The Story of Ink and Water – by Chun Zhang

Chun Zhang is the translator of a beautiful children’s book The Story of Ink and Water by Liang Peilong and Li Qingye. We are always on the look-out for great children’s books created by Chinese writers and illustrators, and this one is due for publication in March 2017. We asked Chun to tell us more about it…

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The Story of Ink and Water, by LIANG Peilong and LI Qingye, tr. Chun ZHANG (Balestier Press)

Translated from the original Chinese, this is a lively and imaginative children’s story of how Chinese painting came to be. The materials used in traditional Chinese painting (water, brush, ink) are personified as Water Girl, Brush Boy, and Ink Boy, who meet and form friendships through the discovery of their talents.

One day, Water Girl leaves her home in the river to explore a new world. She meets Ink Boy who has the ability to turn water black, and Brush Boy who, to everyone’s delight, uses this black water to paint beautiful pictures on paper. Together, they discover that the more ink and less water they use, the darker the paintings – and the less ink and more water they use, the lighter they appear. The curious threesome end up creating wonderful paintings of nature, from animals (which come to life!), to scattering clouds that help provide shade from the sun.

It’s a delightful introduction to the world of Chinese painting through a child’s eyes. The ink paintings by Liang Peilong beautifully accompany the narrative and are in themselves perfect examples of the Chinese painting talked about in the story.

Liang Peilong  was born in 1944 in Guangdong, China. He has worked in children’s books for over 30 years; his works emphasise seeing the world through a child’s eyes, and the artistic effects of ink and water paintings. He is the winner of many awards for illustration, and his work has been used in middle school and primary school teaching materials. They have also been exhibited in many national exhibitions, as well as internationally in countries including Italy, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Japan, America, Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong.

Li Qingye, the author, is a retired nursery school teacher from Guangdong province, China. She began her career as a teacher in 1962, and published her first children’s picture book in 1973 during the latter years of the the Cultural Revolution. Unusually for the time, her books were not in line with the typical propaganda stories of the Cultural Revolution, instead writing about topics she was interested in. Li continued to write children’s stories after her retirement in the late nineties.

It’s totally refreshing to see examples of Chinese painting in a children’s book. We are all too familiar with either a more traditional European style or contemporary digitally illustrated books in the English language so it is really great to see something visually different now available in bookshops outside of the Chinese-speaking world. I particularly like the simplicity of the images, a quality that is quite typical of certain genres of Chinese painting, and is coincidentally very suitable for children’s book illustration!

I think this book will appeal to children of all ages, and even adults, as the artwork is beautiful to look at in its own right. Of course, the picture book format may immediately spark interest in parents who wish to read with children between the ages of 4-8, but I myself thoroughly enjoyed the story and the inventive way in which the technique of Chinese painting was explained to the reader. It is really for anyone who is interested in Chinese art and culture, and perhaps an inspiration for any slightly older children who may want to try their hand at Chinese painting!

This is the next picture book by Balestier Press, and I’m sure there will be plenty more lined up for the near future! Balestier is a new independent Singapore-based publisher specialising in children’s and teenage fiction by Asian writers and illustrators.

[Written for the GLLI – Paper Republic collaboration, Feb 2017]

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