The 120th Division (Eighth Route Army) in Northern China series, 1940 -1942 , 32 prints.

By Li Shaoyan (1918 – 2002)  


Monochromatic woodblock prints; Images size from 13.50 x 9.8cm  to 32.9 x 28cm

Li began his career as an artists upon going to Yan’an in 1938. After learning the woodcut technique, he was assigned as a secretary to General He Long of the 120th Division of the Eighth Route Army, a support unit the travel all over northern China.

He Long asked him to make a set of print documenting their dangerous journeys in 1940 and 1941. Li consulted a Lu Xun publication of Soviet prints to teach himself how to compose such illustrations. Many of his pictures for this project are quite beautifully carved and organised, though the influence of the Soviet models is strong. This series entitled ‘The 129th Division (Eight Route Army) in Northern China, was exhibited in Yan’an in 1941. He finished the series on 1942, 46 prints in total.

This is the only series which each print had signed by the artist, all 32 prints had published in the catalogue of ‘ the prints collection of Li Shoayan ’ by Sichuna Fine Art Press 1997.

Li Shaoyan (Former Vice-chairman of China Artists Association, Painter)

Li Shaoyan (October 1918-January 2002) was born in Linyi, Shandong province. He is skilled in prints. He designed the first stamp at the time when Yan’an was liberated. He was positioned as one of the the First-class Artists. Since 1955, he had successively served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Sichuan Branch of China Artists Association, deputy director of the propaganda department of Sichuan provincial committee of the CPC (Communist Party of China), vice- chairman of China Artists Association, the secretary of the CPC committee of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, vice-chairman of China Printmakers Association, vice-chairman of Sichuan Provincial Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the member of the second-term council and vice-chairman of the third-term and fourth-term council of China Artists Association and the delegate of the National People’s Congress of China for five consecutive years from the third term to the seventh term. At 2:10 a.m. on January 11, 2002, Li Shaoyan passed away at the age of 84 in Huaxi Hospital of Sichuan University.


In his 60 years’ career life as an artist, Li created numerous works of prints. Having served on the posts as vice-chairman of China Artists Association and chairman of Sichuan Artists Association, he had made an outstanding contribution to the development of China’s progression in printmaking and Sichuan’s art industry. During the War of Resistance against Japanese aggression, he determinedly joined the War of Resistance, reaching the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region from Peking. Amidst the flames of war, he accomplished the woodcut series, called 120th Division of the Eighth Route Army in North China with a huge structure, rich content and various styles which conveys strong emotions and still has great influence up to now. It is a monumental work of full-length woodcut series in the War of Resistance. During the period, he also created other artworks as ‘Rebuiding’, ‘Struggling’, ‘Landmine Warfare’ and ‘Ferrying the Wounded across the Huanghe River’ and he was awarded the 777 Literary and Art Creation Award in the Shanxi-Suiyuan Border Region.

Li Shaoyan made the first stamp (Chairman Mao’s positive portrait) by woodcut in the Shanxi- Suiyuan Border Region, which has become the treasure of stamp collecting lovers. After the founding of PRC, undertaking the leading task in the art circle, he still determined to experience life and create artworks amongst his busy work. From 1950s to 1980s, he created abundant works of printmaking such as ‘A Wish for Forty Years’, ‘Workshop as School’, ‘Yearn’, ‘Bleak Stream’, ‘New Look of an Old Street’, ‘Long Live Beloved Premier Zhou in People’s Heart’, ‘Water Curtain Cave on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway’, He is Smiling in the Flowers (Luxun’s portrait), A Trip to Hometown and Plough on the Sea. Comrade Li Shaoyan had trudged on the revolutionary road for 60 years. He insisted that literature and art should serve for the people and socialism, adhered to the printmaking’s tradition of fighting, and persisted in creating on the base of national art. Li’s artworks record from the inside the historical route of China’s revolution and construction, and are praised as ‘March of Battle, Lyric of Times’.

The First-edition Stamp with Chairman Mao’s Portrait in the

Shanxi-Suiyuan Border Region

In 1946, China’s political situation had undergone earthshaking changes. The CPC was leading the Chinese people into the National Liberation War. The Post Bureau of the Shanxi-Suiyuan Border Region was founded in 1946 and in the same year, it issued the first set of stamps called Postage Unit Stamp. After discussion, the portrait of Chairman Mao loved by the army and the people in the border region was adopted as the pattern of the stamp. The Chinese characters ‘Jin Sui You Zheng’ were printed on the stamp, namely ‘Shanxi-Suiyuan Post’.

The design and woodblock of the stamp with Chairman Mao’s portrait was done by China’s famous printmaker, Li Shaoyan, the then head of art office of the Shanxi-Suiyuan Daily. At first, Li chose Chairman Mao’s profile as the pattern and the print proof rubbed out from the block was a single orange pattern. At the meeting of heads of offices held by the Shanxi-Suiyuan branch of the Central Committee of the CPC and the administrative office, Yao Zhensheng, the then head of the Post Bureau of the Shanxi-Suiyuan Border Region, brought the print proof to the meeting and invited Comrade He Long and other leaders to examine it. After examining, Comrade He Long


smiled and said, “It doesn’t look like Chairman Mao”. Therefore, the stamp pattern of Chairman Mao’s profile was not adopted. After the meeting, Li designed and made the edition of the stamp with Chairman Mao’s positive portrait. Right in the middle of the stamp was Chairman Mao’s positive portrait, with two sections of character read ‘Jin Sui’ and ‘You Zheng’, starting from the left hand side. The value of the stamp is read from two sides of the main portrait as the unit ‘Yuan’. The woodblock done by Li Shaoyan is based on the technique called ‘wood engraving’. The engraving knife of his woodcutting was made by Li Shaoyan himself, of which the materials were also selected by him in the military factory. His special made knife was the only tool which can be used for thin-line engraving in the border region. After being accepted by the authority, the stamp with portrait of Chairman Mao was officially published as the first major Mao’s portrait in Shanxi-Suiyuan region on January 1, 1947.

The picture is portrait of Chairman Mao, designed by Li Shaoyan. It is printed by stone block. The stamp size is 20.5×24.5mm. The whole edition is ranged as 100 pieces, horizontally 20 pieces and vertically 5 pieces. There are nine different colours of this edition, each colour has its own block with different value engraved on while without the sprocket hole.

The brownish stamp is the only portrait of Chairman Mao produced by Jin Sui border region in existence. It is designed by Li Shaoyan. At the time of examination on this draft, it was rejected because the likeness with Chairman Mao was inferior, the designer changed it back into the front look. This is the officially published edition, which is rarely seen in today’s existence.