Deep in the Mountains: An Encounter with Zhu Qizhan


A haunting story about growing up and accepting life's challenges—and its joys

The great Chinese artist Zhu Qizhan was born in 1892 and lived to be 105 years old. During his life, he witnessed the Boxer Rebellion, the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, the Sino-Japanese War, Japan's occupation of China during World War II, the Cultural Revolution...a full lifetime indeed, packed with struggle, love, conflict, and always, art. In ...

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A haunting story about growing up and accepting life's challenges—and its joys

The great Chinese artist Zhu Qizhan was born in 1892 and lived to be 105 years old. During his life, he witnessed the Boxer Rebellion, the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, the Sino-Japanese War, Japan's occupation of China during World War II, the Cultural Revolution...a full lifetime indeed, packed with struggle, love, conflict, and always, art. In 1992, when Deep in the Mountains begins, Zhu, the teller of tales, is 100 years old, still pushing himself to create, still experimenting with form and color. A lonely boy from the other side of the earth enters Zhu's world. Through the artist's stories of the past, the present, and the future, the boy learns who he is and what he can become in this beautiful, haunting story of growing up and accepting life's challenges—and its joys.

• Multicultural appeal, features renowned Chinese artist Zhu Qizhan

• Moving story of connection across the generations by critically acclaimed author

• Blends China's history in the 20th century with a compelling modern-day tale

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Miriam Gottschalk
Tony Chung is a fictional, overweight, artistic, intelligent, fifteen-year-old Chinese misfit who wants to revive graffiti. When he experiences social humiliation at the hands of one of his teachers and a school bully, he reacts by making his mark inappropriately and expensively. In response, Tony's parents craft a plan to redirect his energies. They send him to Shanghai, entrusting him to the care of his maternal uncle, a restaurateur. Since Tony is on the lazy side, he does not look forward to the trip. In Shanghai, he will have to work in his uncle's restaurant in order to earn the money to pay for his vandalism. Tony has never been to China, although he is relatively fluent in Chinese. Plunked down in bustling Shanghai in the summer of 1992, Tony must rise to his uncle's expectations, including daily exercise at 6 a.m., long days of hard work in the restaurant, and a calorie-restricted diet. His life takes a dramatic turn for the better when his uncle introduces him to Zhu Qizhan, a 100-year-old revered and real-life master painter from Shanghai. Zhu teaches Tony the ancient techniques of Chinese painting. But the lessons extend beyond visual art to the art of life: "Do what you do for the joy and satisfaction it brings you. Everything else will take care of itself." Cheng's characters are believably real, demonstrating growth and change. He intersperses fact with fiction, promoting a desire to learn more about the artist and the art form. An excellent read aloud, this book will dovetail nicely with the 2009 summer reading program arts theme. Reviewer: Miriam Gottschalk
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
In this entry in the Art Encounters series, Terrence Cheng takes his readers inside the life of artist Zhu Qixhan, who died at the age of 105 in 1996. This novel brings sometime-graffiti artist and fulltime high school student Tony to Shanghai, China in 1992. Tony is an A student whose only real interest is the graffiti art he does in class notebooks. After being teased one time too many and humiliated by a teacher, Tony uses his paint cans to vandalize the teacher's car and the school hallway. His parents, who run a local restaurant, are humiliated and send Tony to live with his uncle in China for the summer. Tony's uncle owns a profitable restaurant in Shanghai and there Tony will work to repay his parents for the damage, and perhaps learn to appreciate his Chinese heritage. His uncle introduces Tony to Master Zhu who is already 101 years old. The art master understands Tony in ways Tony's uncle doesn't seem to see. For his uncle, life is only the restaurant. As the summer goes on, Tony spends many afternoons with Master Zhu, hears the story of the Cultural Revolution, and learns to value Chinese art. The storyline may be a familiar one, but the Chinese setting and culture add depth and historical value to Tony's coming of age. Master Zhu is a wise man who has lived through much political upheaval and still can find serenity in nature and art. His story emphasizes the survival of human character and the healing spirit of art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823004232
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Series: Art Encounters Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.78 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Terrence Cheng
Terrence Cheng's first novel, Sons of Heaven, was universally critically acclaimed. Publishers Weekly said it is "a rare find: historical and political without being pedantic, and briskly entertaining without being cheap, simplistic, or contrived," while Library Journal called it "a ripping good story." Cheng was a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami, where he earned his MFA. He lives in New York City.


Born in Taipei in 1972, Terrence Cheng immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was barely one year old. Although he had grown up hearing stories from his parents, he never thought much about his family's life in China until his grandparents died. Cheng's maternal grandmother was a senator in the Chinese Nationalist Party. His grandfather fought the Japanese on the Mainland during WWII, sustaining wounds that left him scarred for life. In 1949, as Mao came to power, they fled Beijing for Taiwan.

Cheng was 17 years old at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacres. He recalls watching the demonstrations on American television and being transfixed by the lone figure of a young man who stepped in front of the tanks in a courageous act of defiance. At the last minute, the man was pulled aside by onlookers, disappearing into the crowd as mysteriously as he had appeared. The image haunted Cheng, who for the first time felt a connection to China and a true appreciation of the sacrifices his own family had made to assure his safety and comfort in the United States.

Cheng never forgot the "Unknown Rebel," as the anonymous dissident of Tiananmen Square came to be known. And in his 2002 debut novel, Sons of Heaven, he gave him a face, a name, and a powerful story. Hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a rare find," by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a superb first novel," and by the Miami Herald as "stylistically and thematically daring," the book struck a chord with readers everywhere.

In 2007, Cheng released Deep in the Mountains, a young adult novel in the Watson Guptill Art Encounters series that interweaves the lives of a young New York graffiti artist and famous Chinese painter Zhu Oizhan. He has also published a story in the crime fiction anthology Bronx Noir. A recipient of the James Michener Fellowship and a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cheng teaches creative writing at Lehman College in New York City.

Good To Know

Some interesting anecdotes from our interview with Cheng:

"My first two jobs out of college were at a local health club, and then at a taekwondo school. In both situations I became a manager and had plenty of time on my hands, so I would sit in my office and write and edit whenever I could. I spent plenty of company time and money and resources printing, copying, mailing my stories to literary magazines (and subsequently getting rejected). Then, at the taekwondo school, I was offered my own franchise. At which point I realized I had to make a choice -- sell memberships the rest of my life, or go to graduate school and try to be a writer?"

"While applying to and eventually selecting the 'right' M.F.A. program: every program that wanted my GRE score (which was pitiful) I got into; every school that did not want my GRE score, I was rejected by. It came down to Johns Hopkins and the University of Miami. I was offered a partial scholarship by Hopkins, and a full ride to Miami. The director at Miami gave me the hard sell and I was like, 'I don't know. Let me think about it.' So he called my mother and gave her the hard sell (so sneaky!) -- then my mother gave me the hard sell, part two, and reminded me that I had no money. So I went to Miami."

"I got the offer to write Deep in the Mountains after the editor read my wedding announcement in The New York Times. So if my wife hadn't agreed to marry me, and our announcement hadn't appeared in the paper, then I would never have gotten the chance to write this book. So, as usual, all the credit belongs to my wife."

"I guess if there's a point to any of this, it is: Life works in funny ways. If you try to plan everything, the gods will certainly smash your puny plan."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      Taipei, Taiwan
    1. Education:
      B.A., Binghamton University, 1994; M.F.A., University of Miami, 1997
    2. Website:

Interviews & Essays

Exclsuive Author Essay
When I was given the chance to write a young adult historical fiction that incorporated the life of a famous Chinese painter, I was extremely excited by the opportunity. Then I realized that I knew nothing about Chinese painting -- the history of it, the technique, the difference in philosophy and vision as opposed to Western painting. So there was a good deal of research to be done in those areas alone. On top of that, I had to pick a painter. I chose Zhu Qizhan because he was a contemporary painter (1892-1996) who had lived and worked through such tumultuous periods in Chinese history. I knew that the time during which he had lived would make a perfect backdrop for an historical fiction.

I then met Karen and Leon Wender from China 2000 Fine Art in New York City who were friends with Master Zhu, and so they were able to tell me stories about him and give me insight into his character. They had these incredible catalogues of his work that they were kind enough to give me. In each catalogue were these wonderful essays, by the Wenders and by other scholars of art and art history. These essays really brought to life Master Zhu's style in the context and history of Chinese painting. It was all extremely helpful as I was simultaneously trying to learn about Chinese painting and Master Zhu as not only an artist but as a man.

The second challenge was writing a YA novel for the first time, and incorporating Master Zhu into that novel. Ultimately writing a YA novel is no different from writing any other kind of novel (except for how explicit you can be). But you still have to craft a good story with a compelling dramatic arc and empathetic characters that make that story come alive. Master Zhu was a big part of that -- I felt a strong connection with his character and spirit from the beginning and so writing the book was not only educational but fun.

For Tony Cheung, the main character in the book, I worked off of some of my own experiences growing up -- being the only Chinese kid in school, getting picked on, feeling like the world is against you. But in the end, doesn't every kid feel like that at some point? Which is why I think the book will speak to all kinds of readers, and not just Chinese-American readers.

Ultimately, I feel like the book isn't limited to its Chinese, or artistic, or historical context. It's about relationships and important people you meet while growing up. It's about learning about yourself, and using art and the artistic spirit to buttress you through the hard times and improve upon who you are. I think both Tony and Master Zhu are examples of this, and I hope readers will find as much inspiration in them as I have. --Terrence Cheng

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Reading Group Guide

The questions that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Terrence Cheng's second novel, DEEP IN THE MOUNTAINS, a beautiful, haunting story of growing up and accepting life's challenges-and its joys.

When Tony Cheung, a 15 year-old Chinese boy, is kicked out of his Bronx high school for spray painting a teacher's car, his parents send him to Shanghai to spend the summer working in his uncle's restaurant. In Shanghai he befriends the great Chinese artist Zhu Qizhan.

Zhu Qizhan was born in 1892 and lived to be 105 years old. During his life, Zhu witnessed the Boxer Rebellion, the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, the Sino-Japanese War, Japan's occupation of China during World War II, and was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution-a remarkable life filled with struggle, love, conflict, and always, art.

With the help of Master Zhu's stories and lessons, Tony learns about Chinese painting and history, but most importantly he learns how to approach his work and life with dignity, honor, and integrity.


1. Tony's life as a Chinese-American is complicated by peer pressure at school, as well as his parents' expectations of him. Which do you think is the more powerful influence on Tony, and to what result?

2. Tony blames many of his problems on his parents and upbringing-do you agree with him? How much of Tony's conflict can be attributed to his parents and the struggle of being immigrants, and how much is simply a part of growing up in America?

3. It is no secret that people-and especially kids-can be vicious and cruel to each other. In light of this fact, discuss prejudiceand racism as a factor in Tony's conflict. Is the abuse he takes at school primarily a product of racism and stereotypes, or is it (once again) simply a part of growing up?

4. When Tony arrives in Shanghai, he experiences an enormous culture shock. In the book, what are the biggest differences you can see between Shanghai and New York? Have you ever personally experienced such a culture shock? Describe your experience in detail and compare it to Tony's.

5. Tony's uncle is both likable and dislikable for a multitude of reasons. Discuss the pros and cons of Tony's uncle's role in the book: In what way is he a positive influence on Tony, and in what ways negative?

6. Master Zhu was one of China's most famous painters who lived for more than a century (1892-1996). Name three other painters from the U.S., Europe, or anywhere around the world who lived and worked during Master Zhu's time.

7. Do some research on the historical events in Chinese history that Master Zhu lived through, particularly the Sino-Japanese War and Japan's occupation of China during World War II; and the Cultural Revolution. From what Master Zhu describes in the book, which historical event do you think had the greatest impact on him as a man and as an artist, and how could things have turned out differently for him?

8. In Chapter 11, Master Zhu explains to Tony the difference between Eastern and Western painting. Go to the library or look online for work by famous painters from both the East and West. Are there any other differences that you can see between the two philosophies and techniques? Which do you prefer-Eastern or Western painting-and why?

9. While in Shanghai, Tony learns not only about Ch and Chinese history, but about his own family's history as well. Make a list of things you know about your family, and a list of things that you don't know that you would like to ask someone about. Do you think immigrants in the U.S. reveal more or less about their family background and heritage? Under what circumstances?

10. In the end, what do you think Tony learns from his uncle (both good and bad), and does his uncle learn anything from living and working with Tony?

11. What is the most important lesson that Tony learns from Master Zhu? And what, if anything, did you find most inspirational about Master Zhu and his work?

12. What do you think Tony will do with his life after college? Write the epilogue.

About the Author

Terrence Cheng is the author of two novels, Sons of Heaven and Deep in the Mountains. Born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1972, Cheng came to the United States with his family in 1973. He earned his BA in English at Binghamton University (SUNY), and his MFA in Fiction at the University of Miami, FL, where he was a James Michener Fellow. In 2005 Cheng received a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York. He lives with his wife in New York City. For more information visit

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