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Illustrations of the Gardens of the Hall Encircled by Jade

Wang Tingna



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Credit: This document was presented and prepared by Professor Peter K. Bol of the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, Harvard University.

Wang Tingna and the Illustrations of the Gardens of the Hall Encircled by Jade

The Work

The Illustrations of the Garden Scenes of the Hall Encircled by Jade” is a handscroll, 24 cm high and 14.7 m long, which the viewer would unroll section by section, rather than viewing the whole as one would a hanging scroll. It is unusual: the original work was a long painted handscroll which was then used as the model for a series of engravings on wooden blocks (the prints were then joined together to make a new scroll). It is the longest continuous printed illustration ever produced. Only one example has been discovered in the twentieth century, and then in Japan; Fu Xihua purchased it and brought it to China, where it would be photographed and etched on the metal plates in the early 1960s. During the Cultural Revolution Mr. Fu s original was taken from him with much of his library and has been stolen or destroyed. This digital version is based on the reproduction which appeared in 1981 (Huancui tang yuanjing tu, Beijing: Renmin meishu chuban she).

The painter was Qiang Gong (fl. 1579-1616) from Suzhou, the artistic and literary center of Ming China. Qian was known for landscapes, architectural drawings, and figure painting. The famous illustrator of printed books Huang Yingzu carved the printed series.

The Subject

The scroll depicts the elaborate country estate of Wang Tingna, built in around 1600 in Wang Village, Xiuning county, Hui Prefecture, Anhui province. The estate survived in some form until the mid-19th century, when it was destroyed in the course of a civil war. Wang named his mansion the Hall Encircled by Jade” and referred to the larger estate that surrounded it by the appropriately humble A Hermit s Garden.”

A friend of Wang Tingna wrote:


To the north lies Mt. Songluo and to the west one gazes on Mt. Baiyue. Valleys and plains are surrounded by swirling colored cloud. In the most beautiful spot of all Wang built a mansion, the Hall Encircled by Jade,” with an abundance of jeweled terraces and elaborate galleries, exotic flowers and famous rocks. He also dug a lake of more than a hundred acres to surround the hall, which local people called His Honor s lake. Wang would stroll about in the garden, drinking wine and composing poems. People said the effect was no less than the garden of the Tang poet Wang Wei.

Dong Qichang, the most influential artist and calligrapher of the time, made a pilgrimage to Wang s estate and left a poem with the lines:


You have fabricated a famous spot, the most beautiful of its time, High officials and passing travelers all stop to visit, one on the heels of the other.

The Estate Owner: Wang Tingna (ca. 1569-after 1609)

Wang Tingna was the son of a very wealthy merchant who wanted him to become a literatus. He was a gifted student and soon came to the attention of some leading figures at the Ming s southern court at Nanjing. Transformed from merchant to literatus by his studies and circle of acquaintances he began to participate in the examination system. However, for he withdrew from the provincial examination when his father was dying and never again took an examination. He did eventually obtain an official title,, but not an appointment to an office.

Wang s life was spent in literary artistic circles. He wrote on the Classics, composed poetry, wrote numerous dramas, and even a famous chess manual. He was a collector and connoisseur of renown. He cultivating friendships with literary men and artists, officials interested in the arts and leading clerics. He liked to travel c touring scenic spots c and hold gatherings of friends. His friends included the author of the Peony Pavilion, Tang Xianzu¸ and the European missionary Matteo Ricci.

Wang also became a publisher (his publishing business was on his estate) of both extremely fine editions as well as cheap popular books of dramas. His publishing business specialized in illustrated books, and the best of them set a new standard in woodblock illustration.

(abstracted from Nancy Berliner, Wang Tingna and Illustrated Book Publishing in Huizhou,” Orientations 25.1 (1994): 67-75. The scroll from which the digital image was taken is courtesy of Philip K. Hu)