokes, usually seen in Chinese brush paintings, in the foreground mixed with the white splashes and texture that seems to offer a sense of ambiguity.

Hung Hsien was born in 1933 in Yangzhou in the Jiangsu Province. She later moved to Chongqing in Sichuan Province, relocated to Nanjing in Jiangsu, and eventually settled in Taiwan. There, she studied under the esteemed Prince Pu Xinyu, a descendant of the ruling house of the Qing dynasty and one of the greatest 20th-century Chinese painters.

“Pu Xinyu was very old fashioned in his teaching style. I would be given one of his compositions to copy over and over again, stroke by stroke to perfect the techniques. Each week, I would bring my homework to him for a formal critique. I studied with him in this manner for years.” — Hung Hsien

Hung attended National Taiwan Normal University at the same time Liu Kuo-sung did. After graduating, she moved to Chicago where she continued to study painting at Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her exposure to the Western style of Abstract Expressionism during this time took her on a new path that was different than what she had experienced in her earlier years as a student of Prince Pu Xinyu’s, a path that opened with the emergence of the Fifth Moon movement founded by her former classmate.

Frozen Landscape, 1985–90. Hung Hsien (Chinese, b. 1933). Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper; overall: 107.3 x 62.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Ju-hsi Chou, 2003.286.

In this traditional Chinese hanging scroll from the museum’s collection, I am struck by Hung’s different approach to blending Chinese ink painting with the more Western style of abstract painting. Unlike the Liu work above, Hungs composition of a rocky, frozen landscape is composed of layered brush strokes that vary in strength and boldness to create depth and surface texture. I like how each brush stroke builds upon the other to give a sense of simultaneous blending of techniques. As a whole, this artwork reminds me of my own past experiences with Chinese ink painting and the artistic elements reminiscent of watercolors and graphite.

Through their artwork, Liu Kuo-sung and Hung Hsien have shown me different ways of fusing Eastern and Western cultures. For me, each artist’s portrayal is an accurate depiction of what it means to be Asian American — that the feelings and identity that come with a fusion of two cultures change constantly, and that being Asian American has intricacies unique to every individual. Finding who we are within the broader Asian American identity is a juxtapostition of being or not being Asian or American. It is that a combination of two things creates something that isn’t the sum of their parts, but we are unified by knowing that we have been collectively misunderstood.

The two sides don’t always come together in the same way and sometimes not at all. It is a constant ebb and flow.


Celebrate AAPI heritage throughout May and the rest of the year by visiting these artworks in person or online. Explore the new exhibitions Interpretation of Materiality: Gold in the CMA’s Korean art galleries, Animal Fables of Mughal India in the Indian and Southeast Asian gallery (242B), and Rinpa (琳派) in the Japanese galleries (235 A & B), as well as the Chinese art galleries.


This is the second installation of a four-part series celebrating AAPI Heritage Month, during which the CMA is sharing AAPI voices and recognizing the diverse histories within these communities. Follow the CMA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more on AAPI Heritage Month.