UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Improvised great ages : the creating of Qingming shengshi Chang, Su-Chen


From the Ming to the Qing dynasty, Qingming shanghe tu was among the paintings most frequently copied by professional painters and most often collected and viewed by urban residents, merchants, scholar officials and nobles. Over one hundred copies are extant. Modern scholars have disregarded these paintings, considering them not as “original works” but as mere copies and/or forgeries after Zhang Zeduan or Qiu Ying. This thesis proves their value by showing that though based on earlier works, Qingming painters created distinctive paintings that visualized pre-modern viewers’ various conceptions of a “great age,” an ideal society from the traditional Chinese perspective—Qingming Shengshi. Through comparisons of the earliest Qingming scroll by Zhang Zeduan of the Song dynasty and six selected Qingming paintings from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, my thesis shows that later painters reinterpreted the subject matter, copied and modified original motifs, and added new motifs drawn from contemporary life experiences and concerns. That is, these painters created new paintings using the title and structure of the well-known Zhang Zeduan scroll. Many Ming-Qing viewers stated that the Qingming scrolls were portrayals of a prosperous age. My analysis shows that themes in these paintings relate closely to the economic success and social changes in this period. In other words, painters and patrons extracted elements of the prosperity and cultural transformations of their age to design paintings based on the notion of Qingming shengshi. The variety of these scrolls and responses via inscriptions demonstrate that people from various backgrounds and different times and places held diverse views of an ideal world. Analysis of the six paintings reveals that over time this ideal world grew from a smaller prosperous economy to a much larger one, and changed from one where humble customs were followed to a much more luxurious, unrestrained and fashion-conscious way of living. Despite these changes, certain conservative ideas were preserved. Such traits demonstrate that people’s view of a great age was a dynamic conjunction of various conventions and new fashions, and lead us to believe that this was a new mode of visual cultural production: a model of improvisation.

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