Ai Xuan was born in 1947 in Hebei province and credits his father, Ai Qing, one of China's most famous poets, for his early interest in art. Ai Xuan graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts Preparatory School in 1967. His further education was interrupted by the
Cultural Revolution, and, between 1969 and 1973, he was sent to hard labor on a military farm in Tibet. He has, however, stated that this experience provided him with subject matter for most of his best paintings. He won the Silver medal at the Second National Exhibition of Young Artists in China in 1981 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognized painters of the post-Cultural Revolution period. His work regularly sets record prices at auctions in Beijing and Hong Kong. A member of the Chinese Artists' Association, he is also a full professor at the Beijing Painting Institute, and co-founder of the China Realists group, Beijing.