This piece illustrates an auspicious scene not commonly seen, a flock of 18 cranes soaring above the towering Xuande Gate in Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng in central China), the capital of the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD). These auspicious birds are crying out and circling at the length, apparently unwilling to depart. Two cranes even descended to perch on the gargoyles at opposite ends of the ridged roof of the tower gate, which sits in the colorful clouds.
This work departs apparently from the traditional bird-and-flower composition. The sky is covered with cranes in flight, and the only-seen part of the building is the line formed by the straight roof-ridge as counterpoint to the soaring cranes above, exuding a sense of mysterious auspice out of solemnity. In the history of Chinese painting, this is considered as a bold, and successful, attempt at something new. There is also an inscription by the painter Zhao Ji (1082-1135) himself in his signature “slender gold” style of calligraphy.
The embroidery techniques employed in this piece of needlework are ingenious. Having been outlined via black threads, the cranes are then portrayed with clearly-defined and well-layered super thin white threads on the feathers, giving them an almost cloud-like feel, and striking poses that are rarely repeated. The natural luster of silk adds lively glamour to the turquoise sky, colorful clouds, white crane feathers and red crane eyes, all lending the image a truly powerful sense of vitality.