Calligraphy pieces and poems reveal the personality and vision of Zhao Puchu as a patriot, a social activist and a scholar, Zhang Kun reports in Shanghai.
The exhibition, Infinite Compassion: The Calligraphy of Zhao Puchu, which provides a glimpse into the life of the patriotic religious leader, opened at Shanghai Museum on May 21, the 20th anniversary of his death.
Zhao was president of the Buddhist Association of China, a famous social activist and a close friend of the Communist Party of China. He was also one of the most recognized calligraphers, poets and authors in China.
The exhibition, which ends on July 19, features 93 of his works and is named after Zhao's study, Wu Jin Yi Zhai, or Study of Infinite Compassion. Exhibits include calligraphy pieces, poems and other documents, all of which were donated by his family.
According to Ling Lizhong, head of the research center of paintings and calligraphy at Shanghai Museum, Zhao's calligraphy reflected his personality and vision as a Buddhist leader.
"His writing is simple, artless, untainted by worldly concerns," Ling told China Daily on the opening day.
"The unique calligraphy style evolved from his literary and philosophical ideas. We began to put his relics in order and make inventories in March 2019 before selecting his works of historical significance, as well as works that best illustrate his vision and attitude."
Zhao was born in Anqing of Anhui province in 1907 and arrived in Shanghai when he was 13. Here, he became a Buddhist, building a close friendship with eminent monks of the time as he believed it was his mission in life to serve the people and society.
As early as in 1928, Zhao became a leader in Buddhist associations in Shanghai and the Yangtze Delta regions. In 1938, as a religious leader and active member of the national salvation movement against the Japanese invasion, Zhao built a home for orphans and refugees of the war, sheltering up to 500,000 people.
During this period, he became close friends with members of the Communist Party of China, and it was with his help that a large number of young refugees joined the communist army to fight against the Japanese invaders.
"He spent 35 years in Shanghai. It was here that he turned into a patriot, a social activist and a scholar. Because of his deep feelings for the city of Shanghai, we made the decision to donate his relics to Shanghai Museum," says his niece, Zhao Wen.
According to Yang Zhigang, director of Shanghai Museum, a special exhibition hall will be built in the new east wing of the museum to serve as a permanent display for Zhao's relics.
"Shanghai Museum will do its best to research and introduce Mr Zhao Puchu's works. We believe this is the best way to commemorate him," says Yang.
The exhibition consists of four chapters, each reflecting aspects of his personality and achievements: The first, A Legendary Patriot, features his writings about China's development and social changes; the second chapter, named A Titan of Arts and Letters, presents his handwritten poetry; the third part is A Vimalakirti of Today, which details his understanding of Buddhism and his work promoting religious tolerance and Chinese religious policies; and the last chapter, A Man of Virtue, consists of writing that reflects upon his life of selfless contributions and righteous conduct.
A calligraphy work by Zhao was among the exhibits of A Blessing over the Sea: Cultural Relics on Jianzhen and Murals by Higashiyama Kaii from Toshodaiji, an exhibition which concluded at Shanghai Museum on April 5.
"Zhao played an important role in facilitating cultural exchanges between China and Japan," Ling says.
In the 1950s, Zhao sent a statue of Bhaisajyaguru (the Buddha of Medicine), which symbolizes peace and healing, to Japan. The gesture was reciprocated by the Buddhist community in Japan and this started a continuous exchange among the Buddhists of both countries.
Zhao believed that Jianzhen, the monk who made repeated voyages and eventually took important Buddhist classics from China to Japan, could become a bridge for Sino-Japanese communications. Starting in the 1960s, Zhao promoted showcases of Jianzhen relics in China and facilitated Japanese artist Higashiyama Haii's tours to China, where he created a series of murals for Toshodaiji, the temple with Jianzhen's heritage.
Zhao Puchu's calligraphy exhibition was opened to the public three days after International Museum Day. Shanghai Museum debuted its online streaming of its exhibition on that day, receiving more than 1.4 million views on Xinhua.net. The museum also launched its new account on short-video sharing platform Kuaishou. The first livestream by the museum featured Shanghai-based TV host Cao Kefan introducing a painting from the museum's collection by Wen Zhengming.
"The internet has broken down the limits of time and space and brought to life the cultural relics on display in the museum," says Yang, the director of Shanghai Museum.
Shanghai Museum was one of the first large museums to resume operations on March 13 after being closed for 50 days due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
During this year's International Museum Day, 87 museums in Shanghai were opened for free to the public. A hundred museums in Shanghai have also announced that Chinese medical workers will get to enjoy free admission through the year.