Two hundred items of calligraphy, paintings and manuscripts from the collection of Jao Tsung-i are being exhibited in Hong Kong, with some being shown in public for the first time.

The exhibition to celebrate the legacy of Jao, a master of Chinese studies, shines a light on the renaissance of legitimate traditional values and morals and is being held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum from Wednesday to February 17, 2020.

The collection contains many exceptional pieces of art and archival material, many with fascinating backstories to explore. Part of the exhibition showcases Jao’s selected academic work and artwork inspired by the Dunhuang culture.

A replica of the Wisdom Path, which is on Lantau Island and consists of 38 wooden monuments inscribed with the Heart Sutra prayer, is also being shown in the exhibition.

A replica of the Wisdom Path Photo: Asia Times

Born in Chao’an in Guangdong province in 1917, Jao first visited Hong Kong in 1946 for an academic research project. He started to teach and continued his research at the University of Hong Kong in 1951.

Jao was highly esteemed for his erudition in a wide range of humanity subjects: ancient history, regional history, oracle bone inscriptions, bamboo slips and silk manuscripts, bibliographic research, Chu Ci studies, Dunhuang studies, the history of religions, archaeology and Chinese literature.

As a painter, poet, a sinologist and a calligrapher, Jao wrote more than 80 books and more than 900 scholarly articles and essays. He taught at a number of tertiary institutions including The University of Hong Kong, Yale University, the University of Singapore and the Ecole Practiques des Hautes Etudes in France.

Jao’s artworks were exhibited in galleries, auction houses and museums, from Sotheby’s to the National Palace Museum around the globe. He became known as the “pride of Hong Kong” for his achievements.

Jao passed away in February 2018 at the age of 100. His inspirational insights made him one of the most influential masters of Chinese studies in a contemporary context.

Irene Lok (left) and Lee Chuak-fan (right) Photo: Asia Times

“The reason Jao became a legend is that he worked much harder than most people and dedicated all his time to academic research, instead of administration, public relations or fund-raising activities,” said Lee Chack-fan, Director of the Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole, The University of Hong Kong.

Jao was born into a banker’s family and could immerse himself in a private library set up by his father when he was young, Lee said.

Jao dedicated his whole life and worked 18 hours a day to reviving Chinese culture, which could help people balance the materialistic world with humanism, Lee said.

“With his knowledge in Dunhuang studies, he invented the Northwest China style of landscape painting, compared with the traditional Northern and Southern style,” said Irene Lok, Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jao’s painting and calligraphy. Photo: Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole

Lok said the exhibition was launched together with an inter-school competition of project learning, which offers an opportunity for secondary students to appreciate Chinese culture from a creative perspective through their research and independent learning about Jao.

The teams of two to five secondary students can visit The Story of Jao Tsung-i exhibition and prepare a field project with information gained from the exhibition and enriched with additional research from publications, websites or other media. Projects can be submitted in either English or Chinese in the two categories, Junior Secondary (secondary 1-3) and Senior Secondary (secondary 4-6).

The submissions should be around the four key themes such as Jao’s life, scholarship, arts or literature. Teams can choose to send in a written project of no less than 1,000 words in the Junior category and no less than 2,000 words in the Senior category. Teams may also choose to submit video entries. Videos must be of original material and be no longer than eight minutes. All entries need to be submitted on or before July 5, 2020.

Jao Tsung-i. Photo: Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole

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