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Song Dynasty
Date:2012-05-27 20:29

Song Dynasty

The Northern and Southern Song Dynasties was a proud era of Zhejiang because of its great social and cultural development.

Textile and Dyeing Industry

In the Northern Song Dynasty period, Zhejiang became the textile and dyeing center where there were state-run Huzhou Damask Silk Workshop and Hangzhou Textile Workshop, both of which were quite large. There were such famous, beautiful and high-quality silk products like the White-sided Damask Silk of Hangzhou, The Tribute Red-sided Silk of Wuzhou, the colorful silk of Dongyan, the Temple Silk made by the nuns in Yuezhou and the joint-edged thin silk of Muzhou. In the middle of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Longquan kiln began to produce porcelains and formed its unique flavor of the celadon. The Longquan porcelains usually adopted white or light gray roughcasts. The surface was painted with violet-golden coatings that turned out red later. With no decorative pads, no violet mouths and iron feet, the porcelains produced in this period were called the Acient Longquan. Its representative piece was the Longquan Kiln Five-tubed Bottle, which displayed the scenery of four lovely ducklings paddling in a pond in the Southern China region.

Engraving Printing

Hangzhou had become the national center of the engraving printing. The woodcarving print developed fast and illustrations of Buddhist scriptures were very popular which mainly evolved from the single spell pictures to the preface pictures and in the end to the vivid form of explanation about the religious figures, events and tenets. The representative pieces were the Laughing Buddha (painted by Gao Wenjin and engraved by the famous monk Zhi Li), Weishu Buddha and Puxian Buddha. In the first picture, the Buddha hunkered straight on his lotus flower seat and looked rather imposing and solemn. There were attendants around him and flying apsarases above, all of whom were delicately engraved. The latter two belonged to a set, now in Japan's collection. The single paged illustration, Sui in Pursuit of the Dharani scripture, was engraved in the year of 1001 by a Hangzhou native, Zhao Zongba.

Rock Cave Josses

The rock cave josses of the Song dynasties adopted a true to life artistic style that made the joss human-like. Among the rock cave josses of the Flying Hill, the eighteen arhat figures (built in 1026) found in the Yuru Cave were simple and humorous, chiseled according to the human's expressions and with little temperament of immortals. The small josses were popular then that were suitable for the worship in the adherents own houses, for example, the Gold-plating Bronze Joss and the Painted Joss were delicate in the details of the figure and of typical flavor of the Northern Song Dynasty. The Exquisite Silver Pagoda Model was one of the well-reserved silver wares of the period that was made of thin silver pads and plated with gold. It was made in 7 floors and inside it there were delicate sitting-josses.



The Zhejiang Qiantang native, Lin Bu (or Junfu, 967-1028) was a great calligrapher of the Northern Song Dynasty. He was not interested in politics and built his house on the Solitary Hill by the West Lake. He planted plums and raised cranes, and regarded them as wife and son. The Emperor Song Renzong conferred him as Mr.Hejing after his death. He was not only good at paintings but also the calligraphy, especially running style. Huang Tingjian, the famous scholar gave him quite high praise. His masterpiece was the Hand Written Poems, which, like all his other works, was as upright as him. Another calligrapher, Lu Jing (or Zilv, Yueren, Shanzhen and Xingshu) was famous for his calligraphic pieces (especially the regular style). His works could be found on the steles all over the nation, as most scholars of the time, particularly Ou Yangxiu, would like him to write their proud works down and had them inscribed for preservation. The Hangzhou native Qian Xie (or Mufu, 1034-1097) imitated the calligraphic skills of Ouyang Xun, Wang Xianzhi and was good at the regular and running styles. The Quzhou native Liu Zhenfu(or Dechu, 1060-1116) was good at the running style that were fluent and powerful.


The two most famous painters of the Northern Song Dynasty were Yan Wengui and Zhong Reng. The Wuxing native Yan Wengui had been a veteran before known as a painter. After his retirement from the army, he learned the painting skills from Hao Hui and sold the painting on the street for a living. One day an official named Gao Yi discovered his outstanding skills and recommended him to the court. Soon he became one of the royal painters. His style was called 'Yan's Scenery' which was represented by the works like Scenery from the Jiangshang Building and Hazed Mountains and Water Palace Volume. Zhong Reng (or the Huaguang Presbyter) was a famous monk then who was known for his unique skills for painting the plums with inks. But the now-existing Huaguang's Collection of Plums was probably a counterfeit finished by the other people.

  Handicraft Industries

The southward movement of the regime brought new opportunities for development of Zhejiang handicraft industries such as pottery. The pottery production of Southern Song Dynasty was conducted both in the official kiln and the private kiln. One of the two official kilns, Xiu Nei Si, was located at the foot of Mt. Phoenix in Lin'an (the present Hangzhou) and was customarily called the Nei (Internal) Kiln. It used orange colored mud for material of the base, and featured crystal-clear ceramic glaze and fine veins. 'They were typical violet-mouthed and iron-footed porcelains with more or less pink in the cyan color and the veins were usually in the shape of crab claws. ' (By Cao Zhao, The Key To Ancient Style). The other one, Jiao Tan Xia, was located at Mt. Turtle in the south suburb of Hangzhou. The base mud was black or brownish black. The product was of thin roughcast and thick glaze which was pinkish cyan or light greyish tan. It copied the shape of bronze or jade wares. The product of official kilns of Southern Song Dynasty had always been rare treasure. The most distinctive characteristics of it were that it was of thin roughcast and thick glaze; it had a violet opening and iron feet; and there were ice-cracking veins all over its body. It did not fashion adornments except the splitting veins, so it looked extremely pure and noble. Longquan (dragon spring) kiln was the most famous of all private kilns. As it was built by two brothers, it was divided into 'Ge (elder brother) kiln' and 'Di (younger brother) kiln'. The former was decorated by various veins but the latter was pure colored. In the last years of Southern Song Dynasty, Longquan Kiln succeeded in producing pinkish cyan and plum cyan ones, thus making Zhejiang celadon stay in the highest flight of the industry. The masterpieces of Southern Song Dynasty works were the Three-Foot Incense Burner, the Celadon Boat Shaped Water Receptacle for Inkstone and the Phoenix Eared Vase.

Wood Block Printing

Lin'an, the capital of Southern Song Dynasty, was the center of the wood block printing in the country. There were many workshops whose products were of excellent qualities. Shuang Gua Tang workshop in Wuzhou (the present Jinhua) was most famous for its wood block printing. The existing The Plum and God produced here and compiled and drawn by Song Boren was the first painting chart in the country.

Landscape Gardening and Architecture and Rock Cave Statues

The royal and the noble of Southern Song Dynasty abandoned themselves in the beautiful sceneries of Hangzhou and West Lake was known as a place to squander money. They went in for large-scale construction and built many pavilions and gardens around the lake. As it goes in a poem, the new buildings stretched along and the solitary mountain was nowhere to be found. Landscape gardening and architecture was greatly advanced, as there were hundreds of them. It was in Southern Song Dynasty that the West Lake Ten Scenic Spots were formed and continued to be famous until now. This was the greatest achievement of West Lake landscape gardening.

People's favorite among the rock cave statues on the Flying Mountain of Hangzhou was always the Laughing Buddha. It was the masterpiece of Southern Song statues with the Buddha leaving his chest and stomach uncovered and lighting up merrily.



The famous calligraphers of Southern Song Dynasty were Wu Shuo, Lu You and Jiang Kui. Wu Shuo was a versatile calligrapher. His regular script in small characters was elegant indeed and was considered the best in Song Dynasty. He also invented a new script called 'You Si (twining thread)' with every stoke joining together in their tendency. According to Dong Qichang, a talented calligrapher as he was, the emperor sighed in appreciation when he saw Wu Shuo's works. His existing work was the running hand cursive script Going to the Feast which was used as model for training. Lu You (1125-1210) excelled at running hand cursive script and regular script. He claimed to learn the cursive script from the Crazy Zhang (Zhang Xu) and the running hand from Yang Ningshi. His works were natural and imposing, especially the ones of his later years. He left behind works like The Hardship and To Chengdu. Jiang Kui was also good at running hand cursive script. His book Sequel to Calligraphy Collections was a valuable theoretic monograph on the art as Jiang discussed such subjects as the style, the movement of brush, the application of ink separately in each chapter.


The Southern Song Dynasty re-established the painting institute of the court in Lin'an. The representative painters of the time were Li Tang, Liu Songnian, Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, collectively called the 'four masters of Southern Song Dynasty'

Li Tang (about 1065-1146) arrived at Lin'an in about 1126. He used to conceal his identity and sell his works on the street. But few people were able to recognize his works. He expressed his depression in his poem, saying that his painstaking efforts were in vain and he should have painted more popular peony flowers had he known this. He was a versatile painter, especially good at landscape. Emperor Gaozhong of Song Dynasty admired Li Tang very much and said his works could be comparable to those of Li Sixun's. His existing works were the landscape paintings Pines in the Vally, Mini Scenery of Jiangshan, Fisher Hermit in Clear Brook and figure paintings King Wengong Restore Jin Regime and Picking Wild Peas. The latter two professed his devotion to his country. The other three painters of the 'four masters of Southern Song Dynasty' were heavily influenced by him.

Pines in the Vally, by Li Tang 

Liu Songnian lived at the Qingbo (clear wave) Gate of Qiantang. The gate was customarily called 'An Men (hidden gate)', so he was also known as 'An Men Liu' He was good at both landscape and figure. In his works Four Great Generals of the Resurgence and Meeting at Bian Bridge to Form Alliance, he expressed his objection to surrender to the Jin Group. He often put landscape of the beautiful River South together with figures to show the refined life of the nobilities, such as in his immortal work Four Sceneries. He followed and further developed Li Tang's style to be precise and elegant. His Arhat was remarkable in composition and the figure seemed alive and vigorous with clothes swaying in the wind.

Ma Yuan was born in Qiantang and stayed in the city all his life. He often focused on one part of the scenery for the viewers to associate with the rest, so his composition of the paintings was unique and simple. Li Tang was the pioneer in developing Southern Song Dynasty's style, but he did not break away from the influence of Northern Song Dynasty. It was Ma Yuan who completely abandoned full landscape composition of the previous dynasty and offered something brand new and fresh. Trip in Songs was the representative of his landscape paintings. He was so tactful in shaping things that he could even draw the shapeless water. His Water was lively and flowing. His Plum, Stone, Brook and Mallard was full of poetic conceptions with flower and bird placed in natural scenes. He also produced works like Seeing Plum in the Snow, Feast Under Dazzling Lanterns, Two Aigrettes on Snowy Beach and Fisher Hermit On Autumn River.

Trip in Songs 

Xia Gui formed his distinctive style though under Li Tang influence. He always painted rivers and lakes in cloudy, snowy, misty and rainy days. Like Ma Yuan, he liked to compose only half of the scenery and apply swift light-ink strokes, but Xia Gui excelled at naturalness. While painting, he would always do water ink first followed by jet-black ink so that the lines and ink became one integrated mass and looked boundless. He never used the ungraduated ruler to help him so he had his shapes of the buildings and landscapes at his fingertips and painted with facility. 'He was of great renown and the comparable to Li Tang,' commented by Xia Wenyan's Appreciation of Paintings. Xia Gui's Living in the Misty Valley, Guest At Pined Cliff, and Mist In Remote Hills were all small landscape works with poetic quality. His the Thousand-li Yangtze River was most impressive for its magnificent vigor and inexhaustible associations. His Enchanting Brooks and Hills was about nine meters' long, which showed the rare beauty of Zhejiang landscape. The Twelve Scenes of the River was one of his master works, being free and natural in composition. It portrayed the twelve different scenes of the river from dawn to dusk. Unfortunately, only four scenes left till now. He used to portray the hazy and beautiful view of West Lake in his Willow and Boat on West Lake. Xia Gui's works were graceful and rich in the sentiment of the scholar's paintings of Song Dynasty.

In addition to these “four masters of Southern Song Dynasty”, Zhejiang painting circle produced many other important painters, such as Xiao Zhao, Ma Hezhi, Jiang Can, Lin Chun, Li Song, Ma Lin, Zhao Mengjian, Fa Chang and Chenlin. All of them marked their names in the history of painting. The Southern Song Painting Institute was in existence for more than a hundred years, leaving behind many precious works as well as one glorious chapter in the history of Zhejiang fine arts.

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