UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consoling frustrated scholars: a copy of a parting gift by Wen Zhengming Li, Zoe Pei-Yu


Farewell in the Garden is a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) copy of a parting gift painted by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) for his student Wang Chong (1494-1533) to mark the occasion of Wang Chong’s visit before he left to write the civil service examination. In addition to this painting, three other versions bearing similar poetic inscriptions exist. These four paintings present an intriguing riddle and oppourtunity to consider copies as works worthy of scholarly attention. The compelling scene of farewell between teacher and student who both failed the examinations numerous times resonated with audiences who empathized with their disappointments. A longing to serve in the government is visible when these paintings are considered in relation to earlier literati art. The sketch-like traces of a ledge that is in all of the copies except Farewell in the Garden, hint to the visual possibility of this scene being situated on a shore. Wen Zhengming, through his subtle lines, alludes to this powerful site of parting which is frequently depicted in literati landscape painting and associated with scholar officials and men of merit. This thesis situates Farewell in the Garden and its copies within the wider tradition of literati painting through the theme of service. Government service, as a Confucian ideal, and as a recurring theme in literati painting, transforms in appearance over time, reflecting political, economic, and philosophical shifts. In the Ming dynasty, the ideal of service is manifest and demonstrated in the continued pursuit to serve in office, and the garden, reminiscent of the locations depicted in literati painting, becomes a suitable setting for this enactment. I argue that this parting scene of Wen Zhengming and Wang Chong came to implicitly represent the commitment to serve in government. The cogent Confucian ideal demonstrated by teacher and student is the unyielding determination to serve, and it is this very sentiment or quality in the copies of the farewell painting – the tenacious endeavour to be of service – that is at once consoling and persuasive.

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