In the Analects, Confucius says, "One can always find a teacher in every three people". It implies that there is always something to be learned from the speech and behaviours of others. Fundamentally, Confucius asserts the value in individualism in the sense that there is not a sole role model from which we all should learn. People may come from the same ethnic group, but each individual has different thoughts, background, experience, and personality. Even if one is forced to wear the collectivist uniform and participate in cult-like political movements, ultimately, the genuineness of individuality cannot be suppressed.
Class One Series No. 1; 23; & 28 (Lot 173) belongs to the Mask series that Zeng Fanzhi executed in the 1990s. "The gentleman can disagree yet remain civilised" is being demonstrated in this series of three portraits. One figure grins directly at the viewer–on a superficial level, he is conveying joy. Another figure is a youth who tilts his head quizzically as if he is contemplating and observing. The last figure chooses to present the back of his head to the viewer. His presence forms an incredible tension amongst the three figures – his hidden face represents a minority who veers from the prescribed path. As a portrait, the back of the head cannot objectively serve the purpose of presenting the facial expression or features of a figure. Yet, this attitude of avoidance and resistance makes him the most individualistic figure amongst the three. In the Mask series, Zeng Fanzhi injects this anomaly in the portrait convention. It is perhaps a metaphor for his uncompromising attitude against mainstream art and his unapologetic attitude towards innovation.