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Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

In Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is related to the legendary fairy Chang E, the Moon Goddess. We often see a hare, her loyal companion, and an osmanthus tree in the picture with her against a background of the Moon Palace. However, why does Chang E often hold an osmanthus sprig, and what does she have to do with scholars attending civil-service examinations? Let’s invite Dr Yibin Ni to explain to you with his interesting literary research findings.

Correctly identifying figures is crucial to deciphering an obscure story scene. Looking at this featured image, for example, some may think that the two figures in non-specific attires on a dragon and a phoenix are anonymous Daoist immortals. But Dr Yibin Ni would tell you the story otherwise…

On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar Chinese year, young men and women will celebrate their traditional ‘Valentine’s Day’, Qixi Festival (七夕节). The custom can be traced back to an ancient story.

Pictorial artworks with figural scenes in traditional China often have historical and cultural significance and are not to be mistaken for daily life genre painting. Here is an example and Dr Yibin Ni will explain to you the hidden meaning in the scene of Seasoning the Stew with Sour Prunes.

The Peony Pavilion is a famous play written by Tang Xianzu in Ming Dynasty. There are very few figural paintings depicting this play on Kangxi famille verte porcelain. Dr Yibin Ni first identified the figures and the scene on a porcelain dish in the V&A Museum at the turn of the millennium, and now is discussing a couple of incorrect details in the description of the scene in their online catalogue.

This is a republication of Dr Yibin Ni’s article written in Chinese “明末清初瓷器上张生的‘凝视’和莺莺的挑战”(Gaze from Scholar Zhang and the response from Lady Cui Yingying: a discussion of figural depiction on porcelains from Late Ming to Early Qing dynasty).

European descriptions of porcelain paintings that have story scenes tend to describe ‘figures and surroundings’, rather than identifying them. Thus, a large part of those beautiful stories intended by pot painters was lost in the description. Here are some examples…

Have you wondered why the same story scenes were painted differently on Chinese artworks? How was it painted to present women falling in love on Chinese antique porcelains? Read on to see what Dr Yibin Ni has to say with his analysis.

Mr Henk B. Nieuwenhuys from the Netherlands is the first foreigner who has kindly donated his art collection to China. Here are short video clips from a documentary made for this special event, in which Dr Yibin Ni was invited to introduce Nieuwenhuys’ antique collection and the story depicted on the porcelain bottle.

Do you wonder why there is a goat drawing a carriage, rather than a horse, on traditional Chinese art pictures? Why are there so many people watching someone in a chariot? What is the story behind it? Here is what Dr Yibin Ni has to tell you.

This is an overview by Dr Yibin Ni on how the topic of ‘The Birthday Party of the Queen Mother of the West’ was depicted on Chinese artworks, from woodblock print during Ming dynasty to scroll painting and porcelains in Qing dynasty.

This is Scene Five of Book Two of the Chinese classic popular drama Romance of the Western Chamber (西厢记 Xixiang ji).

At a family dinner party, Zhang Junrui’s (张君瑞, also called Scholar Zhang 张生) dream of marrying Yingying (莺莺) the love of his life was shattered by Yingying’s mother because he was a nobody with no respectable official’s position.

This drove him to thoughts of suicide. He tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol, and had to be supported by the maid Hongniang (红娘) to return to his own quarters. His desperation moved Hongniang. She suggested that he express his passion through a performance of the qin (琴) zither and she would arrange for Yingying to hear it on their way to their incense-burning ceremony in the evening.

When Yingying was led to pass Scholar Zhang’s quarters, Hongniang coughed to send Zhang a signal, in line with their secret prior arrangement. Zhang started to pour his heart out through the enchanting music that his deft fingers were playing. It did the trick: Yingying’s heart was melting!

image identification and story scene description by Dr Yibin Ni 

Other episodes in the Romance of the Western Chamber:

Scholar Zhang Embarking on His Journey to Sit for Civil-Service Examinations 张生赶考

Consummation of love from Western Chamber 月下佳期

Yingying receiving good news delivered by the pageboy 泥金报捷

Duke Mu of the Qin State (秦穆公, died 621 BCE) was one of the so-called Five Hegemons (五霸 wuba) in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BCE) (春秋 chunqiu). He had a daughter named ‘Nongyu (弄玉, meaning Playing Jade)’, who was a talented musician excelling at playing the sheng (笙 mouthorgan). Nongyu only wanted to marry her musical match so a recluse genius xiao (箫 flute) player, Xiao Shi (萧史), was discovered and brought to the duke.

The duke was not keen on Xiao Shi at first when he learned that the young man’s musical instrument was different from his daughter’s. However, Nongyu, who was sitting behind the screen listening to the audience, asked Xiao Shi to play a piece on his flute. Xiao did.

As soon as the first piece ended, a gust of fresh air blew in. When the tune resumed, gold-laced rosy clouds gathered from the four directions in the sky. During the third performance, a couple of white cranes danced in front of the duke’s terrace and peacocks flew in! Experiencing the magic spectacle, the duke was pleasantly amazed and his daughter cried with joy, ‘This is my man!’ It happened to be the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the traditional calendar and was supposed to be the lucky day of their marriage. They had their wedding on that very night.

The couple lived happily together for years while Xiao Shi taught his wife to imitate the singing of phoenixes on her musical instrument. Whenever they played together on the high pavilion terrace named ‘Phoenix Terrace’ specially built for them, phoenixes would flock around them. One day, the couple rode on the divine birds ascending to heaven.

The story scene depicted on the Kangxi plate in the collection of the British Museum and on the Kangxi vase in the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY was first deciphered by Dr Yibin Ni. More detailed discussion as well as parody of this scene is available here.

The seventh day of the seventh month of the traditional Chinese year is the Chinese ‘Valentine’s Day’, Qixi Festival (七夕节). The custom can be traced back to an ancient story about a weaver girl and a cowherd:

Once upon a time, one of the daughters of the Lord of the Heaven lived on the east side of the Milky Way and she worked by the loom day in and day out, weaving fabrics as light as cloud for fairies, thus known as the ‘Weaving Maiden (织女 zhi nv)’. Later, her father allowed her to be married to the ‘Herd Boy (牛郎 niu lang)’ living across the Milky Way. But her father got angry with her because he thought she neglected her weaving duty after the marriage and summoned her back to the east side of the Milky Way, allowing her to reunite with her husband only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the traditional Chinese year. In order to help the maiden to reach the other side of the Milky Way, flocks of magpies would have an annual gathering on that day to form a bridge.

In the heart of the Chinese people, the story of the Weaving Maiden and Herd Boy has epitomised as a symbol for lovers separated by various kinds of obstacles and their longing of reunion.

More discussion on this topic is available in Dr Yibin Ni’s blog here.

Diao Mei He Geng 调梅和羹’ is a metaphor that likens the art of governing a country to the adequate seasoning of a stew with salt and sour prunes. The scene is often made up of a group of women or men surrounding a stove, on which a cauldron of food is being cooked, with an assistant holding a container with sour prunes.

In the Commentary of Zuo (左传 Zuo Zhuan), one of the oldest Chinese history books, written during the 4th century BCE, there is a famous passage in which the right method of preparing a perfectly seasoned stew is linked to the proper way of maintaining a harmonious relationship between the lord and his vassal. The statesman Yan Ying (晏婴 578-500 BCE) says to the Duke Jing of Qi (齐景公 Qi Jinggong, r. 547-490 BCE): ‘The cook blends the ingredients and balances them according to the right taste, adding whatever is lacking and negating whatever is excessive (宰夫和之,齐之以味;济其不及,以泄其过).’

From then on, the phrase 和羹 hegeng, ‘seasoning the stew’, or 调梅 diaomei, ‘seasoning the stew with sour prunes’, or 调鼎 tiaoding, ‘seasoning the food in the cauldron’, has been widely used to refer to the business of ‘governing the country’, or, specifically, ‘serving as the prime minister to the emperor’.

This classic pictorial allusion depicted in the centre of the Kangxi plates in the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was first unveiled by Dr Yibin Ni. His research article on this topic is available here.

Examples of governors with good reputation:

Chen Ping Dividing Meat 陈平分肉

Bing Ji Inquiring about a Panting Buffalo 丙吉问牛喘

The Boot-Swapping Ceremony for the Departing Governor 民赞清官留旧靴

‘True love conquers all’ is the theme of the Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭 Mudan Ting), a musical play of fifty-five scenes written by Tang Xianzu (汤显祖, 1550-1616) in Ming dynasty. Also known as The Romance of Return of Soul (还魂记 Huanhun Ji), the play contains a supernatural love story between Du Liniang (杜丽娘), the only daughter of the Nan’an prefect (南安太守) Mr. Du, and Liu Mengmei (柳梦梅), a civil-service examination candidate. At the beginning of the play, there was a passionate rendezvous of the two in the form of Liniang’s dream in the back garden with vigorously budding bushes during a warm spring afternoon. The encounter was so indelible to the adolescent girl that she eventually died of longing for her ‘dream’ lover. The play narrates how the couple overcome all the obstacles along the way to their union. Their experiences transcend not only time and space but also life and death.

The story scene depicted in the centre of the Shunzhi bowl in the Butler collection and the Kangxi dish in the collection of the V&A Museum was first unveiled by Dr Yibin Ni. His research article with pictorial and literary evidence is available for view here.

References:

  1. 倪亦斌:《明末时尚女子的情色告白》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社, 2004-03, pp.72-73.
  2. 倪亦斌:《明末时尚女子的情色告白》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp.1-10.

The Ming-dynasty play The Story of the Blue Robe (青袍记 Qingpao ji, also called《梁氏父子传胪记》) tells the story of how Lv Dongbin (吕洞宾 Lü Dongbin or 吕纯阳), one of the Eight Daoist Immortals (八仙 baxian), survived a catastrophe with the help of Liang Hao 梁灏 and repaid him by ensuring him to be able to enjoy the highest academic title, longevity, and a flourishing extended family.

A scholar named Liang Hao in Song dynasty was the human form taken by the God of Literacy when he was disgraced to be sent to the human world. Once the Thunder God and Lightning Goddess were ordered to cleanse the earth with seven days of thunderstorm. This was the ordeal which Lv Dongbin, Liu Hai 刘海, Iron-Crutch Li 铁拐李, Han Shan 寒山, and Shi De 拾得 were all predestined to go through. Liang Hao helped Lv Dongbin by letting him hide in his fingernail as a grain. After Lv Dongbin survived the disaster, he decided to repay Liang Hao by leaving him with his good wishes for a successful career, longevity, and many successful descendants.

The next day, Liang Hao invited his three friends over and dined and wined them on a boat. Towards the evening, two of the friends said that they heard that there was a spirit in the Pavilion of Looking at Immortals (望仙楼) and whoever spent a night there would come under its spell. They dared Liang Hao to spend the night there for a reward of a tael of silver. Liang Hao took up the challenge and stayed in the pavilion reading by a lamp. Lv Dongbin thought that this was an opportunity and mobilised a willow-tree spirit (柳树精 liushu jing) to carry a girl to Liang to be his future wife. Since the girl was taken from her bed and arrived naked, Liang Hao had to wrap her in his blue robe, hence the title of the play. Liang Hao sent the girl to spend the night with his mother and the following day the girl’s parents were informed of the event and happily married their daughter to Liang Hao.

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

In traditional Chinese customs, the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunisolar calendar is regarded as one of the most dangerous days of the year when evil spirits and hazardous creatures lurked around. Notably, five noxious creatures were identified, known as ‘Five Poisons (五毒 wǔ dú)’. Initially, they are the centipede, the lizard, the scorpion, the snake, and the toad.

In order to deal with the hazards and quell the evil spirits more effectively, the exorcising power was personified as a ‘heavenly master’, often riding a tiger. A Dream of Sorghum (梦梁录 Mengliang Lu), an account of the daily-life in the capital Lin’an (臨安, modern-day Hangzhou 杭州) during the Southern Song dynasty (南宋, 1127-1279) is one of the earliest sources to mention the ‘Heavenly Master Zhang (张天师)’ as a Duanwu festival (端午节) decoration. An effigy of him made from calamus or the rice-paper plant would be hung on the lintel, sometimes together with heads of the tiger and other auspicious beasts, to protect the household.

History of the Ming Court (明宫史 Ming Gongshi), a Ming-dynasty book mentions that pictures of the Heavenly Master, or a young deity, or a fairy subduing the Five Poisons with a sword would be framed and hung on the lintel for a whole month, just like the door gods during the Chinese New Year (‘门上悬挂吊屏,上画天师或仙子、仙女执剑降毒故事’). Such images are now still available on porcelain, metal ornaments, and embroidered fabric.

For further interesting discussions regarding the personified image of the Heavenly Master, please read Dr Yibin Ni‘s blog here.

Li Yuan 李渊 (566-635 CE) excelled at horse-riding, archery, and calligraphy as a young man. He was to be the future founder (reigned 618-626 CE) of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). Miss Dou was exceptionally smart and her father Dou Yi 窦毅, the governor of Dingzhou, was very particular about the quality of his future son-in-law. The family decided to erect a screen with two peacocks painted on it and announced whoever could shoot two arrows on each of the peacock’s eye would be qualified to win Miss Dou’s hand. Dozens of young men entered for the competition but left with disappointment because of failure in achieving the full score. Li Yuan as a later comer managed to hit the eye of each peacock with the two arrows and thus captured Miss Dou’s hand.

The Eight Immortals (八仙 ba xian, in Chinese) are eight colourful Daoist personalities well-known in Chinese popular culture for over seven hundred years. 仙 (xian) in Chinese means ‘those who have achieved longevity, immortality, and enlightenment’ and their artistic characterisation in extant dates back as early as the 3rd-century BCE, as ‘a male figure riding on a dragon’. Xian immortals can live on air and dew, fly without wings, and are resistant to the harmful effects of the elements. They possess many desirable traits in human society such as being free from anxiety, acting with spontaneity, and even forever having skin as smooth as that of a baby.

The Eight Immortals represent a wide spectrum of the society: male and female, rich and privileged and poor and downtrodden, old and young. They are Zhongli Quan (钟离权, or 汉钟离), Lv Dongbin (吕洞宾, or Lü Dongbin), Cao Guojiu (曹国舅), Han Xiangzi (韩湘子), He Xiangu (何仙姑), Lan Caihe (蓝采和), Li Tieguai (李铁拐), Zhang Guolao (张果老). Each of the Eight Immortals typically has specific emblems as his or her distinctive attribute. Zhongli Quan holds a fan or peach. Lv Dongbin has a sword. Cao Guojiu carries a clapper of several long, flat pieces of wood, or an official’s writing tablet in court, hu (笏). Han Xiangzi plays a bamboo flute. He Xian’gu, the only female among the eight, carries a stem of lotus flower or a long-handled bamboo colander. Lan Caihe has a basket of flowers. Li Tieguai leans on his iron crutch with a gourd often in his hand. Zhang Guolao, the oldest among the eight, is usually identified with his membranophone fish drum (渔鼓 yugu). These emblems can be used independently in decoration as the ‘Covet Eight Immortals (暗八仙 an ba xian)’.

Romance of the Western Chamber (西厢记 Xixiang ji) is the most popular love comedy in late imperial China. In the story, Scholar Zhang (张生) falls in love with a beautiful lady named Cui Yingying (崔莺莺), who happens to be stranded in a monastery with her widowed mother and, after plenty of twists and turns, the young couple consummate their love under the nose of Yingying’s mother without her approval.

There is a popular motif on early Qing porcelain which vividly depicts a scene in the Act ‘Consummation of Love’ of the play Romance of the Western Chamber. Eventually, Scholar Zhang has persuaded the lady he has been courting to come to his quarters. Zhang is holding a candle in one hand to light the way with his left arm around Lady Yingying’s shoulders. He is almost dragging the shy lady towards the doorway with the candle noticeably tilting forward. Ahead of them, Yingying’s maid Hongniang (红娘) leads the way. She is carrying a folded duvet under her arms in case Scholar Zhang’s quilts were too shabby for the occasion, while she cannot help turning her head back, stealing glances at this thrilling human drama rare in her mundane life.

Motifs evolve during their use and spread. When the same image is adopted on an enamelled dish made in late Kangxi period, the maid Hongniang is abbreviated and the couple look much more relaxed, seemingly enjoying each other’s company. Zhang’s arm remains around Yingying’s shoulders and his hand that holds the candle stick is much surer and steadier. The couple are not moving towards a concrete door of Zhang’s bedroom, as they do in the two earlier examples. Instead, a dubious curved bridge or a planked passageway appeared behind them. It no longer serves a narrative function to indicate the locale of the event but only satisfies decorative needs in the graphic composition.

image identification and literature research: by Dr Yibin Ni 

Other stories from Romance of the Western Chamber:

Yingying Receiving Good News Delivered by the Pageboy 泥金报捷

Scholar Zhang Embarking on His Journey to Sit for Civil-Service Examinations 张生赶考

Wang Zhaojun (王昭君, c.52 – c.15 BCE) was one of the court ladies in the harem of Emperor Yuan of the Western Han dynasty (汉元帝, 206 BCE – 8 CE). It was not possible for the emperor to meet every one of the three-thousand concubines, so he had a court painter paint their pictures to facilitate his selection process. Every lady tried very hard to win the painter’s favour so that the painter can represent them in a more flattering image. But Lady Wang Zhaojun was confident in her own beauty. She didn’t want to bribe the painter. As a result, the painter didn’t show her beauty in the portrait and the emperor never noticed her.

During that time, some nomadic groups from the western region invaded China quite often, so the emperor wanted to make peace with them by marrying some of his ladies to the chieftains. On one occasion, Lady Wang was chosen. When Lady Wang was unveiled at the court, her beauty stunned everybody present and the emperor was deeply regretted for not knowing her earlier. However, it was too late for the emperor to keep her and he had to let her go.

The journey to the new home was long and arduous so Lady Wang was given a pipa (琵琶), a Chinese musical instrument, to pass time and the pipa became her signature attribute. Because of her marriage with the Xiongnu (匈奴) chieftain, the region remained peaceful for decades. Lady Wang Zhaojun was credited as one of the four most beautiful women in the whole Chinese history.

More interesting reading:

Dr Yibin Ni explains in his blog the provenance of the porcelain bottle in Fig 1.

In Zhuangzi (庄子), an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BCE)  and one of the two foundational texts of Daoism, the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) was mentioned as a deity who ‘obtained the Dao (the Way)’. According to the Scripture of Great Peace (Taiping jing 太平经), a valuable resource for researching early Daoist beliefs and the society at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD25 – AD220), the Queen Mother of the West was an immortal (xian 仙). In the Six Dynasties period (420 – 589), she was adopted into the pantheon of religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教) as the principal female deity in the Supreme Secret Essentials (Wushang miyao 无上秘要), a Daoist encyclopaedia completed in 577.

The scene of the celebration of the Queen Mother’s birthday typically consists of three components: first, a female dignitary seated before a screen, flanked by a couple of court ladies and entourage; a dancer gesticulating with her arms, often on a rug; an all-female orchestra playing various kinds of musical instruments.

Read more of Dr Yibin Ni’s research work on this topic.

The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival falls on the night of full moon in the eighth lunar month. Chang’e, the Moon Goddess, is usually associated with this family-union occasion, together with the festival food – the moon cake (月饼). A legend recorded in an ancient Chinese book, The Huainanzi (淮南子 The Discourses of the Huainan Masters), compiled around 139 BCE, says that a beautiful girl called Chang’e (嫦娥) has been living on the moon for thousands of years. Chang’e’s husband was the legendary archer, Hou Yi (or Houyi 后羿), and he was given the elixir of immortality by the Queen Mother of the West (西王母 Xiwangmu) for his merits. Out of boredom and curiosity, Chang’e tasted the elixir. As a result, she turned into an immortal. Her body became so light that she ascended to heaven, ending up in the nearest planet, the moon. On the moon, there was a huge osmanthus tree, a toad, and a hare grinding the tree bark with a pestle in a mortar to prepare some magic cure. The adorable hare became Chang’e’s loyal companion. Chang’e also gradually evolved into the role of the osmanthus sprig giver from the Moon Palace.

In one of the earliest story scenes of Chang’e’s extraordinary feat, she has a human body and a dragon’s rear end. The moon is marked by the toad in the middle. Both Chang’e and the moon are floating among vapour clouds and ball-like stars and planets. This stone carving was excavated from a Han-dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) tomb in the outskirts of Nanyang city, Henan province in 1964.

On a Tang-dynasty (618-907) bronze mirror in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Chang’e, her entourage, and specific environment attributes are fully displayed. Chang’e appears as a beautiful fairy in a silk gown with sashes flying around her body. The hare has his set of a pestle and a mortar beside him. On the right, there is the huge osmanthus tree, under which is the toad, symbolising the moon, the embodiment of the essence of the yin energy (阴精). The tortoise is a longevity symbol in traditional China because they were believed to be able to live for a thousand years by the ancients. It was added to the scene as the knob of the mirror, since scenes involving immortals are often used as longevity symbols and thus birthday presents for elders.

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chang’e was still used to adorn daily utensils and display ornaments to imbue the environment with auspicious aura. The cute hare adds femininity to the design and therefore was popular in women’s inner chambers.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni

Related symbolic motif:

Plucking a Sprig of Osmanthus Blossom from the Moon Palace 蟾宫折桂

The osmanthus tree prominent in the Moon Palace came to be a symbol for elite talents in the Jin dynasty 晋朝 (265-420). In around Tang dynasty (618-907), ‘plucking a sprig of osmanthus blossom’ became a metaphor for ‘becoming a top contestant who passes the civil-service examinations with flying colours’. Since there was a famous osmanthus tree in the Moon Palace and Chang’e the Moon Goddess (嫦娥) was the perfectly presentable permanent resident there, she gradually evolved into the role of the osmanthus sprig giver. Just like the Greek goddess Nike who rewarded winning warriors with a wreath of laurel leaves, Chang’e with a small branch of osmanthus flowers symbolised academic success in imperial China. Thus, art works bearing images of Chang’e bestowing a sprig of osmanthus blossom to scholars have become suitable presents for those who sit for exams ever since.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni

Related research article:

The legend of Chang’e the Moon Goddess and her bestowing osmanthus blossom to scholars

With strategic plans to restore the war-torn country back to order, the talented scholar Li Jing (李靖) was paying a visit to the powerful Lord Yang Su (杨素), who enjoyed luxurious ways of living and female company around him. To Li Jing’s disappointment, Lord Yang did not take his plans seriously. However, Red Fly Whisk (红拂女 hongfu nv as nickname, real name 张凌华), an exceptionally beautiful maid who was present at the meeting, immediately fell head over heels for Li Jing, while Li was passionately airing his ambitious views to Lord Yang.

Read more story of Li Jing and Red Fly Whisk with the other hero Zhang Zhongjian (张仲坚, nicknamed the Curly-Bearded Fellow 虬髯客), who left all his possessions to the couple and went overseas to start his new life.

Read Dr Yibin Ni‘s interesting analysis on How to depict the scene of falling-in-love on Chinese porcelain.

Wei Jie (卫玠, 286-312) was admired as a handsome “jade man’ when he appeared in his signature goat-drawn carriage in town. Wei Jie shone like a piece of gleaming diamond whichever company he was in.

On 17th century porcelain, the goat-drawn carriage and the fruit-throwing antics to Pan An (潘安, 247-300), another famous and adorable man, from respective historical sources were often combined to form one spectacular story scene. Read related blog here.

References:

  1. 倪亦斌:《掷果盈车数潘安, 陈年旧事女看男》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社,2006-10, pp.102-103.
  2. 倪亦斌:《掷果盈车数潘安, 陈年旧事女看男》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp. 173-176.

The second half of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century saw a couple of most handsome men in the history of China. For example, Pan An 潘安 (247-300) was exceptionally cute and adorable when he was an adolescent. Women who spotted him in the street would circle around him and throw fruits into his chariot as a fanatic gesture of affection and admiration. He usually returned home with a harvest.

Further interesting discussion: How Chinese People Reacted to Handsome Men in Ancient Times

Another famous handsome figure in ancient China:

Wei Jie 卫玠

References:

  1. 倪亦斌:《掷果盈车数潘安, 陈年旧事女看男》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社,2006-10, pp.102-103.
  2. 倪亦斌: 《掷果盈车数潘安,陈年旧事女看男》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp. 173-176.

A scholar official in Song dynasty Sima You (司马槱) dreamed of a beautiful girl presenting him the first half of a song, which he later developed into a full version called Huangjinlv (黄金缕). The girl was none other than a famous courtesan Su Xiaoxiao (苏小小) who lived by the Qiantang River and was in the local high society centuries earlier, an embodiment of the Southern sophisticated culture that the Northern young man absolutely adored. Since he had chanced on her relics in his backyard and gave her a proper burial the previous afternoon, the girl appeared in his dream to show gratitude to him.

The story scene on the Butler dish and the Cizhou pillow was first deciphered by Dr Yibin Ni.

References:

  1. Yibin Ni (2002) The Shunzhi Emperor and the Popularity of Scenes from the Romance of the Western Wing on Porcelain, Treasures from an Unknown Reign: Shunzhi Porcelain, Art Services Intl, p.78.
  2. 倪亦斌:《被遗忘的<钱塘梦>》,《艺术世界》, 上海: 上海文艺出版社, 2004-04, pp.74-75.
  3. 倪亦斌:《被遗忘的<钱塘梦>》,《看图说瓷》, 北京: 中华书局, 2008, pp.11-18.

Other dream scene on antique artworks:

A Startled Romantic Dream in the Back Garden 杜丽娘游园惊梦