Yuliang and Zanhua moved to Shanghai, which was just becoming known as ‘the Paris of the East’. Their next door neighbour was Hong Ye, a teacher at Shanghai Art Institute, one of the most avant-garde art schools in China.
Hong Ye taught Yuliang drawing and painting, encouraging her to apply for a place at the Institute. She passed the exams in 1918, entering the Shanghai Art School as the first female student. Here she began to study Western art.
The Chinese authorities did not take kindly to the approach taken by the Shanghai Art School. Its Headmaster, Liu Haisu, was constantly being threatened as he refused to comply with traditional Chinese values.
It was impossible for a woman to be recognised as an artist. As for actually depicting the nude female body, this was absolutely forbidden. To skirt around these limitations, Pan Yuliang frequented the bath houses where she sketched the naked women.
It would be many years before her artistic achievements would be acknowledged by the Chinese government. For most of her career she was seen as depraved and corrupt.