A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art,

Possibly the world's largest and longest digital Chinese scroll painting!

Last week I went to the largest art exhibition Singapore has ever seen. Spanning 10,000 sq m, the exhibition titled A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, makes it Singapore’s largest ever art show.

It has, as its centerpiece, the 128 m by 6.5m animated reproduction of Qing Ming Shang He Tu, which was the hit of the China Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo last year. The digital painting, which features moving and talking characters, has travelled to Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei, delighting over 10 million people. It makes its debut outside Greater China in Singapore.  The exhibition boasts educational and interactive elements, created especially to enhance the visitor’s experience.

The original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting showcased the best of life in the Song Dynasty – considered one of the golden ages of China.

Originally painted on a 5.28 metre-long scroll by Chinese imperial court artist Zhang Ze Duan, this epic Song Dynasty painting gives us an in-depth view of the lifestyle and society in the capital of Bianjing (now known as Kaifeng) during the 12th century.

One of the most well known painted scrolls in China is the Qing Ming Shang He Tu. Found in Manchuria, it is said to be China’s Mona Lisa of paintings. The title refers to the Qingming Festival, or Clear Bright Festival, which is a festival involving the sweeping of tombs and prayers for the dead and was a holiday that all participated in. It is thought that the scroll depicts the festival. However, only one grave sweeper can be found in the painting. On the other hand, Qing Ming can also mean “Peaceful and Orderly.” Thus, combined with Shang He Tu, or “along the river,” the name Qing Ming Shang He Tu could be translated as “Peace Reigns over the River” which perhaps makes an apt title.

It is thought the Chinese imperial court artist Zhang Ze Duan, was commissioned by an emperor to capture the prosperous life of 12th century China under his rule. The emperor wanted to show the beauty of the Song Dynasty at all levels and lifestyles along the river. The city depicted in the scroll is thought to be Northern Song’s capital Bianjing, now known as Kaifeng. However, no distinctive landmarks are given to show that it is Kaifeng, including the bridge in the middle known as the Rainbow Bridge. It can be just any bridge. The artist has given us instead an ideal city.

Though Zhang has been given credit for the scroll, over one hundred artists are thought to have worked on the scroll.

“Qing Ming Shang He Tu” stands out from the many customary Chinese paintings due to its panoramic capture of the richness of society, from the poor to the wealthy. A classic depiction of a Northern Song era painting, it is famous for its aesthetics and accurate geometric depiction of both natural and man-made elements. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words, and this painting is a valuable lesson in history – giving us a glimpse into the economic, cultural, customary and daily life of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Zhang Ze Duan emphasizes the rural scenery as it is the first scene to catch the viewer’s attention.

It is daytime and donkeys laden with goods plod their way towards the city.

As focus gradually shifts to the city, the viewer can appreciate the artist’s intention of showcasing the vast rural land with its riches of crops, animals and other resources providing for the prosperity of the city and the comforts enjoyed by the city dwellers.

The city gate

Moving into the capital city, Zhang Ze Duan uses the structural grandeur of the City Gate and its buzz of activities to delineate the city from the rural areas.

Restaurants, teahouses, craftsmen shops and other small businesses portray the lifestyle of the average Song person. The marketplace is another representation used by the artist to depict everyday life, with different social classes represented by fortune-tellers, temples, beggars, and government officials’ residences.

My favorite scene – a little boy clad in red chases after his pig across The Rainbow Bridge.

Just some of the recreated figures from the digital painting.

A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, takes place at Singapore EXPO Hall 3 from Dec 7, 2011 to Feb 6, 2012.

For more information, click A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art

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About ranman

Design educator with a Masters of Design degree. 32 years of design experience. View all posts by ranman

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