This exhibition is a journey of retrospection and reconstruction from the depths of still waters to the breadth of rivers, reconsidering the flow of thought of Guangdong cultural elites in relation to arts, culture, and history, and reflecting the unparalleled efforts and enthusiasm of these pioneers in their quest for applying their learned knowledge of statecraft to practical affairs and attaining a place in the nation’s intellectual community.
After the Tang and Song Dynasties, the influence of the cultures of the Central Plain and the capital came to the south to replace that of the maritime cultures, and the Guangdong elite went north to take up official positions. Yan Zong and Lin Liang’s naturalistic ink painting style, which could be traced back to the Song Dynasty, emerged.
Magnificent Vista (Dated 1433) by Yan Zong (c. 1393–1454)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Magnificent Vista | Yan Zong (c. 1393–1454)
Magpies and a Pine Tree (Undated) by Lin Liang (c. 1425–c. 1485)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Magpies and a Pine Tree | Lin Liang (c. 1425– c. 1485)
Response to the Poems of Night Sprinkle in White Horse Temple with Matching Rhyme in Running-cursive Script Response to the Poems of Night Sprinkle in White Horse Temple with Matching Rhyme in Running-cursive Script (Dated 6th February, 1493) by Chen Xianzhang (1428–1500)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Subtlety and Silence have Merits
Calligraphy under the Influence of Chen Xianzhang and Zhan Ruoshui
Response to the Poems of Night Sprinkle in White Horse Temple with Matching Rhyme in Running-cursive Script Main BodyArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Response to the Poems of Night Sprinkle in White Horse Temple with Matching Rhyme in Running-cursive Script | Chen Xianzhang (1428–1500)
The thought of Mr. Baisha—Chen Xianzhang has profoundly influenced Guangdong calligraphy.
He introduced the concepts of “self” and “mind,” where the “self” should experience “dao,” or “heavenly principles,” through the doorway of emptiness and tranquillity, so that one can practice the path of self-cultivation and good governance in a consistent manner. Staying true to one’s inner self is the pursuit of many Guangdong cultural elites.
Chen Xianzhang simplified Neo-Confucianism, transforming the method of obtaining heavenly principles from observing external objects into perceiving one’s inner self, which is only one step away from Wang Shouren’s ideas of “the mind being the principle.” Calligraphic styles changed with the transformation in thought. From Zhu Xi, Chen Xianzhang, to Wang Shouren, calligraphy evolved from the standardized Secretariat Style of the early Ming Dynasty to the naturalistic style of the mid-Ming Dynasty, and then to the individualistic and archaistic trends of the late Ming Dynasty.
As Chen put it in his poetry, “the plain qin zither had no string in the first place [but the music can be apprehended by those who appreciate it],” and the trap can be forgotten as soon as the fish is caught. Chen Xianzhang focused on obtaining the higher truths of “dao” and “principles,” seeing calligraphy only as a medium for the transmission of “dao,” and hence working meticulously on the carriers of “dao” is simply a case of putting the cart before the horse. Therefore, he does not attempt to pursue a level of refinedness in his calligraphy, and the ink follows the movement of the brush, with little lifting or pressing. Furthermore, when he lived in the countryside, it was inconvenient to buy brushes, so he used local materials and bound cogon grasses together into a brush to write his calligraphy, forming the unique Maolong (“Congon Grass”) style.
Poem in Cursive Script (Undated) by Zhan Ruoshui (1466–1557)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Poem in Cursive Script | Zhan Ruoshui（1466–1560）
The influence of Chen Xianzhang on the calligraphic style of each literary group differs according to their degree of affinity. For example, Chen’s direct disciples (such as Zhan Ruoshui) inherited more directly from Baisha or Maolong Calligraphy.
Epistolary Poem to Deng Qiao’s Brothers in Cursive Epistolary Poem to Deng Qiao’s Brothers in Cursive (Dated 29th May, 1513) by Deng Qiao（mid–15th–early 16th century）Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Epistolary Poem to Deng Qiao’s Brothers in Cursive Script (Leaf 1) | Deng Qiao（mid-15th–early 16th century）
The Shunde circle of disciples (such as Deng Qiao and Zhong Xiao) were influenced by the ideas of emptiness, tranquillity, and following the nature, and their calligraphy was natural and unadorned.
Epistolary Poem to Deng Qiao’s Brothers in Cursive Main Body: Leaf 2Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Epistolary Poem to Deng Qiao’s Brothers in Cursive Script (Leaf 2) | Deng Qiao（mid-15th–early 16th century）
Epistolary Poem in Running Script Epistolary Poem in Running Script (Dated 19th August, 1530) by Zhong Xiao (late 15th – mid–16th century)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Epistolary Poem in Running Script (Leaf 1) | Zhong Xiao (late 15th – mid-16th century)
Epistolary Poem in Running Script Main Body: Leaf 2Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Epistolary Poem in Running Script (Leaf 2) | Zhong Xiao (late 15th – mid-16th century)
Poem of the Terrace for Viewing the Book of Changes for Xue Yingqi in Running-cursive Script (Undated) by Huang Zuo (1490–1566)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Poem of the Terrace for Viewing the Book of Changes for Xue Yingqi in Running-cursive Script | Huang Zuo（1490–1566）
Other followers of Baisha who took up an official career (such as Huang Zuo) were influenced by the calligraphic style of Wu School, which was the trendsetter at that time.
Chen Xianzhang’s scholarship and experience resonated with and were a reflection of many Guangdong elites, and his naturalness and authenticity became the keynote of Guangdong calligraphy in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The Reluctant Choice of Shunning from the World
The Dilemmas of Ming Loyalists, Monks, and Qing Officials
During the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties, Guangdong painting and calligraphy were dominated by martyrs, Ming loyalists, and monks, creating a melancholic and poignant world of painting and calligraphy, as well as a pure and noble cultural landscape. The cultural elites of Guangdong in the Ming Dynasty studied Neo-Confucianism and advocated loyalty and righteousness. The Battle of Yashan (Battle of Yamen) in Xinhui in the Southern Song Dynasty and the establishment of the Temple of Great Loyalty in the Ming Dynasty became the trigger for the three Lingnan heroes, Chen Zizhuang, Chen Bangyan, and Zhang Jiayu to fight against the Qing Dynasty and die for the Ming. Chen Xianzhang, among others, proposed to build the Hall of Great Loyalty because the sacrifices of Wen Tianxiang, Lu Xiufu, and Zhang Shijie had the extraordinary significances of both serving the ruler and the Chinese culture, which was named as the “Great Loyalty” and had a profound influence.
There were many talents among the followers of Chen Zizhuang, Chen Bangyan, and Hanshi, such as Chen Gongyin, the son of Chen Bangyan, and Qu Dajun as well as Xue Shiheng, both disciples of Chen Bangyan; Jinwu and Jinshi, both principle disciples of Hanshi. All their calligraphies were much admired.
Portrait of Chen Bangyan (Dated before 1879) by AnonymousArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Portrait of Chen Bangyan (1603–1647) | Anonymous
Portrait of Chen Gongyin (Undated) by AnonymousArt Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Portrait of Chen Gongyin (1631– 1700) | Anonymous
Inscription of the Dreaming of Luofu Mountain Album Leaf 1Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Inscription of the Dreaming of Luofu Mountain Album (Leaf 1) | Chen Gongyin (1631–1700)
Inscription of the Dreaming of Luofu Mountain Album Leaf 2Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Inscription of the Dreaming of Luofu Mountain Album | Chen Gongyin (1631–1700)
Poem by Lu You in Running-cursive Script (Undated) by Qu Dajun (1630–1696)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Poem by Lu You in Running-cursive Script | Qu Dajun (1630–1696)
Poem Dedicated to Daoist Priest Zhuobai in Running-cursive Script (Dated 21st June, 1666) by Jinwu (1633–1681)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Poem Dedicated to Daoist Priest Zhuobai in Running-cursive Script | Jinwu (1633–1681)
Poem of Plum Blossom in Cursive Script (Undated) by Jinshi (1614–1680)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Poem of Plum Blossom in Cursive Script | Jinshi（1614–1680）
The Four Masters of Lingnan of the Late Ming and Early Qing
After Yan Zong in the early Ming and Lin Liang in the mid-Ming, other outstanding masters include Li Minhuai (c. 1517-1598), Yuan Dengdao (1586-?), Zhang Mu (1607-after 1683), and Gao Yan (1616-1689).
After Guo Xi’s Travelers in Autumn Mountains (Dated 1572) by Li Minhuai (c. 1517–1598)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
After Guo Xi’s Travelers in Autumn Mountains | Li Minhuai (c. 1517–1598)
An opportunity to view the famous paintings inspired Li Minhuai to create his After Guo Xi’s Travelers in Autumn Mountains. It illustrates the ability and talent of individual Guangdong painters to seize opportunities and turn around the disadvantages.
Boundless Mists and Rain (Dated 1637) by Yuan Dengdao (1586–?)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Boundless Mists and Rain | Yuan Dengdao (1586–?)
Yuan Dengdao's imitation of the painting of cloudy mountains of the Mi family is impressive. His Boundless Mists and Rain has the poise and charm of Mi Youren's Delight in the Cloudy Mountains.
Yuan used piled ink (jimo 積墨) and ink washes to depict the hilly terrain of Jiangnan, covered with vegetation and surrounded by mountains, misty and fantastic. This also invokes the piled-ink landscape of Gong Xian (1618-1689), the number one figure of the Eight Masters of Jinling, who was active slightly later in time than Yuan Dengdao.
Rolling Horses (Dated 1669) by Zhang Mu (1607– after 1683)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Rolling Horses | Zhang Mu（1607–after 1683）
Unlike the other three masters renowned for their landscape paintings, Zhang Mu was known for his paintings of eagles and horses.
Chen Gongyin's poem mentions that Zhang Mu "is especially skilled at painting eagles and horses, was it because ghosts or gods were standing in his arms?" The poem goes on: "The old steed bending at the stable has lingering sorrow, and the flying eagle on paper is still in rage." What people saw as divinely painted eagles and horses were in fact an outlet for Zhang Mu to express his frustrations due to the failure to realize his ambitions in reality.
His Rolling Horses was painted at the age of 63 for his "great-nephew, Shengyi," and depicts horses in various colours and patterns from various angles, dust rolling, galloping, and making other movements, which shows off all of the painter's skills.
The paintings and the inscription imply Zhang Mu's powerlessness in trying to change his fate but failing to reverse his untimely birth.
Pondering on a Snowy Night (Dated early 1686) by Gao Yan (1616–1689)Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Pondering on a Snowy Night | Gao Yan (1616–1689)
Gao Yan's Pondering on a Snowy Night completed when he was around 70 years of age, is a masterpiece of poetry, calligraphy, and painting.
The seven-character poem written by the artist himself is pregnant with meaning: "The blue sky is like a dream that blocks the primordial energy, and the ten thousand miles of red clouds become empty overnight." Here "blue" refers to "Qing" 清 , a character also literally meaning "clear," whereas "red" refers to "zhuhong" 朱 紅 , or vermillion, and Zhu 朱 was the ruling family of the Ming Dynasty. The poem expresses the idea that the Qing Dynasty was a dreamlike assault that closed off the vitality of the world, and that the Ming's control of a vast territory turned into nothing overnight.
The intricate mindscape of the author has all of a sudden turned into a miserable world of ice and snow, and he feels lonely as he ponders with bewilderment the fact that he cannot reach his ambitions.
This lofty gentleman holding a walking staff in the foreground of the painting is a self-portrait of Gao Yan, who appeared to be a small man in the vast landscape covered by ice and snow.
The slopes, riverbanks, trees, rocks, and horses are distinctly layered. The rocks are depicted with the motif known as alum-crystal tops (fantou 礬 頭) and textured with hemp-fibre-strokes, similar to the styles of Juran of the Five Dynasties and Huang Gongwang of the Yuan Dynasty. The techniques used to depict the trees are taken from the works of Guo Xi and other Song and Yuan masters. The painting creates a sense of vastness, with mountains after mountains in the distance, which represents the mindscape of the painter as much as a landscape.
This is the best of times, but also the worst of times. The masters of Lingnan either became a martyr for the fallen Ming or remained a Ming loyalist for life, taking up official employment or retreating into the religious world. Their works are inevitably filled with indelible bewilderment and sadness, but it is hard to hide the passion and the radiance of life of someone who knows the futility of his attempt yet pursues it regardless.
The content is developed based on the exhibition catalogue Artistic Confluence in Guangdong: Selected Painting and Calligraphy from Ming to Mid-Qing China written by Dr. Peggy Ho, Research Associate of Art Museum, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Click Here for the Description of the Exhibition