Created around 1915, Chen Shizeng's Beijing Fengsu album represents a pictorial experiment that led to his subsequent well-known theoretical recasting of Chinese literati painting as a progressive and universally comprehensible visual language. Through an examination of the stylistic and technical innovations of the paintings, the essay demonstrates that the album's function as a visual record of Beijing folk customs is in part a historical byproduct of a then urgent attempt to establish the pictorial expression of a new subjectivity by a leading member of China's last generation of literati. Through the aid of drawing from direct observation, emulation of visual effects from Western-style drawing using Chinese ink and pigments, incorporation of antiquarian motifs, and unconventional compositional schemes, the album managed to reinvent vernacular painting (fengsu hua) and establish the popular pictorial genre manhua in modern China.

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