Reading “Pioneering” Exhibition: Collective Achievements and Individual Characteristics


At the beginning of 2019, the anticipated grand exhibition “Pioneering: Chinese Artists Abroad in France and Chinese Modern Art” is unveiled at CAFA Art Museum. It is an exhibition of historical significance, and for the first time, the visitors can have a look at these artists as a group through their original works. The first impression of the exhibition is that the works are diverse. When you really see this exhibition, you will find that it presents a show with multiple interpretation spaces.

A complete picture: presenting a group image

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In order to show the collective appearance of early Chinese artists abroad in France, the exhibition involves individual artists, in which the audience not only see a lot of prominent artists, such as Xu Beihong, Liu Haisu, Lin Fengmian, Wu Zuoren, Chang Shuhong, Lv Sibai, Pang Xunqin, etc.; they also see artists whose works have not been wildly spread, like Wu Fading, Situ Qiao, Han Leran, Tang Yihe, Wang Ziyun, Fang Junbi, Zhou Bichu, Li Ruinian, etc.; they even see some names that have been rarely discussed in historical studies, for example, Wang Rujiu, Xie Touba, Guo Yinglin, Zeng Yilu, etc.; of course, there are artists who have been recognized by the public in recent years, especially Pan Yuliang and Chang Yu. However, due to a variety of historical reasons, or because of the limited collection of works, it is not able to show the works of all Chinese artists studying in France. The curatorial team of the exhibition arranges a photo wall at the end of the special section of “The Association of Chinese Artists in France”, and it displays personal photos of the artists of the association. As it has been difficult to find the photos of some artists, only their names are shown in the photo area for commemoration.

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In the whole exhibition, the special section of “The Association of Chinese Artists in France” is of very representative. It uses the historical facts of the association, that was founded spontaneously by Chinese artists in France from 1930s to 1950s, as an entry point to focus on presenting the activities of Chinese artists, who had studied in France and joined the association, in France and other areas of Europe. The exhibition displays photos of the association’s regulations and activities as well as the introduction of this group of artists by the domestic art magazine “Yifeng”. Through these historical materials, the visitors can get to know the collective activities and important exhibitions of these artists as well as the intercourse and communication between them, from which they can further to see that artists, who returned to China during the Anti-Japanese War and those who still stayed abroad, supported the state through their practical actions and expressed their deep affection towards the country and fellow people. This small section brings to life the images of these artists studying in France with a comprehensive presentation.

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In the curatorial structure of the whole exhibition, the works of all the Chinese pioneers of modern art who studied in France are not displayed according to before-mentioned importance or degree of familiarity, but the narrative route of the exhibition is based on the approximate time when they studied in France. When walking through the exhibition hall, sometimes, visitors see familiar works of artists, and sometimes they “encounter” unacquainted names. This kind of viewing experience is like looking at the Milky Way of history, as there are bright stars, looming stars, and even just some spots that hardly can be seen, which is also the real historical ecology.

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However, maybe one day, we will see the once dim star again, just as we rediscover some artists buried by history today. Before this exhibition, CAFA Art Museum just closed the solo show of the artist Li Ruinian, who is another artist that people wondered why he disappeared from the public eye and remained little-known. 

This exhibition especially opens a theme session for modern sculptors who studied in France, which has not been seen in recent exhibitions in China. In the past, the academic circle did not pay enough attention to modern Chinese sculpture and put more efforts into the study of oil painters. The common research on sculpture usually starts from a few well-known sculptors, and solo exhibitions are held for them. It can be said that the general public’s familiarity with modern sculptors is very low. In fact, in the Beaux-Arts system of Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA), painting, sculpture and architecture were all essential components, and it was not uncommon to see modern Chinese artists studying sculpture in France. Therefore, It is rare to see an exhibition in China that has systematically sorted out Chinese Sculptors studying in France and their exhibitions. The only regret is that the number of sculptures in the exhibition is limited, but the curatorial team tries to make up for it by using modern technology such as videos and holograms.

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Wu Dayu, Color and Rhyme-59, Oil on canvas, 53x38cm, in the 1950s and 1980s

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Guo Yinglin, copied “Playing the Piano”, Oil on canvas, 147.5x114.5cm, 1932

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Han Leran, Carpet Market, Oil on canvas, 200x150cm, 1945

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Huang Jueshi, Paris Suburb Park, Oil on canvas, 44.5x38cm, 1930

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Huang Xianzhi, Jialing River Bank, Oil on board, 33x24cm, 1940

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Liu Haisu, Beijing Qianmen, Oil on canvas, 64.5x79.5cm, 1922

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Situ Qiao, Setting Horses, Oil on canvas, 97.5×222cm, 1955

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Wang Linyi, Head Portrait, Pastel on paper, 32.5x24cm, 1929

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Wu Fading, Village, Oil on board, 30.5x37cm, 1919

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Wu Zuoren, Perspective Study of Human Body, Oil on canvas, 29x49.5cm, 1932

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Pang Xunqin, Roof of Shanghai Alleys, Oil on canvas, 48×38cm, 1948, Collection of Pang Xunqin Art Museum


Discovering treasure: those artists studying in France who have been gradually forgotten

In the exhibition “Pioneering: Chinese Artists Abroad in France and Chinese Modern Art”, those artists and their works that are little known by today’s audience just become the highlights of the display. If we hold solo exhibitions for the forgotten individual artists, it will be difficult due to the restriction of materials, reviews and other reasons. Then we put them under a grand background of “studying in France”, in company with some familiar artists, and their works weaving through them. This way, on the one hand, changes the rhythm of the exhibition for ordinary people, and on the other hand, provides a kind of intertextuality relation of restoring history for researchers, conducive to the further comparison and understanding of the participants in this period of history. It is also a method of the exhibition providing historical narrative intuitively and visually.

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Among the artists, Wang Rujiu, who studied in France early before Xu Beihong, and Xie Touba and Guo Yinglin, who studied a little later, are quite unknown to the general audience, even to scholars unfamiliar with local arts. Wang Rujiu was born in Tianjin. He learned military affairs in France in his early years and then turned to learn sculpture and studied under the famous French sculptor Emile Antoine Bourdelle. After returning to China, he was more of a sculptor. In the exhibition, there is an oil painting – his portrait painting, which first appeared in the domestic auction market in 2018, hence uncovering the history of Wang Rujiu’s works. Xie Touba, Guo Yinglin, and Zhou Bichu who are shown in the exhibition were among the first students to receive a modern Western-style education and graduate from Jimei Middle School in 1918. Xie Touba first studied at the School of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines, and then studied art in France. After he returned to China, he co-founded the Art Department of Fujian Normal University, making significant achievements in the development of art education in the local area. Two of his still life paintings of flowers are on display in the exhibition, small-sized but vivid. Guo Yinglin was an overseas Chinese who was born in Indonesia and came back to China with his father in his early years. Later, he went to the University of the Philippines and studied art at the spare time, and then went to ENSBA to study, becoming the first Chinese student to receive a prize from the school. During the Anti-Japanese War, he taught in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts with Xie Touba, both of whom were outstanding contributors who influenced Chinese modern art education in Nanyang. Because Guo Yinglin lived in Southeast Asia for a long time, the whereabouts of many of his works got lost when transferring back to China after his death, and only three of his copied works can be seen in this exhibition. From the territory, to know Fujian-born artists such as Xie Touba, Guo Yinglin and Zhou Bichu, and their influence on Southeast Asian art, and to rediscover Tianjin-born artists like Wang Rujiu and Li Ruinian, for me, is a hidden regional perspective offered by this exhibition to observe Chinese modern art history.

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There is also a well-designed arrangement in the exhibition, that is, the works of Pang Xunqin, Chang Yu, Zhang Xian, and Liu Haisu are placed in the same small exhibition hall. Chang Yu’s works are in the center of the room, while Zhang Xian and Pang Xunqin’s paintings are on both sides because they were friends of Changyu and deeply affected by him. Zhang Xian and Liu Haisu were also good friends, as they often spent time together since in Paris. After returning to China, Zhang Xian, Pang Xunqin, and Liu Haisu were also members of “Mo Society”, with the former two persons being the backbone of the modernist art group “Storm Society”. Pang Xunqin is very familiar to the academic world but relatively unknown to the general audience. The rediscovering of Changyu has benefited from the promotion of auction markets in recent years. Zhang Xian is a new name to many people. Through the works of Zhang Xian in the exhibition, we are surprised to find that compared with his well-known artist friends, Zhang Xian developed a unique and charming style of his own.

All the artists gathered by this exhibition had different experiences in France. Some of them received support from the government or went to France at their own expense to study in a professional art school and became regular overseas students, and some of them went to France for a study tour and traveled around European countries, among which the most famous was Liu Haisu.

Dong Xiwen, an artist who appears in the exhibition of Studying in France, was the only one who had never set foot in France. After graduating from National Beiping Art School in 1939, he was selected to study at the branch school of ENSBA in Hanoi, Vietnam, and in this way, he was taught and influenced by the French classical painting techniques.

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Among the artists who studied in France, apart from the well-known Pan Yuliang, who appeared in films and TV shows because of her legendary life, there are also other female artists such as Tang Yunyu, Fang Junbi, Xiao Shufang, Fang Xianfan (Zhang Wuzhen), and so on. Tang Yunyu lived in the United States in her late years and was gradually forgotten, but her works displayed in the exhibition prove that she was as talented as Pan Yuliang. Fang Junbi, due to the close relationship between her husband Zeng Zhongming and Wang Jingwei, was once involved in politics vortex, but her talent and accomplishments in painting were very outstanding. In the exhibition, her work “Xunxun” just depicts the fourth daughter of Wang Jingwei, and the work “Wang Wenbin” paints the third daughter of Wang family, revealing this personal relationship, which is a precious historical material retained. Xiao Shufang had long been known as Wu Zuoren’s wife. In fact, she was also an excellent painter, as her painting skills can be viewed through the works in the exhibition. When Zhang Wuzhen returned to China, she participated in the revolution and went to Luxun Academy of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, her works are not shown in the exhibition, only her photos taken during her stay in France.

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Not only female artist could be drawn by the swirls of politics, but Li Fengbai, who appears in the exhibition, was more a painter interfered by politics and translation. His various work as a translator has left a strong mark in history, and his painting ability also has been revealed to the world because of this exhibition. Han Leran was an artist with the status of an underground party member, and his legendary personal experience was not inferior to his excellent works. Their artistic accomplishments have long been buried in history and overlooked. Huang Jueshi who taught at Suzhou Art School after returning to China, Zeng Yilu who was encouraged by Mao Zedong to study in France and later became a teacher in Beiping Art School, Li Chaoshi who learned after Degas and was good at pastel painting, etc., all of them had relatively vague faces, while the exhibition reawakened the audience’s cognition of these artists with pieces of works that sedimented from history.

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Zeng Yilu, Ancient Pines in Front of the Temple, Oil on canvas, 57.5x47cm, 1945

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Fang Junbi, Portrait of Wang Wenbin, Oil on canvas, 81.3x99cm, 1929

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Li Fengbai, Portrait of Denise Lebreton, Oil on canvas, 44.5×54cm, 1939, Private collection

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Li Chaoshi, Scenery of Daming Lake (Qiqu Pavilion), Pastel on paper, 43.5x66cm, 1964, Collection of Long Museum

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Tang Yunyu, Slack Season, Oil on canvas, 80x100cm, 1950

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Zhang Xian, River Side Under Willow Trees, Oil on canvas, 39x41cm, 1935

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Xiao Shufang, Eiffel Tower, Oil on canvas, 33x24cm, 1939


Private domain: the personal world in small works

After these artists returned to China, many of them worked in the field of art education for a long time, making profound contributions to Chinese modern art education. Along with the historical trend not a few had created thematic works, which often become the critical points and memory points for them entering the art history. However, the exhibition “Pioneering: Chinese Artists Abroad in France and Chinese Modern Art” tries a different approach to select exhibits as it tends to use small-sized paintings of self-portraits, relatives, friends, landscape, and other diverse types to maximumly show the personal experience and emotion of the artists. The exhibition opens with some Xu Beihong’s works, such as the artist’s self-portrait, and portrait paintings of his close musician friend, the seal cutting artist Yang Zhongzi’ family, and his friends of a businessman couple. There are two self-portraits of Pan Yuliang made in different periods. The self-portrait of the deaf female artist Liu Ziming is also on display in the exhibition. The exhibition shows two self-portraits of Han Leran, one is a tourist-like picture of him in front of the Triumphal Arch, and the other is made when he was imprisoned by Kuomintang upon his return to China. There is a portrait of Han Leran painted by Chang Shuhong is put next to Han Leran’s own work, which constructs a lively image of the artist Han Leran for the audience, and also reflects the intercourse between the two painters at the same time.

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Visitors can also see portrait paintings of Dong Xiwen’s parents, Li Fengbai’s wife Denise, Lv Sibai’s mother, Han Leran’s wife that painted by these artists themselves, which open the doors to their personal emotional world. Chang Shuhong’s work “Mass Bombings in Chongqing” is exceptional as it functions as both a self-portrait and a family portrait. In the white wall of the background writes “who XX our home XX”, and the painting depicts people fleeing with grief amid the fireworks; facing the ruined walls, the painter held his infant son in the arms, his daughter on his left side seized his sleeve, and his wife on his right side knelt on the ground while covering her face with tears. Different from the usual realistic style of Chang Shuhong, the characters in the painting are somewhat distorted and sorrowful, and complex emotions gush out from the rough strokes. It is not only Chang Shuhong’s experience but also a common memory of many artists who moved to the inner land during the Anti-Japanese War. Lv Sibai’s work in this exhibition also involves the history of the Anti-Japanese War. He painted the courtyard where he lived in Chongqing, which became his representative work in this period. The Phoenix Mountain in Chongqing that painted by Wu Zuoren refers to the scenery around the courtyard depicted by Lv Sibai. At that time, quite a number of artists studying in France had lived there, in addition to the two mentioned above, there were artists such as Chang Shuhong, Qin Xuanfu, Wang Linyi, etc. Qin Xuanfu also created a series of works depicting Sichuan scenery after the end of the war, in which two landscape paintings of Mount Emei are also featured in this exhibition. Tang Yihe’s “Jiangjin” and Huang Xianzhi’s Sichuan-Chongqing scenery series were all the result of intellectuals’ retreat to the rear area during the war. Besides, for the part of Situ Qiao, his works during his travel to Xinjiang and refuge in Nanyang are selected and coincide with the wartime as well.

24.pngThe curatorial team carefully selected these small paintings which mirror the private life of the artists, so that their individual appearance is endowed with temperature and revealed in the exhibition. Meanwhile, these small paintings overcome the limitation of the exhibition space and fit in the whole length of the display, so the audience will not walk too hard. Although this aspect is not highlighted in the QR code, the personal world of the painters in the small works greatly improves the interest and dimensionality of the exhibition and also enriches the interpretation space of the exhibition.

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Chang Shuhong, Mass Bombings in Chongqing, Oil on canvas, 79x63.8cm, 1938-1942, Collection of Long Museum

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Han Leran, Self-portrait Before the Triumphal Arch, Watercolor on paper, 90x60cm, 1932

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Huang Xianzhi, Jialing River Bank, Oil on canvas, 1943, Collection of Long Museum

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Lv Sibai, Portrait of Mother, Oil on canvas, 81x65cm, 1948, Collection of Long Museum

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Pan Yuliang, Self-portrait by the Window, Oil on canvas, 73x59cm, 1945, Collection of Anhui Museum

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Tang Yihe, Sketching in Jiangji I, Oil on canvas, 38x47cm, 1941

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Tang Yihe, Sketching in Jiangji II, Oil on canvas, 33.5X45cm, 1941

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Wu Zuoren, Mount Phoenix, Oil on canvas, 50x64.5cm, 1942

 

Freelance Writing|Ai Shu (Standing postdoc of CAFA)

Planning|The Editorial Department of CAFAM Official Website

 



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During the event, event participants should respect the order of the museum event and ensure the safety of the museum site, the artworks in displays, exhibitions, and collections, and the derived products. If an event causes any degree of loss or damage to the museum site, space, artworks, or derived products due to an individual, persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for losses. The event participant must negotiate and provide compensation according to the relevant legal statutes and museum rules. The museum may sue for legal and financial liability.

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The media in which the portraiture may be used encompasses any media that does not infringe upon Party A’s portraiture rights (e.g., magazines and the internet).

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Use in perpetuity.

IV. Licensing Fees

The fees for images bearing Party A’s likeness will be undertaken by Party B.

After completion, Party B does not need to pay any fees to Party A for images bearing Party A’s likeness.

Additional Terms

(1) All matters not discussed in this agreement shall be resolved through friendly negotiation between both parties. Both parties may then sign a supplementary agreement, provided it does not violate any laws or regulations.

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Article I

This event was organized on the principles of fairness, impartiality, and voluntary participation and withdrawal. Participants undertake all risk and liability for themselves. All events have risks, and participants must be aware of the risks related to their chosen event.

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Event participants must abide by the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, as well as moral and ethical norms. All participants must demonstrate good character, respect for others, friendship, and a willingness to help others.

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Event participants undertake all liability for their personal safety during the event, and event participants are encouraged to purchase personal safety insurance. Should an accident occur during an event, persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for the accident, but both have the obligation to provide assistance. Event participants should actively organize and implement rescue efforts, but do not undertake any legal or economic liability for the accident itself. The museum does not undertake civil or joint liability for the personal safety of event participants.

Article V

During the event, event participants should respect the order of the museum event and ensure the safety of the museum site, the artworks in displays, exhibitions, and collections, and the derived products. If an event causes any degree of loss or damage to the museum site, space, artworks, or derived products due to an individual, persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for losses. The event participant must negotiate and provide compensation according to the relevant legal statutes and museum rules. The museum may sue for legal and financial liability.

Article VI

Event participants will participate in the event under the guidance of museum staff and event leaders or instructors and must correctly use the painting tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities provided for the event. If a participant causes injury or harm to him/herself or others while using the painting tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities, or causes the damage or destruction of the tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities, the event participant must undertake all related liability and provide compensation for the financial losses. Persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for personal accidents.

CAFA Art Museum Portraiture Rights Licensing Agreement

According to The Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, The General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and The Provisional Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues Related to the Full Implementation of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and upon friendly negotiation, Party A and Party B have arrived at the following agreement regarding the use of works bearing Party A’s image in order to clarify the rights and obligations of the portrait licenser (Party A) and the user (Party B):

I. General Provisions

(1) Party A is the portraiture rights holder in this agreement. Party A voluntarily licenses its portraiture rights to Party B for the purposes stipulated in this agreement and permitted by law.

(2) Party B (CAFA Art Museum) is a specialized, international modern art museum. CAFA Art Museum keeps pace with the times, and works to create an open, free, and academic space and atmosphere for positive interaction with groups, corporations, institutions, artists, and visitors. With CAFA’s academic research as a foundation, the museum plans multi-disciplinary exhibitions, conferences, and public education events with participants from around the world, providing a platform for exchange, learning, and exhibition for CAFA’s students and instructors, artists from around the world, and the general public. As a public institution, the primary purposes of CAFA Art Museum’s public education events are academic and beneficial to society.

(3) Party B will photograph all CAFA Public Education Department events for Party A.

II. Content, Forms of Use, and Geographical Scope of Use

(1) Content. The content of images taken by Party B bearing Party A’s likeness include: ① CAFA Art Museum ② CAFA campus ③ All events planned or executed by the CAFAM Public Education Department.

(2) Forms of Use. For use in CAFA’s publications, products with CDs, and promotional materials.

(3) Geographical Scope of Use

The applicable geographic scope is global.

The media in which the portraiture may be used encompasses any media that does not infringe upon Party A’s portraiture rights (e.g., magazines and the internet).

III. Term of Portraiture Rights Use

Use in perpetuity.

IV. Licensing Fees

The fees for images bearing Party A’s likeness will be undertaken by Party B.

After completion, Party B does not need to pay any fees to Party A for images bearing Party A’s likeness.

Additional Terms

(1) All matters not discussed in this agreement shall be resolved through friendly negotiation between both parties. Both parties may then sign a supplementary agreement, provided it does not violate any laws or regulations.

(2) This agreement comes into effect on the date that it is signed (sealed) and the relevant boxes are selected by Party A and Party B.

(3) This agreement exists in paper and electronic forms. The paper form is made in duplicate, with Party A and Party B each retaining one copy with the same legal efficacy.

Event participants implicitly accept and undertake all the obligations stated in this agreement. Those who do not consent will be seen as abandoning the right to participate in this event. Before participating in this event, please speak to your family members to obtain their consent and inform them of this disclaimer. After participants sign/check the required box, participants and their families will be seen as having read and agreed to these terms.

I have carefully read and agree to the above provisions.

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