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Along the River During the Qingming Festival

April 8, 2012

Every once in a while, someone writes to me asking what the ancient-looking painting that I use as the banner on my website is.  For a long time, I’ve intended to reply, and since this past week has been Qingming Festival, I can’t think of a better time to do so.

The picture is part of a scroll entitled “Along the River During the Qingming Festival.”  The original, created by the artist Zhang Zeduan during the Song Dynasty (12th Century AD), is kept in the Forbidden City, and is one of China’s most famous works of art.  The entire scroll is over 17 feet long and depicts a panorama of everyday life as people converge on the then-capital city of Kaifeng (in Henan Province) to celebrate the festival.

As a kid, I always loved those miniature panoramic models they have in museums, showing a market in ancient Egypt or knights storming a castle.  I was fascinated by the myriad of tiny individual scenes playing out — a woman bargaining for vegetables, a boy playing with his dog — that had been composed with what can only be described as loving detail.  You could gaze at it for hours and still discover new secrets, things you had not noticed before.

That is precisely the magic the unfolds on every inch of the Qingming scroll.  I highly recommend checking out various sites on the Internet where you can view the entire scroll and examine it close-up.  You will see merchants setting up their stalls, old friends greeting each other on the street, artisans crafting a wooden wheel, parents taking their child to see the doctor.  (In researching this particular post, I came upon a website that says someone has constructed a 3-D amusement park that reproduces the entire Qingming scroll in life-size clay.  It’s supposedly located in Tangshan, about two hours away from Beijing, so I’m going to have to go check it out).

I was first introduced to the Qingming scroll in an art history class I took in college, and immediately fell in love.  Not only is it my favorite work of Chinese art, but when I started this blog, it perfectly captured the sense of modern-day China I wanted to convey: a place in which so much interesting is happening, everywhere you look, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused, but excited and enchanted at the same time.  (It didn’t hurt that it’s one of the few great works of art that’s a lot wider than it is tall, dimensions perfect for a web-banner).

When I first launched my blog, a well-meaning web consultant told me, whatever I do, definitely take down that “dirty brown scroll thing” and get myself a bolder, zippier banner.  That’s one piece of advice I respectfully ignored, and now you know the reason why.

A quick announcement, for readers in Beijing.  I will be speaking tomorrow (Monday) on a panel sponsored by Amcham-China, on the topic of “Rising Labor Costs and the Impact on the Foreign Business Community.”  There is a fee, but the event is open to non-members.  You can find the details on the Amcham-China website here.  The other panelists look excellent, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2012 2:39 am

    It is an amazing piece of art indeed. I agree with your point about it’s ability to capture a sense of modern China as, “a place in which so much interesting is happening, everywhere you look, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused, but excited and enchanted at the same time.” Furthermore, as this is the sense of modern day China that you hope to convey in this blog, you succeed. Thank you.

    On the side of Qingming Jie, I recently posted, what I hope is, an interesting, at times colorful, discussion of Qingming at:

    Comments or ideas, particularly on the idea of changing conceptions of sacred place and the intersection of traditional ritual with modern identities, are much appreciated.

  2. Sven permalink
    April 9, 2012 8:05 am

    It’s like an ancient “Where’s Waldo” picture.

  3. princess1960 permalink
    April 9, 2012 11:02 pm

    intristing ..beautifull .what you write i like and make me thinking i have to leave there.
    thank you.

  4. gr00v3 permalink
    April 10, 2012 6:50 am

    Thanks Patrick for addressing the question about the scroll. I already knew what the scroll was as I’ve studied in Kaifeng. The locals are very proud of this and understandably so! You can find reproductions of varying size and quality there and there’s even a ‘Qingming Park’ that has activities similiar to what would have happened during that time period.
    Kaifeng is amazing, I recommend checking it out.

  5. fdawei permalink
    April 11, 2012 3:42 pm

    Patrick, like you, I have come to love this extraordinary scroll. I’ve visited Kaifeng on many occasions during my 15 years in China, and am drawn to the scroll each time discovering new and exciting aspects to each vignette. I considered using it as a banner on my occasional blog to my MBA students and private clients in Beijing, but thought I would accused of abusing and debasing a cherished treasure of China’s past. Glad to see you use it in such good taste.

  6. FrParlentAuxFr permalink
    April 14, 2012 10:45 am

    @Sven… where is waldo as cultural reference…. yeah, right.


  1. Along the River During the Qingming Festival | China News Center

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