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Revista Nova Et Vetera - Cultura - Christianity in The Art world of Anli Genu: Heart, Tree and spiritual Rebirth.
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Christianity in The Art world of Anli Genu: Heart, Tree and spiritual Rebirth.

Jose David Quiñones V.


Volumen 4 - Nº 37 may./2018
ISSN: 2422-2216

Christianity in The Art world of Anli Genu: Heart, Tree and spiritual Rebirth.

Christianity has spread to the world in a fascinating way since the message of the Christ was given to the apostles.

It has been a source of inspiration in every sphere of humanity; from social and moral precepts to arts and architecture, it has revealed a fascinating way to live and see life for those who keep their faith in his word.

The history of Christianity is wide and mysterious and it embraces the four cardinal points with just a few differences in terms of doctrine and philosophical approach. In regards to China and its influential area, it is even more interesting given the Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist predominant philosophy and religion and the presence of aboriginal tribes who still remain with their traditional arts and believes.

It is commonly admitted that the first appearance of a Christian movement in China, was around the 7th century: “The monks whose arrival was in A.D. 635, recorded on the Xi’an Stele were from the Syrian church in Persia. The term Daqin in the phrase “The Luminous religion from Daqin” refers to the West in a general way and more particularly to Syria, the place of origin of the church of the East”.

From China, it has been spreading all around the far East having a special influence in minorities, aboriginal tribes and some other religious groups who have mixed their own traditional believes with their faith in Christ. According to Charbonnier, “The first catholic priest to have set foot on Taiwan, was the Spanish Dominican Fr. Juan Cobo, who had evangelized the Chinese community in Manila, and was on his way from a mission to Japan”.

It seems that there is no corner in the world where the message of Jesus hasn’t arrived. With an increasing reception in some groups, it has been changing paradigms in many aspects of human relations, especially regarding to the old idols, the perception of mankind, and the meaning of beauty, that has led to a vigorous contribution in all kinds of art and expressions.

According to this, the main objective is to understand how the art work of the Taiwanese painter and christian priest from the Atayal aboriginal tribe Anli Genu “ Heart tree and spiritual rebirth” is in deep connection with the christian idea of paradise and some traditional believes from the Atayal.

In this sense, we are going to analyse some of the paintings of the artist, from a mythological and symbolic perspective to see how the traditional ways of thinking of the aboriginals and specially the Atayal match with the christian idea of paradise, baptism, the ancestors, the Tree and the spiritual rebirth, as exposed in Genu’s art work.

The Christian Arts in China

It is known that the christian art has its own development in the Eastern culture. The artist had been able to reproduce the christian most relevant themes from their own inspiration. The first manifestations of such art had been reproduced by the original samples that the missionaries brought from Europe, and later on, the artists started to do their own works of art according to their culture and personal perspective.

The first expressions of christian arts can be found in paintings which is the easiest way to assimilate foreign influence. Later on, the construction of churches and some other buildings showed the architectural works in several regions of Asia, even though this is not the most remarkable issue in China, given the opposition held by the political and religious authorities. Finally, we can find some art works in sculpture evocating the christian scenes of the bible or the role of the missionaries in some churches or museums within the Western prominence though in the last 50 years, many of this works had been destroyed by the national authorities.

Nevertheless, christian art in China has been specially known in painting, which was introduced by the Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) who’s style traced the way for future painters in the enculturation process of the Western arts in China. He is still the most famous Western artist who worked in China, creating a new style that mixed the west techniques with the Chinese one. His works can be seen in the national palace museum of Pekin and Taipei, and in the Chinese year of the Horse (2014) his work “100 horses” was remarkably exposed and digitalized in new formats. We can also mention the paintings of Lu-Hung-Nien, Lucas C’ n, Giorgio Wang-Su-Da, and Chang-Chao-Ho between others, as eminently christian, or with a great influence of christian themes.

In this terms we can say that christianity has been able to manifest in China and Taiwan through all the cultural and artistic means given its universality and its broad sense of unity that embraces all the human and divine aspects of life. It can be conceived as a way of artistic expression in which the individual finds himself and recognises his role in society by the light and inspiration that the revelation of the Christ brings to life.

Anli Genu and the Atayal.

It is said that “Since primitive times, humans have never ceased to engage in ceremony; only the objects of worship change from generation to generation. Breaking down meaning and building it back again to show how art can elevate the spirit” As part of the Atayals aboriginal tribe in Taiwan, Anli Genu express in his paintings the universal meaning of paradise, baptism, the tree of live, the holy spirit and the sacred word as Utux and Gaga in the Atayal believes for the modern times.


A. Anli Genu

Anli Genu whose Chinese name is Anli Lai (安力‧給怒), was born in the Meihua Village of the Atayal tribe in Jiansih Township, Hsinchu County in 1958. He went to the Chinese Culture University and obtained his degree from the department of fine arts in 1986. Later on, he decided to travel to New York to continue his studies and received his M.F.A degree from the school of visual arts in New York in 1992. He is probably one between a thousandth indigenous artist in Taiwan who has been to the University and received a Master in fine arts.
In the words of Hsiao Chong-ray, curator of the exhibition Heart, tree and spiritual Rebirth- at the Kaohsiung museum of fine arts in 2016, Anli Genu is not only an artist. He is an artist and a shepherd. “For him, artistic creation is more than about issues of his personal life but also about issues concerning the stability and sustainable development of the whole tribal society”.

His art is full of christian symbolic content, and his purpose is to find a system in which he can display an artistic rhetoric composed of forms, patterns and images that connects christian beliefs and traditional believes to represent the Atayal’s culture in the modern way of living. “He creates his art with religious beliefs and preaches his religion through artistic creation”.

His painting technique is natural oil and bamboo on canvas, and his christian philosophy invites the people, especially the Atayal to understand the meaning of the cross in their own lives. “Within the changing flow of history,” writes Genu for the, “such external markers are beautiful but inevitably transient, like passing clouds. Yet that which is invisible to the eye remains in the background”.

 B. The Atayal

Archeologic and linguistic evidence suggests that the Austronesian (Malay-Polynesian) peoples coming from Southeast Asia or the south of China to Taiwan around 10.000 – 6.000 B.C where giving birth to the Austronesian culture and language. Between this native families, the Atayal aborigines developed their life in the Island as a predominant group long before the Han people become the majority ethnic group.

In terms of genetics, the Atayal have been also associated with the native people from Philippines and Thailand, and generally different from the Amis people, the predominant indigenous tribe in Taiwan, and the Han people, who represents the Chinese old dynasty in the Island. They use to believe that they were born from the big stones in Daibjian Mountain and when the Japanese invaded Taiwan (1895-1945), they went back to the mountains and hide before they had to fight for their land.

It is said that the meaning of Atayal is "genuine person" or "brave man" and perhaps we can find this characteristic on how they used to live and specially in the way they used to think and see the world. The idea of the hero was also very meaningful given the qualities that were associated with the “Tumux” or leader of the tribe, which was usually known as a brave and kind man, fair, peaceful and rhetorical.

According to I Chun Wang, “Being kind, fair and rhetorical was to be able to conciliate the matters within or outside the tribe, and be fluent when holding ceremonies or praying for blessings; but being brave was the necessary quality of a great male Tayan.” In addition, “Being brave in traditional Atayal culture means to be skilful in hunting and fighting, and normally requires a fearless heart to do that”.

The Atayal used to believe in Gaga and Utux. Considered as an Animist tribe, the elements of nature, the trees, the stones, the mountains and rivers, where all sacred beings, and the relation between the individual, the tribe and the spirits was the base of their good fortune. Gaga means “The word left from the Ancestors” in their original language, and it was the fundamental social law that ruled their culture, their ethics and moral behaviour, and specially their relation with Utux, which were all the “supernatural” beings in the Atayal culture.

Their faith in Gaga and Utux made their culture rich in myths and heroes. “In the Atayal oral stories – which are also part of Gaga – most of the heroes were depicted as the models of how one should follow the guidance of, and how one should act for the good of, his/her group by strengthening and justifying the necessity of the Gaga and Utux ”.

There is more than one version that explains the way in which the Atayal get to adopt the christian religion, though it is generally admitted that the first preacher to meet the Atayal was a Han Taiwanese who came to the Jinshuei village in 1947. He was from the presbyterian church and started to preach the christian word, “converting” families until he found a church in 1949. It is said that “when they first heard about the ‘principles’ of catholicism, they found it ‘just like ours, especially the ten commandments’, fit perfectly with many of the Gaga: there is a ‘god’ above in the sky, looking over us, and tell us what to do” .

Given the relation with the deep truth of the Gaga which can be understood as the God’s word, the message carried by christianity and its promise of salvation found a good land where to grow. We must highlight the world situation at that moment and specially the communist threat of mainland China that was trying to abolish all the traditional ways of culture and expression. In this sense, the christian religion was offering the Atayal, the opportunity to preserve their believes, tradition and culture under the new dogma and continue their lives in a peaceful way.

Heart Tree and Spiritual rebirth

The influence of christianity in the Art World of Anli Genu can be seen from different perspectives. In general, his work is not christian as the traditional paintings from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance; nor as the Han Chinese painters and paradoxically unique and original. There is no special attention to Jesus Christ in the cross, there is no Virgin Mary with the baby, and still it preserves the most fundamental character of the message.

As we know from the Genesis, the primitive Adam was living in paradise with Eve who was made from his rib and make him try the fruit of the forbidden tree, which was the tree of knowledge from good and evil. Since he sinned, his eyes where opened and he saw himself naked and exiled from paradise. From this moment on, he had to start working to feed himself, he lost his contact with God, and he met the reality of sexuality and death.

In primitive and archaic societies as the Atayal, the myths, as the one of Adam and Eve in paradise, have a very meaningful value, since are considered the absolute truth since they are relating a sacred story. In contrast to the modern Western conception of reality, in which the myths are opposed to it, “a myth is a true story of what came to happen at the beginning of time, and one that provides the pattern of human behaviour”.

In this sense, the idea of paradise can be conceived as absolute reality in the time where human beings where living in complete harmony with nature, in direct contact with God and in a complete state of innocence where time didn’t exist as we conceive nowadays. This myth of paradise seems to be recreated by the Atayal and their common believes in Gaga and Utux as represented by Genu in his painting called paradise:


According to Mircea Eliade and his interpretation about the myths of paradise and the good savage, “The state of innocence and the spiritual blessedness of man before the fall, in the paradisiac myth, becomes in the myth of the good savage, the pure, free and happy state of the exemplary man surrounded by a maternal and generous nature”.

Since the fall of men from paradise and the loss of his contact with God was an actual event, human kind had tried to recover their paradise in many ways. With the celebration of their rites and ceremonies, and by following the voice of Gaga, who is believed to come from heaven, the aborigines and religious believers are trying to get back to the beginning of all times.

Furthermore, as the symbol of the return to paradise the redemption given by Christ is the fundamental pillar of the world. “In the mythic time of paradise, a tree connects the earth with heaven, so that primordial man can easily go to heaven by climbing to the top where is the Lord of the World”


Finally, it seems like the way back to paradise is still a possibility for those who still search contact with a sacred way of living. “christianity thus seem to be the realisation of paradise. The Christ is the tree of life or the fountain of paradise, And baptism, a symbol of the entrance to paradise as a spiritual rebirth for human kind.


The relations between the East and the West have been traced by the cultural, economic and socio politic exchange in a very high level. The silk road opened the market for trading products of all kinds, specially silk, but also species, medicine, technology and lots of people with different ideas from all around the world.

In this global exchange that we can understand as the beginning of globalization, civilizations where emerging by the leadership of some nations, while others were disappearing and leaving space for new ideas to emerge and crystalize in different ways of expression of the traditional and modern ways of living.

christianity thus appears in this scenario as the unifying actor that will create the basis of the common understanding between nations, and a source of inspiration for entire groups of people, artistic movements, religious groups, and minorities whose identity was being threaten by the rapid changes that humanity was living.

The art world of Anli Genu is an example of the revival of the universal message of the Christ represented in his paintings and in the deep meaning of being an aboriginal, an Atayal, and a christian in his relation with the lost paradise and his faith in the promise of salvation.

+Quinklan photography all rights reserved*

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