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The Dragon in the Belly: Patriarchs, Judges, and Kings

The Old Testament meets Beijing Opera in He Qi's art.

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He Qi, a prominent Chinese painter, believes Christian art should be bright. "I read the first chapter of Genesis, the creation, and God says, 'Let there be light.' So God's creation is a very, very colorful world." This idea goes against the centuries-old tradition in Chinese academic art — minimalist still lifes and landscapes usually done in black ink on white paper.

He Qi (pronounced huh-chee) says that there is a precedent for colorful Chinese art, even though it has been given very little wall-space in Western museums. "Chinese folk art, for Chinese minority people, their folk art is very, very colorful." In five years in the Chinese countryside and another four in rural Tibet, He Qi says he learned about folk painting and paper cutting.

He Qi incorporates Chinese and world art history into other Chinese symbolism. Moses is one of the Bible characters who, in He Qi's paintings, has the face of a dragon over his belly. "A dragon is a symbol for power, for the emperor. Chinese emperor clothes always were full of dragons," He Qi says. In his code, the dragon in the belly indicates the power and unction of the Holy Spirit.

The paintings in this slideshow retell Old Testament dramas in a variety of modes. He Qi's David and Saul is like a scene from a Beijing Opera, The Song of Songs is thoroughly modernist, and Jonah and the Whale is divided into sections like a stained-glass window.

—Susan Wunderink

All images used by permission of He Qi.

Related Elsewhere:

An interview with He Qi, who became a Christian during China's Cultural Revolution, is also posted today.

"Doing a major new painting for the new CMS mission centre in Oxford," on He Qi's website, is a series of photos showing his process.

Previous slideshows are in our "hot issues" section.

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