The Spirit of the Tang Dynasty, the Essence of the Chinese Culture by Gao Runxiang

The Spirit of the Tang Dynasty, the Essence of the Chinese Culture
— Thought on “The Tang People Playing Polo” by Mr. Gao Runxiang
Mr. Kissinger has at his home a traditional Chinese painting “The Tang People Playing Polo” by Mr. Zirou LiGang and sees it as a treasure. The former US Secretary of State said in his speech: In the long history of human civilization, there rose in China a powerful Tang Empire which once led the fashion of the world. In his polo-themed paintings, human and horses cooperate and coordinate to fulfill their most potential. It would be no exaggeration to say that the sport polo is more challenging than football and more graceful than golf.

“The Tang People Playing Polo” by Mr. Zirou LiGang unveils the culture of the Tang Dynasty and the spirit of its people. To achieve this, he copied many murals in the Yongle Palace (built in the Yuan Dynasty) and the mausoleum of the Crown Prince Zhanghuai (one of the major subordinate tombs of Emperor Gaozong and Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty). Among all the unearthed tombs of the Tang Dynasty, the latter is one of the best preserved and those that has the most murals. On the east wall are paintings themed around blue dragon (the Chinese totem), hunting and receiving guests, while correspondingly on the west, white tiger (a symbol of royal power), polo and receiving guests. In addition, there are ten groups of murals. All this forms a miniature of the royal life of the Tang Dynasty. These exquisite murals are clear proof of the artistic level of that time and the skills of painters one thousand and three hundred years ago.

After intense study of books on Tang paintings and meticulous imitation of Tang murals, Mr. Zirou LiGang came to believe that polo best reflects the culture of the Tang Dynasty and the spirit of its people. And after more than twenty years’ tremendous effort, he has come up with such a unique painting to show his affection toward the Tang Dynasty which has become the source of pride for all Chinese people. Mr. Kissinger’s words also acknowledged the position of the Tang Dynasty in the world.

Paintings themed around the Tang people playing polo by Mr. Zirou LiGang feature simplicity and fluidity of line. The sport polo finds its peak in the Tang Dynasty, an age of prosperity and affluence. In his paintings, gallant horses are galloping, aristocrats’ waist belts going with the wind, and daughters of noble families, once on horse, are passionate and manly, totally different to their usual image of being bashful and gentle. The aesthetic charm of polo is now vividly before our eyes. His success owes much to his effort throughout the twenty plus years. He has developed a style of his own, from the composition of a picture to his fine touches and throughout the depiction of figures, which make his portrait of the Tang people on galloping horses waving mallets chasing a whirling ball all the more impressive and attractive. The Tang people were leading a really easy life.

Mr. Zirou LiGang reveres the Tang Dynasty so much that he prepared carefully before the real work of painting. He read many books about polo to get to know its origin and the rule, observed many horse-racing and equestrian events and went to Dunhuang (a county-level city of Gansu Province, famous for the Mogao Grottoes, where boasts many sculptures and murals) and Lanzhou University (Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu) to study. He views polo, a sport exclusive to the Tang Dynasty, in a historical context. And he seeks artistic conception from Tang poems, and draws enlightenment from theories of Lao-Tze, Chuang-Tzu and Huai Nanzi (all are great philosophers of ancient China) when drawing contours and setting colors. It’s believed that a painter without soul cannot come up with a painting of substance. His love for the Tang Dynasty and understanding of the game polo are woven into every touch he makes in every painting.

He upholds the ancient Chinese philosophy that human beings are an integral part of nature. In his paintings, he has struck a balance between motion and stillness, ease and intense, focus and loose. The charm and grace of the daughters of noble families are well retained in such a tight game.

Before the conclusion of the equestrian event in Hong Kong, the co-host city of the Beijing Olympics 2008, polo-themed paintings by Mr. Zirou LiGang had drawn great attention from the public and Olympic official authorities. In fact, even before 2008, it’s foreseen that his polo-themed paintings would cause a sensation. Since Beijing’s success in bidding for Olympics, more and more collectors showed increasing interest in sports-themed works of art. Polo is a traditional sport of China and was mentioned when bidding for Olympics. A photo of polo-themed painting is on display in the hall of the International Olympic Committee as a symbol of Chinese sport. People in Xi’an (the national capital of the Tang Dynasty) played polo to celebrate the Beijing Olympics. In the Beijing Olympic Central Area, groups of sculptures centering around the theme “the Tang people playing polo” became the limelight. Many painters produced paintings of such theme to explain their understanding of this sport, among which works by Mr. Zirou LiGang stood out.

The Beijing Olympics 2008 promoted the sales of polo-themed paintings by Mr. Zirou LiGang. To the common people, such hot sales were because of good timing — spectators were fascinated by dancing horses and handsome horsemen in the equestrian park of Hong Kong, while to connoisseurs and experienced collectors, these paintings not only represent an artistic form but also bear Chinese culture, tradition and Olympic spirit, a strong proof of Mr. Zirou LiGang’s talents and skills. Such paintings are worthy of being treasured. During the Beijing Olympics, when asked about his effort that finally brought about this accomplishment, he said: I spent more than twenty years.

Zirou LiGang, courtesy name Zi Rou, was born in October 1962. The contracted painter to is from Heilongjiang Province by origin and now resides in Beijing. As a child, he liked painting, and later he received education at the PLA Academy of Art and China Academy of Art. In 1989 he had the opportunity to copy the murals in the mausoleum of the Crown Prince Zhanghuai (the son of Emperor Tang Gaozong and Wu Zetian), among which polo-themed murals aroused his utmost interest. He then devoted himself to producing paintings of this theme. Art exhibitions featuring polo-themed paintings by Mr. Li Gang have been held in America, France, Germany, Switzerland and Argentina.