Zhang Liang (in Japanese, Shibo), whose literary name was Zi Fang, served as chief advisor to Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty in ancient China. It was he who persuaded the emperor to join forces with Xiang Yu to overthrow the tyrannical state of Ch’in. Later, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu quarreled. Liu Bang’s army pursued Xiang Yu and surrounded him, but he was still not defeated. One night, Zhang Liang went close to the enemy camp and played one of the sheng (a mournful sounding mouth organ) melodies from their home province. W hen the enemy soldiers heard the music, they were so homesick that most of them deserted. Xiang Yu subsequently committed suicide and Liu Bang became emperor of China. Zhang Liang’s robes catch in the breeze as it carries that fatal melody to enemy lines.
The son of a Tokyo physician, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (né Kinzaburo Yoshioka) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e art. As a young boy he showed remarkable talent and began to study under the renowned Kuniyoshi at the age of 12. Yoshitoshi also studied under Yosai and was adopted by the Tsukioka family.
As modernization pushed ahead, Yoshitoshi suffered a nervous breakdown in 1872, living in poverty and ceasing all artistic production. A year later, he resumed working; adopting the artist name Taiso and fulfilling his creative potential. In 1885, he began one of his most acclaimed series, 100 Views of the Moon. In the spring of 1892, he suffered his final mental breakdown and was committed to the Sugamo Asylum. On the 9th of June 1892, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.
Yoshitoshi’s prints are known for their eerie and imaginative component. He worked in a Japan undergoing rapid change, straddling the domains of the old, feudal systems and the new, modern world. His considerable imagination and originality imbued his prints with a sensitivity and honesty rarely seen in ukiyo-e of this time period. From ghost stories to folktales, graphic violence to the gentle glow of the moon, Yoshitoshi not only offers compositional and technical brilliance, but also unfettered passion.