CAFA: A Century of Arts Education

CAFA Art Museum

The Country's First National Academy of Fine Arts Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary This Year

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. To tell the full story of this great institution, it must be told from the beginning. April 15, 1918, was the day when China's first national fine arts education institution, the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing, was established.

This original institution was founded by Cai Yuanpei. Cai's philosophy of art education originated from his love of, and interest in, Western art history and aesthetics. He studied abroad twice at the University of Leipzig in Germany, in 1908 and 1912. While there, he focused on Kant's aesthetic insights on the transcendence and universality of beauty. In 1912, Cai took on the post of Minister of Education for the Republic of China. He advocated aesthetic education under the 1912 reform of the Chinese educational system, and made it part of every stage of schooling, from early childhood education to university. In 1916, Cai pointed to the ideological perspective of Confucianism, since he saw the official national religion as being retrospective. He proposed "replacing religion with aesthetic education," and openly opposed the restrictions that religion placed on thinking, planting the idea of aesthetic education in the hearts and minds of the people.

In October 1917, Cai Yuanpei's proposal to the Ministry of Education to establish a specialized art institution was approved. This opened the doors to national arts education in China.

The then Minister of Education, Fan Yuankai, officially approved the establishment of the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing towards the end of October 1917.

Zheng Jin was appointed the school's principal and was responsible for the preparations.

Preparations for the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing were essentially finished towards the end of 1917.

According to its spring 1918 enrollment advice, the university had a quota for 50 painting and graphic-design school students. Enrollment regulations stated that candidates who graduated from school only needed to take exams in Chinese language, mathematics, and drawing; those with the same scores needed to take 3 additional exams in history, geography, and science.

At 9:00 a.m. on April 15, 1918, the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing held a grand opening ceremony. It was attended by the then Minister of Education, Fu Zengxing; Deputy Minister Yuan Xitao; President of Peking University, Cai Yuanpei; officials from the Ministry of Education; and dozens of celebrities and socialites.

At the ceremony, the school's first president, Zheng Jin, briefly described the preparation work that had been undertaken and announced the student guidelines.Fu Zengxiang encouraged students to "advance ethics and revitalize industries".Yuan Xitao instructed students to develop their individuality and improve their moral character. He also pointed out the purpose of the school: 1) to teach fine arts in ordinary schools; 2) to improve products for the industry; and 3) to promote aesthetic education for society and academia.

At the ceremony, Cai Yuanpei delivered a speech on the future direction of the discipline, based on the ideals of arts education. He stated that, "The fact that Chinese painting is closely related to calligraphy means that good painters are often good calligraphers, and that painters pay special attention to the elegance of their brush strokes.Western paintings are affiliated with sculptures, so good painters are often good at sculpture, while painters pay special attention to an object's volume, and how light and darkness is portrayed. Hopefully, when funding is expanded, a new major in calligraphy will be established to help promote the development of Chinese painting, and a major in sculpture will be added to promote Western painting."

The National School of Fine Arts in Beijing recruited 32 students in its first year.In 1920, it enrolled 35 students to its normal college for the first time.From then on, the school increased the number of new enrollments to its middle school and teacher-training departments every year,and was upgraded to a "specialized school."

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