14.  The Spring Festival on the River: A Donkey, An Ox, and the Question of Interpretation


Northern Song (960-1127)
Southern Song (1127-1279)

Critical term:   narrative

“All classes, all human groups, have their narratives, enjoyment of which is very often shared by men with different, even opposing, cultural backgrounds.   Caring nothing for the division between good and bad literature, narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural:   it is simply there, like life itself.” (Barthes, 79)


jiehua 界畫 ruled line painting, first promoted by the Northern Song scholar-official Guo Zhongshu 郭忠 ?( ca. 910-977).

gongbi 工筆 meticulous fine-line drawing

ruiying tu 瑞應圖 pictures of auspicious omens

xushi hua 敘事畫 “to tell the matter in pictures”

gushi hua 故事畫 or 故實畫 “story picture”


Attributed to Zhang Zeduan 張擇端 , Spring Festival on the River 清明上河圖 Handscroll, ink and colors on silk; 24.8 cm x 5.28 m (9 ¾ x 17'4”).   Palace Museum, Beijing

Attributed to Emperor Huizong 宋 徽宗 (1082-1135; r. 1101-25), att.   Auspicious Cranes . Handscroll.   Ink and colors on silk; 20 x 54 in. Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang.

Hong Hao 洪浩 (b. 1965 Beijing).   Spring Festival on the River 清明上河圖   2000. Chromogenic prints; 35 x 650 cm.

Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (1082-1135; r. 1101-25).   Five-colored parakeet on a blossoming apricot tree . 五色鸚鵡圖卷 Handscroll, ink and color on silk; height 53 cm.   Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Yi Yuanji 易元吉 (fl. latter half of 11th century). Monkey and Cats . 猴貓圖 Handscroll, ink and color on silk; 31.9 x 57.2 cm.   Palace Museum, Beijing.

Su Hanchen 蘇漢臣 (active 1101-1163) . Lady at Her Dressing Table on a Garden Terrace . 靚 妝仕女圖團扇 Round fan mounted as album leaf: ink, color and gold on silk; 23.4 x 24.1 cm. Boston MFA.

Northern Qi scholars collating classic texts   北齊校書圖卷   Northern Song dynasty, 11th century.   Traditionally attributed to: Yan Liben (about 600–673).   Handscroll, ink and color on silk; 27.6 x 114 cm (10 7/8 x 44 7/8 in.).   Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Liang Kai (3 rd quarter of 12 th century-after 1246) Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo. 13th c. Hanging scroll, ink, paper, height 74.30 cm.   Tokyo National Museum.

Guan Tong 關仝   (fl. mid 10th century).   Late Greenery of Autumn Mountains 秋 山晚翠 Hanging scroll, ink and light color on silk; 140.5 x 57.3 cm.   National Palace Museum, Taipei

Hong Hao 洪浩 (b. 1965 Beijing).   Spring Festival on the River No. 2 . 清明上河圖2 . Detail.   Chromogenic print with collage; 38 x 1200 cm.


a) The realm was at great peace for many years and various auspicious creatures and objects [appeared], bringing with them good fortune.   Memorials [describing them] were submitted daily, and the court scribes continuously recorded [their fact].   Among living creatures there were the red crow, white magpie, heavenly deer, and birds of intricate plumage, all cavorting about the imperial gardens.   Of plants and flowers there were the juniper-growing lingzhi fungus, the pear lotus, golden tangerines, double-stemmed bamboo, flowering melons, and pear-leaved crabapples—stems split and interconnected, too many to enumerate.   [The emperor] thereupon chose the most unusual, some fifteen types in all, and sketched their forms in the “red and blue”… (Deng Chun, Huaji , 1167, tr. Peter Sturman)

b)  Palaces and houses are built in accordance with their given measurements; terraces and gates have their set standards… Painters painstakingly picture their forms and shapes not merely for the sake of the pictorial splendor of terraces and pavilions, doors and windows.   Every dot and line must follow the rules of drawing.   It is more difficult than other paintings… From the Tang [618-907] and the Five Dynasties [907-960] until the present time, there have been only four who can be considered true heirs of the tradition. ( Painting Catalog of the Xuanhe Era [ Xuanhe huapu] preface 1120, chapter 8, 81, tr. Heping Liu).

c)  Scholars generally agree that a fundamental marker of narrative is action , which produces change , the element that most clearly distinguishes narration from description.   Another fundamental element of narrative is time .   Although time may also figure in description, time in description is continuous (Todorov's ‘duration time'), while in narrative, time is divided into discontinuous units (‘event-time').” (Murray, What is…?, 604).


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Murray, Julia. “Water Under a Bridge: Further Thoughts on the Qingming Scroll." Journal of SungYuan Studies 27 (1997): 99-108.

_____.   “What is ‘Chinese Narrative Illustration?'”   The Art Bulletin 80, no. 4 (December 1998):   602-615.

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Tsao, Hsingyuan.   “Unraveling the Mystery of the Handscroll Qingming shanghe tu .” Journal of SungYuan Studies 33 (2003): 155-180.