Ex-libris art in China

Prof Zhang Zhi You*

The art of printed ex-libris began in Europe in the 15th Century, and appeared in China at the beginning of the 20th Century. Now, in China one has identified only two items of Chinese ex-libris from this earliest stage. One is an ipsis libris made by in 1914 Mr. Song Chun Fang, a drama manuscript collector who lived for a time in Switzerland and studied there (Fig. 1). The other is also an ipsis libris made at about the same time by Mr. Guan Zu Zhang, an art collector who lived and studied in the USA (Fig. 2).


In the 1930's, Chinese artists Mr. Ye ling feng, Mr. Yu da fu and Mr. Zheng zhen yao discovered the art of ex-libris. Mr. Ye ling feng designed an ex-libris for his own books (Fig. 3). It is during this period that Chinese artists started being creative in the field of ex-libris.


In 1934, the artist Li hua established the "Modern Woodcut Printing Association". With another five members of the association he created 12 ex-libris, and the event was announced in the association periodical "Modern Woodcut Printing", Issue 9, " Exlibris album", in May 1935 (Fig. 4). This group of artists established the first foundation of knowledge of ex-libris in China, on the basis of which ex-libris art developed in this country. However, at that time in China the historical background was of internal revolt and foreign invasion, so it was very difficult for the art of bookplates to develop here during that period.  But from end of the 1930's and through the 1940s, creative activity in this field developed rapidly.


As a minor art expression, Chinese ex-libris art has never stopped since then. For example Mr. Cao xing zhi, Mr. Li ping fan, Mr. Shi zhe cun and Mr. Luo gong liu all were creative in the field of bookplates. The art scholar and researcher Mr. Ye peng, in 1945, started collecting and preserving ex-libris. In the 1950's, a few woodcut print artists spread wider the tradition of making bookplates. Mr. Li hua created them without interruption from 1959 to 1979. During the same period, Mr. Liang dong created some 40-50 Exlibris works, of which 15 between 1963 and 1964 (Fig. 5), and Mr. Yu peng made four in the same period.


 Between 1938 and 1976, China experienced successively: fighting an invading army, civil war, the establishment of new China, and the development of socialism. Until the "Cultural Revolution" and during this historical period, ex-libris art in China suffered 40 years' apathy.


In the 1980's, the art of ex-libris prospered afresh in China. Since the end of the “Cultural Revolution" in 1976, the artistic intellectual field in China is very active. In 1980, Mr.Li hua in a graphic arts exhibition, for the first time, exhibited four ex-libris, and in 1983, Mr.Liang dong, Mr. Wang die quan and Mr. Jiang zhi lin exhibited bookplates in the “8th National Woodcut Printing Art Exhibition” (Fig. 6). Immediately, this art form spread very quickly and widely all over China.


At the suggestion of Mr. Li hua, Mr. Liang dong and a group of artists on April 2, 1984, in Peking, established a single national entity for ex-libris art, the "Chinese Exlibris Association", bringing together in the whole country: creators, collectors, and researchers on the art of bookplates. It had about 500 members. The association published the periodical "Chinese Exlibris art” for communication between members, and later established "Chinese Exlibris art net" (www.ceaaa.com).


Once established, the "Chinese Exlibris Association" spread to every Chinese locality to constantly promote ex-libris art. It now has several thousand members. In over 20 years, many ex-libris works have been created. They are fresh and clear, in Chinese style, and arouse great interest (Fig. 7 - 11). The themes are wide, the artists are skilled and the works are elegant and varied. At present and as new authors appear continuously, we appreciate foreign attention for the new situation.


 Chinese artists are skilled in a wide range of techniques, including intaglio printing of etching (C3), drypoint (C4) and aquatint (C5). Few use soft-ground etching (C6), Mezzotint (C7) or engraving on linoleum, plastic & other materials (C8). In relief printing, many people use woodcut (X1), including mimeography (black-and-white and colour) and ‘Watermark colour woodcut’. Linocut (X3), relief-printed metal plates for intaglio printing (X5) are used, and (Chinese) stone stamp ( X7) is increasing gradually. Few people use wood engraving (X2) (Fig. 12) Flatbed, stencil and electronic printing is quite common (Fig. 13 - 16) and some people use autolithography ( L1), autography (transfer lithography, L2), and zincography( L3). Many people use stencil (S), silkscreen (S1), serigraphic reproduction (P9), and – though less frequently -  Mimeography (S2). Today, more and more people use Computer generated design (CGD).


 In 1984, 56 Exlibris works by 32 Chinese artists were displayed for the first time at the 20th FISAE exhibition in Germany. In the last 21 years, Chinese artists have taken part in 11 "FISAE Exhibitions". In 2000, Boston’s 28th FISAE Exhibition set an unprecedented record: one out of three artists taking part was Chinese, and one out of four works presented were from our country.


In 1986, 1117 Exlibris works of 532 Chinese artists were exhibited at the First Chinese Exlibris Art Exhibition, which travelled during a year to 12 Chinese cities. In the 21 years of its life, the ”Chinese Exlibris Association” has already organised 11 such major "Chinese Exlibris Art Exhibitions".

In 1988, in Denmark, at the 22nd FISAE Congress, the Chinese Exlibris Association was accepted as a new member of FISAE. In 1990, the Chinese representative Prof. Liang dong attended the 23rd FISAE Congress in Germany. It was the first time a Chinese Exlibris artist attended an international ex-libris event.


In 1992, the Chinese representative Prof. Liang dong, Prof. Zhang zho you, Mr.Zhang jia rui - 11 people in all – attended the 24th FISAE congress in Japan. It was the first time that many Chinese ex-libris artists collectively attended an event in the international realm of Exlibris.

In 1994, the Chinese representative Prof Shen yan xiang for the first time announced that China wished to host a FISAE congress, at the 25th congress in Milano, Italy.


In 2004, at Wels (Austria), where the 30th FISAE Congress was held, Chinese representative Prof Zhang zhi you put forward China’s firm candidature for the 32nd FISAE Congress in 2008 and it was accepted after two rounds of voting by secret ballots.


For now over a year, all the members of the ”Chinese Exlibris Association” have become happy with a mood of expectation, and are doubling their efforts with creative works. They expect the 32nd FISAE Congress and Exhibition (Beijing, China, 2008) to be a success and a new contribution to furthering the art of ex-libris internationally.


Prof Zhang Zhi You

*Standing Vice-Chairman & Secretary general of the Chinese Exlibris Association

14 November 2005


Illustrations:                                                                                                                back to Archive | home

click on the image to enlarge

Song chun fang 's bookplate, X1, c. 1914. Author unknown Guan zu zhang's 'Hide the book' bookplate, X1, c. 1914, author unknown Ye ling feng, X1, 1933, ipsis libris

Li hua,  X1, 1935, ipsis libris
Liang dong,  X1, 1963, ipsis libris
Wang die quan, X1, 1984,  for  Li ping fan

Yi yang, C3+C5, 2003, ipsis libris Yang zhong yi, C8, 2003, for  Yan ming Peng cheng, X1, 1995,  for  Ichigoro Uchida

Bai yi ru, X1, 1995, ipsis libris
 Zhang yang, X1, 2003, ipsis libris
Zhou dong shen, 2003,  ipsis libris


Kang jian fei, L1, 2001,  for  the Chinese national library Liu shuo hai, S1, 2003,  for  Ah nian Zhang zhi you, CGD, 2000,  for Masao Ohba

Chen ya dan, CGD, 2003,  for  Shang rang