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Paintings of “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The era of Song dynasty (宋朝) that succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Chinese history began in 960 and continued until 1279. There are two distinct periods in the Song dynasty  – Northern and Southern.

During the Northern Song (北宋) period from 960 to 1127, the dynasty controlled most of China proper with the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) as its capital.

During the Southern Song (南宋) period from 1127 to 1279, the Song dynasty lost control of northern China in the Jin–Song Wars to the Jurchen Jin dynasty.

The Song dynasty was the first in world history to issue national bank notes or true paper money, the first Chinese regime to establish a permanent navy, and the first to use gunpowder. It was during the Song dynasty that the Chinese found the true north using a compass.

The Qing Ming Shang He Tu (simplified Chinese: 清明上河图; traditional Chinese: 清明上河圖) or “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” is a scroll painting created by the famous Chinese painter Zhang Zeduan (1085 – 1145) alias Zheng Dao who lived during the transitional period from the Northern Song to the Southern Song and was instrumental in the early history of the Chinese landscape art style known as shan shui.

This painting considered the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings dubbed as “China’s Mona Lisa” has a theme of the worldly commotion and the festive spirit during the celebration of the Qingming Festival. It encapsulates the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng and the life of its people.

This scroll painting is 9.76 inches (24.8 cm) in height and 17.35 feet (5.287 metres) long. It depicts the bustling and lively life and beautiful natural scenery on both sides of the river that meanders through Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty during the Qingming Festival. The two main portions in the painting are the countryside and the market in the densely populated city. It has more than 170 trees, 30 buildings, 814 humans, 8 sedan chairs, over 60 horses and other animals, 20 vehicles, and 28 boats.

The painting reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor in successive scenes and offers glimpses of the architecture and clothing of the Song period.

For centuries, the scroll painting was a pride of the personal imperial collections of the Chinese emperors.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source - Japanese magazine 'Historical Photograph,' March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)
Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source – Japanese magazine ‘Historical Photograph,’ March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)

The original Song dynasty painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” was a favorite of Puyi (February 7, 1906 – October 17, 1967), also known as Henry Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. At the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, he took it along with him when he left Beijing. It was then re-purchased and kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

The following video describes how the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” painting showcased the best of life in the Song Dynasty – one of the golden ages of China.

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Remakes of the painting

Revered as a work of art, the scroll painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” inspired the creation of several works of art during subsequent dynasties. Court artists made re-interpretive versions of the painting by reviving and updating the style of the original. Even though each of these later paintings follow the composition and the original theme, they differ in details and painting techniques.

The Yuan version
Zhao Mengfu (1254 - 1322)
Zhao Mengfu (1254 – 1322)

During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) made a remarkable remake of the original,

The Ming version

Another notable remake painted during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) is 22 feet (6.7 metres) long and is longer than the original Song version.

Based on contemporary fashions and customs the Ming version replaced the scenery from the Song dynasty to that of the Ming dynasty with the costumes worn by the people updated and the styles of vehicles (boats and carts) changed.

The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting - An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.
The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting – An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.

In the original Song painting,  the crew of an oncoming boat have not yet fully lowered their sails and are in danger of crashing into wooden the bridge.

Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.
Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.

In the Ming version, a stone bridge with a taller arch replaced the Song wooden bridge, and men ashore guide the boat under the bridge by pulling ropes tied to it.

The Qing version

On January 15, 1737, the Qianlong Emperor received a present of a version painted by five Qing dynasty court painters (Chen Mu, Sun Hu, Jin Kun, Dai Hong and Cheng Zhidao). This Qing remake is much larger – 36 feet (11 metres) long and  1 ft 1.68 inches (35 cm) high – and has over 4,000 people in it.

While in the original Song version, the leftmost side contains images of the busy city, the leftmost third of this Qing version depicts life within the palace, with buildings and people appearing refined and elegant. Most people within the castle are women along with some well-dressed officials.

The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 - 1766).
The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 – 1766).

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In April 1742, a poem composed by the Qianlong Emperor was added to the rightmost end of the Qing remake.  The poem reads as follows:

蜀錦裝金壁   – A wall of gold has been mounted on Shu brocade.
吳工聚碎金   – Craftsmen from Wu collect spare change
謳歌萬井富 – To pay tribute to the abundance of a myriad of families.
城闕九重深  – The watchtowers of the city rise to great heights.
盛事誠觀止  – The bustling scene is truly impressive.
遺踪借探尋 – It is a chance to explore vestiges of bygone days.
當時誇豫大 – At that time, people marveled at the size of Yu,
此日歎徽欽 – And now, we lament the fates of Hui and Qin.

In 1949, the National Palace Museum in Taipei received the Qing version along with many other artifacts.

Over the centuries, many affluent Chinese treasured the original Qingming scroll. Eventually, it returned to public ownership.

The original Song dynasty painting now kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and the Qing version in the Taipei Palace Museum, are both considered national treasures and are exhibited every few years for brief periods.

The following video with narration in Chinese shows the different versions of the remakes of the “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” but uses the Ming version to explain the life of the Chinese then, in the near past, and now.

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Digital version

Logo of Shanghai World Expo 2010.

From May 1 to October 31, 2010, China hosted Expo 2010, a major World Expo,  officially known as the Expo 2010 Shanghai China in the tradition of international fairs and expositions.

A 3D animated, viewer-interactive digital version of the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” titled “River of Wisdom“, screened for three months was the primary exhibit at the China Pavilion. This elaborate computer animated mural about 30 times the size of the original scroll had moving characters and objects that made the painting come to life. It presented the scene in a four-minute day to night cycles. Those who reserved in advance had to queue up to two hours to see the 3D animated version.

After the Expo, the digital version was on display at the AsiaWorld–Expo in Hong Kong from November 9 to 29, 2010; at the Macau Dome in Macau from March 25 to April 14, 2011; and at the Expo Dome in Taipei, Taiwan from July 1 to September 4, 2011.

From December 7, 2011, to February 6, 2012, a digital reproduction was exhibited at the Singapore Expo titled “A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art“.

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15th Century Chinese Mariners: Part 2 – The Yongle Emperor


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The Hongwu Emperor had many consorts, concubines, 26 sons and 16 daughters. He appointed his eldest son Zhu Biao as the crown prince. He placed his trust only in his family. He appointed his many sons as powerful feudal princes along the northern marshes and the Yangtze valley.

Zhu Di , the Yongle Emperor

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The Yongle Emperor (Born as Zhu Di), the third Ming Emperor of China.
The Yongle Emperor (Born as Zhu Di), the third Ming Emperor of China.

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The Hongwu emperor installed one of his many sons, Zhu Di (May 2, 1360 – August 12, 1424), as Prince of Yan in May 1370, with his capital at Beiping (modern Beijing)..

Zhu Di at first accepted his father’s appointment of his elder brother Zhu Biao in 1368 as the crown prince.

On May 17, 1392, Zhu Biao died young. After several months of deliberation, the Hongwu Emperor upheld the strict rules of primogeniture laid out by him to the dynasty. He favored the bookish 14-year-old grandson Zhu Yunwen, son of  Zhu Biao, over his other sons and anointed him crown prince.

On June 24, 1398, Hongwu Emperor died.

On February 6, 1399, Zhu Yunwen became the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty as the Jianwen Emperor.

Zhu Yunwen then began executing and demoting his powerful uncles. So, Zhu Di found a pretext for rising in rebellion against his nephew the emperor.

Assisted in large part by eunuchs, Zhu Di survived the first attacks on his fiefdom. Eunuch commander Ma Sanbao defended Beiping’s city reservoir, Zhenglunba, against the imperial armies with great success.

In January 1402, Prince Zhu Di started his military campaign to capture the imperial capital Nanjing. Ma Sanbao was one of his commanders.

On July 13, 1402, Zhu Di’s armies defeated the imperial forces and marched into Nanjing. Four days later, Zhu Di ascended the throne
as the Yongle Emperor. He declared his new era the Yongle or the time of “Perpetual Happiness”.

Although Zhu Di presented a charred body as Zhu Yunwen’s, rumors circulated that the young emperor had escaped his burning palace in a monk’s robe. Later on, during the Qing dynasty, officials altered the Ming official history texts to please their emperor.

The Yongle Emperor repaired and reopened the Grand Canal, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the longest canal or artificial river in the world.  The Grand Canal now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a famous tourist destination.

紫禁城 (Zijin Cheng) the “Purple Forbidden City”

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Hall of Supreme Harmony, in the forbidden city (Source :chinatourguide.com)
Hall of Supreme Harmony, in the forbidden city (Source :chinatourguide.com)

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In the beginning of the 15th century, the Yongle Emperor moved the imperial capital from Nanjing to a new city at Beijing, 550 miles to the northwest, next to the old Yuan dynasty capital of Kanbaliq or Dadu, built by Kublai Khan beginning in 1264.

Construction of the new Ming capital began in 1406 under the direct supervision of the emperor. It took 14 years and more than a million workers to build the city. Whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood found in the jungles of southwestern China and large blocks of marble from quarries near Beijing were used for the construction.

A 40-foot high wall, 15-miles long surrounded the city. In the center of the city stood the imperial palace along with an administrative hub with offices for government officials. The palace had almost 10,000 rooms and to enter it required explicit permission of the emperor. Special baked paving bricks from Suzhou, known as “golden bricks” were used to pave the floors of major halls.

The emperor fascinated by the purplish constellation in the night sky along with the navigational North Star at its center, hoped to emulate it with his new capital. Hence, called  it 紫禁城 (Zijin Cheng) which literally meant “Purple Forbidden City.

UNESCO declared the Forbidden City as a World Heritage Site and listed it as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. It now houses the Palace Museum.

Porcelain Tower (or Pagoda) of Nanjing

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Early European illustration of the Porcelain Tower, from An embassy from the East-India Company (1665) by Johan Nieuhof.
Early European illustration of the Porcelain Tower, from An embassy from the East-India Company (1665) by Johan Nieuhof.

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The Yongle Emperor also constructed the Porcelain Tower (or Pagoda) of Nanjing, considered one of the wonders of the world. It was part of the former Bao’en Temple on the south bank of the external Qinhuai River in Nanjing, China.

The octagonal pagoda with a base of about 97 feet (30 metres) in diameter rose up to a height of 260 feet (79 metres) with nine stories. A staircase in the middle of the pagoda, spiraled upwards for 184 steps. The tower built with white porcelain bricks reflected the sun’s rays during the day. Glazes and stoneware worked into the porcelain created a mixture of green, yellow, brown and white designs on the sides of the tower. The tower was also decorated with animals, flowers and landscapes, and many Buddhist images. At night as many as 140 lamps hung from the building illuminated the tower.

In 1856, the Taiping rebels destroyed the pagoda.

China’s maritime operations under the Yongle Emperor

The Chinese may have sailed to Arabia, East Africa, and Egypt since the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) or earlier. At the turn of the 15th century, desiring to expand Chinese influence throughout the known world, the Yongle Emperor sponsored the great and long-term expeditions under the command of his eunuch admiral Zheng He and his associates Wang Jinghong, Hong Bao, and others.

At the turn of the 15th century,  China’s maritime operations had already reached the zenith of considerable sophistication, just when Iberia gained  the new momentum.  The seven voyages from 1405 to 1433 under the eunuch commander-in-chief Zheng He exemplify the  Chinese maritime power.

Admiral Zheng He’s last voyage to Africa preceded that of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and before Vasco da Gama reached India by more than 60 years, and 90 years before the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe.

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Next →  Part 3 – The Seven Voyages of Zheng He

← Previous: Part 1 – The Hongwu Emperor

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