Aaanyway - back to this book! In 1916 her contract is bought out by the local tax inspector, Pan Zanhua, who later makes her his concubine. He sets her up with a house Shanghai and she, pretty incredibly for a female in that time, gains admission to the Shanghai Art Academy and later on a scholarship to study in France. She painted a lot of female nudes and Epstein uses her background to explore how painting nudes could have been a way of accepting what happened to her during her time working at the Hall. China is going through some pretty turbulent times during Pan Yuliang's lifetime and it's interesting to see the impact this has on her ability to paint what, and how, she chooses.
When I finished the book this morning, I just had to see some of Pan Yuliang's work and found this selection here and another here. There's also a selection on the author's website here. I can see why she caused such a stir in Shanghai if paintings like the self portrait below were exhibited there in that era!
I did, however, have to do some research to remind myself of the political scene in China during the early/mid 20th century which helps to make sense of some of the activist groups and individuals mentioned in the book. I'd love Penguin to add a potted