Flying Paintings: The Zhou Brothers: A Story of Revolution and Art

Written By: Amy Alznauer

Illustrated by: ShanZuo Zhou & DaHuang Zhou

For Ages: 5-9 years

Language: English, some Chinese.

Topics Covered: History, Immigration, Communism, China, Immigration, Historical Figures, Chinese Artists, Social Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, Siblings, Biography.


This is a beautiful and autobiographical book detailing the artistic development and lives of the Zhou brothers, who were born in 1950’s People’s Republic of China to a family who owned a bookstore. Coming of age during the Cultural Revolution, the brothers saw big changes in how the government dealt with private businesses and valued art. The brothers created art their entire lives, including secretly when the government would have destroyed it. They eventually moved to Chicago and continue to have a studio there!

Something that the book focuses on is the brothers’ hard work becoming trained artists, and also the fact that they didn’t get along all of the time. In fact, they argue when making art together! I enjoy how real the book makes the brothers, they’re human and humans don’t always get along. It also helps model to the reader that arguments between siblings, friends, and coworkers can happen. Making amends and continuing to work together is a sign of emotional maturity, an important aspect of social-emotional learning.

This book has so much inside it, it’s a really wonderful book to read when talking about art, immigration, or social justice! I love biographies, and having the Zhou’s themselves illustrate the book adds another layer for the authentic representation of their history.

This book was kindly sent by Candlewick Press, but all opinions are my own!

When trying to figure out the recipe to make with this book, unfortunately I couldn’t find a mold to make Sugar Rings, a traditional Lunar New Year dessert popular in the Guangxi province where the brothers were born. Instead, I decided to paint my own sugar cookies!

Recipe: Royal Icing


3T Meringue Powder

4c Powdered Sugar (sifted)

9-10T water


Put all the dry ingredients and 8T (1/2c) water in the mixing bowl (I use a stand mixer with a whip attachment) and whip for several minutes, until white and fluffy. I usually add another tablespoon or two to get the consistency desired. When dropped from above (with a spoon or the attachment), the icing strands should disappear in a few seconds to get a smooth surface to paint on. I put my icing in a piping bag right away, it will start to harden if exposed to open air immediately.

Amy Alznauer

Amy Alznauer lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a dog and her four puppies, a parakeet, sometimes chicks and a part-time fish, but, as of today, no elephants or peacocks. Check back.

Her writing has won the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfictionthe Christopher Award, and the SCBWI-Illinois Laura Crawford Memorial Mentorship, and my essays and poetry have appeared in collections and literary journals including The Bellingham ReviewCreative Nonfiction and River Teeth.

Amy has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches calculus and number theory classes at Northwestern University. Amy is the managing editor for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind. And she’s the writer-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great, where she has a little office in a big building with a bad internet connection, so she might actually get some work done (in theory).

ShanZuo & DaHuang Zhou

The Zhou Brothers, ShanZuo born 1952 and DaHuang born 1957, are amongst the most important and accomplished contemporary artists in the world today.  Renowned for their unique collaborative work process which has spanned over 40 years, they work together on their paintings, performances and sculptures. The Brothers discovered this distinguishing collaboration after working on their first painting together in 1973, titled “The Wave.”

Their thinking, aesthetic, and creativity are a symbiosis of eastern and western philosophy, art, and literature that informed of their development since early childhood, and eventually spurring the evolution of their influential “Feeling is Liberty” Philosophy which has been taught in the last 20 years to thousands of their students. Their indomitable spirit allowed them to leave behind their brilliant success in China, where they were hailed as national heroes for their early work, ­­­­to step onto the world stage. In 1986 the Zhou Brothers took an enormous risk and moved to the United States.

The Zhou Brothers come from the autonomous Chinese region of GuangXi and studied art in Shanghai and Beijing. They became the most famous young painters of their generation and mainland China in the 1980s. In 1985 they were honored as the first contemporary artist ever to show their work in an exhibition that traveled to the five largest museums in China, including the national Art Museum of China in Beijing and art museums in Shanghai and Nanjing. One of the most important demonstrations of their collaboration is the performance the Zhou Brothers gave during the opening ceremony of the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2000. In front of the most important political, economic, and cultural leaders in the world, they created a large format painting titled “New Beginnings” to give due treatment to their most important theme, humankind. In 2004, The Zhou Brothers founded the Zhou B Art Center with the dream of providing a platform and creative freedom for international artists. 

In 2011 President Barack Obama commissioned the Zhou Brothers to create a painting, “ Eight U.S. President’s and the Great Wall,” a testament to the relationship between the United States and China, that would be presented as the State gift to then President of China, President Hu Jintao, in a private ceremony attended by the Brothers at the White House.  With their unceasing contributions to the Chicago art community, in 2014, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued a proclamation declaring October 16, 2014 as Zhou Brothers day in Illinois and in 2015 Mayor Rahm Emanuel dedicated 35th street as Honorary Zhou Brothers Way.

They have received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Artist Award, United Nations, New York (2008), Kunstpreis Der Heitland Foundation, Celle (1996); National Prize of the Chinese Avant-Garde of the Ministry of Culture, Beijing (1985),  Prize for Creativity, Peace Corps of the United Nations, Beijing (1985). American Immigrant Achievement Award, American Immigration Law Foundation, (2004). And Lincoln award, Lincoln Academy of Illinois, (2006).  Their works have appeared in major exhibits at The National Art Museum of China (2007), Museum Ludwig, Budapest (1995), Portland Art Museum, Portland (1995), Shanghai Art Museum (1985) Guangxi Art Museum, Nanning (2014), Beijing 1+1 Art Centre, Beijing (2013), Chicago Cultural Center and Elmhurst Art Museum (2004), They live and work in Chicago and Beijing.​

Leave a Reply