Prof. Yuyu Yang's Great Achievements Illuminate
Indigenous Christianity in East Asia

Megumi Yoshida


  In this paper I consider East Asian Christianity through Prof. Yuyu Yang's philosophy, works and artistic thought. In September 1988 it was my honour to visit him. At that time he talked with me of some very important aspects of Christianity and Christian art. His words came from his profound insight and experiences, as for example in his original thought of the 'Lifescape sculputre' where harmony between nature and humanity is based on Chinese traditional philosophy and thought; that is to say on Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, etc.
  First, I refer to his presentation on the 'Reflections in Praise of Nature: Thanksgiving to God' at the second All-Asian Consultation on Christian Art, in order to understand his religious experiences and his art works. Secondly, I look at his original thought of the 'Lifescape sculpture', Yin-Yang and the thought of the five elements in the East. Then, thirdly, I would like to focus on Prof. Yang's ideal world of Christianity in the East by introducing the chapel at the Fujen University. It is possible to regard this as the Lifescape chapel and his expression of Mother Nature, where he unites his mother, the moon image, and the Chinese phoenix image. Especially, I would like to consider his dragon image of the stained glass in comparison with dragon images between the East and the Western Christianity.
  By tracing back Prof. Yang's deep thought and his art work in relation to his philosophy and Christianity, this paper makes clear how Prof. Yang illuminated Christianity in the East. So, if we learn deeply from Prof. Yuyu Yang's achievements, it will enrich and support indigenous Christianity in East Asia.

Key words: 'Lifespace Sculpture', Christianity, Yin-Yang and the Five Elements in the East,
Faith and Creation, Phoenix Image and Dragon Image

  First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Yuyu Yang Foundation and the National Chiao Tung University for inviting me to attend and present this paper at the memorial international forum of Prof. Yuyu Yang.
In August and September 1988, I researched various Christian arts in the Taiwan island and the Lan Hsu island, and I was greatly honored to interview Prof. Yuyu Yang1 <photo 1∼2>. At that time he told me that Eastern Christianity should keep its much more deeply spiritual heritage in mind. Then he arranged for me to visit the chapel at the Fujen University<photo 3∼7>, for there he had completed his ideal vision of Christianity in the East. The following day, I went to the chapel. The chapel filled my heart with a very comfortable, peaceful and dynamic atmosphere. Fr. Ka who guided me told me that students favored the comfortable chapel too. When I put myself in that place, I could feel and realize not only in my intellectual level but also in my physical and spiritual levels what Prof. Yang tried to teach me about Christianity in the East. Since then, I have seen East Asian Christianity in the sparkling light of his profound insight.

  Now, on this special occasion, by tracing back Prof. Yang's deep thought and his art work in relation to his philosophy and Christianity, I would like to consider how Prof. Yang illuminated Christianity in the East.

1. The 'Reflections in Praise of Nature: Thanksgiving to God' by Prof. Yuyu Yang

  This 'Reflections in Praise of Nature: Thanksgiving to God' was presented by Prof. Yang at the second All-Asian Consultation on Christian Art of the Asian Christian Art Association, 1984.2 The Consultation was held in the National Art Center at Mt Makiling in the Philippines. Fifty-four artists and theologians gathered from 12 Asian countries. They searched for their own unique Jesus images and comfortable church architecture based on Asian cultural heritages under the theme of "The Magnificat in Asia Today".3
  Let us see Prof. Yang's presentation at that Consultation, since it shows us his Christianity. He presents three of his own experiences.

(a) His consciousness of the numinous and the Eastern cultural heritage in the West

  In 1963 he visited Pope Paul VI in Vatican, on behalf of the Fujen University Student committee and Archbishop Paul Yubing, and observed the meeting of cardinals. For three years, he stayed in Rome to study western arts. Through those experiences in Rome, he realized the numinous4 and an Asian identity, especially his cultural heritage as an eastern artist. He expressed his religious emotion as following.

'  At that time, I had the rare opportunity to witness the Congregation of Cardinals and to become a religious pilgrim. … The solemn majesty of the meeting of cardinals gave me occasion for deep thought. I experienced great inner growth.'5

  While he had such religious experiences, he studied western art. It led him to begin making a comparison with the cultural heritage in his childhood. According to his comparison between western art and eastern art, the former emphasizes reason and the apprehension of physical reality. The latter focuses on the expression of interior reality and searches for a way to live in nature and through the perception of nature in life. Life and nature become inextricably bound.6
  Before entering primary school, he lived separately from his parents in Ilan. His isolation made him sensitive to the beautiful nature of that area. He felt rhythms of floating nature and co-existing harmony between humanity and nature. After that period, during school days, he lived in Peiping with his parents. There he learnt how to appreciate the aesthetic life in a traditional way. It is one of reasons that he kept his eyes on the thought of Yin-Yang and the five elements in the East.
  In Europe his sculptures were appreciated and received awards, for his creative works showed a unity of the Western technique and the Eastern tastes.7 Prof. Yang freely united the West and the East through his creating. His works send us dynamism and delicacy of feeling.

(b) His creation and faith of transcendent power at the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan

  At the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, he made the famous phoenix the "Advent of the Phoenix" only for five months. In the incredibly tight schedule, Prof. Yang successfully made the elegant Phoenix fly down on to suitable land just on time, with cooperation of many good factors and warm friendship.
  In the interview he looked back upon those days. He said that it was the most impressive work in his life, many miracles happened, and he created such beauty through the transcendent power, the Creator of the heaven and the earth. He devoted himself to that work with self-forgetfulness and self-sacrificing. That situation was open to the power of God. The super transcendental power strengthened him through his hands and brain. When he felt God's power, his faith deepened, he said.
  He condenses his extremely mystical feeling by words such as 'dream', 'true', 'prayer', and 'miracle' as following.

A Dream Come True
From a Step to Prayers
From Prayers to Miracles
From Miracles to a Phoenix8


  In his presentation at the second All-Asian Consultation on Christian Art, 1984 he also represented that deep impression.

  It was as if a strange mystical force was encouraging me, a great force moving me. Over a very short period of time, under pressure of a deadline, I suddenly felt strength emanating from every quarter. The work was completed effortlessly. I felt gratitude to the core of my heart, because, in the Universe I am only an insignificant being, and yet, by the Grace of God, the beauty of the Universe is transmitted through my brain and hands.9

  From those words, it is clear that he himself regarded that the beauty of the Universe in his creativity came from the Grace of God.

(c) Lasography is a compassionate gift from God.

  In 1977 Prof. Yang saw a demonstration of laser techniques. Since then, he had developed Laser art based on his concept of Lifescape. He called it a lasography. In April 1980, he and three other artists held a lasergraph exhibition in Taipei. In 1981 the First International Laser Art Exhibition was held in Taipei and a set of four "Lasography Postage Stamps" was issued.
  He mentioned his impression and invention of the laser as lasography in relation to Christianity, at the All-Asian Consultation on Christian Art in 1984. Let us cite his sentences to see his understanding of lasography from his Christian thought.

  Then, in 1977, while in Tokyo, I saw a demonstration of laser techniques and suddenly the laser seemed another manifestation of the Spirit of the Self-Existent --- what might be called an epiphany: a ray of light flashing through the night, from point to line to plane to volume, flowing out into infinite space as if suddenly endowed with life, like the first living cell or like the miraculous separation of chaos into heaven and earth.
In religious terminology, 'light' often symbolizes wisdom, and 'warmth' often symbolizes love. Limitless strength is always accompanied by wisdom and love. Wisdom, love, and strength cannot be separated, just as light, heat, and energy are inseparable in nature. When the soul beholds an epiphany it radiates inexhaustible warmth and light, and limitless potential.
  I feel the invention of the laser is a compassionate gift from God with seemingly unlimited possibilities. This bright ray of light already has many applications in many fields. It is my further hope that this beam of light will bring us closer to a union of spiritual civilization and material culture.10

  From those words we can see that Prof. Yang received his discovery of the use of the laser in art as a compassionate gift from God and he felt some kind of spirituality or religious manifestation through a laser. He found 'an epiphany", and a complex of wisdom, love, and strength.
  Moreover, he continues the presentation about a laser artist's task, which is aimed at communicating between the real world and the ideal world in harmony with natural laws and scientific developments. That is to say, he integrates a laser technique into his Lifescape and calls this Lasoprahy.
  In that presentation, he concluded powerfully that is necessary to observe nature and the ordering of life, and to seek for balance. The reasons are that it is the mandate of God and that God has given not only external beauty but also beauty hidden in the hearts of living.
He may feel God's working power through nature and regard it as the transcendent power, so that his idea of nature is a very important essential concept.

2. Prof. Yang's Lifescape sculpture, and Yin-Yang and the five elements in the East

  Prof. Yuyu Yang established his original concept and artwork of the Lifescape sculpture, based on the Eastern thought of Yin-Yang(陰陽)and the five elements(五行).
  Yin -Yang is two complementary forces, or principles, that make up all aspects and phenomena of life. Yin is conceived of as earth, female, dark, passive, and absorbing. Yang is conceived of as heaven, male, light, active, and penetrating. The two are both said to proceed from the Supreme Ultimate (T'ai Chi太極), their interplay on one another (as one increases the other decreases) being a description of the actual process of the universe and all that is in it. In harmony, the two are depicted as the light and dark halves of a circle. The concept of Yin-Yang is associated in Chinese thought with the idea of the five elements ─ metal, wood, water, fire, and earth(金木水火地). Both of these ideas lend substance to the characteristically Chinese belief in a cyclical theory of becoming and dissolution and an interdependence between the world of nature and human events.11
  Therefore, in the Lifescape sculpture Prof. Yang finds a mode of expressing the sense and the essence of Chinese life.12 According to his terminology, the meaning of 'Lifescape' is not at all confined by Western concepts. He referred to differentiation from the Western 'landscape' at an art lecture of the ninth art exhibition in Taipei.13 His word of 'Lifescape' implies environment in a broad sense as the space used for human life, including that reached by both senses and thoughts. That origin comes from the Eastern traditional heritage, for example 風水(fengshui). He regarded it as a part of the East Asian's 'sense of life'.
  Needless to say, this 'sense of life' is common sense in East Asia. Fundamentally, the thought of Yin-Yang and the five elements has influenced our life. We very often spend our life without realizing its influences. Many influences work unconsciously. Concerning indigenous Christianity in East Asia, the Christian unites Christian faith and the traditional thought of Yin-Yang and the five elements in life.14 Even in this modern society, we in the East do not find it easy to ignore the influences of Yin-Yang and the five elements working in our unconsciousness and consciousness.
  Prof. Yang became conscious of its working through his experiences and insights in Rome and through his studying Chinese ancient sculptures.
  He told me that the unity of humanity and nature existed from the old time. Since his boyhood he had reproduced works of Chinese ancient sculptural relics for the Yin Dynasty (B.C.1766-1122), the Han Dynasty (B.C.206 to A.D.220), the epoch of Division between North and South (A.D.420-587), the Tang Dynasty (A.D.618-907) and so on. He emphasized that he was much more deeply impressed by reproducing them rather than by the enjoyment of looking at them. Moreover, he added that the Eastern person mastered anything, including anything in the mental and spiritual area, by physical practice. It is a way to reach to substance beyond intellect. He found characteristics of the East through his reproducing process too.
  After his returning from Rome, Prof. Yang sought solitude and rest. He chose to work at an RSEA marble factory on the eastern coast of the Taiwan island. He traveled in Hualien, Tienhsiang, etc. One day he had a special experience there. It was one of his turning points. He describes it vividly in the 'HANDS, DREAMS, A BEAM OF LIGHT', as if he confesses the birth of his thought of the Lifescape sculpture.

  … After a rain, a landslide sends a deafening cascade of rocks and water into emerald streams below, turning them into roiling, muddy rivers bursting at their banks.
  What a wonderful, exhilarating feeling! Watching mother nature use her awesome power to sculpt her own image and bear her inner most secrets to me. Could I achieve anything new from this experience? I was to find out that it provided the foundations for my creations for the next ten years!
  On the surface, I witnessed jagged peaks, massive rocks and streams of emerald water bending, crashing, struggling into every shape imaginable. Deeper, though, mother nature's activities exhibited a new balance and harmony in relationships: singular, beautiful, everlasting. How could my mind, my whole spirit, my very soul, not be stirred with emotion?
  Turning to thought, to contemplation, I tried to express form beyond form and tried to let everything I created embrace the impalpable, the grandeur, the beauty of it all.
  This was a new and decisive chapter in my life. Struck by the rustic simplicity and the power and spectacle of nature, I came to realize why we Chinese seek a return to nature and a harmonious relationship between man and his environment. I found a starting point for a new philosophy: nature is everything. Everything is in nature.
  I began to learn from nature by returning to nature, by merging with nature; I began to create something new--environmental sculpturing. Creations which go beyond the work of mere hands to become conceptualized.
… Central in my research of environmental sculpture are the concepts of simplicity, beauty, and re-creation: following without fail the precepts of nature.
  The results are rustic and simple works of art. …15

  When he had his own clear consciousness of identity with the Eastern, the Lifescape sculptures became a bridge between humanity, life, culture, art and nature. The thought of Yin-Yang and the five elements indicated the vast forces of nature, which provided the framework for his inspirational work, leading to his artistic creation. It seems as if the traditional thought represents that the microcosms are a constellation of the macrocosm. The beauty of his art works provides graceful harmony with universal nature and humanity.

3. Prof. Yang's Ideal World of Christianity in the East and Dragon's Image

  Prof. Yang told me that he completed his ideal world of Christianity in the East at the chapel at the Fujen University <photo 3∼7>. The chapel moves us to deep feeling with something transcendent. I would like to introduce this chapel from three of my impressions.

(a) At the Lifescape chapel and the Holy Spirit

  Firstly, this chapel is not so big, but the inside atmosphere causes one to imagine the infinite of nature. We feel as though we exist in graceful nature and to intercommunicate with nature.
  The walls are made of blocks. He designed it to make us imagine Chinese traditional house. A green carpet spreads like fertile land. The altar is designed as a Chinese landscape. Mountains stand out sharp against the sky. Sheer precipices follow one another along a river. The calm water of a river is streaming with reflections of mountains. Mountains and water represent grand scenery there. The blue sky from the front seems to reach to the heaven. Just in the center of such clear sky, we can see the cross of Christian symbol <photo 3>. On the left hand of the cross is a tabernacle <photo 4>. The tabernacle is a box, the container for wafers. This tabernacle made of copper is solemn. On the right hand of the cross, there are windows of stained glass <photo5>. Prof. Yang represented the dragon's image as life and expressed that dragon as flying up and down freely between the heaven and the earth. On the left corner the Virgin Mary <photo 7> is a wooden sculpture made by Mr. Ju Ming(朱銘), who is an outstanding sculpture also and had been influenced by Prof. Yang over the years 1968-1976. 16 With flowing touch, the wooden texture makes her feature very elegant. It seems that she is going to talk with people. On the walls are fourteen reliefs made by Prof. Yang to tell the story of Jesus Christ <photo 6>. A figure of a cross symbolizes Jesus' cross of his crucifixion and a figure of circle symbolizes Jesus Christ. Only two simple figures represent the Way to the Cross, Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
  At the chapel, he represented that people exist between the heaven and the earth, and the Holy Spirit saves the earth and people through the work of Christ.
  In fact, we feel it there. Humanity is surrounded by the environment of nature and receives God's Grace powerfully. It comes from Prof. Yang's thought of the Lifescape sculpture.

(b) Mother Nature - Mamma, the moon image, and the Chinese phoenix image

  Secondly, it seems that mother holds us in her arms. People feel motherhood. Prof. Yang lived with his grandmother and was separated from his parents in his babyhood and infancy. He told me that at that time he missed his mother very much. At night, he looked at the moon. In the moonlight, he comforted himself with the thought that his mother looked at the same moon. His mother was very beautiful. A black Chinese dress suited her. When his mother dressed up with the Chinese black dress, she made up in front of a mirror, which had been decorated with a wood carving of a phoenix image. She wore the black dress in the moonlight and the dress was shining. The moon reflected his mother. His mother reflected the moon. Nature and his mother became one.
  He wrote that he realized Chinese phoenix image was mixed with his mother's image in his infancy. He recognized his works of Chinese phoenix image included his feelings for his mother.17
  Mamma with black velvet dress, the moon, and a Chinese phoenix. Those imply his nostalgia for mother.
We can find many Lifescape sculptures designed in the image of a Chinese phoenix by Prof. Yang. The most famous one is the "Advent of the Phoenix" for Expo '70. In this work phoenix images in the East and the West were blended and sought spiritual and material harmony.18 The phoenix image is very popular as divine creature. In Expo '74 Prof. Yang also made the Phoenix screen which rose at the entrance to the pavilion.
  In such international expositions as in 1970 and 1974 Prof. Yuyu Yang chose the motif of a Chinese phoenix. He explained the meaning of the phoenix as following.

  According to tradition the mythological phoenix only appeared when all was well in the country - the people at peace, the winds favorable, and the rains in season. The bird was the gods' way of praising man for creating a peaceful, prosperous world. Representing beauty, good fortune, and eternal life, the phoenix symbolizes hope for the future unity of man and nature.19

  Those who follow his thought may produce graceful harmony between the human and the atmosphere of Mother Nature.

(c) Dragon's images between the East and the Western Christianity

   Thirdly, I would like to deal with dragon's image. Prof. Yang elegantly created many art works of phoenix and dragon images. Both dragon and phoenix are imaginary creatures and mythical animals. It is said that the phoenix image implies the feminine principle and the dragon image implies the male principle. Those are two of four spiritual beings -the dragon, phoenix, white tiger and xuan wu (referring to both the turtle and snake in ancient Chinese culture(四神).20
  Especially, the dragon's image is very important particularly as it shows a different meaning between the East and the Western Christianity.
  In the Bible there are numerous references to dragons, the most important being the Leviathan (Psalm 74:14, Isaiah 27:1, 51:9, Job 41) and the great red dragon of Revelations 12, which is identified with Satan. Christian legends combine the Satanic image of the dragon with elements of Greek and other pagan legends. The struggle of the archangel Michael with Satan in the shape of a dragon (Revelations) and the struggles of the Greek heroes with dragons provided the pattern for various accounts. Most notably is that of St. George. He freed the daughter of the king of Libya from a dragon that daily required human sacrifice and tamed the monster with the sign of the Cross before killing him. The image of dragon is generally composed of the body of a snake, with wings, lion's claws, and a crocodile's head, and is often represented as spitting fire.21
  In Chinese tradition and art, as in the ancient book of I Ching (Book of Changes)22, a very different image of the dragon is presented. The dragon is the ancient symbol of power, fertility, and well-being. It appears as a motif in art, as in ancient pottery decorations, and in folk pageantry, such as the masked dancing processions of Chinese New Year's celebrations.23 Dragon's images are both good and bad, but most of all are good dragon's images.24 The image of dragon is a creature with deer's antlers, camel's head, hare's eyes, snake's neck, clam's belly, carp's scales, hawk's talons, tiger's paws and bull's ears. 25
  It is possible to say that the dragon in the East is opposite to the dragon in the Western Christianity.
However, in spite of the absolute difference of dragon's meaning between Christianity and the East, Prof. Yang expressed the Eastern dragon at the chapel.
  In Kyoto, Japan, a certain Swiss artist had a different experience concerning a dragon's design. When he designed stained glass for a cathedral in Kyoto, with the theme of St. George who struggled with a dragon, Japanese members of the church refused it. They could not accept that a dragon was killed, because the dragon's image is a positive symbol in Japan26. The artist had to cut off the dragon's tail and change the dragon's image to a bearlike animal for the chapel. The artist referred the original design of St. George struggling with a dragon to one in a church in Switzerland.27
The dragon's image is different between the West and the East. The Swiss artist could not use a dragon's image, but Prof. Yuyu Yang could use a dragon's image. They did not have the same result. Why ? The reason is Prof. Yang combined the traditional meanings of the dragon's image with nature in his art works. The traditional dragon's image symbolizes the infinite power, fertility, well-being, happiness, and an imaginary spiritual animal which can fly up and down freely between the heaven and the earth as well as the Holy Spirit.28
  He actualizes that the chapel is the place where God dwells to be filled with the eternal energy of life through his art works.

Conclusion - Lifescape Sculpture as God's Grace -

  Prof. Yuyu Yang completely embodied the unity of the East and the West through his art works based on the thought of the Lifescape Sculpture. His works presented a concrete expression of his own experiences in life, of his personal feelings, and of his philosophy of existence. He succeeded in this by using very modern expression and Chinese traditional taste. Through his works, people are able to touch the breath of life in harmony with humanity and nature.
At the entrance of the 21st century, the human is seeking for an ecological way to co-exist with humanity and nature, scientific technology and cultural heritage. In the way to the future, Prof. Yuyu Yang presents us with the thought and art of the Lifescape sculpture. It illuminates how to communicate and cooperate between nature and humanity in the best way.
  Traditionally, we in the East have practiced the manner of Tao(道)in our daily life. With abdominal breathing, we repeat unconsciously deep expiration and inspiration. Such deep breathing makes us relax, fresh, and vital. This simple way brings an unconscious perception of rhythm and natural energy. In this condition, we feel the numinous and religious atmosphere.29
  Prof. Yuyu Yang's great works provide us with the atmosphere of warmness, for his nature includes yearning for his mother. It may be said that the lonelier he is missing his mother, the warmer he feels toward nature and the moon. We feel that Mother Nature holds us in her arms through his Lifescape sculpture, and then we become filled with abundant warmth. It strengthens us and we feel powerful energy like a dragon's image.
Prof. Yuyu Yang's achievements illuminate how to co-exist in harmony with nature and the human and to feel the numinous and religious experiences within Mother Nature. We may call Lifescape Sculpture as God's Grace.


1. Yoshida, Megumi, 1989 and 2000.
2. Prof. Yang made English and Chinese versions of his presentation for the Consultation, 1984.
These are 'Reflections in Praise of Nature: Thanksgiving to God'
3. Image (20), 1984: 1-8.
4. Otto, Rudolf, 1963.
5. Yang Yuyu, 1984a: 1.
6. Ibid.
7. Yang, Yuyu, 1986a: 14.
8. Ibid.: 30.
9. Yang, Yuyu, 1984a: 2.
10. Ibid.: 3.
11. Britanica, 845.
12. Yang, Yuyu, 1986a: 114.
13. Ibid.: 112.
14. Yoshida, Megumi, 2000.
15. Yang, Yuyu, 1986a: 153-154.
16. Ju, Ming, 1986: 3.
17. Yang, Yuyu, 1986b: 22.
18. Yang, Yuyu, 1986a: 31-33.
19. Ibid.: 64.
20. Congren, Wang, 1996a: 5-8, and 1996b: 13-18.
21. Encyclopedia Americana (9), 325-326.
22. I Ching (Japanese translation), 1969: 79-96.
23. Encyclopedia Americana (9), 325-326.
24. Yamamoto, Tatsuro, 1992: 11-12.
25. Yamada, Gyokuun, 1987: 19, and Yang, Xin, 1988.
26. Steffen, Uwe, 1996: 36.
27. Bulkolter, M., 1986: 250.
28. Yang, Yuyu, 1986a: 71.
29. Durckheim, Karlfried Graf,


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Photo's caption

Photo 1. Prof. Yuyu Yang and his Phoenix (Stainless) at his office in Taipei
Photo 2. Crucifixion (a graphic combination of painting and sculpture)
Photo 3. The front of the chapel at the Fujen University
Photo 4. A tabernacle
Photo 5. Stained glass with the design of dragon's image
Photo 6. Relieves of the Way to Cross
Photo 7. The Virgin Mary

(Photos by Yoshida, Megumi)