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Home is where the art is

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:46 ( China Daily )
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The need for survival demanded open-mindedness, which later served the Jiangnan society well, as it started to put greater emphasis on commerce and education. "From free markets to a sense of freedom intrinsic to literary pursuits, that spirit really provided Jiangnan with its lasting momentum," says Yang.

It is estimated that during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), more than 16 percent of all those who had passed the court examinations and were poised to enter bureaucracy were from the Jiangnan region. (Also during this time, Jiangnan became a national center for publishing and woodblock printing.)

One of them was the legendary artist-art theorist Dong Qichang (1555-1636) whose works and writings shaped literati aesthetics for the next 300 years. During his stay in Beijing, the Ming capital, Dong created a painted album for a friend who, toward the end of his office, was heading back home to Huating (modern-day Shanghai), also Dong's hometown.

One leaf from the album, exhibited at the exhibition on loan from the Shanghai Museum, is beguilingly titled West Lake. Instead of showing a view of Hangzhou's iconic scenic spot, this one depicts the rather more anonymous West Lake, situated in the hills to the west of Beijing. What was going through Dong's mind while working on this summer view is unquestionable.

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