In early 1938, Lily travelled by train to Peking, where she stayed at a Chinese boarding house in the old city. Under Japanese occupation, Peking was a cheerless and impoverished place, but Lily was particularly happy there and drew innumerable portraits, mostly of Chinese children. She took a practical course in anatomy at the Rockefeller Foundation Hospital to deepen her understanding of the human body; this type of expertise is indispensable to any portrait painter. A year and a half after Lily started drawing, the Peking Institute of Fine Arts held the first exhibition of her work.