As the daughter of Xu Beihong, China’s foremost 20th-century artist, Xu Fangfang and her family were accorded privileges granted only to leading artists and intellectuals. However, this reality was shattered by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all Chinese citizens’ loyalty to Mao Zedong and the Communist Party was questioned.
Xu Fangfang takes her reader on a fascinating and at times troubling personal journey during this pivotal time in China’s history. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th-century Chinese art or politics.
—Julie Segraves, Executive Director, The Asian Art Coordinating Council
Poignant and inspiring, Galloping Horses is a gripping record of the resourcefulness and unwavering determination shown by two courageous women in their efforts to preserve and share the legacy of one of China’s most important 20th-century painters, Xu Beihong.
Told by his daughter, this frank autobiographical account honors the tenacity of her widowed mother Liao Jingwen through her struggles to found and to maintain a museum for her late husband’s paintings. Throughout the years from the 1950s into the 21st century, Xu Fangfang and her mother persist in the face of the violent, often mindlessly vindictive, persecutions of intellectuals by the Maoist regime—despite the late painter’s friendship with Premier Zhou Enlai and even personal endorsements from Mao Zedong himself.
Through this account we see Xu Fangfang grow into a resourceful woman whose passionate love of music and her determination to bring honor to her parents sustain her through a period of the recent past that China’s leaders today are trying hard to forget. As a history and as a personal account, Galloping Horses is an outstanding achievement, an account that will stay in your mind long after you close its covers. Indeed, it is a fitting tribute to Xu Beihong and especially to the love and admiration that sustained his widow Liao Jingwen through the long decades after his death.
—Robert E. Hegel 何谷理, Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor of Chinese, Washington University in St. Louis
Xu Beihong has long been celebrated as a household name in China, but among things said about him, what intrigued me most as early as my childhood was the often-heard assertion that “It’s fortunate for artist Xu Beihong that he died before the Cultural Revolution.” Why? At the time of his death in 1953, he was president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and chairman of the All-China Art Workers Association, an internationally known master of both oils and Chinese painting with personal connections to top Party leaders like Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai. His distinguished career was cut short at the peak of his achievement. Galloping Horses: Artist Xu Beihong and his Family in Mao’s China by his daughter Xu Fangfang provides for me an answer to the long-ago question. Not long after Xu’s death in 1953, as we read, his family became a “politically incorrect” one in the light of Mao’s class struggle theory. His son nearly failed to get into college because of it, and with the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, his home was ransacked by Red Guards, his wife beaten, his tomb smashed, and even the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum demolished. Had Xu been still alive, he would have surely suffered relentless humiliation and persecution like other intellectuals. At the same time, Xu Fangfang’s book is also much more than that. Unlike other victims of the national disaster, she was able to observe as an independent-thinking witness the horrors under Mao. So the detailed, vivid descriptions of Chinese people’s lives make the book an alternative history of the 1950s to the early 1980s on its own merit. The family connections also enabled the author to come into contact of people at various social and political levels inaccessible to most people then. Some of her first-hand accounts about the early days of Red Guards, for instance, provide rare glimpses into the brutality and complexity of the power struggle at the top. It is a must-read for readers interested in Chinese life under Mao as well as in this well-known artist and his family.
—Qiu Xiaolong, internationally-best-selling author of the Inspector Chen series