2016 No.1
Jao Tsung-I Visiting Professor Public Lecture 2016: "The Possibilities and Limits of a Genre: Lyrical Pictures from the Ming by Professor Yuan Xingpei"
In 2013, CUHK set up the Visiting Professorship Scheme of the Institute of Chinese Studies and the University is truly honoured to have this Scheme named after Professor Jao Tsung-I. This year, it is our great honour to welcome Professor Yuan Xingpei as the Jao Tsung-I Visiting Professor.

Professor Yuan Xingpei, whose ancestral home is Wujin, Jiangsu, was born in Jinan, Shandong. Professor Yuan serves as Professor of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Director of the Faculty of Humanities, Dean of the Institute of Traditional Chinese Culture, Director of the International Academy for China Studies, and Editor-in-chief of Studies in Sinology at Peking University. Professor Yuan has held the posts of President of the Central Institute of Chinese Culture and History, Vice-Chairman of the China Democratic League, as well as a member of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council. He was also a member of the Eighth and Ninth National Committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and a member of the Tenth Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Professor Yuan's major works include Research on Chinese Poetical Art; General Introduction on Chinese Literature; Research on Tao Yuanming; Annotations of the Complete Works of Tao Yuanming; History of Chinese Literature (a volume on five dynasties, including the Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties, Sui and Tang, and a volume on the Yuan Dynasty) (Chief Editor); Studies on Chinese Poetry (co-authored); Reference Materials on History of Literature in Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties (Chief Editor); Self-selected Works of Yuan Xingpei, Contemporary Scholars Series; The Style and Characteristic of Tang Poetry; A Study on the Poetic Circles of High Tang (co-authored); History of Chinese Literature (Chief Editor); The History of Chinese Civilization (Chief Editor); and A Cultural Survey of Chinese Provinces (Chief Editor).

On 23 March 2016, Professor Yuan Xingpei gave a public lecture entitled "The Possibilities and Limits of a Genre: Lyrical Pictures from the Ming", a summary of which is reproduced below. (For more details, please refer to Professor Yuan's recent article "The Possibilities and Limits of a Genre: Lyrical Pictures from the Ming" in Literary Heritage, No.1., 2016.)

The lecture takes up the topic of shiyi hua 詩意畫 (lyrical pictures) and introduces notable examples of the genre produced by the ink painters Du Jin, Lu Zhi and Xiang Shengmo and woodblock-print works Tangshi wuyan huapu 《唐詩五言畫譜》and Mingjie zenghe qianjiashi《明解增和千家詩》from the Ming era.

Professor Yuan noted that the two most famous lyrical paintings of Du Jin are Jiuge tujuan 《九歌圖卷》and Guxian shiyi tujuan《古賢詩意圖卷》. Jiuge《九歌》depicts several gods and goddesses for local worshipping in the country of Chu. The poem leaves much free space for the painter's imagination. If the painter could depict the worshipping scene, activities and the facial expressions of the gods and goddesses, it would be a great work. However, Du Jin makes the mistake of drawing the gods and goddesses individually, with no worshipping scene, and the original meaning of the poem is lost. In a painting of the poem Yinzhong baxian ge《飲中八仙歌》in Guxian shiyitu 《古賢詩意圖》, Du Jin combines the originally independent eight poets into one picture and carefully depicts their different drunken gestures with fluent lines. The painting reflects the painter's rich imagination, which breaks through and transcends the limits of the original poem. It sets a high standard for other lyrical pictures.

Tangren shiyi tuce《唐人詩意圖冊》is a representative work by Lu Zhi. In the painting of the poem Jiangting qiuji《江亭秋霽》by the late Tang poet Li Ying, Lu Zhi simply sketches a hotel and a pool under several trees in the lower half of the picture, a winding bamboo fence in the middle, some flowers beyond the fence and a chain of mountains far away. The simple sketches fully capture the autumnal atmosphere of the poem, which expresses the poet's longing for his home town in Dongwu when he sees autumn scenes. It is another outstanding lyrical picture.

In Wangwei shiyi tuce《王維詩意圖冊》by Xiang Shengmo, every picture depicts two lines of Wangwei's poems, but many of the poems in the book are not actually written by Wangwei. In general, most pictures do not illustrate the original poems accurately. Some cannot capture the emotion of the original poems. Others can be taken as ordinary landscape paintings or pictures of other poems. These lyrical pictures do not show a special connection with their original poems, which is a common limitation of a lot of lyrical pictures.

Woodblock-print painting prospered from the Wangli years of the Ming dynasty. Tangshi wuyan huapu《唐詩五言畫譜》, the original kept by Mr. Zheng Zhengduo and now in the National Library of China, is one of the most precious materials for students of Ming woodblock-print lyrical pictures. In one anonymous picture of the poem Ouyu《偶題》by the late Tang poet Si Kongtu, the painter depicts a young lady falling in love with a young man. The painter carefully sketches a pavilion above water, cloudy flowers, peeping birds, the lady's mirror, the young man's horse and his whip. All the images are drawn with appropriate detail and displayed in perfect positions, which reflects the painter's supreme artistic talent. The two ladies in the picture are watching the young man attentively and their expressions are vividly illustrated. It is the best painting in Tangshi wuyan huapu《唐詩五言畫譜》. 

The colourful woodblock-print painting Mingjie zenghe qianjiashi zhu《明解增和千家詩注》, in the collection of the National Library of China, is especially valuable because it is the only copy in the world. The thick paper, broad pattern, yellow silk on the cover page, standardized scripts and mineral pigments suggest that the painting is probably a text book for a prince of the late Ming dynasty. The pictures in the book are quite similar in style. Most of them illustrate one or two lines of a poem in great detail so that readers can understand the poems better. However, most of the pictures are merely descriptive illustrations of the poetic texts.

According to Professor Yuan, different painters interpret the same poem in different ways. Poems allow a lot of room for the painter's own imagination, which is expressed in the details of the painting. The artistic value of the paintings thus depends on how well the painter understands the different forms of poetry and painting and how successfully the transition between them is made. Poets make use of rhythmic language to depict scenes, and to express emotions and opinions through a process of turning objects into images and finally into an artistic conception. The whole process depends on imagination, but the poet's imagination may be very different from that of readers in different regions and at different times. Painters thus have the freedom to project their own imaginings of a poem through their lyrical paintings, although when a picture is completed only a single image is left for the appreciator. Multiple imaginative possibilities are fixed on a detailed picture. Lyrical painting is thus a process of turning artistic conceptions into images and finally into objects.

Poems and paintings process objects and express meanings in very different ways. The most important feature of a poem lies in the open imaginative possibilities that it creates for readers. When a painter tries to depict a poem in a picture, he has to choose one image out of the many possibilities and turn the opening space of imagination into a single and closed form, limiting the expressive power of the poem.

Back to Issue
Interview with Professor Chang Song-hing: Fifty Years at CUHK
Jao Tsung-I Visiting Professor Public Lecture 2016: "The Possibilities and Limits of a Genre: Lyrical Pictures from the Ming by Professor Yuan Xingpei"
2016 Institute of Chinese Studies Luncheon I: "Deng Erya's Calligraphy: A Discourse Originating from the Collection of the Art Museum"
Event: Opening Ceremony of "Erudition in Ink: The Calligraphy of Sheung Chun-ho", Art Museum
Public Seminar: Gold Working Techniques of Ancient China, Art Museum
Event: Let's Celebrate the Year of the Monkey, Art Museum
Event: Music for CM Li and You: The Lantern Festival Concert
Event: Academic Lectures and Roundtable Discussion, Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture
Event: Documentary Screening Series, Co-organised by Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture and Universities Service Centre for China Studies
Event: The Fourth Renditions Distinguished Lecture Series on Literary Translation, Research Centre for Translation
Event: Translators in the Making of Chinese Translation History, The First International Conference on Chinese Translation History, Research Centre for Translation
New Publications
Young Scholars' Forum in Chinese Studies 2016, jointly organised by CUHK–Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre for Chinese Studies (APC) and ICS will be held on 19–21 May 2016
Exhibition: Erudition in Ink: The Calligraphy of Sheung Chun-ho, Art Museum (27 February 2016 – 22 May 2016)
Editorial Board Committee
Past Issues
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