INTRODUCTION TO ZHANG WAN LONG
Rev. Elyn MacInnis, Beijing, China
It has been my pleasure to work with Zhang Wan Long over the past 20 plus years. I first met him in 1989, when he was just beginning his Christian woodcarving work. At that point his carvings were naturally patterned on Christian art from the west, but both my husband and I felt that in spite of the fact that Jesus was born in the Middle East and looked more Western than Chinese, that the spirit of our brother Jesus could just as easily be expressed in a Chinese way and in a Chinese setting. It was with this meeting- of- the- minds that my husband and I began our association with Zhang Wan Long.
The first project, a "Last Supper"in a Chinese environment, was commissioned in 1989. Jesus was portrayed sitting at a round table with his disciples at the moment of his saying, "One of you will betray me."
None of us imagined how successful it would be. Other themes were chosen and carved, including Jesus Calming the Storm, The Lost Sheep, The Sower (which was commissioned by the United Bible Societies to be given to their World-wide Area offices), and other themes. Visitors to China really appreciated Wan Long’s work, and he created carvings for them: nativity sets, small carvings (which were welcomed by travelers who could fit them in their luggage) such as The Sower, Good Shepherd, free standing statues, and even some especially creative projects, like a hanging “Nativity” lantern. Christians who have seen his work have been delighted by his willingness to carve the spirit of Jesus Christ into a Chinese woodcarving in a Chinese setting. Wan Longs carving of “Jesus’ Life” was exhibited in Hong Kong in 2004 and is now hanging in Shanghai at the National Protestant Church offices. It was exhibited in the US in 2005. Taking over three years to finish, there are 76 scenes from the gospels, including more than 1,000 figures carved into the huge wood panel. Most recently, a church in the U.S. has commissioned two plaques (1.5 x .75 meters) with the theme of “Jesus’ Ministry” which have received high acclaim. Other pieces have been exhibited internationally at the National Museum in Vienna, been included in a traveling exhibit that toured Sweden in 2003-4, in Norway, and in the US in several exhibitions, including one at the National Church Center next to Riverside Church in New York City.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Zhang Wan Long’s work is that he is always willing to make Jesus accessible to people, for example, in his portrayal of the Holy Family, with Joseph embracing both Mary and Jesus in a loving hug. The “Lost Sheep” has a shy smile, and his carved version of Noah’s Ark includes the whole family, not just Noah and his wife, plus some animals not typically included in the scene: eagles, penguins, and China’s beloved panda. It is no wonder that the public finds his work beguiling, and it has received great praise.