The series of Paintings on the Preservation of Life, now in the collection of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, contain some of the most important works of Feng Zikai. 100 selected leaves from the volumes have been selected for their debut in Hong Kong, at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
Feng was admitted to the Zhejiang First Normal College at the age of 17, where he studied painting, music and Japanese under Li Shutong (1880 – 1942) (who later became a Buddhist monk known as Master Hongyi). The two maintained a close relationship as friends and mentormentee throughout their lives. For his mentor’s birthday, Feng began creating works under the title, Paintings on the Preservation of Life, from 1929. They were made into a volume every ten years, and this on-going project lasted even after Li’s death. Over the decades, Feng had completed six volumes totalling 450 leaves. Included in them are poems and inscriptions by Li, his student Zhu Youlan (1909 – 1990), a close friend Ye Gongzhuo (1881 – 1968), and some others, written on double-leaves.
“Preservation of life is preservation of the heart … Replace the heart of cruelty with that of kindness and benevolence, and let it be the way you see others and the world.” Feng Zikai
The collection, Paintings on the Preservation of Life, was conceived under the theme of developing a caring concern for every living thing under the sun. The core idea is to cultivate pity, benevolence and inner peace, which would in turn become ‘a caring heart’; and this, Feng holds, is what we should have in everything we do to those around us. Throughout the decades of making the collection, Feng had undergone the trials and tribulations brought by the Second Sino-Japanese War, so he should have a profound understanding of the brutality and mercilessness of Man. But his generosity of character prevails, and he shows faith and unmitigated compassion through these volumes. They are hymns of praise for Nature, statements that advocate equality of all forms of life, and reminders that one should not kill, but love and embrace all for the betterment of this world.