Water is a prominent element in the media of Chinese ink painting and, in the form of clouds, rivers, floods and mist, it is a major subject of Chinese painting. In the culturally distinctive modernist practice of Fu Baoshi (1904–1965), these two identities of water self-consciously encounter one another. The artist's attention to watery themes in his work is unprecedented, and he is one of the first painters to focus on the direct depiction of falling rain. The essay considers Fu's representations of rain, the theme of water in his images of the poet-statesman Qu Yuan and (after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949) in paintings illustrating the poems of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Fu's water-themed works are examined here with reference to the inherited stock of Chinese cultural meanings as well as to recent artistic practice in the People's Republic and to the Maoist state ideology which informed it. The potential meanings of these water-themed works are considered, and politically subversive connotations are discovered. The essay concludes by reflecting on the theme of water in contemporary practice, particularly in Song Dong's performance art work of 1996, Printing on Water.