He began studying classic Chinese works and calligraphy with his father Hsu Dazhang when he was six, and Chinese painting when he was nine. In 1915, Mr. Hsu moved to Shanghai, where he made a living off commercial and private work. He travelled to Tokyo in 1917 to study arts. When he returned to China, he began to teach at Peking University's Arts school at the invitation of Cai Yuanpei. Hsu Pei-hung was sent to Europe by the Ministry of Education to study fine arts in 1918. From 1919 to 1923 he attended the National School of Fine Arts of Paris (L'Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris), where he studied oil painting and drawing. His travels around Western Europe allowed him to observe and learn Western art techniques.
Hsu Pei-hung exhibited several of his own works at the Salon of French Artists (Salon des Artists Francais ) and also at the Societe Nationale des Beauxarts. After having travelled extensively in Europe to further his studies of fine arts, he returned to China in 1927 and was appointed director of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Peking, which position he soon resigned and came south to join the National Central University in Nanjing as a professor.
Mr. Hsu held an exhibition of his Chinese paintings at Brussels in 1930, which was highly successful. In May, 1933, he represented the Chinese artists at an exhibition of Chinese paintings at Muses Nationale des Ecoles Etrangeres de Paris and at the same time, Belgian artists requested him to give another exhibition of his individual productions in Brussels. In November, 1933, the Berlin Arts Association invited him to give an exhibition in the German Capital, where he won great admiration. In December, 1933, he gave an exhibition of ancient and modern Chinese paintings in Milan, Italy.
In March, 1934, Hsu Pei-hung was invited by the China Institute in Frankfurt to give an exhibition of Chinese paintings in the National Museum in that city in the following month, the Soviet Government extended him an invitation to give an exhibition of all Chinese paintings both of his own production and of other Chinese artists in Moscow, which won him great admiration from both the Soviet artists and people. In June the same year, the Musee Ermitage at Leningrad invited him to give an exhibition there and during the exhibition, the Soviet Government for the first time exchanged some of their productions for some Chinese paintings. The French Government also bought 12 of his paintings.
Mr. Hsu enjoyed massive support from art collectors across Asia. Between 1939 and 1941, he held solo exhibitions in Singapore, India and Malaya (Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh) to help raise funds for the war relief effort in China. In one war benefit exhibition in March 1939, Hsu Pei-hung held a group exhibition with Chinese ink painting masters Ren Bonian and Qi Baishi, and showcased 171 works of art at the Victoria Memorial Hall.
He also met luminaries such as Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi during his stay in India, and got his sources of inspiration which led to the creation of iconic works such as the 4.21m-wide The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains painting on show at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). Artworks like After a Poem of the Six Dynasties, Portrait of Ms Jenny and Put Down Your Whip were also created during his sojourns in Southeast Asia. SAM Director Kwok Kian Chow mentioned that Hsu Pei-hung's name tops the list in Asian modern realism art, and his connections with various parts of Asia and Europe opened a new chapter of historical narratives, exchanges and influences of aesthetics and ideas in art.
Mr. Hsu constantly pushed the boundaries of visual art with new techniques and international aesthetics, in bid to reinvent Chinese art. In fact, Hsu Pei-hung's influence extends beyond China in the early 20th-century. Many pioneer Singapore artists such as Chen Wen Hsi, Lee Man Fong and Chen Chong Swee looked up to him as a mentor and a worthy peer, sharing Mr. Hsu's advocate to closely observe nature and inject realism into Chinese painting.
Hsu Pei-hung died of a stroke in 1953. After his death, a Xu (Hsu) Beihong Memoiral Museum was established at his home in Beijing by his wife Liao Jingwen.
Hsu Pei-hung went to Japan to study arts in 1917. Jiang Biwei who was already married went with him to Japan without the consent of her family. Her family said that she had died to cover their embarrassment. In 1927, Mr. Hsu and Jiang Biwei had a son and a daughter. Three years later, he had a love affair with his student Sun Duoci. The affair ended with Jiang Biwei's intervention, but the damage to their marriage was done.
This account is questioned in a biography written by Hsu Pei-hung's later wife - Liao Jingwen states that there was no improper relationship between him and the student. It goes on to describe how Jiang Biwei was having an affair herself with the married official Zhang Daofan. It was Zhang who suggested Hsu had been having an improper relationship in order to further drive a wedge between the couple. However, finally their 20-year painful relationship ended with a divorce in 1945. In 1946, Hsu Pei-hung married Liao Jingwen, a librarian who took care of his life and career until he died in 1953. They had a son and a daughter.