Dr. He Qi Gives a Different Perspective

Dr. He Qi (pronounced “huh chee”) is a professor of philosophy at China’s Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, and one of his nation’s most acclaimed Christian artists. One of his passions in his work is encouraging the creation of modern Chinese Christian art to help change the foreign image that Christianity has in China. He said, "Many people in China and around the world equate Christian art with European Art, which is obviously a wrong way of looking at things… If we call ourselves a ‘Three Self’ church (the translated name of China’s state Christian church) and are trying to change people's wrong ideas that Christianity is only a Western religion, then why are we still trying to package Christianity and present it to people using only Western religious imagery?"

He Qi has an interesting perspective on how Christian art can be used to create new disciples. His own testimony comes from art. During the Cultural Revolution, everyone wanted to hang portraits of Chairman Mao in their homes. At the age of sixteen he began helping to meet the demand by painting and selling portraits of Mao. One day, as he was flipping through a magazine, he came across a photo of Raphael's Madonna and Child. In his own words, he describes how he felt:

“I was extremely moved by this painting. At the time of the Cultural Revolution the atmosphere was one of struggle, of hatred, of criticism. All around you could only see images of struggle and criticism. It was hard to find any images of peace. So you can imagine how I felt when I saw this picture, with the Madonna smiling and the little baby Jesus also smiling out at me. I was deeply moved and touched, and felt a great sense of peace."

Dr. He Qi, The Finding of Moses

He Qi would paint portraits of Chairman Mao by day, and late at night, he would paint copies of Raphael's picture. His growing curiosity led him to research and learn more about the Christian faith, and eventually he could no longer ignore that empty tomb. He became a Christian. Very quickly he saw some disparities in the perception of art within the global Christian community.

"One very interesting observation is that, while many older Chinese pastors believe only Western Christian art has any validity, Western Christians, on the other hand, are very interested in our Chinese indigenous Christian artwork. Although we find it hard to gain acceptance for our works within Mainland China, we find they are very well received in places such as Hong Kong, other parts of Asia and around the world. So, maybe when Mainland Chinese pastors see Western Christians accepting and appreciating indigenous Chinese Christian art then it might help the Chinese pastors themselves to get over the barrier they have toward this art form."

Dr. He Qi, Jonah and the Whale

In his own art, He Qi uses not only Cubist and modernist styles in vibrant colors, but also unmistakably Chinese techniques and design elements while depicting Biblical scenes. In much the same way that European Renaissance painters would depict Jesus or Moses in clothing that was contemporary to the painters’ time, He Qi might depict Solomon as an imposing figure in the robes and makeup of classical Chinese jingju opera. He Qi feels that such cultural nods help Chinese relate more to the Biblical saga and its associated faith.

He points out that Christian art in China can be dated back to the Nestorian movement beginning in 635 AD, with later revivals during the Ming and Qing Dynasties under the guidance of missionaries like Matteo Ricci. Then, too, the Biblical figures depicted resembled everyday Chinese more than the European look most familiar in Western art. After the 19th-century Opium Wars, and again following the return of Christian churches to China in the 1980s, missionaries also took pains to syncretize Chinese culture with Christian imagery and ideas. He Qi’s work is a contemporary extension of that kind of cultural outreach, and has made him one of China’s most sought-after Christian artists.

Dr. He Qi, David and Jonathan

He Qi graduated from Nanjing Normal University’s Fine Arts Department in 1979, and then spent three years copying frescoes and wall art at Tibetan Buddhist temples. The experience taught him about the importance of preserving religious art in all its forms and varieties, Christian or otherwise. “During the Cultural Revolution, many religious art works were destroyed. After our time in Tibet, we went to Beijing to display our copies of the Buddhist wall paintings in an exhibition. I came to understand the importance of preserving and promoting religious art at that time. During the late 70s and early 80s there were so few artists in China who were interested in religious art. I was able to do research during my time in Tibet, enabling me to make some comparisons between Buddhist art and Christian art and look into the nature of religious art in general.”

Dr. He Qi, Losing Paradise

Since then Dr. He Qi has studied the full history of Christian art, particularly of the Medieval era, becoming one of the first mainland Chinese to gain a doctorate in the subject. His works have been exhibited across the globe, and the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, U.K. granted He Qi the 20th Century Award for Achievement in the field of Religious Art Theory and Christian Art Creation. He is a council member of the Asian Christian Art Association and the Chinese Artists’ Association, and is currently an artist-in-residence at Yale University.

He has set some lofty goals for himself as an artist, all with the intention of glorifying God through his talents. Part of his presentYale commission is the “Bible Song” series of paintings which will depict scenes from every book of the Bible. He is also hoping to create a massively illustrated Bible in English, Spanish and Mandarin to continue his cross-cultural outreach. Given that one-sixth of the world’s people reside in China, the imaginative ministry of Christians like Dr. He Qi could have a profound impact on the future growth of the church.

Dr. He Qi: http://www.heqigallery.com
Asian Christian Art Association: http://www.asianchristianart.org

To view past profiles on Artists Work B.e.n.c.h, click below:

Sandra Bowden
Laura Kramer (Psalm 23 Jewelry)
Chris Schlarb John Newton
Vincent van Gogh

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