One of the dangers of being an expat who has lived in one spot for too long is the tendency to fall into a routine that robs you of new cultural experiences. China is full of opportunities, but in a city like Beijing, you have to sometimes go looking for them. In an effort to broaden my horizons and gain an understanding of Chinese art, I signed up for a landscape painting class at China Culture Center (CCC).
According to CCC’s website, I was going to learn about one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world, and that it would involve the same techniques as calligraphy – in other words, done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink (oils are not used). This was reassuring, since I don’t know calligraphy and haven’t painted since high school (curse of a photographer, I guess).
Fortunately, the website blurb assured participants that no experience was necessary. Landscape painting (called 山水画, shanhui hua or literally “mountain and water painting” in Chinese) is one of the three major schools of Chinese painting, the others being bird-and-flower painting (花鸟画, huaniao hua) and figure painting (人物画, renwu hua).
The class was led by shanshui master Jasmine Zhang. She posted on the whiteboard an example of what we would be painting in under two hours; I suspected I would need closer to two days. We began with some meditation (very relaxing and important for proper brush handling) and some calligraphy, and then continued on to the landscape painting. There was only one other first-time student in the class (my friend); the others had taken numerous lessons already and spoke highly of the classes.
Sessions usually run for two hours; ours went a little bit over. The RMB 200 fee covered all materials and a hot beverage (I recommend the tea). Show up empty-handed and leave with your own version of a Chinese classic landscape ready for mounting on a scroll. Or, in my case, for attaching to the refrigerator with magnets (my daughter told me I had to display my artwork next to hers). I really enjoyed the class and look forward to taking more lessons with Jasmine in the future.
In addition to landscape painting, CCC offers classes in bird-and-flower painting, calligraphy, qigong, foot reflexology, Zen meditation, hand-pulled noodles and dumpling-making, and more. They also have an extensive array of tours in Beijing and around China – my favorite is hiking and camping on remote sections of the Great Wall, which I tried last year (read about my experience here).
To find out more about Chinese culture, visit CCC’s website or call their office at 6432 9341.