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A Record-Breaking Purchase by the Palace Museum Table of Contents

Zhang Xian's Ten Odes

Yang Lili
Palace Museum

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Ten Odes, a lightly colored silk handscroll by the Song Dynasty artist Zhang Xian (990-1078), measures 52 centimeters high by 125 centimeters long. At the beginning of the scroll, in the script of the Qing emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1796), appear the words, "A profusion of praise for this superior composition." The scroll concludes with four passages by Chen Zhensun of the Southern Song, and the Yuan-period Yan Yaohuan, Xian Yushu, and Tuotuo Mu'er. Within the painting also appears an inscription by Sun Jue of the Northern Song.

Zhang Xian, courtesy name Ziye, was from Wucheng (present-day Wuxing in Zhejiang Province), and held office as a Director in the Ministry of Justice under the clerical name of Ce Ren. In 1072, Zhang Xian was flipping through his father Zhang Wei's poetry when he found the eight-line poem entitled "On the Poems Composed by the Six Elders in the Southern Gardens at the Gathering Held by the Great Prefect Ma of Wuxing." This poem commemorated a gathering of literary illuminaries convened by Prefect Ma in 1046 in Huzhou. The Six Elders in attendance at the gathering were: Lang Jian, Fan Shuo, Zhang Wei, Liu Weiqing, Zhou Shouzhong, Wu Yan, and Hu Huan. Inspired by this work, Zhang Xian created Ten Odes based on Zhang Wei's own "ten beloved poems written on white silk."

The first part of the scroll thus shows a corner of the Southern Gardens in Wuxing, in which the principle structure is a tower. Inside the tower, two of Prefect Ma's ministers face off in a game of chess. In a small pavilion, two elders chat and enjoy the scenery, while another pair of elders stroll along, one strumming the qin, and the other holding a walking-stick. This section illustrates the content of three poems: besides one poem of prologue, there are also the two poems "Courtyard Cranes" and "Jade-Butterfly Flowers." From the Southern Gardens our eye follows the water to the islets and sandbars along the facing shores; to the thatched huts of small villages; to thickets of lush green vegetation; and on to clusters of green mountains -- each taking their turn in illustrating the content of the seven poems "Lone Sail," "Spending the Night at a Cottage in Qingjiang," "Geese Returning," "Hearing the Anvil," "Chance Writings While Spending the Night In Chen Village," "Sending off Scholar Ding," and "A Destitute Girl." Ten Odes deftly weaves together the different environments and different contents of ten poems in a painting with only one central visual point. As a form of expression, this richly creative technique occupies a unique place in the history of Chinese painting.

Of Zhang Xian's painted works, only this one remains extant. We can merely speculate as to whether or not it was painted by an assistant. Judging by the mode of painting -- corresponding to that of Jing Hao (ca. 855-915) and Guan Tong (early 10th c.) -- the style is early Northern Song. Meanwhile, references in Chen Zhensun's inscription, such as "the latter six years [are] modelled after Mingshu," referring to Zhou Mingshu (or Zhou Jin, father of Zhou Mi and once owner of this scroll ­ see below) and his comment on the unnatural damage in the poem "Spending the Night at a Cottage in Qingjiang," suggest that it is very likely that this piece is not the original. However it also cannot be later than Chen Zhensun's time. As a document it is extremely valuable, since it is the only extant first-hand record of cultural events and people of the time.

The work was first kept in the Zhang family home, but the Southern Song was a period of increased connoiseurship, and the work passed next to the family of Jia Sidao, and then in the late Southern Song and early Yuan periods, to the family of Zhou Mi (1232-1298). Zhao Mengfu had once inscribed a poem, but it does not appear in the present version, which is why Xu Bangda suspects that it was cut out. During the Yuan, someone from Suzhou brought it home with him. We know from the fact that the scroll bears half of the early Ming stamp "Officer of Verification of Ceremonies," that the scroll at one point entered a Ming imperial household. It has over ten seals of the Qing emperors Qianlong (r. 1736-1796) and Jiaqing (r. 1796-1821), and is also recorded in the second edition of the imperial inventory Shiqu baoji (completed 1793). It has three seals of the last Qing emperor Puyi (1906-1967). Puyi took the painting to Changchun. After the demise of Manzhouguo, the painting was stolen, and we don't know what happened to it next. But then in the fall of 1995 Ten Odes resurfaced at the Hanhai Auction Company in Beijing, and was purchased by the Palace Museum for RMB18 million, a record-breaking sum in China for the purchase of a painting at auction.


XU Bangda. "The Ten Odes scroll by Northern Song artist Zhang Xian (Bei Song Zhang Xian Shi yong tu juan)," in the 5 October 1995 catalogue of the Hanhai Auction Company, Beijing.

YANG Xin. "National Treasures Lost Then Recovered (Shierfude di guobao)," Wenwu tiandi (World of Artifacts), 1996.1.

YANG Lili. "No Hesitation in Bidding for a Magnificent Piece (Buxi juzi zhenggou di Shi yong tu)," Meishu jiancha (Art Observation), 1996.12.

For another viewpoint, see "On the Inauthenticity of Ten Odes by Zhang Xian of the Northern Song Dynasty" in this issue.

Two other articles, "New Discoveries of Calligraphy and Painting from the Palace Museum's 'List of Lost Works'"
and "Exhibition of Treasures of Painting and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last 50 Years," also mention Ten Odes.


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Yin Jinan
China Central Institute of Fine Arts

Nixi Cura

On the State of the Field
Scholarship in the History of Ancient Painting in the 1990s

by Xue Yongnian

Puyi's Legacy
New Discoveries of Calligraphy and Painting from the Palace Museum's "List of Lost Works"
by Liu Jianlong

A Record-Breaking Purchase by the Palace Museum

Zhang Xian's Ten Odes
by Yang Lili

Zhang Xian's Ten Odes: Counterpoint

On the Inauthenticity of Ten Odes by Zhang Xian of the Northern Song Dynasty
by Wu Gan

Select Bibliography on Chinese Painting

Palace Museum Exhibition
"Treasures of Painting and Calligraphy Acquired by the Palace Museum over the Last 50 Years"
by Fu Dongguang

Palace Museum Exhibition
"Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years"

Palace Museum Symposium
Academic Symposium Accompanying the
"Grand Exhibition of Cultural Relics Collected over the Last 50 Years" at the Palace Museum
by Wang Qi

Shanghai Museum
The Shanghai Museum Holds A Symposium on Its Exhibition of Masterpieces
by Xue Yongnian

Liaoning Provincial Museum
An Assembly of Masterpieces, Presented in Radiant Splendor: Record of the "Exhibition of Treasures from the Ten Great Archaeological Discoveries in Liaoning"
by Ma Cheng


Important Results from the Liao Tomb Excavation at Jarud Qi
by Tala, Yang Jie, and Dong Linxin

Three Eastern Han Tombs with Wall Paintings at Otog
by Wang Dafang and Yang Zemeng

"Appreciation and Analysis of the Murals Unearthed from a Song Tomb at Wang Shang Village in Dengfeng, Henan Province
by Zhang Songlin and Zhang Deshui

"A Breakthrough in the Interpretation of the 'Stone Carvings' at Junshan"
by Chen Xiangyuan

"Notes on the Excavation of Han Tomb No. 1 at Huxi Mountain, Yuanling"
by Guo Weimin

"Animal Designs and Chinese Script on the 'Five Stars of the East Favor the Central Kingdom' Brocade"
by Li Ling

Extracts from China Archaeology and Art Digest 3:2/3 (January 2000): Painting and Pictorial Arts
Ding Xiyuan on Quehua qiuse tu
Hao Junhong on Ma Shouzhen
Shan Guoqiang on "Haipai"
Yu Hui on Yuan court artists

Macao Art Museum
"The Efflorescence of a Prosperous Age: Fine Works of Qing Dynasty Painting and Objects of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Reigns in the Collection of the Palace Museum"

National Gallery, Washington, DC

"The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from the People's Republic of China"
by Andrew K. Y. Leung

The Qingming shanghe Scroll and Qingming shanghe Studies
by Wang Qi

On Qingming shanghe Studies
by Nie Chongzheng

Chai Zejun: Collected Works on Ancient Architecture

Fifty Years of Archaeology in New China

Back Issues

Volume 1, Issue 1
(October 1999)

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