Sai Weng Attending His Horse and Xiao Shi Playing the Xiao (Musical Instrument)

Soga Shōhaku1758/1758

Mie Prefectural Art Museum

Mie Prefectural Art Museum
Tsu, Japan

This work, one of Shōhaku’s largest, was discovered only recently, and little is known of its past. The painting depicts two people who lived at the time of Mugong in the Qin Dynasty of ancient China. Xiao Shi played the xiao (a type of flute made of several small bamboo tubes) so well that it is said he could make the sound of a phoenix’s cry on his instrument. Sai Weng is known for the story about a horse from Huainanzi. When his son tried to ride it, he was thrown off and broke his leg. The son was therefore never able to become a warrior, but instead, he lived an especially long life. This story suggests that one cannot predict the twists and turns of fate. An unhappy accident could lead to greater things. Each figure is drawn on a different fold of the screen, and each shows the same characteristics one finds in Shōhaku’s leering paintings of people. Indeed, this painting is typical of his style. The painting shows a scene from an ancient Chinese story and incorporates a pine tree, plum tree, and bamboo – a combination that symbolizes good fortune – but there is also a strong possibility that Shōhaku painted the work with some allegorical meaning in mind. Certain art historians have expressed the opinion that the figure on the right looks like Bo Le, who was famous for his ability to judge the quality of horses. However, judging from the fact that there is also someone in the picture helping him feed the horse, it seems more likely that the figure on the right is Sai Weng, who was known for his skill in raising horses.


  • Title: Sai Weng Attending His Horse and Xiao Shi Playing the Xiao (Musical Instrument)
  • Date: 1758/1758
  • painter: SOGA Shohaku
  • Physical Dimensions: w338 x h155 cm (complete)
  • Artist Name (Japanese): 曾我蕭白
  • Provenance: Mie Prefectural Art Museum
  • Type: Chinese ink on paper
  • Rights: Mie Prefectural Art Museum

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