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The Qingming shanghe Scroll and Qingming shanghe Studies


Wang Qi
Assistant Curator of Ancient Painting and Calligraphy
Palace Museum, Beijing


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Translator's note: Since it is still being debated whether "qingming" refers to the Spring Festival, or a noun meaning peace and order, for the sake of a less ambiguous translation, I shall keep the title in pinyin, rather than using the better known English title, Spring Festival by the River. Some recent scholarly inquiries on the Qingming shanghe scroll, with overviews of Western, Chinese, and Japanese scholarship, are published in the Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 26 (1996) and 27 (1997). IL




The Northern Song painter Zhang Zeduan (active early 12th c.) portrays the capital Dongjing (now modern-day Kaifeng in Henan province) in the Qingming shanghe scroll. A masterpiece of Chinese painting, it shows a bustling scene of the city during the Spring Festival and a society in all of its facets. In addition, its historical documentary value cannot be overlooked. Since its inception, the painting has influenced many other copies and imitations, and even these are sought after by collectors. To our knowledge, surviving versions of the Qingming shanghe scroll in and out of China number in the dozens. Counting only the versions shown at the special exhibition of the Qingming shanghe scroll at the Palace Museum in Bejing in 1999, we already have seven copies. In the history of Chinese painting, it is rare to see a work which has spawned so many progeny, so to speak.

Studies of the Qingming shanghe scroll had already begun in the first half of the 20th century, and there has been a lot of progress to this day. A work of close to 200,000 Chinese characters, The Qingming shanghe Scroll and Qingming shanghe Studies (Henan University Press, June 1997) reflects the culmination of over ten years of scholarship by its author Zhou Baozhu. Embarking on this study, Zhou has the "homefield advantage" � Zhou lived in the ancient capital of Kaifeng for over forty years. In the preface, Zhou points out that in conducting research, other than historical documents and the painting itself, she often went to the outer perimeters of the city of Kaifeng to conduct field research. As a result, Zhou was able to point out that the trees before and after the Spring Festival season in the city's vicinity are appropriately depicted in the Qingming shanghe scroll, contradicting some scholars' view that the season depicted is autumn. Zhou also took advantage of her knowledge of Song history to direct the reader's perspective in every single vignette, a shift from many previous scholars' preference to approach it through the perspective of art. In addition, Zhou deftly narrates the painting through its representations of architecture, transportation, and economic activity.

After reading Zhou's book, I find it has three distinctive characteristics:

 

(1) Using topics as organizing principles in the presentation and analysis of the painting. The first three chapters � "The Eastern capital Kaifeng, "Qingming shanghe", "Zhang Zeduan and the Eastern capital painting academy" � gives the reader a comprehensive picture of Kaifeng in the Northern Song dynasty. Later, the author separates objects in the painting into twenty-one different categories, such as trees, vegetable fields in the outskirts of the city, boats, vehicles, rainbow bridge, buildings, city wall, herbal shops, watering holes, wine shops, tax collection, and beggars, etc. These categories are then further analyzed. For example, Zhou explains the reasons why the willow trees planted on both sides of the Bian River are short with thick trunks, but with fine and delicate branch tips. Elsewhere, she uses "Liu family's fine scented wood and incense shop" as a point of departure to discuss the Song dynasty practice of using and trading fragrances.

(2) The book concentrates on innovative findings, rather than being restricted by established views. In recent years, there have been many studies of the Qingming shanghescroll. However, Zhou asserts her own opinions rather than remaining hindered by previous scholarship. One of her refreshing views contends that the reason why there is very little biographical information on Zhang Zeduan is because Zhang's true-to-life depictions of beggars and begging scenes went contrary to Emperor Huizong's propaganda campaign for a peaceful and prosperous society.

(3) The book's findings are based on solid evidence. The book's citations and annotations, bibliography, reference works are abundant and organized clearly. Not only are various primary texts and recent studies cited, but articles in smaller publications are also included. This documentation bolsters the persuasiveness of Zhou's arguments. For example, in the discussion of the relationship between hand-held fans and the Spring Festival, she cites a record showing how people often used fans during gambling in the Cold Food Festival (the third day of the Spring Festival) in Song times. This piece of evidence refutes some scholars' theory that the portrayal of fans indicates that the season depicted is autumn.

Admittedly, the book opens up some issues for debate. For example, Zhou's acceptance of the existence of "Qingming shanghe Studies" is still a little premature. Also, she groups categories such as Bian regional embroidery, wood carving, and even reconstruction of ancient streets modelled after the painting, under the umbrella of "Qingming shanghe Studies." These issues need to be considered further.

See Nie Chongzheng's comments on this book.

Click here to purchase this book.

 



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