Inscription: Even in the wind and rain, the rooster continues to crow. When meeting with a gentleman, what misfortune will he share? In early spring of the Dingchou year (1937), Beihong made this while thinking of someone. Guilin. For my beloved wife, Jingwen, to keep.
Seal: “Sealed by Beihong” (Square seal with incised characters) and “Life springs from sorrow and calamity” (Square seal with relief characters)
That year, the War of Resistance against Japan began in earnest. In Xu Beihong’s work, chickens have four meanings. First, the rooster is a symbol of good luck, which is common in folk art.
Second, roosters represented longing, as in The Rooster Crows in the Wind and Rain from early spring 1937: “Even in the wind and rain, the rooster continues to crow. When meeting with a gentleman, what misfortune will he share? In early spring of the Dingchou year (1937), Beihong made this while thinking of someone.” From the timing, we can surmise that the painting is related to his romantic relationship with Sun Duoci.
Third, roosters symbolized courageous soldiers. Xu Beihong once wrote in an inscription, “Roosters have five virtues, and courage is chief among them.” Roosters, a piece he made on 28 January 1932 after being moved by the heroism of the Nineteenth Route Army in fighting the Japanese, is one example of this type. The inscription reads: “Roosters sound the new day. The valiant soldiers of the Nineteenth Route Army fought the enemy, bringing to mind the might of a dying nation. It was a beautiful sight.” Recalling Heroism, made on 28 January 1937, also employs a similar allusion: “On 28 January 1937, it has been five years since those gallant warriors fought for our nation. We should reflect on the past in light of the present and wonder when we will triumph.”
Fourth, Xu used fighting roosters to mock fights among humans. His 21 January 1947 piece Roosters Fighting bears the inscription: “Why are you fighting with each other until feathers fly and blood is everywhere? When chickens and insects fight, it seems someone else will have to fix it.” Regardless of the allusion employed, chickens in Xu’s work are most often enraged roosters standing upright with their heads high. He almost never depicted hens or chicks, so there was no affectionate, warm, and soft side to the animal. More often, they are fighters or deliverers of grand messages.