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This article investigates a transformative encounter between the Chinese artist Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻 1895–1953) and audiences in the Soviet Union during his 1933–1934 exhibitions of Chinese art in Europe. While Xu was exchanging perspectives and addressing questions about Chinese painting, a misreading of one of his paintings sparked in him a reconsideration of content and form that eventually led to the creation of some of the earliest Socialist realist ink-and-color paintings in China. This addition to his repertoire is arguably more significant to his legacy than his most popular works because of the way it heralded the coming Socialist realist evolution in guohua (國畫 national painting) and the manner in which Xu's choices would meet the ideological needs of the Communist Party well before it secured authority over the direction of China's arts. Special attention is paid to situating Xu's personal work vis-à-vis Republican and revolutionary art and explaining how the concurrent political milieu paved the way for both the prestige of his art in popular and cultural memory and the unprecedented stature of his art education methodologies in China's revolutionary times.