The Chinese have a strong tradition of portrait drawing, and the bookshops are full of large folios of drawings.
These portrait drawings are not only accurate in the academic sense, but soulful and penetrating psychologically. This one by Jin Shangyi from 1977 is a good example. Jin Shangyi is associated with the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
This portrait by Sumiao Jifa Jiaoxue is from 1971. It is direct and sketchy, but precisely observed, with a lot of knowledge behind it.
This one, from 1993, shows a method practiced by many of the artists, where the image is constructed from tonal patches, made up of lines drawn quickly with the edge of the pencil. The angular construction gives strength and character, even in a feminine subject.
Back in 1991 I met Dafeng Mo and swapped portraits with him. His portrait of me has the same angular "patch" method. He was the son of a professor at the central academy, and he himself studied there. In his early career he was obliged to paint propaganda posters before making a career as a print and gallery artist in the USA.
While the West was exploring the various "isms," China under Mao was unswerving in pursuing traditional drawing. The drawing above is from 1960, from a book on the Guangzhuo Academy of Fine Arts, one of several academies still in operation. The training was solid, and these artists were and are extremely competent.
Part of the reason for this competence is that when China was closed to the West, it turned to Russia for its training. Following in the tradition of the great Russian portrait masters Repin, Kramskoy, Fechin, and Serov, the portrait tradition emphasized sincerity, something that is often missing in western portraits.
In terms of technique, the form is often described using not only smoothly smudged tones, but also cross-hatching, as the above portrait exemplifies.
The Russian / Chinese tradition is still very much alive. This portrait is from 2003.
In the Russian academies, students study anatomy for many years, and they are expected to learn the figure inside and out. By looking at the model, they can draw the layers of muscles underneath, and even the skeleton in the position that the model has taken.
Shanghai Diary Series:
Part 1: Getting There
Part 2: American School
Part 3: Old Town
Part 4: Jujiajiao
Part 5: Goat Man
Part 6: Sketching in Restaurants
Part 7: China Rising
Part 8: Chinese/Russian Drawing
Part 9: Sketching in Shanghai (Video)