The honorary Doctor of Letters conferred on Chinese painter Fan Zeng, 72, by the University of Glasgow, marks the first time one of the United Kingdom's oldest universities has honored an established Chinese artist.
Speaking at the awards ceremony in Tianjin's Nankai University recently, University of Glasgow principal and vice-chancellor Anton Muscatelli said: "Fan is a distinguished artist with a passion for traditional art who is committed to preserving ancient skills for a new generation, and to showcasing traditional Chinese art to the wider world."
The honor for Fan, one of Nankai University's outstanding alumni, is "a testament to international recognition and understanding of century-old Chinese art", noted its principal Xue Jinwen.
Painting has a long and distinguished tradition in China and, along with calligraphy, is considered the highest of all art forms, said Nick Pearce, professor of Chinese Art and head of the School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow.
Many scholars consider the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) to represent the high point in the development of this art form.
"It is significant that Fan Zeng comes from a long line of Song Dynasty scholar-artists with 13 generations devoted to creating poetry, prose, calligraphy and painting," Pearce said, praising Fan's vigorous brushwork.
In his acceptance speech, Fan called himself "a watcher and caretaker of Chinese culture".
"To compose poetry is what I am supposed to do, and to paint is my religion," said Fan, who is also known as a prolific writer of over 100 books, containing poems, art criticisms and essays on the classics.
Born in 1938 in Nantong, eastern Jiangsu province, Fan majored in history from Nankai University.
He later transferred to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing to study art history and Chinese ink painting under such masters as Wu Zuoren, Li Keran, Jiang Zhaohe and Liu Lincang.
Fan rose to prominence in 1977 with Zhong Kui, a vivid, ink-and-splash depiction of a mythic ghost eater, commissioned for the Great Hall of the People.
In the 1980s, he founded the Oriental Arts Department at Nankai University and served as its dean until 1999. In 1983, the Fan Zeng Art Museum opened to the public in Japan. A year later, he began staging his art exhibition tours in Asian and European countries.
Soon, his works were going under the hammer at Western auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's.