Xu Wei must be one of the most tragic figures in the whole of Chinese painting history, who suffered a number of setbacks during his lifetime: When he was 14, his mother died. His first wife, whom he married at the age of 21, died five years later. Xu attempted to enter civil services, but failed the examinations eight times. He nevertheless managed to serve among the coastal guards, but when his leader got arrested, Xu Wei feared for his life. His mental imbalance – academics today believe that it was caused by Bipolar Disorder – led him to attempt suicide nine times and to kill his second wife, being paranoid that she would betray him. He was imprisoned for seven years and freed at the age of 53. He later applied himself to painting, poetry, and his work as a playwright.
Continuity and Routine in Chinese Painting during the Qing Dynasty
The fall of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and enthronization of the Manchu rulers did not, at least at the beginning, cause a disruption for artists and scholars as it had happened with the beginning of foreign rule during the Yuan Dynasty. In fact, the Manchu, now calling themselves Qing, took over all cultural institutions of the Ming and thus ensured stability. In art, conservatism ruled. No interruption of painting traditions occurred, with many painters continuing to paint in a variety of styles and ideals as laid out by Dong Qichang in the 16th century. The “Four Wangs” are the most notable group of artists in the Qing Dynasty, who followed Dong’s premise to imitate the older masters’ styles. However, this attitude did slowly, but steadily become a burden for painters, and boundaries between the Northern and Southern School blurred, when painters of the latter put more emphasis on technique and skill than painting in the free and spontaneous manner of that of the Southern School.