Fine Block-printed Pic­tures of the Huizhou School

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Shi, edited by Mark Zuiderveld

County mag­is­trate Liang Yan­nian an­no­tated the “six­teenar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit” and fi­nally com­pleted a rep­re­sen­ta­tive work of block- printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school.

Many an­cient Chi­nese block-printed books have il­lus­tra­tions. Be­cause th­ese il­lus­tra­tions were printed with wood blocks, they are also called block­printed pic­tures. In the Chi­nese his­tory of block­printed pic­tures, the Huizhou school of block­printed pic­tures known for well-pro­por­tioned lines and ele­gant and or­derly com­po­si­tion rep­re­sents the high­est achieve­ments of Chi­nese block-printed pic­tures.

In the Kangxi pe­riod (1661–1722) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), Mag­is­trate of Fan­chang County, An­hui Province Liang Yan­nian an­no­tated the “six­teenar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit” pro­mul­gated by Em­peror Kangxi (reign: 1661–1722) in de­tail, em­ployed fa­mous work­ers, added ex­quis­ite il­lus­tra­tions and fi­nally com­pleted Shengyu Xiangjie (“a pic­to­rial ex­pla­na­tion of the im­pe­rial edicts”). In Bei­jing Spring Auc­tion 2011, a block-printed edi­tion of Shengyu xiangjie was sold for a whop­ping 800,000 yuan, demon­strat­ing the inf in­flu­ence and charm of block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school.

Cut­ting Blocks for Im­pe­rial Edicts

In 1397 of the Ming Dy­nasty Zhu Yuanzhang (reign: 1368–1398) is­sued an im­pe­rial de­cree, or­der­ing “each vil­lage to set up one wood bell and se­lect one old or blind per­son to walk on the road with the bell six times a month” and chant six im­pe­rial in­struc­tions: “be fil­ial to par­ents; show re­spect to el­ders; live in har­mony with neigh­bours; in­struct sons and grand­sons; be con­tent with your call­ing; do no evil.” Th­ese in­struc­tions are called “the

six im­pe­rial in­struc­tions.” Later, they spread among peo­ple in many chan­nels in­clud­ing vil­lage con­ven­tions, pedi­grees, fam­ily in­struc­tions, acad­e­mies of clas­si­cal learn­ing and nov­els. In the course of spread­ing, many of­fi­cials prac­tised what one ad­vo­cated, not only pre­scrib­ing solemn and com­pli­cated rit­u­als for read­ing im­pe­rial in­struc­tions, but also in­ter­pret­ing and pub­li­cis­ing con­tents of the im­pe­rial in­struc­tions. This pub­lic­ity con­tin­ued un­til the Qing Dy­nasty.

In 1652, Em­peror Shun­zhi (reign: 1643– 1661) car­ried on the “six im­pe­rial in­struc­tions” of Em­peror Taizu of the Ming Dy­nasty and or­dered that the east, south, west, north and cen­tral ar­eas of Bei­jing es­tab­lish public halls to hold ru­ral con­ven­tions and read th­ese six im­pe­rial in­struc­tions on the first and fif­teenth days of each lu­nar month. The prac­tice con­tin­ued un­til the Kangxi pe­riod. In the ninth year (1670) of the Kangxi pe­riod, Em­peror Kangxi thought “in gov­ern­ing the coun­try, the point is not to make law pri­mary but to put ci­vil­ity first be­cause law has short-term pro­hib­i­tive ef­fect while ci­vil­ity can last long, so re­ly­ing on law alone with­out putting ci­vil­ity first is at­tend­ing to tri­fles to the ne­glect of es­sen­tials.” There­fore, he fol­lowed the ex­am­ple of an­cient em­per­ors, ad­vo­cated virtue, mit­i­gated penalty and ac­cus­tomed peo­ple to ci­vil­ity, and evolved and ex­panded the “six im­pe­rial in­struc­tions” pro­mul­gated in the ninth year of the Shun­zhi pe­riod into the “six­teenar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit,” in­clud­ing “pro­mot­ing fil­ial and fra­ter­nal sub­or­di­na­tion to el­e­vate hi­er­ar­chi­cal hu­man re­la­tions, be earnest in du­ties to clan in or­der that its har­mony may be ob­vi­ous to all and be har­mo­nious with fel­low vil­lagers in or­der to avoid dis­putes and court cases.” He hoped peo­ple could abide by th­ese six­teen ar­ti­cles, which “were the ba­sis of ac­cus­tom­ing peo­ple to ci­vil­ity.” He also hoped “the pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles could be used for in­struc­tion, guid­ance and per­sua­sion as well as su­per­vi­sion over im­ple­men­ta­tion by rel­e­vant in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal civil and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, who must check de­crees and reg­u­la­tions closely, set­tle con­tro­ver­sies and con­duct pub­lic­ity.” Pub­li­cis­ing and study­ing this six­teen-ar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit be­came a ne­ces­sity for of­fi­cials.

Af­ter the “six­teen-ar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit” was pro­mul­gated, lo­cal of­fi­cials con­ducted pub­lic­ity reg­u­larly. The viceroy of Jiang­nan and the pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor of An­hui highly praised Liang Yan­nian and re­ported his deed to Em­peror Kangxi in the fif­teenth year (1676) of the Kangxi pe­riod. Af­ter be­ing com­mended by the im­pe­rial court, Liang Yan­nian se­lected rel­e­vant an­cient peo­ple's deeds ac­cord­ing to Em­peror Kangxi's “six­teen-ar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit” con­sid­er­ing “chil­dren in re­mote moun­tains, il­lit­er­ates and women might not have heard of it.” One pic­ture was drawn for each story with a cap­tion. “An­cient peo­ple's deeds were de­picted un­der the im­pe­rial edict and the orig­i­nal texts were at­tached to com­mend virtue. They were cat­e­gorised and roughly ex­plained to make them eas­ily un­der­stand­able.” One com­pi­la­tion rule is that a pic­ture should pre­cede a text. The book in­cludes 260 ex­quis­ite block-printed pic­tures. Liang Yan­nian's orig­i­nal in­tent was “to pub­li­cise the im­pe­rial edict, make it interesting to those af­ter see­ing pic­tures, arouse their benev­o­lence and pro­vide as­sis­tance for penalty and ci­vil­ity.”

In 1681, Liang Yan­nian, af­ter com­plet­ing the book, block-printed this 20-vol­ume Shengyu xiangjie un­der his stu­dio name “Chengx­uan Hall” to carry for­ward tra­di­tions and pub­li­cise ci­vil­ity among county mag­is­trates. Be­fore then, Liang Yan­nian's stu­dio name was not Chengx­uan Hall. To show that he spared no ef­fort in elab­o­rat­ing and car­ry­ing for­ward the im­pe­rial edict and “car­ry­ing for­ward tra­di­tions and pub­li­cis­ing ci­vil­ity,” he named his stu­dio “Chengx­uan Hall” to block-print this book. There is also a seal of “Chengx­uan Hall” at the end of the pref­ace. He also asked Hong Weiyu, an ad­min­is­tra­tive min­is­ter in charge of civil af­fairs from the ad­min­is­tra­tive com­mis­sioner's of­fice for Jiang­nan and An­hui, to write the pref­ace, and fi­nally com­pleted this edi­tion of Shengyu xiangjie block-printed by Chengx­uan Hall with ele­gant il­lus­tra­tions of fig­ures.

This edi­tion of Shengyu xiangjie con­sists of smooth white pages made of Kai­hua pa­per with clearly recog­nis­able Chi­nese char­ac­ters in the square script pop­u­lar since the Wanli pe­riod (1573–1620) of the Ming Dy­nasty. “Chengx­uan Hall” is printed below the cover page, and the “six­teen-ar­ti­cle im­pe­rial edit” is printed in front, fol­lowed by “Pref­ace to Shengyu Xiangjie,” Liang Yan­nian's guide to us­ing the book. The most com­mend­able as­pect of the book are the ex­quis­ite block­printed pic­tures.

Unique Skill of the Huizhou School: Life­like De­pic­tion

Many an­cient Chi­nese books con­tain­ing il­lus­tra­tions were sim­ply called “il­lus­trated books,” “pic­to­rial books,” or “pic­ture copy­books.” In the early 20th cen­tury, af­ter the Euro­pean art of block-printed pic­tures grad­u­ally spread to China, il­lus­tra­tions in books and pic­ture copy­books were called Chi­nese block-printed pic­tures. In the late Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), China had al­ready in­vented block-print­ing tech­niques. Mean­while, block-printed pic­tures were added in the course of cut­ting blocks for print­ing Bud­dhist scrip­tures to be cir­cu­lated among peo­ple pray­ing for bless­ings. At that time, such Bud­dhist scrip­tures were still in the form of scrolls, and block-printed pic­tures pre­ceded the main text. The ear­li­est ex­ist­ing Bud­dhist scrip­ture with block-printed pic­tures is Di­a­mond Su­tra block-printed by Wang Jie for his par­ents in AD 868 of the Xiantong pe­riod (AD 860-874) of the Tang Dy­nasty with a very ex­quis­ite block-printed pic­ture in front. From the Wanli pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty to the Chongzhen pe­riod (1628–1644) of the Ming Dy­nasty, block cut­ting for block­printed pic­tures en­tered an­other era of great splen­dour. At that time, block cut­ting for block-printed pic­tures in the Huizhou area de­vel­oped a style of its own with dense lines and life­like fig­ures and in­flu­enced block cut­ting for books with block-printed pic­tures un­til the Qing Dy­nasty. Block-printed pic­tures in the Huizhou area are called “block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school.”

The block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school be­fore the Wanli pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty also in­clude Huang­shan tu­jing (“topo­graph­i­cal clas­sic of Mount Huang­shan”) block-printed in the Tian­shun pe­riod (1457– 1464) of the Ming Dy­nasty, Xi­un­ing Li­u­tang Zhan­shi zongpu (“pedi­gree of the Zhan fam­ily in Li­u­tang, Xi­un­ing”) block-printed in the Hongzhi pe­riod (1488–1505) and Yushi huitong pu (“gen­eral pedi­gree of the Yu fam­ily”) block­printed in the Zhengde pe­riod (1506–1521). Th­ese block-printed pic­tures, ap­pear­ing a lit­tle coarse, should be paint­ings by cut­ting work­ers. Af­ter the Wanli pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty, schol­ars and painters par­tic­i­pated in paint­ing and cut­ting work­ers in Huizhou cut blocks for print­ing, thus giv­ing rise to block­printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school that at­tained a high artis­tic level.

One rep­re­sen­ta­tive fig­ure was Ding Yun­peng, a na­tive of Xi­un­ing County, An­hui born in 1547 dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty. He was good at read­ing and writ­ing po­etry and lit­er­a­ture, and stud­ied paint­ings by Wu Daozi, a fa­mous Tang Dy­nasty painter. His paint­ings were so ex­quis­ite that each hair was life­like. His land­scape paint­ings were praised by peo­ple at that time. Af­ter see­ing his fig­ure paint­ings, the cal­lig­ra­pher Dong Qichang (1555–1636) gave a “Haosheng Hall” seal to him as gift. Later, when­ever Dong Yun­peng cre­ated a sat­is­fac­tory work, he af­fixed this seal to it. Dong Yun­peng drew pic­tures for Fang­shi mopu (“ink made by Fang”) block-printed by Meiyin Stu­dio in 1583 and later for books in­clud­ing Yangzheng tu­jie (“il­lus­trated ex­pli­ca­tions of the cul­ti­va­tion of rec­ti­tude”) and Cheng­shi moyuan (“the ink gar­den of the Cheng fam­ily”), which later on be­came fa­mous. Dong Yun­peng's favourite dis­ci­ple Wu Yu also par­tic­i­pated in cre­at­ing block-printed pic­tures ac­tively and painted pic­tures for works such as Fang­shi mopu, Xuanhe bogu tulu (“il­lus­tra­tions of an­tiq­ui­ties of the Xuanhe pe­riod”) and Guben jingchai ji (“an ac­count of the an­cient edi­tion of the ro­mance of a hair­pin”). Block-printed pic­tures thrived in the late Ming Dy­nasty. Among them, “Chuci Shuzhu” (“An­no­tated Songs of Chu”) and “Ji­uge Tu” (“Il­lus­trated Nine Songs”) drawn by Chen Hong­shou in the Chongzhen pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty were more highly com­mended.

From the Tian­shun pe­riod, some ex­cel­lent cut­ters in Huizhou stood out from the rest. At that time, one named Huang in Qiu Vil­lage, She County was known for cut­ting blocks for books. He cut blocks for print­ing Xi­un­ing Li­u­tang Zhan­shi zongpu in the Hongzhi pe­riod and blocks for Yushi huitong pu in the Zhengde pe­riod. Af­ter sev­eral gen­er­a­tions' ef­forts, the Huang fam­ily fi­nally ma­tured and cre­ated a se­ries of con­sum­mate meth­ods of cut­ting blocks for block-printed pic­tures in the Wanli pe­riod. Their at­tain­ment and skill in block cut­ting for block-printed pic­tures were be­yond the reach of cut­ters in other ar­eas. In­ter­est­ingly, they never im­parted such skill to out­siders. So to en­sure the qual­ity of il­lus­tra­tions, pub­lish­ers in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nan­jing had to em­ploy them at high prices for cut­ting blocks for print­ing.

Chang­ing Old Cus­toms and Im­i­tat­ing An­cient Pic­tures

Af­ter the Wanli pe­riod of the Ming Dy­nasty, as schol­ars and painters joined in, some tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing the­o­ries and tech­niques were ap­plied to the creation of block-printed pic­tures, so th­ese pic­tures be­gan to in­te­grate with tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings. The lay­out of tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings em­pha­sises dis­tance and den­sity, with main paint­ing meth­ods of de­lin­eations, out­lines, wrin­kling and dot­ting. Th­ese tech­niques were ab­sorbed and used for block-printed pic­tures, and block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school rep­re­sented the high­est level of Chi­nese block-printed pic­tures. The mas­ter of block-printed pic­tures, Zheng Zhen­duo (1898–1958), said while dis­cussing the mean­ings and at­tain­ment of block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school: “Life in this world of block-printed pic­tures is so beau­ti­ful, quiet, peace­ful and sat­is­fy­ing. Even de­pic­tions of war, tragic mar­tyr­dom, death and spring scenery are so ‘gen­tle and sim­ple' with­out any ag­gres­sive­ness. There you see the real life of peo­ple in the Ming Dy­nasty at the end of a cen­tury.” Zheng Zhen­duo felt the tran­quil­lity and com­fort in block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school. In the world of block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school, the life of peo­ple in the Ming Dy­nasty was ele­gant and taste­ful. In the early Qing Dy­nasty, not long af­ter the Ming Dy­nasty ended, many cut­ters in Huizhou could still cre­ate ex­quis­ite block­printed pic­tures, and Shengyu xiangjie was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive work among them.

This edi­tion of Shengyu Xiangjie block­printed by Chengx­uan Hall con­tains 260 ex­quis­ite block-printed pic­tures. The pic­tures are com­plex, and peo­ple's fa­cial fea­tures and ex­pres­sions are life­like. Other land­scapes are also su­perb—raked cor­nices, moun­tains, rocks, bam­boos and trees were cut very care­fully. Though the names of the paint­ing and cut­ting work­ers who made the block-printed pic­tures are un­known, the beau­ti­ful cuts and the holis­tic style show they must have been made by mas­ters of the Huizhou school. The shapes and lines of fig­ures still fol­lowed the paint­ing style of block-printed pic­tures of the Ming Dy­nasty. In the Kangxi pe­riod, county mag­is­trate Liang Yan­nian was fully able to gather painters and cut­ters in Huizhou to com­plete this work be­cause Fan­chang County was lo­cated in An­hui.

How­ever, the block-printed pic­tures in Shengyu xiangjie are slightly dif­fer­ent from those of the Ming Dy­nasty: first, fig­ures ac­count for a large pro­por­tion and scenes ac­count for a small pro­por­tion; sec­ond, elab­o­rate de­pic­tion of de­tails pur­sues ele­gant and charm­ing sen­ti­ment and or­derly and ex­quis­ite style. The lay­out of pic­tures still fol­lows the tra­di­tional par­al­lelper­spec­tive ex­pres­sion tech­nique, that is, the up­per part is far­ther than the lower part and fig­ures both far and near are al­most of the same size. The stories in it in­volve many an­cient fig­ures, in­clud­ing all walks of life from em­per­ors, civil and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, trades­men and pot­ters, and “an­cient peo­ple's deeds are de­scribed in de­tail.” It pro­vides peo­ple with many im­ages of an­cient so­ci­ety. An­other valu­able as­pect of the book is that many things rarely seen in other works are pre­served in pic­tures such as fu­ner­als, re­li­gious cer­e­monies, pitch-pot, glue mak­ing, pes­tle cast­ing, sur­veil­lance from watch­tow­ers and night pa­trol. Mir­ror pol­ish­ing is an­other ex­am­ple. In the past, peo­ple spe­cialised in pol­ish­ing mir­rors just like those spe­cial­is­ing in sharp­en­ing scissors and knives to­day. Among th­ese il­lus­tra­tions, one de­picts a scene of mir­ror pol­ish­ing.

The first pic­ture in this work is “Great Fil­ial Piety,” which de­picts the fil­ial deed of Yu Shun (c. 2277 BC– c. 2178 BC, an­cient Chi­nese em­peror). Though Yu Shun had “a stub­born fa­ther, an ar­ro­gant mother and an ir­ri­ta­ble younger brother,” he could “main­tain har­mony and fil­ial piety.” In this pic­ture, Shun is dressed like a scholar of the Ming Dy­nasty. The lines of his clothes are clearly vis­i­ble. There is a hoe near his left foot and a round stool in front. Shun ap­pears friendly and re­spect­ful. Shun's par­ents and younger brother are in the up­per part of the pic­ture. His par­ents are both sit­ting, and his younger brother is stand­ing be­side his mother. The three per­sons seem happy. Be­hind them is a long ta­ble on which there is a book and a nearby pot. Shun's im­age of a fil­ial son is vividly por­trayed.

How­ever, only more than ten copies of this edi­tion printed in the early Kangxi pe­riod were passed down to to­day over hun­dreds of years, and are now col­lected by the Na­tional Li­brary of China and Pek­ing Univer­sity Li­brary. A litho­graphic edi­tion printed in the Guangxu pe­riod (1871–1908) of the Qing Dy­nasty is more com­monly seen. In the twen­tyeighth year (1902) of the Guangxu pe­riod, the pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor of Jiangsu En Shou took the block-printed edi­tion of the Kangxi pe­riod as the mas­ter copy and printed 3,000 copies of Shengyu xiangjie with litho­graphic print­ing tech­niques af­ter cor­rect­ing mis­takes in it to change old cus­toms, carry for­ward tra­di­tions and pub­li­cise ci­vil­ity. From then on, this litho­graphic edi­tion has be­come more wide­spread.

The block-printed pic­tures of the Huizhou school in the book man­i­fest the su­perb skill of an era and place.

Shengyu xiangjie, a block-printed pic­ture book of the Huizhou school

Mei­hua xishen pu, China's first il­lus­trated book of plum blos­soms

“Ji­uge Tu God of Longevity” by Ming cal­lig­ra­pher Chen Hong­shou

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