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Click Thumbnails below for larger images of Teng Hiok Chiu's Paintings
(Contact Dr. Kaz for more info)

Click for larger image of Balinese Dancer, 1933 by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click for larger image of Bennington County, Vermont,  1944

Click for larger image of Buildings, Morocco 1937, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Cedar Hill Farm, Vermont, 1946, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Central Park, NY, 1942, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click Thumbnail for larger image of Forbidden City, Peking, 1931, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Meknes Gate, Morocco, 1937, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click Thumbnail for larger image of Mother and Child, Bali, 1933, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click Thumbnail for larger image of Mountain Lake, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of New York Skyline, 1940, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Pownal Center, Vermont, 1951, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Summer Isles, Scotland, 1936, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Tangier Street, 1937, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Ullapool, Scotland, 1937, by Teng Hiok Chiu

Click thumbnail for larger image of Winter Time, New York, 1940, by Teng Hiok Chiu

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Teng Hiok Chiu, born on Gulangyu, Amoy--one of China's greatest, though largely forgotten, modern artists--now rediscovered, thanks to Prof. Kazimierz Poznanzki, of University of Washington"Happy Places: Landscaping by Teng Hiok Chiu"

by Prof. Kazimierz Z.Poznanski

Click Here to E-mail Dr. Poznanski
Kazimierz Z. Poznanski, Professor
Jackson School of International Studies
PO Box 353 650
University of Washington
Seattle WA 98195

Note: Dr. Kazimierz Z. Poznanski, a professor Prof. Kazimierz Poznanski, University of Washington, virtually single-handedly rediscovered and popularized this forgotten genius, Teng Hiok Chiu      Amoy Magic -- Guide to Xiamen and FujianProfessor Kazimierz Z. Poznanski  Collector  7050 50th AVE  NE  Seattle, WA 98115  phone: 206-524-8996 of economics at the University of Washington, Seattle, has also taught at Cornell and Northwestern Universities. He has published books with the University of California-Berkeley and Cambridge University Press. A long-time collector of paintings from the modernist period, Poznanski has spent much of the last ten years focusing on Chinese painting,, particularly the art of Chinese-American Teng Hiok Chiu (1903–1972)
Note: All text and images below, and on Prof. Kaz' page, are from Prof. Kaz's research, and his book, "Path of the Sun--The World of Teng Hiok Chiu, The Kazimierz Z. Poznanski Collection."

Click Thumbnails Below (yellow-framed) for larger images
Click Here for Teng Hiok Chiu Biographical Page
Click Here for "Chinese Beauty," (about Prof. Kaz' artistic journey, with images of his unique interpretation of Chinese art)
Click Here for "Feeling China: Art as Jazz," by Dr. Kaz

[Note: Xiamen is now one of the planet's leading producers of original and reproduction oils! Check out this website: Amoy Paintings International!]

Teng Hiok Chiu Portrait in front of easel and painting“Is it extravagant hope to think that the artist may be the first to teach mankind to think together and to follow the same truth and righteousness by learning to appreciate the same beauty?” “Since I used to play amidst the beautiful temples and pine trees or on the sandy beach I have wanted to appreciate the best in nature and to be able to help everyone else to do so. As soon as I got an opportunity to travel, I went far and wide throughout my own country to see the best that China had in paintings, architecture and scenery. This led me to a study of art, but hitherto I had known nothing about its history, or of its practice, except in Chinese writing, which is really painting.” “I found I could not learn what I wanted from the artists of China itself, and so I was driven to the West. My aim at first was just to acquire the technique of Western art, but I found there was more in it than that. In England and on the Continent of Europe a far wider vision of what art really is has opened up before me. As I go forward I realize increasingly that neither East nor West, and that some day there must be the Art of the New World Civilization, to creation of which, as painter, I wish to contribute. Art is a universal language which speaks to every human heart” Teng Hiok Chiu

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Happy Places
by Dr. Kazimierz Z. Poznanski

Teng Hiok Chiu with Georgia O'keefe, who befriended himTo me, the most special quality of Chiu’s art is that it is all about happy places, filled with grace and beauty. It could be that this reflects Chiu’s predisposition, but I would argue that the reason why the painter almost always showed a sunny side is because he largely worked in the Chinese art tradition. This is a tradition in which the entire world is viewed as a happy place and where being alive means being happy. The role of art is to project such truth and this is exactly what drove Chiu’s work as a modernist painter.

The fact that there is substantial influence from the Chinese tradition on Chiu’s art might initially seem counterintuitive, since, at first examination, his work appears surprisingly Western. Importantly, Chiu received his formal artistic training not in China but in the United States and Europe. However, it is also true that Chiu obtained a thorough general education in China and that he was exposed to many objects of Chinese art in the house of his affluent parents. His was a very distinguished and educated family of merchants. Typically, in such a family, each generation would accumulate scrolls for viewing and numerous decorative pieces, such as porcelain vases. Chiu himself owned such a collection, most likely built upon some of the art objects taken from his family.
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It is also a fact that it was in the West that Chiu first began a serious study of Chinese art, specifically in London. Immediately after his graduation from the Royal Academy of Arts, he was offered a position by Lawrence Binyon, the Curator of the Chinese Collection at the British Museum. He spent almost two years under the personal mentorship of Binyon. During this time he had the opportunity to see and learn about some of the best Chinese paintings. One can hardly imagine a more appropriate introduction, since Binyon was not only one of the foremost experts in the field but also a passionate admirer of Chinese art tradition. He did not hesitate to compare China with Greece and went even as far as saying that in some ways the former exceeded the latter.

That Chinese art is different from other types of art, including Western art, stems from the fact that it developed a specific outlook on the world. The Chinese perspective reaches back to the earliest stages of history, where the world was conceptualized as nature, and where nature meant life. The world is seen as a complex living system, and life is a dynamic process, without either a definite beginning or a certain end. Life is an attribute of everything because nature is a unity that cannot be broken up in any place without instantly destroying all of it. In this tradition, it is not only that people and animals have life, but also that rocks have life as well. By continuously holding onto this basic message, Chinese worldview has never become really modern.

Another important element in the Chinese worldview is seeing nature in moral terms. Nature is believed to follow a certain moral order, through which all of its components relate to each other and allow for the life process to continue. In stating that moral order is the attribute of nature, the Chinese worldview rejects the notion that the life-rules could be invented either by mortal people or by immortal gods. For this reason, the only legitimate way to arrive at a moral code that would be suitable for people is to carefully examine nature. This role was ascribed to art, so that art became also the source of moral guidance – it turned into the art of living. In this way, art in China has slowly evolved into the foremost vehicle for conveying to society their sense of morality.
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This specific role of art was codified several hundred years ago in the late Sung dynasty and then elaborated upon under the Ming dynasty, when the model of an artist, called “literati,” entered the tradition (see: Sullivan, 1984; also Cotter, 2002). At this turning point the underlying principles of the traditional Chinese art canon were specified as well. The literati were scholars, collectors, and painters all in one person, which aspired to give expression to the moral order through images and poetry. This person, central to the whole working of a society, had to be a scholar to fully understand the message, a collector to study the message by examining the past, and a painter to use the brush to be a teacher who conveys the principal moral message about nature.

Significantly, those working in the Chinese tradition do not hide their mission but are quite explicit about their moral agenda, mixing words of wisdom with images of the same wisdom. To make sure that the moral message is not lost, artists use a portion of their painting to deliver their primary lesson in some carefully crafted calligraphy, usually in the form of a poem. The connection between the two is very intimate, since the calligraphy – using the same medium, ink -- is seen as a form of painting and indeed is such a form. Moreover, the whole painting, scroll on paper, is seen as a form of poetry. with the difference being that, unlike the written words of a poem, painting with its own visual images is just a mute poetry (see: Sickman and Soper, 1968; also Chaves, 2000).
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The key moral message in Chinese tradition is that the world is a happy place. What is meant by happiness is the full experience of life, as something more precious, or rewarding than anything else. It is not the kind of happiness that comes from having good time, or enjoying physical pleasures, but rather the kind that comes from gaining an inner balance and finding a communion with the nature – it is an affair of the heart not of the body. As such, happiness, or being happy is within the reach of any human being as part of the universal flow of life, or nature. Therefore, the central message of Chinese tradition is that one could, and should, make oneself happy by humbly embracing the splendid – and inherently wise -- nature with its eternal rules and also with its diversity.

To say that the world is a happy place, as is the case with Chinese tradition, does not mean, however, that it is an absolutely perfect place. To the contrary, this world is largely imperfect; it is a happy place, with the imperfections. Of all the imperfections, it may seem that getting older and ultimately facing death is the one that might be considered the worst. To the contrary, in the Chinese tradition the passing of time and the parting with this world is seen as a part of life - both are accepted as inevitable. It was none other than Chiu’s mentor, Binyon, who stressed that given the above view, Chinese art is construed as a vehicle for projecting the message of happiness. He would go further and say that indeed to show the happy side of human beings is the only mission in art. Furthermore, what defines a happy place in the Chinese tradition is the presence of harmony. This is because life would not be possible without harmony, which presumes good feelings – compassion -- between various beings. In fact, life requires birth, and birth would be impossible without the utmost good feeling without putting the life of another – new -- being above your own, a choice to be made only out of the utmost good feeling -- that of love. It is this sense of goodness, or even loving, what makes the world a living unity, and it is this sense that truly represents world’s vital spirit, as understood in Taoism . And, at its deepest level, the purpose of Chinese art is to explain life is a product of a vital spirit, which is about allowing good, or love, to rule.
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This basic moral message, focused on the life-flow and life-rules, has become an organizing principle for Chinese art. Not only is composition subordinated to this message, but so is symbolism and the techniques, all built into a system. In this respect, Chiu cannot be considered a truly traditional Chinese artist, but rather as somebody who, quite consciously, or deliberately,works within this tradition. While he fits this tradition in terms of showing the world as a happy one, where there is harmony, it is not the case hat he always uses every element of the Chinese artistic vocabulary to deliver this message. Most of the time Chiu would simply utilize some elements of this approach, and, even then, he would transform them in a way that best fits his other needs.

The reason why Chiu concentrated almost exclusively on landscape was because, in the Chinese tradition, this genre is found to be the most suitable for expressing the moral truth. In this setting, artists are able to fully express the notion that the world is about spirit – heaven -- and matter – earth -- as two inseparable parts of the world. Heaven is on earth, so that when earth is painted, so is heaven, but while earth is visible haven is not visible, and for this reason Chinese painter cannot simply be a photographer of a landscape. Such artist is, so to say, a landscaper, a gardener who has to compose a landscape according to own vision of heaven, one that creates meaningful spaces to transpose this vision onto those that would find their work engaging enough to pause for reflection.

And, no doubt, Chiu was a landscaper, and remarkably skillful, capable of creating any illusion of universal harmony, often by depicting places where mountains meet waters. It is possible that he would favor this setting because it reminded him of Amoy Island, in South China, where he was born, but it is also true that this type of setting has almost always been favored throughout Chinese history. Mountain/water painting was eventually elevated to an almost canonical form at the time when the concept of literati was developed. This was to make sure that nature and life are even better understood as a fusion of complementary elements. The reason being that water symbolizes fertility or an ability to bring forth life, and mountains are what water needs to fertilize it or, in other words, to make life happen.

Chiu will frequently bring to his landscapes another element of traditional painting, the empty spaces or voids. These voids, taking up large part of scrolls, are introduced to take us to the hidden – the vital spirit, but also to bring some sense of hope. They symbolize hope, since what is painted is the past, with no change, and what is left unpainted is the future, or change. Chiu employed these empty spaces on his own terms by working with color, as with his sky, typically painted with whitish blue with very little variation, sometimes using even half of the canvas. A good example of his use of voids in a mountain-water composition is Lake Lure, North Carolina. Here, it is not only the sky but mainly the lake that is the void, although it is painted in a very soft and light green.

In the literati approach to landscape, people would either be omitted or given very little space, usually in a corner of the painting and blended with the background. This is another element that interested Chiu. Figures appear most often in his earlier paintings, as in the Moroccan series, where massive architectural compositions, to be seen as a substitute for landscape, are occasionally inhabited with small dwellers; as in his piece Buildings, Morocco. The same pattern can be found in another series of urban landscapes by Chiu, namely in his views of New York, where the influence of his long-time friend and fellow artist Georgia O’Keeffee can be easily detected. Filled with movement of people and cars, but also built with stiff walls, South Central Park, New York is a very good illustration here.
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When needing to show distance or depth, Chinese traditional artists resorted to a simple device, namely, they broke up the flat areas by bringing in horizontal registers rather than employing Western-type perspective strategies, with a single focal point. It was a sign of master skills to fit as many as possible such demarcation lines to gain the best visual effect; another skill being the ability to play with multiple horizons, separating sky from land, to increase the sense of illusion. One masterful illustration of Chiu’s approach to constructing a sense of perspective in this manner is Vermont Landscape. Here, Chiu introduces us to a tranquil and charming place set within several, at least twenty different combinations of horizontal registers forming the fields, valleys, and hills.

Regarding the use of light, Chiu generally stays away from using light to create an impression of depth. Although his canvases are typically saturated with light, with a sunny aura, his light source is seldom detectable. This is a practice from the Chinese tradition that is meant to emphasize the two-dimensionality, with an underlying flatness of the pictured objects. The extensive use of sinuous lines intensifies this sense of flatness in Chinese traditional artwork. The artists suggest, rather than describe their landscapes through linear expressions rather than attending to modeling the surfaces. Through linear allusions, artists communicate that it is not the outer that is relevant, but rather what is inside; and in this way they open an object to the inspection of the spirit .
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Chiu himself would often design his landscapes, or other scenes, with the frequent use of fully exposed lyrical lines, as evidenced in his monumental Central Pownall, Vermont, one of his latest works, and probably the most prominent in this group. Here, a massive and iconic landscape is organized through the use of dark lines, which, in fact, are charcoal marks from the initial sketch executed by the artist. And, in accordance with the Chinese tradition, he made certain that these exposed lines of black color are full of life, meaning that they lack precision and tend not to be finished. Since, as Chinese tradition posits, although equated with being happy, life is full of imperfection and nothing is ever finished, and painting, as a tribute to life itself, cannot be different.

The area where Chiu seemed to depart most from the Chinese tradition is that, of course, he chose an oil over a water-based medium, but even in this respect, it is a controlled departure. Trying to keep the Western technique form interfering with his Chinese meanings, Chiu retained in his landscape oils very much the quality of a watercolor or ink work of the scroll artists. Except for many of his early works, most notably those from Bali, when he painted in the company of two American artists, John Sitton and Ken Johnston, Chiu stayed away from the heavy application of paint, instead he used a diluted color and applying thin leyers. In this way, he was able to gain almost the same sense of softness and transparency on canvas as a traditional Chinese artist would accomplish on paper.
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There is hardly a better example of this watery look than Ullapool, Scotland, one of the few paintings that Chiu took to a number of exhibitions marked as not available for sale. This is surely one of his best paintings, one that, despite its relatively early date, also happens to probably contain more references to the Chinese artistic tradition than the majority of his other works. It has an unmistakably Chinese mystique, showing a peaceful and purified landscape with completely balanced space\s, and not surprisingly, bringing mountains and water together, to show the dependent opposites, and a sky to represent the nothingness. All of this extremely delicately executed with a minimum amount of paint in pale shades and subdued colors, and with only little color contrasts.

The fact that Chiu was extremely innovative, searching constantly for the most effective execution, is witnessed by the enormous variation in his work, though he would never lose his very own sense of artistic style. With this impressive flexibility, seeking inspiration or suggestion from various sources, he never forgot that, as a Chinese artist, he was to use his tools primarily to deliver a moral message. This is why he took us, in his landscapes, to the most pleasurable, calming, and reflective spaces, which he landscaped with the clear intention of making us realize how happy places in this world, or nature of ours are. And to tell us, or whisper to us, how happy we all could be by accepting its rules, those of a good disposition to other beings – respect and generosity. Back to top


Binyon, Laurence. The Spirit of Man in Asian Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1935.

Chaves, Jonathan. The Chinese Painter as Poet. China Institute Gallery, China Institute, New York, 2000.

Holland, Cotter. “In Old China’s Stormiest Times Nature was the Eye.” New York Times, September13, 2002.

Miyagawa, Torao, editor. Chinese Painting. New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983.

Rowley, George, Principles of Chinese Painting. Princeton University Press, 1959.

Salpeter, Harry. ”The Travels of Teng Chiu.” Esquire, March.1943.

Sickman, Lawrence and Alexander Soper. The Art and Architecture of China. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968.

Silbergeld, Jerome. Mind Landscape. The Paintings of C.C. Wang. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989.

Sullivan, Michael, The Arts of China, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984

Sze, Mai-Mai, “The Way of Chinese Painting. The Ideas and Technique”, New York: Vintage Books, 1959

“A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.” Lin Yutang
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