When Men and Mountains Meet: China as Land and People

When 5 Mar 2011 - 26 Jun 2011
Where Princeton University Art Museum
Princeton University, Nassau St
Princeton, NJ 08542
United States
Enquiry 609.258.3788

Zhang Huan, born 1965, and Beijing East Village performers: To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, performance at Miaofeng Mountain, Beijing, May 22, 1995. Archival pigment print, edition 4/21, 83.0 x 124.8 cm. Museum purchase, Asian Art Department Fund and Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund [2010-122] © Zuoxiao Zuzhou / photo Bruce M. White


March 5 – June 26 , 2011

Press Release:

What is the relationship between land and people in China, and how has it changed from past to present? Mountains as towering peaks bringing man close to the heavens, or as earthen ranges marking “dragon veins,” serve as the geography in which human beings live and roam. Selected from the Museum and private collections of Chinese painting, prints, and photography, various ways of imaging man’s relationship to mountains are explored through the ages. In traditional China, it can be said that people lived in balance between the unpredictable forces of nature and the manufactured order of civilization. In this sense, cultural development can be viewed as a struggle to impose order on the world of mountains and streams. In early twentieth century China during an era of cultural, social, and political turmoil, the characterization of man’s past balance between land and culture was likened to a verse by the English poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827):

“Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet This is not done by Jostling in the Street”

Champions of modernization, progress, and reform in China, on the other hand, called for a new relation to the land and to the world. They reversed Blake’s line—”Great things are done by Jostling in the Street/ This is not done when Men and Mountains meet”— believing that mankind can dominate nature and control their own destiny through science, reason, hard work, and perseverance. The past values of a balanced landscape became a casualty of this revolution in culture, which is now undergoing its own serious reevaluation.

Cary Y. Liu, Curator of Asian Art

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