"Rhino" Concept & the Path Issue
----Tasting the Art of Shih Li-Jen's Sculpture | Ji Wang

Confucius said, "The path is not far from man. When men try to pursue a course, which is far from the common indications of consciousness, this course cannot be considered The Path." This is a wisdom that we Chinese people have to remind ourselves indeed, likewise, to the understanding of form of contemporary art. As an individual artist, Mr. Shih Li-Jen must have ruminated on it over and over.

Those, Rational modernism, scientific concept and the outlook of world from westerners, once became guidelines for Easterners in the late 19th century until the end of the 20th century. The blind obedience, which can be told as grief-stricken with bitter hatred, in fact, caused excessive deficit. New Culture Movement led directly to the inheritance of loss of a great nation's oriental aesthetics which was sufficient and astonishing the world, and annihilating as ashes. Though the old principal, Mr. Cai Yuan-Pei, of Beijing University has advocated the proposal of western aesthetics system and the compatibility with toleration of non-aesthetics regions, it is neither to revive entirely the spirit of the Chinese people, nor to art. We had lost far away the whole century. At this point, Shih, who had been on study tour in France, has more deeply personal experience.

After Modernism, the Post-Modernist ideas and Contemporary issues have plagued the worldwide tendency of art. The art world is "been" dominating by advertising it globalization and integration, and the most of the discourse seems to be led by those men who are holding the Western standard-bearer in the hands. We, as a matter of fact, are trapped ourselves in the thinking of Idealism. Turns out the so called Utopia never visit us. It is a human feast for Westerners, not for us.

Oriental "Rhinos"


Shih, a sculptor, is obviously good at expressing realism of the modernism.  That he chose a very bizarre animal—rhinoceros— as visual carrier for his variety of research creation to attitude toward life and beliefs, and simply leave those issues regarding cultural roots to the vicissitudes and blurred reviewers of art, that is enough to make them guilty.

Despite the mythical legend regarding that Jiang Zi-ya rode on a rhinoceros, and according to "Haineinan Jing" (Classic of Regions within the Seas: South) on Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas) documented,

"The Si-rhinoceros dwell east of Shun's Tomb and south of the Xiang River. Their form resembles as ox that is blue-dark with a single horn."

"Northwest of the Xingxing dwell Xi-rhinoceros. Their form resembles an ox that is black."

Based on it, rhinoceros indeed exist in ancient China. The same reference in "Classic of the Mountains: West" recorded:

"Three hundred twenty li (around a hundred miles) west stands Mountain Bozhong. The Han River emanates from it and flows southeast into the Mian. The Ao River also emanates from it and flows north into the Yang. Among it are many Tao-trees and Gouduan-trees, while beasts here are many Si-rhino and Xi-rhino."

"Among the imperial forest, it has exotic beasts. With a single horn is called Si-rhino, with twin horns is called Xi-rhino." "An Explanation of Beasts"

However, Two Han Dynasty afterward, the ancient books is no longer distinguished between Si and Xi, and tends significantly replacing the former one with the latter one. Obviously, the existence of rhino is recorded generally. It is recorded in the historical documents in the early West-Zhou Dynasty, that elephants, rhinos and other beasts were tamed and trained in the military campaign. They also made armors by the skin of rhinos for war. In the Spring and Autumn Period, wherein Kingdom Wu located along the East China Sea, and their Duke Fu-Cha owns a troop with one hundred and three thousand soldiers equipped with armors and helmets which are made by rhinos. Based on the documents, we are able to tell the image of rhinos.

From the exploration of the later generations about Auspicious Beast and acknowledge of Rhinos, there is a rather exciting direction to its research into the prototype of Kylin (unicorn). According to various manuscripts records, Kylin is indeed ancient beast. Documents from Oracle Bone Inscriptions of Yin Dynasty Ruins wrote that Kylin lives in the middle and lower reaches of Yellow River. Due to the climate of the Central Plains China became cold and dry, it moved gradually to the south and barely remained in the central. Therefore, people of Kingdom Lu hardly ever see Kylin in the late of the Spring and Autumn Period, which is documented on "The Spring and Autumn Annals" – west hunt and captured a Kylin in the 14th Year of Duke Ai. Further documented on "Zuo- Zhuan" , the 14th Year of Duke Ai:

"In the spring, Go west and hunt in Juye county, the coachman of Shu Sun Shi, Zi Chu Shang hunt a rare beast, considered it a sign of bad luck, gave it away to the Yu. Confucius recognized it and told: It's Kylin. Then the coachman took it back."

Therefore, it has become an important trend to create artworks about animals. Animals are no longer a minor role for creation, and their characteristic and the way they behave are varied. Such as rhinos of Shih that he has been creating a series of rhino sculptures with different character and feature for King Kong Rhino, Harley Rhino, The Impregnable Rhino, The reappearing King Kong Rhino, and those early rhino family members, etc.

No one knows what Kylin is at the time, and supposed it a symbol of ominous in the Spring and Autumn Period, not to mention Yu, the officers in charge of mountains, have never seen it. Confucius, an elaborative scholar, is capable of recognizing Kylin, so that corroborated the existence of Kylin. See "Analects of Confucius: A man Yang Huo":

"From the Book of Poetry, we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants."

It is recorded in Oracle Bone Inscriptions of the Yin Dynasty Ruins that the Indian rhinos are living in Central Plains of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. It is rare to discover these unique species here since the influences of change of climate and environment. Plus their mythical living style, they have been deified as Holy Beast or Auspicious Beast. Few of people in the Central Plains have seen Kylin; however, the Ethnic Minority Groups in southern China are able to state and tell Kylin (Chinese unicorn) by its unique horn.

Further information recorded in volume 1st on "Zhi Fang Wai Ji", written by the Italian Jesuit missionary, Giulio Aleni, in 17th century, describing characters between single-horn and twin-horn rhinos in India, Africa and Venice, or so called Kylin, Tianlu, or Pixie in China.

Therefore, Shih's rhinos are counting as the image of Chinese Auspicious Beasts. I would prefer to transcribe it onto Oriental rhino. It attributes to the Orient, or the east. According to the wisdom of ancestors referred in Five Elements: In Central Plains, east fertile, west desolate, north cold, south hot. Then, the fertile east, or fertile orient, generally fits for rhinos.

The well-known masterpiece in the late Spring and Autumn Period, Rhino shaped Ritual vessel—displayed abstract patterns inlaid with gold and silver, which is collected in the Museum of Chinese History, provides us with much visual enjoyment. And there is one more bronze ware, Ritual vessel (zen or gui) shaped rhinoceros, which was cast earlier in the Late Shang Period and reported during the Daoguang-era Ching Dynasty in Liangshan County, Shangdong Province, and considered one of famous Seven Liangshen Bronzes, now collected in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in American. Both using realistic approach, and their unadorned and natural form revealed from the pure heavy body. It is the supreme realm of Chinese traditional aesthetic ideal to pursue the art at simple miraculous performance. This approach of the creation is no obstacle to find out from Shih's rhinos.

The ideal of Shih's rhino sculptures is to apply western realism approach to its image, and manage both shape and spirit as being a powerful huge rhinos. He seems prefer strong appearance and is skilled in revealing the beauty of strength from the primal thinking. That makes his art with elaborative quality and touched impressively. It's hard to tell that none of his creation is inspired by the western art. Shih has equipped intimate knowledge of art, Rodin, for instance and the rest western modernist sculpture masters. He apparently disciplines himself on oriental aesthetic, meanwhile, progresses cautiously, organizes and refines his works, make the rhinos, which stands for wealth and mystery, combine with western modernist aesthetics and release a strong visual appeal. As the point of view, Shih is literally Orientalized. It is what Lu Xun called it the tremendously profound strength of Chinese sculptures. Thus, behind the spirit of content and form of the aura, Shih, restrained and constrained his strength and waiting for the chance of appearance, modeled the rhinos in sculpture of unique ethos of contemporary oriental and inherent implications.


The Path Issue

While regarding rhinoceros as a symbolic image, we are able to discover what art historian, Wu Hong, put on emphasis on a certain trace of qualified flexible monumentality. In my opinion, the traced thought might be implied spiritual meaning of that rhinos is generic auspicious beast, as like Taotie and Dragon and Phoenix for instance, and whose image can be included in the mysticism, in ritual beliefs, and the other social functions. The rhino represents the image of wealth and well-being, solid and strong. It is not only Shih trying to show its spiritual side, but also for the good lock of the Chinese symbol.

Unlike traditional easel sculptures which are moving or standing in a closed space, Shih pursuits creativity and beauty of art, and carries his rhinos on a certain vision considerable wide in his continuously inspiration and plans. They obviously possess emblematic sculptures of environmental, social, public and regional characteristics. No matter where they have been placed in somewhere, they coordinate with surrounding in style, scale and etc, complement each other spectacularly, monumentally, and meaningfully. At this approach, Shih's work is far more outstanding compared to current sculpture pieces making behind closed door in Asian region. Due to the factors of environment, including natural and cultural environment, his symbolized rhino sculptures are placed and valued creatively and aesthetically, are sheer charming. The best quality of Shih's rhinos sculpture is its public and social characters, exposed under unexpected to various social classes of public. Considering the approach, the point of view is quite reasonable.

On the other hand, the sculpture practice, from ancient Greek and Roman times to neo - classicism, romanticism and realism , has been established a concept of classical, completely restrictive space by the academic tradition in 19th century. Western realism is moving in new directions, and the trend which has been labeled postmodern is taking shape in Europe, set up boundary toward those rigid, classical academism artists, those who still look forward with great passion and romantic ideals. Even though Shih has been devoting on Western sculptures, his creation isn't fall in it; he creates rhinos on the theme of his own particular meaning and definition from the image of oriental of himself, and enables us to sense the deep and great Chinese moral principle regarding the joyful life and ethical value of happiness of a family union. From questioning the alter of Holy Path to a new platform of the real world, personified rhinos of Father and Son, Husband and Wife, are the meaning of native happiness. As to the Path, it merely generates a sense mixed with smile and satisfaction, vivid and enjoyable.

The infinity path is an empty vessel enveloping all manifestations, yet it can never be filled. It is the potential of all things tangible and intangible. Therefore, looking for the infinity path would become a constant process, naturally cover all of the public can be involved and thinking.

"Tao Te Ching"

Hence, the path issue, considered a continuous process which naturally involved in the entire publics and their thought. The oriental rhinos of Shih provide different clues from another point of view, and in this regard to the Path, it is worthwhile to taste his art and sculptures as the foundation and spirituality of wisdom of a nation.

September, 15,2011