Along the River During the Qingming Festival

Along the River During the Qingming Festival
Along the River During the Qingming Festival
Traditional: 清明上河圖, Simplified: 清明上河图
Artist Zhang Zeduan
Year 1085-1145
Type Panoramic painting
Dimensions 24.8 cm × 528.7 cm (9.8 in × 208.1 in)
Location Palace Museum, Beijing

Along the River During the Qingming Festival (simplified Chinese: 清明上河图; traditional Chinese: 清明上河圖; pinyin: Qīngmíng Shànghé Tú) is a panoramic painting by Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145). It captures the daily life of people from the Song period at the capital, Bianjing, today's Kaifeng. The theme celebrates the festive spirit and worldly commotion at the Qingming Festival, rather than the holiday's ceremonial aspects, such as tomb sweeping and prayers. The entire piece was painted in hand scroll format and the content reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city. It offers glimpses of period clothing and architecture. As an artistic creation, the piece has been revered and court artists of subsequent dynasties have made several re-interpretive replicas. The painting is also known for its geometrically accurate images of variety natural elements and architectures, boats and bridges, market place and stores, people and scenery. It is often considered to be the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings,[1][2] and it has been called "China's Mona Lisa."[3]

Over the centuries, the Qingming scroll was collected and kept among numerous private owners, before it eventually returned to public ownership. The painting was a particular favorite of emperor Puyi, who took the Song Dynasty original (24.8 by 528.7 cm) (9¾ in by 17 ft 4 in)[4] with him to Manchukuo. It was later re-purchased in 1945 and kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

About 20 to 30 variations on this topic by artists of subsequent dynasties were made. Several Ming and Qing versions can be found in public and private collections around the world.[5] Each version follows the overall composition of the original fairly faithfully, however, the details often vary widely. The Song Dynasty original and the Qing version, in the Beijing and Taipei Palace Museums respectively, are regarded as national treasures and are exhibited only for brief periods every few years. For instance, the wait in Beijing to see the painting was three and a half hours.[6]


Features of the Song original

The bridge scene where the crew of an oncoming boat have not yet fully lowered their sails and are in danger of crashing into the bridge
Scene of urban sprawl right before the bridge leading to the main gate of the city (seen on the far left)
The main gate of the city and the urban setting within, with teahouses, vendors, homes, and various figures interacting with one another

In the 5.28-meter long picture, there are 814 humans, 28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, 20 vehicles, nine sedan chairs, and 170 trees drawn.[7] The countryside and the densely populated city are the two main sections in the picture, with the river meandering through the entire length.

The right section is the rural area of the city. There are crop fields and unhurried rural folk—predominately farmers, goatherds, and pig herders—in bucolic scenery. A country path broadens into a road and joins with the city road.

The left half is the urban area, which eventually leads into the city proper with the gates. Many economic activities, such as people loading cargoes onto the boat, shops, and even a tax office, can be seen in this area. People from all walks of life are depicted: peddlers, jugglers, actors, paupers begging, monks asking for alms, fortune tellers and seers, doctors, innkeepers, teachers, millers, metalworkers, carpenters, masons, and official scholars from all ranks.

Outside the city proper (separated by the gate to the left), there are businesses of all kinds, selling wine, grain, secondhand goods, cookware, bows and arrows, lanterns, musical instruments, gold and silver, ornaments, dyed fabrics, paintings, medicine, needles, and artifacts, as well as many restaurants. The vendors (and in the Qing revision, the shops themselves) extend all along the great bridge, called the Rainbow Bridge (虹橋 Hong Qiao) or, more rarely, the Shangtu Bridge (上土橋).

Where the great bridge crosses the river is the center and main focus of the scroll. A great commotion animates the people on the bridge. A boat approaches at an awkward angle with its mast not completely lowered, threatening to crash into the bridge. The crowds on the bridge and along the riverside are shouting and gesturing toward the boat. Someone near the apex of the bridge lowers a rope to the outstretched arms of the crew below.[8]

In addition to the shops and diners, there are hotels, temples, private residences, and official buildings varying in grandeur and style, from huts to mansions with grand front- and backyards.

People and commodities are transported by various modes: wheeled wagons, beasts of labor (in particular, a large number of donkeys and mules), sedan chairs, and chariots. The river is packed with fishing boats and passenger-carrying ferries, with men at the river bank, pulling the larger ships.


In a rare move, the Song original was exhibited in Hong Kong from 29 June to mid-August 2007 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's transfer to the People's Republic of China. It is estimated that the costs of shipping the painting have run into tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars in addition to an undisclosed cost of insuring this piece of priceless art.


The original painting is hailed as the most famed work of art from the Song Dynasty.[9] It was a pride of the imperial collection of various emperors for centuries.[3] Due to its high artistic reputation, it has produced several later versions that copied the style of the original. An early remake, generally considered to be very faithful to the original, was made by Zhao Mengfu during the Yuan Dynasty. Another notable remake was painted during the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries). This version has a length of 6.7 meters, longer than the original. It also replaced the scenery from the Song Dynasty to that of the Ming Dynasty. The clothing, boats and carts in the remade also seen changes. The Song wooden bridge is replaced with a stone bridge in the Ming remake. The arc of the stone bridge is much taller than that of the wooden original, and where the original had a boat about to crash into the bridge, the reinterpretation has a boat being methodically guided under the bridge by ropes, pulled by men ashore, several other large boats dutifully waiting their turn, undisturbed.[10]

Another version by five Qing Dynasty court painters (Chen Mu, Sun Hu, Jin Kun, Dai Hong and Cheng Zhidao) was presented to the Emperor Qianlong on 15 January 1737. This version was later moved, along with many other artifacts, to the National Palace Museum in Taipei in 1949,[11] shown below.

There are many more people, over 4,000, in the Qing remake, which also is much larger (at 11 metres by 35 cm, or 37 ft by 1 ft).[12] The leftmost third of this version is within the palace, with buildings and people appearing refined and elegant. Most people within the castle are women, with some well-dressed officials. On the contrary, in the original Song version, the leftmost side is still the busy city.

In April 1742, a poem was added to the right-most end of the Qing remake. The poem apparently was composed by Emperor Qianlong; the calligraphy is in the running script style, and is in the hand of Liang Shizheng (梁詩正), a prominent court official and frequent companion of Emperor Qianlong. The poem reads as follows:

Chinese Pinyin English
Shǔjǐn zhuāng jīn bì
Wú gōng jù suìjīn
ōugē wànjǐng fù
chéngquè jiǔchóng shēn
shèngshì chéng guānzhǐ
yízōng jiè tànxún
dāngshí kuā Yù dà
cǐrì tàn Huī Qīn
A wall of gold has been mounted on Shu brocade.
Craftsmen from Wu collect spare change,
In order to pay tribute to the abundance of ten thousand families.
The watch towers of the city rise to great heights.
The bustling scene is truly impressive.
It is an opportunity to explore the remnants of days gone by.
At that time, people marveled at the size of Yu,
And now, we lament the fates of Hui and Qin.

Digital version

For a three month period in the World Expo 2010 presented at the China Pavilion, the painting was remade into an 3D animated, viewer-interactive digital version, titled River of Wisdom, about 30 times the size of the original scroll. The computer animated mural, with moving characters and objects and portraying the scene in 4-minute day to night cycles, was one of the primary exhibitions in the Chinese Pavilion, drawing queues up to two hours with a reservation. Elaborate computer animation gives life to in the painting.

After the Expo, the digital version was on display at the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong from November 9 to November 29, 2010,[13] where it was a major commercial success.[14] It was then exhibited at the Macau Dome in Macau from March 25 to April 14.[15] The digital painting also traveled to Taiwan and displayed at the Expo Dome in Taipei from July 1 to September 4, 2011.[16] From December 7, 2011 to February 6, 2012, under the exhibition titled A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, the painting will be exhibited at the Singapore Expo.[17]


Panorama of Along the River During Qingming Festival, 12th century original by Zhang Zeduan
Panorama of Along the River During Qingming Festival, an 18th century remake of the 12th century original

Translations of the title

Scholars have disputed the accuracy of the translation of the painting's name; the word Qingming may refer to either the Qingming Festival or to "peace and order". Several types of translations have been proposed by scholars, such as Going Upriver on the Qingming Festival, Life Along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival, Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival or Spring Festival on the River[5] or alternatively, Peace Reigns Over the River.

Traditionally, three things have been believed about the original painting:

  • The city depicted is Kaifeng
  • It was painted before the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty in 1127
  • It depicts the Qingming Festival

Some recent scholarship challenges all three of those assertions:

  • The city depicted is an idealized non-existent city[18]
  • It was painted after the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty in 1127
  • It depicts a scene in early autumn

In 2003 a further interpretation was presented:[19]

  • The city depicted is indeed Kaifeng
  • It depicts a day in the Qingming Solar term of the Chinese calendar, but not the Qingming Festival itself

During the late 1960s, when the Taipei Palace Museum released a series of books (later digitized as CD-ROM), videos, and stamps about the scroll, it was translated simply as A City of Cathay.[12][20][21]


The wooden bridge depicted in the original version would later be rebuilt by a team of engineers and documented by the PBS television show NOVA during their Secrets of Lost Empires series.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Universität Tübingen. EASTM, Issue 20, 2003. International Society for the History of East Asian Science, Technology and Medicine, original from Indiana University. p. 22. ISSN 1562-918X. 
  2. ^ Jose, Nicholas. "Unfamiliar Land: Guan Wei. 16 June - 23 July, 2006". Contemporary Arts Center of South Australia (CACSA). 
  3. ^ a b Bradsher, Keith. "‘China’s Mona Lisa’ Makes a Rare Appearance in Hong Kong". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-04. 
  4. ^ (Chinese). "清明上河图---简介". 
  5. ^ a b Priest, Alan (June 1948). "Spring Festival on the River". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) 6 (10): 280–292. doi:10.2307/3258128. JSTOR 3258128. [The Curator of Far Eastern Art's description of an early Ming-dynasty replica in the collection of A. W. Bahr, acquired in 1947 Lay summary]. 
  6. ^ Melvin, Sheila. "A rare peek at China's treasures". International Herald Tribune. 
  7. ^ Asia for Educators, Columbia University. "Life in the Song seen through a 12th-century Scroll". 
  8. ^ (Chinese) Metro News Hong Kong. "《清明上河圖》首次在港展出". 
  9. ^ Keane, Michael (2007). "Created in China: the great new leap forward. Volume 11 of Media, culture, and social change in Asia series". Psychology Press. p. 144. ISBN 0415416140. 
  10. ^ Sing Tao Daily Hong Kong Island edition. Issue 72, p.2
  11. ^ The National Palace Museum, Taipei. "Along the River During the Ch'ing-ming Festival (with zoom-in viewer)". 
  12. ^ a b The Republic of China, Government Information Office. "Video (26 min.) of A City of Cathay". 
  13. ^ Queue for hours to get tickets to 'Along the River During the Qingming Festival' or see it here
  14. ^ Seno, Alexandra A. (2010-11-02). "'River of Wisdom' is Hong Kong's hottest ticket". The Wall Street Journal. 
  15. ^ "Animated Chinese painting in Macau". Macau Daily Times. 
  16. ^ "Renowned Chinese Painting Animation Show Comes to Expo Dome". Taipei City Government. 
  17. ^ Mayo Marin. "A fascinating art movement". Today Online. 
  18. ^ Hansen, Valerie (1996). "Mystery of the Qingming Scroll and Its Subject: The Case Against Kaifeng". Journal of Song-Yuan Studies (26): 183–200. 
  19. ^ Tsao Hsingyuan, "Unraveling the Mystery of the Handscroll 'Qingming Shanghe Tu'", in Journal of Song-Yuan Studies 33 (2003): 155-179.
  20. ^ Art on Stamps. "Old Chinese Paintings on Stamps". Victor Manta, Switzerland. 
  21. ^ Columbia University, East Asian Curriculum Project. "A City of Cathay: View Chinese Life through a Famous Painting (CD-ROM)". 
  22. ^ NOVA. "Building a Rainbow Bridge".  "Transcript". 

External links

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