Friday, 14 January 2011

Qing Ming on the River - scroll in action

Qing Ming on the River (清明上河圖)(Ching ming seung ho toh), one of the great iconic paintings of Chinese heritage. The original was painted by Zhang Zeduang (張擇端)(1085-1145). It shows the Song Dynasty capital (modern Kaifeng)on the Huanghe (Yellow River) in north east China.The painting is 5.3 metres long, (210 inches) but narrow because it was painted on a scroll, which can be "read" as the scroll unfolds. Panoramas like this were painted for the nobility, who could study their realm in private contemplation.

The Qing Ming Festival is held in mid-spring, so people go out into the countryside to sweep the graves of their ancestors, which especially in the far north have been cut off by harsh snowbound winter. Qing Ming is thus a festival to celebrate nature and the arival of new life. That's why the scroll depicts the Imperial city bustling with activity. The market's busy, the streets are full of people. Merchants on camels enter the city gates from the west. Along the river many different types of boats, cargo vessels, pleasure boats, etc, their sailors piuctured pulling ropes, sailing, shouting to each other. In the town, teahouses and streetfood stalls. Beggars and rich men, children, workmen and old folks. There are hundreds of figures in this painting, so following it is like a glimpse into another world.

Panoramas like this unfold like film, though of course silent and in one dimension. Most people will never see the actual paintings close-up like Emporers did, so there's a vogue for putting them on film for all to see. Last summer, in Shanghai, there was a fantastic animated version. As vieweres moved through the hall, the figures moved, as if they were alive,. (Animations are much more popular in China than in the west).

Modern technology applied to ancient art. But the purpose is exactly the same, the idea being that we can look in on an experience documented by a painter 1000 years ago for others to learn from. Below is a clip of the Hong Kong exhibition last November. There was a moat between the audience and film, extending the idea of the river. Daylight turned to night, lanterns illuminated, and you could see inside houses in 3D.  It took about half an hour to progress through, huge crowds, all chattering away with wonder, mobile cameras flashing. But I think that was very much a part of the experinece. The painting was meant to show the people, and now the people themslves are part of the show. Listen to the excited comments "The kid's chasing a pig". "The boats are moving!" Outisde the cooked food stall, someone says "Exactly like now!" which is absolutely true. I've found a series of high quality film of the whole thing but for starters here's a short clip. BEST watched FULL SCREEN and volume down.There's also a HD professional quality version with close ups and well informed commentary from Hong Kong TV. Click on the link, as it's good though not in English)

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