Jiangqiao version of a work of art

Cao Baixi, 71-year-old amateur painter, finished a 3 meter by 0.5 meter picture depicting Jiangqiao Old Street in the 1950s.
Ti Gong

Jiangqiao Old Street in the 1950s as painted by Cao Baixi from memory

Hundreds of years ago, “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”by renowned artist Zhang Zeduan showed people how the festival was celebrated in Kaifeng, the capital city in the Northern Song Dynasty(960-1127). It is a highlight of the collection at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Recently, a Jiangqiao version has become popular in Jiading, painted by Cao Baixi,a resident of Jiangqiao Town. It took him15 days to finish the 3 meter by 0.5 meter picture  depicting Jiangqiao Old Street in the 1950s.

In the picture, some people are walking with shoulder poles; some are farming in the field. Also, slogans from that era can be seen. Most impressive is that every detail of the painting, including the location of the buildings or shops, is based on Cao’s memory.

Ti Gong

Cao Baixi looks at one of his paintings “Companion,” featuring two dogs in the grass.

Cao generated this painting idea because the Jiangqiao Old Street was reconstructed in 1995.

“I lived on the street for 25 years so everything on the street is familiar to me, but the youngest aren’t. They don’t know the busy life on the street. So I think maybe I should use my skill to tell the stories to the young generation,” said Cao.

Although 71 years old, Cao has a clear memory of the busy scene on New Year’s Eve. 

“On the night of New Year’s Eve, tens of peddlers put their goods on the street to sell in the evening because, according to our customs, people need to prepare dishes and fruits for ancestor worship next day. There was no electricity so we gave them the oil lamps or gas lamps to illuminate the whole street. It was wonderful to me as a young kid,” Cao recalled. 

Compared with other painters taught in professional painting schools, Cao learnt how to paint mostly by himself. He showed a talent for painting when he was in elementary school. And when he went to middle school, his teacher recommended that he join the painting club.

His painting teacher wanted him to become a professional artist. However, he was not able fulfill the dream, as the then state policy required him to go back to the farm in Jiangqiao. 

During the day, Cao worked on the land and at night he joined up with other painting enthusiasts to launch a painting and calligraphy group to study together.

“It was a tough time on the farmland. We were exhausted after working in the daytime, but when we started to paint, all of us felt full of energy. Painting was attractive and released our pressure. It was ‘spirit food’ to us to ease the fatigue,” Cao said.

Because of his passion for painting, Cao didn’t give up during his farming days, so his skill developed fast and he won prizes in professional painting competition. 

Cao Baixi / Ti Gong

A painting features a peach tree and two chicken with their babies.

Cao Baixi / Ti Gong

A painting featuring three dogs symbolizes family harmony.

Now the painting and calligraphy group has expanded to all the towns and communities in Jiading. Sometimes, Cao will visit the communities and draw pictures with residents. Several residents have also won awards in painting competitions. 

“Most of the residents are retired so they have plenty of time to learn,” said he.

“Now, more and more children start to learn painting in a better situation than I was. It is good that the traditional culture becomes popular among children. However, some of them just want to pursue the bonus in the exam instead of finding out the charming part of the painting. It is so pity,” said Cao.

Cao has also launched his own painting workshop, welcoming all lovers to come.

Cao has also become a volunteer at Meiyuan Lecture, a TED-like platform where speakers talk about different topics promoting the district’s culture and its celebrities to residents since 2013. Recently, Cao talked about his family’s motto to children this summer and told a story about his ancestors.

The Jiangqiao version of his painting now has arosed great interest in Jiading, attracting many old neighbors to see if they can spot their houses in the picture. Cao sent Zhang Zongyuan, an old neighbor on the old street a photo of the work and pointed out the location of the old house. Not only Zhang was delighted to see it, but also his daughter-in-law was even more excited as she hadn’t had a chance to see what the old house looked like. 

Now, Cao is planning a painting featuring modern Jiangqiao Old Town. He wants to paint it as a version to show the town’s development in comparison. 

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