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Along the River During Qingming

Festival (Qing Ming Shang He Tu 清明上河图) is a famous painting that made in near 11 centuries, in Zhang Zeduan’s life time, North Song dynasty, china. This painting shows the rural area in North Song dynasty’s capital, Kaifeng, and that painting clearly shows the city construction, economic development, and culture in Qingming Festival. Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese festival, Chinese people usually sacrifice their ancestor in this day. Along the River During the Qingming Festival is been known as one of the ten famous Chinese painting in history, this painting shows city construction, building styles, and economics in north song dynasty clearly and accurately. Also, every person in this painting wears different clothes and with different faces, that makes everything looks so true to the real world. Chinese people called this painting the number one masterpiece in Chinese painting history. [1]

Economy in North Song Dynasty

Along the River During Qingming Festival shows the economy in North Song dynasty. In the beginning of the painting, there was a market and a city gate. This is the inner city of Kaifeng, the third store from the gate have no sign and a professor in Peking University called Hang Kan thinks it is a tax office, and the goods in front it is waiting for checking and pay for tax. Then, on the left of the tax office, there’s a tall building, and it is the hotel in Kaifeng, all the hotel in the capital were fitment like that, and there’s 72 hotels were five stars, this is one of them, so this hotel can have character Zhengdian in its sign. [2]And also, this hotel has license of brew and sell alcohol, because the flag in front the door. In the North Song dynasty, all the brewers and shops that selling alcohol need have permit of the government, government set very high tax on alcohol, and every year, the alcohol tax will give government 400000 Guans (North Song dynasty’s currency, means thousand) income. So, Government have very strict control of the brew industry. There also has spice shop in the inner city, in Song dynasty, spice was used for fete the god and the ancestors, every year, the income of spice were even more than 500000 Guans, bigger than alcohol tax, so, only government can sell spice, and Song government also sell spice to Arabian and European countries, they use ship and Chinese called it spice trade. Also, in the painting, we can find some camels there, they are from middle Asia and west Asia, from Tang dynasty to Ming dynasty, China is always the trading center of the world, Arabian merchant will come to china, and take back silk, spice and ceramics back to West Asia, and sell to local people and European. In North Song dynasty, the population of Kaifeng is 1.3 million, and there has 400 thousand solider protect the capital, so the whole population is 1.7 million, much more than Constantinople and Baghdad.

City Contruction in North Song Dynasty

In this painting, the city construction was obviously different between North Song dynasty and former dynasties. From the West Zhou dynasty, near 11 centuries BC, Chinese government started to use Square city system to control the city, that means divided city into some small squares, each square has the wall and the gate, just like a small city, and between 9pm to 6am, all the residents should go back to their own square. Also, the business district was divided with the living district, and the business district only open at daytime, in the time, there will be no more business activity. In the painting, it shows the architecture style in North Song dynasty. All the building has crooked roof, for better lighting and beauty, architect started to use less pillars and sometimes they will change the position of pillars to make building bigger and good looking. There also have a bridge in the painting, this bridge is called Hong Qiao, that bridge shows the architecture technology in ancient china. The architect did not use tenon and nail to build this bridge, all the materials were binding and use no holder to support it. In two side of the bridge, it has sculpture the tiger’s head and lion’s head. This bridge was named as Four greatest old bridges in china, and other three is Zhao Zhou bridge, Guang Ji bridge and Wan An bridge. But unfortunately, because of fall of North Song dynasty and dry up of Bian river, this bridge has disappeared in the history. Also in the painting, there have some entertainment places, called Washe, Washe was first appeared in North Song dynasty and it is just like nowadays’ theater, in North Song dynasty, opera has developed very quickly so there started have theater for citizen to watch the opera.

Politics and Emperor in North Song Dynasty

This painting also shows the politics and official mission of North Song dynasty. Zhang Zeduan has served in Xuan He Hua Shi, means official painting agency for the emperor, because of the painting habit of Emperor Hui (reign time from 1100 AD to 1126 AD), he has set the Xuan He Hua Shi as his imperial painting agency, and all the painter there were same as the normal civil official, they have right to wear robe and have high salary. The biggest task for painters who served in Xuan He Hua Yuan is to paint portraiture for noble people and emperor, and they also need to paint some important event or festival, Qing Ming Shang He Tu (清明上河图) is the painting that record the Kaifeng in Qing Ming festival, and Zhang Zeduan sent it to the emperor. Emperor Hui have great talent in art, especially painting and calligraphy, historians of late ages called him the man good at everything, but expect been emperor. If he’s not an emperor, he may be a great artist, and North Song dynasty will last for a long time, but unfortunately, he’s still emperor. He only care about art, and lost his own work of control this country, and he is very crave for greatness and success, North Song dynasty has hundred years peace with its north neighbor, but Emperor Hui asked another country to attack its neighbor, and they wins it, but alliance has become enemy, and they started to attack north song dynasty. Then, Emperor Hui declare abdicate and let his son became emperor, then invader has surround Kaifeng, and his son even didn’t fight, just surrender to them, and invader caught both Emperor Hui and his son, and that’s the fall of North Song dynasty, and Chinese people call it Shame of Jingkang era. But emperor Hui was very good at calligraphy, he invents a typeface called Shou Jin Ti (thin gold), and he use this typeface write on this painting, he write down Qing Ming Shang He Tu (清明上河图), that is why this painting is called this name. [3]

Along the River During Qingming festival shows the best painting technologies and also shows the economy and city construction development in North Song dynasty, just like a live North Song dynasty’s encyclopedia, and it also shows the high tax and weak military In North Song dynasty, indicate the fall of North Song dynasty, it is be worthy of the number one masterpiece in Chinese painting history.


[1] Palace Museum, http://www.dpm.org.cn/www_oldweb/Big5/phoweb/Relicpage/2/R945.htm

[2] The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor (Dong Jing Meng Hua Lu 东京梦华录)

[3] People’s net, http://book.people.com.cn/n/2013/0329/c68880-20968117.html