Fisherman by Wu Zhen

According to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “The Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) was founded by Kublai Khan (1215–1294) who moved the capital from Khara Khorum in Mongolia to Dadu (modern Beijing) in China. This transference brought about a shift in focus as Kublai sought to strike a balance between traditional Mongol customs and Chinese culture. For example, although the Mongols practiced shamanism (in which a shaman mediates between humans and the spirit world), they maintained an open policy toward religion. Kublai restored Confucian ritual at the court and supported his mother’s Nestorian Christian sect, while he and his successors favored Buddhism. Muslims also attained positions of power and wealth under the Yuan. [Source: “The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2003 exhibition ^\^]

“As rulers of China and in accordance with a more sedentary lifestyle, the Mongols constructed buildings and patronized art. Kublai erected a magnificent marble palace in his summer capital Shangdu (Xanadu), celebrated in Marco Polo’s account (“the halls and rooms and passages are all gilded and wonderfully painted…”). The Mongol’s sponsorship of art and international trade—both largely a matter of self-interest—helped to propel Chinese forms, motifs, and techniques westward to Iran, where they contributed to the formation of a new visual language.” ^\^

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Many of the techniques used in arts and crafts during the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties were established in the previous Yuan dynasty under the Mongols. For example, designs painted in underglaze blue and underglaze red rose in the Yuan dynasty and flourished in the Hung-wu, Yung-lo, and Hsuan-te reigns of the following Ming dynasty. The import of "Tadjik ware" from the Middle East greatly influenced the aesthetics of cloisonne enamelware in the Hsuan-te and Ching-t'ai reigns. Chinese lacquer ware was renowned in foreign lands during the Yuan dynasty and inspired the famed carved lacquer wares produced in the Yung-lo reign. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

“The culture of the Mongols is characterized by its multi-faceted, pluralistic features. Gold works, Buddhist sculptures, ritual objects and certain patterns on ceramics exhibition all reveal a strong affinity to Tibet and Islam. That porcelains of some of the major kilns of China have been discovered in Inner Mongolia serves to confirm that trade between the north and south was common during the Mongol Empire and Yuan Dynasty. \=/

Good Websites and Sources: on the Mongols and Yuan Dynasty Wikipedia Yuan Dynasty Wikipedia ; Mongols in China afe.easia.columbia.edu Mongols Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Mongol Empire allempires.com ; Wikipedia Kublai Khan Wikipedia ; Kublai Khan notablebiographies.com ; Chinese History: Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia Books: “Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty”by Charles Benn, Greenwood Press, 2002; "Cambridge History of China" Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan; “Housing, Clothing, Cooking, from Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276" by Jacques Gernet (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962. Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe:
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire web.archive.org/web ; The Mongols in World History afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols washington.edu/silkroad/texts ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) web.archive.org/web ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Mongol Archives historyonthenet.com ; “The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation silkroadfoundation.org ; Scythians iranicaonline.org ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns britannica.com ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Yuan Art and the Scholar-Official Class


According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Yuan dynasty was a period of diverse ethnic groups co-existing in China. Officials divided people in China into four major categories: Mongols, Central Asians, Chinese, and Southern Chinese. Cultural and social interaction between them became quite common, and exchange often took place in the form of relations based on marriage, studies, and government office. The Mongol Yuan dynasty is thus distinguished by an unprecedented multiethnic group of scholar-officials. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

Works of painting and calligraphy by literati of different ethnic backgrounds are on display in this section. They reflect the unique scholar-official environment of the Yuan dynasty and the new manner in art that it fostered. In the early Yuan dynasty (mid-13th century), some scholars of the former Sung dynasty, such as Cheng Ssu-hsiao (1241-1318) and Ch'ien Hsuan (ca. 1235-before 1307), rejected the Yuan and expressed their grief and longing through writing, painting, and calligraphy. Other Chinese literati, however, accepted the call to service by the Mongol government, and they included the influential Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322) and Hsien-yu Shu (1256-1301). Through their advocation of revivalism in art, they helped to give life to ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy in this new era. \=/

“By the middle Yuan (early 14th century), literary gatherings and the practice of presenting and inscribing works of painting and calligraphy reached a peak among both Chinese and non-Chinese groups. For example, Ts'ao Chih-po (1272-1355) did "Mountain Peaks Covered in Snow" for the Tibetan Hsi-ying (A-li-mu-pa-la) and Chao Yung (1289-ca. 1360) did "Five Horses" for the Central Asian scholar Pei-yen-hu-tu. Through the support of foreign scholars and officials in China, traditional painting and calligraphy reached a diverse audience as its influence became widespread. Many non-Chinese artists joined ranks, including Kuan Yun-shih (1286-1324), K'ang-li Nao-nao (1295-1345), Sa Tu-la (ca. 1300-ca. 1350), Yu Ch'ueh (1303-1358), and Po-yen Pu-hua (Bayan Buga tegin, ?-1359). Using traditional art forms of the Chinese, they created a new approach in painting and calligraphy that was both unadorned and straightforward. \=/

“By the late Yuan (mid-14th century), however, civil order disintegrated and the path to office became closed for scholars. They did what was necessary to survive in these times of trouble, and reclusion became an increasingly viable and popular choice among scholars. Needless to say, exchange between ethnic groups was curtailed considerably. Consequently, scholars such as Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354), Wu Chen (1280-1354), Ni Tsan (1301-1374), and Wang Meng (ca. 1308-1385) used painting to express the ideal of seclusion to a select group of friends. The result was that the Yuan dynasty became the defining period in Chinese literati painting and had a profound effect on later generations of scholar-artists.” \=/

Mongol Symbols in Chinese Art

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ In the creation of luxury textiles and objects for the Mongol elite, Chinese artists developed a visual language that was an effective means of establishing their rule and consolidating their presence throughout the vast empire. A number of motifs that were part of the existing artistic repertoire were adopted as imperial symbols of power and dominance—the dragon and the phoenix, for example, two mythical beasts that integrated the ideas of cosmic force, earthly strength, superior wisdom, and eternal life. The Mongol versions of the creatures are the highly decorative sinuous dragon with legs, horns, and beard and the large bird with a spectacular feathered tail floating in the air. In Iran, these motifs were often paired and became so popular with the Ilkhanids that they eventually lost their original meaning, becoming part of the common artistic repertoire in the first half of the fourteenth century. [Source: Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“Other motifs of this period that were familiar throughout the Asian continent are the peony, the lotus flower, and the lyrical image of the recumbent deer, or djeiran, gazing at the moon. The flowers, often seen in combination and viewed from both the side and top, provided ideal patterns for textiles and for filling dense backgrounds on all kinds of portable objects. The djeiran became widespread in the decorative arts because of the well-established association of similar quadrupeds with hunting scenes."^/


“For the semi-nomadic Mongols, portable textiles and clothing were the best means of demonstrating their acquired wealth and power, so it is reasonable to assume that the main mode of transmission of motifs such as the dragon and peony was through luxury textiles. The most prominent clothing accessories were belts of precious metal (gold belt plaques, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art). Many of the textiles illustrated here prove transmission from east to west, yet in some instances, exemplified by the Chinese silk with addorsed griffins (cloth of gold: winged lions and griffins, The Cleveland Museum of Art), the origin of the image is clearly Central or western Asia. The Mongol period is unique in art history because it permitted the cross-fertilization of artistic motifs via the movement of craftsmen and artists throughout a politically unified continent."^/

Yuan Painting and Calligraphy

Painting, compared to other art forms, remained relatively free from alien influence, with the exception of the craft painting for the temples, and reached a very high level. Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The Song and Yuan periods are considered by many the high point of painting in China.” During the Yuan Dynasty painters worked at capturing their own feelings and ideas and the qualities of their ink and brush rather than qualities of their subjects. Scholar artists were the leading figures in the arts, and their painting were characterized by simplicity, understatement and transcendent elegance.

The most famous painters of the Yuan era were Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), a relative of the deposed imperial family of the Song dynasty, and Ni Zan (1301-1374). According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Painting: The art of painting also flourished under Mongol rule. One of the greatest painters of the Yuan Dynasty, Zhao Mengfu, received a court position from Kublai Khan, and along with Zhao's wife Guan Daosheng, who was also a painter, Zhao received much support and encouragement from the Mongols. Kublai was also a patron to many other Chinese painters (Liu Guandao was another), as well as artisans working in ceramics and fine textiles. In fact, the status of artisans in China was generally improved during the Mongols' reign. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Mongols originally did not have a tradition of painting and calligraphy. With the establishment of the Golden Clan in China proper, however, the Mongols adopted the custom of collecting and connoisseurship in painting and calligraphy--their collection seals serve as testimony to a new form of high culture. For example, Huang T'ing-chien's calligraphy "Poem on the Hall of Pines and Wind" and Liu Sung-nien's painting "Lohan", both from the previous conquered Sung dynasty, bear the ranking princess' prominent seal "Huang-mei t'u-shu". "Early Snow on the River" by the Five Dynasties painter Chao Kan and the Sung dynasty "Ting-wu Rubbing of the Lan-t'ing Preface" also bear the impression of Emperor Wen-tsung's seal "T'ien-li chih pao". Furthermore, "Hsiao-i Stealing the Lan-t'ing Preface" by the Five Dynasties artist Chu-jan bears the seal of Emperor Hsun-ti that reads "Hsuan-wen ko pao".Through collecting, connoisseurship, and impressing seals, the Golden Clan expressed a new form of refined cultivation in China. Furthermore, officials of various ethnic backgrounds mingled and wrote inscriptions at imperial elegant gatherings and the imperial library, thereby creating a new court culture. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Primordial Chaos by Zhu Derun

Yuan Dynasty paintings in collection at National Palace Museum, Taipei include: 1) "Kublai Khan Hunting" by Liu Kuan-tao; 2) "Meeting Friends in a Pavilion Among Pines" by Wang Yuan. Works of calligraphy from the same period in the museum include: "Regulated Verse in Seven Characters" by Chang Yu.

Styles and Themes in Yuan Painting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Hunting was one of the most important activities of traditional Mongol steppe culture. In Yuan dynasty paintings, the appearance of hunting activities not only increased dramatically, but animal subjects also became quite popular. Horses were an especially important, and hawks and falcons (often used on the hunt) appeared more often. For example, "Falcon" was originally considered a Sung dynasty (960-1279) painting, but the style suggests a late Yuan dynasty date and the inscriptions were all done by late Yuan scholars. In their writing, they praised the hunting abilities of the falcon, which also served as a metaphor for success and heroism in human society. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

“"Auspicious Grain" represents exceptionally tall rice plants with each stalk bearing two ears of rice, symbolizing a particularly abundant harvest. Documentation refers to the rice plants in "Auspicious Grain" as having a unique habitat allowing all the "grains to come together", referring to unification of many different ethnic groups in China under one emperor. Indeed, the tall and dense rice stalks here indeed suggest abundance through unity. The dark color of the rice not only indicates imminent harvest, but also serves as a metaphor for imperial unity of China and ethnic harmony. The simple and straightforward style of this work complements the direct visual presentation of the subject. Traditional brush mannerisms have been reduced to a minimum, reflecting an innovation in painting style for the time. \=/

“"Ruled-line" painting refers to a detailed style using a ruler for depicting buildings and other structures, and it was favored by the Mongol Yuan leaders. Their interest in structures may be related to their patronage of temple and palace construction in the capital of Ta-tu (present-day Peking). Representative ruled-line paintings include Wang Chen-p'eng's "A Dragon Boat Regatta" and Li Jung-chin's "A Han Dynasty Palace". Both reveal a sense of opulence that does not depend on beautiful colors. Rather, the great variation in ink tones and brushstrokes reflects to an even greater degree the artists' consummate skill. Furthermore, precise inkwork in monochrome bamboo paintings, such as Li K'an's "Bamboo of Peace Through the Year", also became popular in the Yuan dynasty.” \=/

by Zhao Mengu

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Yuan dynasty was the first time in Chinese history that the entire land was ruled by non-native ethnic groups. Some Chinese subjects from the previous Sung dynasty refused to accept this new reality and expressed in their painting and calligraphy a form of nostalgia for the old days. Ch'ien Hsuan (ca. 1235-1307) is a typical example. A Sung civil service candidate, he came to enjoy the elegant life of upper-class society in the Southern Sung capital of Hangchow. With the destruction of the Sung by the Mongols, however, he burned his Confucian robes and his writings, and he settled in Wu-hsing (Zhejiang province) as a professional painter. On the surface, the subject of his "Autumn Melons" has auspicious undertones--the buyer of the painter wishing for many descendants (just as a melon has many seeds). However, Ch'ien's poem on the work contains a reference to growing melons by the Marquis of Jang, a famous recluse in the Eastern Han period (25-220). Thus, behind the fine and attractive style lies a scholar-artist "left over" from the Sung who rejects the new dynasty in favor of the ideals of reclusion and antiquity. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Painting by "Leftover Citizens"

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Yuan dynasty was the first time in Chinese history that the entire land was ruled by non-native ethnic groups. Some Chinese subjects from the previous Sung dynasty refused to accept this new reality and expressed in their painting and calligraphy a form of nostalgia for the old days. Ch'ien Hsuan (ca. 1235-1307) is a typical example. A Sung civil service candidate, he came to enjoy the elegant life of upper-class society in the Southern Sung capital of Hangchow. With the destruction of the Sung by the Mongols, however, he burned his Confucian robes and his writings, and he settled in Wu-hsing (Zhejiang province) as a professional painter. On the surface, the subject of his "Autumn Melons" has auspicious undertones--the buyer of the painter wishing for many descendants (just as a melon has many seeds). However, Ch'ien's poem on the work contains a reference to growing melons by the Marquis of Jang, a famous recluse in the Eastern Han period (25-220). Thus, behind the fine and attractive style lies a scholar-artist "left over" from the Sung who rejects the new dynasty in favor of the ideals of reclusion and antiquity. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Cheng Ssu-hsiao (1241-1318) was a famous painter and calligrapher who belonged to the group of "leftover citizens" in the Yuan dynasty. In the Sung dynasty, he was a student at the National University but later sought reclusion in a Buddhist temple in Soochow after the Mongol establishment of the Yuan. His rejection of Mongol Yuan rule was unambiguous and straightforward. For example, he painted orchid plants without roots or the ground to symbolize the scholar having lost his "native" soil. His calligraphy was also rebellious in that he purposely avoided traditional techniques in favor of a simple personal manner, much like that of Zen monks in the Sung and Yuan dynasties. \=/

Yuan Court Painting

Pink and White Lotuses

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “During the years of Mongol rule in the Yuan dynasty, court sponsorship of painting continued, but at nowhere near the levels of the previous dynasty. The Mongol rulers did continue the tradition of official imperial portraits, however. Except for their Mongolian clothing style, the portraits of Kublai Khan and his empress-consort Chabi follow the same conventions of pose and idealized likeness as their Han Chinese counterparts of the Song dynasty. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “As opposed to "leftover" painters and calligraphers who avoided or discriminated against the new "foreigners", some Chinese scholars chose to accept the Mongol Yuan court, in part as a way to perpetuate traditional Chinese culture. Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322), descendant of the Sung imperial clan, accepted the Yuan court's call to office, and he served in Confucian education and as a literary advisor to the emperor. Along with Hsien-yu Shu (1256-1302), who traveled from Hebei in the north to Hangchow to serve as an official, they dedicated themselves to revivalism in painting and calligraphy. They found new life in art through the practice and interpretation of ancient models. Their "Album of Calligraphy" reveals their enthusiastic discussion of painting and calligraphy by the ancients. Chao Meng-fu's painting of "Autumn Colors on the Ch'iao and Hua Mountains" for his friend Chou Mi uses a simple composition and calligraphic lines to portray a contemporary yet archaic landscape where reality and imagination fuse for a dream-like rendering of Chou's ancestral land. The painting, furthermore, serves as a vehicle for Chao's own desire to retreat to an idyllic life of reclusion. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei ]

Painting and Calligraphy by Non-Native Artists

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “From the 1320s to the early 1350s, non-native scholars and officials not only were patrons of Chinese painting, but they also directly participated in art to form a new group of artists. Kao K'o-kung (1248-1310), who was of Uighur Turk descent to China's west, is an early Yuan example of a non-native painter. His "Spring Mountains after Rain" follows mainly in the landscape style of the Sung scholar painters Mi Fu and Mi Yu-jen with peaks and hills wrapped in fog and clouds. However, in "Cloud-girdled Peaks", he adds the imposing Northern Sung monumental landscape style to the Mi-style cloudy mountains. Furthermore, the texturing and washes of the mountains have an element of sketching that sets this work apart from established traditions. After Kao K'o-kung, the painting "Angling Terrace at Yen-ling" by the Uighur artist Sa Tu-la (ca. 1300-1350) takes a famous site above the Fu-ch'un River as the subject. "Clouds and Pines in an Ancient Valley" by the Kao-ch'ang painter Po-yen-pu-hua (mid-14th century) takes the distinctive pines of Mt. Huang as the subject. Both artists used a form of sketch painting to record the scenes before their eyes to create a new form of directness that lies beyond traditional painting conventions. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

“Non-native painters often took a more liberated approach to the use of ancient models and traditions, and a similar trend can also be seen in their calligraphy as well. For example, in "Correspondence with Yen-chung" by the Central Asian K'ang-li Nao-nao (1295-1345), it follows in the ancient and elegant model of the Two Wangs (Wang Hsi-chih and his son Hsien-chih) but does not reflect the fastidious form of his contemporary Chao Meng-fu or technical perfection in brushwork. Rather, K'ang-li Nao-nao focused mainly on the easy and graceful flow of the strokes. Yu Ch'ueh (1303-1358) from Tang-hsiang was famous for his simple and airy form of poetry, and his "Letter to the Palace Writer" reflects much of the same character. The colophon inscription to Chao Meng-fu's "Two Horses" by the Uighur writer Kuan Yun-shih (1286-1324) is done with dry yet forceful brushwork as the characters slant to one side. Like Kuan's writing, it is slightly eccentric and unrestrained by established norms.” \=/

Yuan Landscape Painting

Forest Grotto by Wang Meng

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “During the Yuan period, after the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty, many of the leading landscape painters were literati who did not serve in office, either because offices were not as widely available as they had been under the Song, or because they did not want to serve the conquerors. Scholars' landscapes, like the paintings they did of other subjects, were designed for a restricted audience of like-minded individuals. It was not uncommon for scholars to use the allusive side of paintings to make political statements, especially statements of political protest.[Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

“It became quite common among literati artists of the Yuan to allude to earlier painting styles in their paintings. They were creating, in a sense, art historical art, as their paintings did not refer only to landscapes, but also to the large body of earlier paintings that their contemporaries collected and critiqued. Another trait of Yuan literati landscapists is that they did not hide the process of their painting, but rather allowed the traces of their brushes to be visible, going considerably further in this direction than painters of the Song. Wang Meng (ca. 1308-1385), the painter of Orchid Chamber, is one of the best-known Yuan landscape painters.

The Yuan court did not commission as many narrative paintings as the Southern Song court had, but the tradition continued. Yuan narrative painting may have appealed to the Mongol rulers not just for its story, but also for its depiction of animal combat. Horses were a popular subject for painters supported by the Khans. Gong Kai (1222-1307?), the painter of “Emaciated Horse”, was an extreme loyalist, who had held a minor post under the Song but lived in extreme poverty after the Mongol conquest, supporting his family by occasionally selling paintings or exchanging them for food. A slightly later painter, Ren Renfa, agreed to serve the Yuan court and even painted on official command, making him not that different from a court painter. /=\

Yuan Figure and Animal Painting and Imperial Portraiture

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of portraits of Kublai Khan and his wife Chabi: Dynastic rituals involving ancestral homage were major ceremonies in imperial China, and ruling clans often commissioned imperial portraits. Although the Mongols of the Yuan dynasty were not native Chinese, they also continued this practice. The imperial Yuan portraits are products of this functional need. In "Portrait of Emperor Shih-tsu (Kublai Khan)" and "Portrait of Kublai Khan's Consort (Chabi)", the eye sockets and cheeks were done using washes and rubbing, which differs from the traditional Chinese manner of single lines to delineate forms. Rather, it is closer to the artistic heritage of the Nepali and Tibetan region. Since the Mongols brought artists to court from different areas, the works that they had made at court therefore came to reflect a new style through the addition of non-native methods to traditional Chinese painting. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Emaciated horse by Gong Kai

Metropolitan Museum of Art. description of handscroll “Six horses,” late 12th–early 13th century and 14th century, ink and color on paper (46.2 x 168.3 centimeters): he disparities in paper, pigment, and style between the two halves of this painting make it clear that they are by different hands and from different periods. In the first half of the painting, the horses and figures are well drawn and there is a rough vigor in the depiction of the landscape and trees. The shading of the land forms and the bold modulated outlines defining the figures, who wear typical Khitan costumes, most closely resemble murals done in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in north China, then ruled by the Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1125). In the second half, the unmodulated, "iron-wire" lines used to describe the drapery folds of the rider, the heavy outline of the rock, and the dry calligraphic texture of the tree suggest a fourteenth-century date.

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Monk from India”: The monk reading a scripture written in the Indian language of Sanskrit in "Reading Sanskrit in a Rain of Blossoms" has dark skin as well as prominent facial features and body hair, indicating that he indeed is probably of Indian origin. Indian monks with exaggerated facial features were often seen in earlier paintings of lohans (arhats, disciples of the Buddha). However, in this work, the distinctive eyes and nose as well as the delicate portrayal of the hair seem to reflect an actual figure of the time, much like a portrait. In the Mongol empire, interaction between different ethnic groups increased rapidly and dramatically. Compared to previous periods, Yuan artists had a much greater opportunity of actually seeing monks and figures for other lands, such as India. Thus, this work may in fact be the product of cross-cultural experiences between ethnic groups in China at the time. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Painting of Kublai Khan Hunting

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Kublai Khan Hunting” by Liu Kuan-tao (fl. 13th century), Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk (182.9 x 104.1 centimeters): Hunting was important in the lifestyle of steppe peoples, and the Great Khan in the Yuan dynasty held a large-scale fenced hunt every year. The grounds for the early spring hunt were set up in Liu-lin to the southeast of the capital Ta-tu (Peking). This work, done in 1280, is a representation of this important Mongol activity. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Done by the court artist Liu Kuan-tao, he carefully described the clothes and accessories of Kublai Khan, his consort Chabi, and the figures attending them. This work thereby documents the high level refinement of objects used by the Mongols at court then. In addition to the meticulous and individual treatment of each figure, the features of hairstyle and skin color distinguish their ethnicity, providing a glimpse into the open multicultural atmosphere of the Yuan dynasty. \=/

Kublai on the Hunt

“Liu Kuan-tao, a native of Hebei province, was a celebrated court painter of the early Yuan. His figure paintings were in the style of the early Chin and T'ang masters, while his landscapes followed the styles of Li Ch'eng and Kuo Hsi. His animal and bird-and-flower paintings combined the virtues of the old masters to become famous at the time. \=/

“Appearing against a backdrop of northern steppes and desert is a scene of figures on horseback. The one sitting on a dark horse and wearing a white coat is most likely the famous Mongol emperor Kublai Khan with his empress next to him. They are accompanied by a host of servants and officials; the one to the left is about to shoot an arrow at one of the geese in the sky above. The figure wearing blue has a hawk famous for its hunting skills, and a trained wild-cat sits on the back of the horse in front. The dark-skinned figure is perhaps from somewhere in the Near East or Central Asia. In the background, a camel train proceeds slowly behind a sandy slope, adding a touch of life to the barren scenery. \=/

“Every aspect of this work has been rendered with exceptional detail. Appearing quite realistic, even the representation of Kublai Khan in this painting corresponds quite closely to his imperial portrait in the Museum collection. Though few of Liu Kuan-tao's paintings have survived, this work serves as testimony to his fame in Yuan court art. The artist's signature and the date (1280) appear in the lower left.” \=/

"Regatta on Dragon Lake" by Wang Zhenpeng

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “Regatta on Dragon Lake” by Wang Zhenpeng (fl. ca. 1280-1329), Handscroll, ink on silk, 30.2 x 243.8 centimeters): The seasonal custom whereby "each and every family celebrates Duanwu on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month" has a history in China spanning almost two millennia, with dragon boat races being the premier event of this festival, also known as the Double Fifth or Dragon Boat Festival. Many people do not realize, however, that back in the Northern Song period, the dragon boat regatta was an imperial activity actually taking place in the third lunar month. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The term for "dragon boat" in Chinese appeared as early as The Tale of King Mu, Son of Heaven from the Warring States period, and that for "regatta" not found until later in the Jin dynasty with Zhou Chu's Record of Customs and then Record of Seasonal Events in Jing and Chu after that. Moreover, it was not until the Tang dynasty, with the works of such poets as Luo Binwang and Liu Yuxi, do the terms "dragon boat" and "regatta" appear together to represent the dragon boat rowing competition now associated with this festival. \=/

Records indicate that in the third month of 992, third year of the Chunhua reign, the Northern Song emperor Taizong took a tour of Lake Jinming and enjoyed water festivities there designated as a regatta. Thereafter, a dragon boat regatta was held in the third month of each year, eventually becoming a custom. By the middle of the Northern Song, celebrations for the third month regatta increased to include many activities, such as swinging and puppetry on the water, making the event even more raucous. In 1147, during the following Southern Song, Meng Yuanlao, in his recollection of life from the old days at the Northern Song Eastern Capital of Bian (modern Kaifeng, Henan), left behind a detailed account of the third month regatta at Lake Jinming in his Record of Dream Splendors at the Eastern Capital. \=/

“In the collection of the National Palace Museum are four handscroll paintings dealing with similar subject matter and all ascribed to the master of Yuan dynasty ruled-line painting, Wang Zhenpeng (fl. ca. 1280-1329). Despite perhaps being an imitation from after the Yuan, Wang's "Regatta on Dragon Lake" selected for this exhibition depicts regatta activities that find a close parallel with the record of old times in Record of Dream Splendors at the Eastern Capital. While admiring this handscroll painting, viewers can analyze the details of the exceptionally fine rendering and capture a tantalizing peek at the majestic sight of the dragon boat regatta once held at the Northern Song capital in the third month. \=/

Wang Zhengpeng (style name Pengmei), a native of Jiading (modern Wenzhou), was the most important ruled-line painter of the Yuan dynasty. According to the inscription at the end of this scroll, it depicts the dragon boat races at Lake Jinming held in the Chongning reign of the Northern Song on the third day of the third month, with all the people joining in joyous activities. The front of the scroll depicts a large dragon boat majestically escorted by four dragon- and tiger-head boats with fluttering pennants. In the middle of the lake is a palace and platform area connected to a bridge, with such activities as swinging and a puppet show taking place on the water. The palatial Baojin Tower stands at the end of the scroll towards the left as twelve dragon and tiger boats with people beating gongs and rowing as they race towards the goal pole. With pennants fluttering and paddles in motion, one can also almost hear the sound of the gongs here, the grand dragon boat race being most beautifully described. Nevertheless, due to questions about the authenticity of the inscription and accompanying seal impressions, this scroll may actually be a copy from after the Yuan dynasty.

Yuan Buddhist and Taoist Art

Ten Kings of Hell

Yuan period artists also produced their share of Buddhist and Tibetan Buddhist art. National Palace Museum, Taipei description of “The Buddha Preaching the Law”: This woodblock print reflects the new "Tibetan-Chinese" style of the Yuan dynasty. The main figures (the Buddha and bodhisattvas) are Tibetan in style, but the others (disciples, donors, etc.) are all Chinese in manner. Two major changes are also seen in terms of composition. First, the main Buddha is not placed in the center, but rather off to one side preaching the Buddhist law. Second, before the frontal Tibetan style pedestal is a diagonal donor table. It indicates that the Chinese printing of the south (which originally reflected Tibetan influences) is gradually returning to Southern Sung Chinese traditions. The sketchy manner of carving suggests that this print dates from the late Yuan.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

On painting by Taoists and recluses, “Civil unrest erupted in the Kiangnan area of east-central China after the mid-1350s, and many scholars chose or were forced into reclusion or devoted themselves to Taoism. Of like mind, they formed close-knit circles in the Soochow, Hangchow, and Sungkiang areas. "Dwelling in the Fu-ch'un Mountains" by Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354) records the scenery in the artist's life of countryside reclusion. "Twin Pines (Junipers)" and "Bamboo and Rock" by Wu Chen (1280-1354) reflect the lofty and secluded nature of this scholar. Ni Tsan (1301-1374) used barren and lonely landscapes, such as in "Riverside Pavilion by Mountains", as a statement of psychological state at the time. "Spring Plowing at the Mouth of a Valley" and "Fishing in Reclusion at Cha-hsi" by Wang Meng (?-1385) both praise his friends' life of reclusion. Such Taoist painters and calligraphers as Fang Ts'ung-i (ca. 1302-1393) and Chang Yu (1283-1350) used either a simple and direct or a free and liberated approach, much in the Taoist philosophy of following nature. These artists did not seek to please others with their art, but instead focused on expressing their own emotions to create the definitive mode of literati painting and calligraphy. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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