Viewing a Remnant of the Sixth Scroll of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour
The original scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour are all richly colored paintings on silk painted in the detailed realistic style.1 Wang Huiling, one of the "four masters of the early Qing," served as head painter. Also participating in the project were the painters Leng Mei, Yang Jin, Wang Yun, Song Junye, Xu Mei, Yu Yuan, Wu Zhi, and Gu Fang.2 The present scroll painting depicts the entire trip of the Kangxi emperor's second of six southern tours, taken in 1689. It is an important work among the palace paintings of the early Qing period (1644–1911). The entire painting comprised twelve scrolls, of which nine complete scrolls are extant, namely the first through the fourth, the seventh, and the ninth through the twelfth. These are housed in such collections as those of the Palace Museum in Beijing, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Guimet Museum in Paris. The whereabouts of the fifth, sixth, and eighth scrolls were formerly unknown. The style of these originals is exceptionally realistic, fine, and resplendent.
According to the system and usual practice for creating Qing palace paintings, for all important works the artist had first to draw a rough sketch. The emperor then reviewed the sketch and offered suggestions for revision. Only then, was the principal work painted. Hence, artists painting The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour left behind several paper scrolls of rough sketches, and these sketches provide us with valuable material sources for understanding and researching the creation process of this magnificent work.3
It was previously thought that the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour was lost. Toward the end of 2009 Sotheby's Hong Kong called me in Beijing and told me that they recently discovered the remnant of a scroll painting. From the sample images sent to me, I at first thought that this was a paper-scroll painting, and since the painting had in it Jinshan (Gold Hill) beside the Yangtze River, I thought that it might be a rough sketch for a scroll of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour. In January 2010, I visited Hong Kong for the express purpose of viewing this remnant. From inspection I discovered, to my surprise, that this painting was a portion of the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour. This was really a pleasant surprise.
First, let me describe the scroll remnant that I saw. This artwork, a richly colored painting on silk, had already been neatly cut and is missing portions before and after. The remaining portion is 68 centimeters tall and 362 centimeters wide, the height being the same as that of the extant works of the same name in the museums. The head section of the scroll is still intact, in excellent condition. It is labeled "Scroll no. 6 of the Southern Tour, from Guazhou, across the Yangtze River, up Jinshan, and through Changzhoufu," in characters perfectly matching in style those of the other labels on the extant scrolls. Unfortunately, the detailed description of the Kangxi emperor's route, found on the other scrolls, is missing. The scenes that remain are, first, the isle Jiaoshan, shrouded in fog, in the middle of the Yangtze River. Farther down, numerous ships and boats ply the river. On the bank appears a city wall, with a gate, festooned with streamers, through which officials and pedestrians are passing to and fro. In front of the gate is a wooden makeshift bridge and wharf extending into the river's waters. Above the city gate is the city's name, Guazhou. Farther on, the river becomes more crowded with the ships and boats. In the middle of the river appears a larger isolated isle with rugged crags and luscious flora. At the top of the isle is written the name Jinshan. Pitched on a level area at the base of the hill are colored tents, and under one tent sits a venerable individual, attended by a group of court officials. Though the face on this figure is extremely small, one can still make out his majestic attire and countenance. This venerable individual is none other than the Kangxi emperor on a southern tour. The painting abruptly ends here.
As I understand circumstances or from what I can infer, during the Qing period all artwork with the emperor's image was stored in the Shouhuang Dian on Jingshan within the imperial city north of the Forbidden City, and the twelve scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour were no exception. In 1900 when the Eight-Nation Alliance attacked and entered Beijing, many paintings depicting the Qing emperor and empress stored in the Shouhuang Dian were lost, with most of the plunder ending up in France. This is because, when the Eight-Nation Allied Force occupied Beijing, the French army had control of the area where the Shouhuang Dian was located. Hence, some paintings of the emperor and empress formerly in the Qing palace collection were plundered by occupying French forces (especially high-ranking officers) and carried off to Europe as the spoils of war. Consequently, many paintings of this type first appear in France and gradually make their way onto the auction block as a result of this unfortunate period in modern Chinese history. Hence, I infer that this remnant of the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour first appeared in France.4 I once thought that the scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour that circulated in Europe were plundered either by the English and French Allied Force at the Old Summer Palace in 1860 or by the Eight-Nation Allied Force in 1900. I now feel that there is little possibility that they were plundered by the English and French Allied Force. They ought to have been originally stored in the Shouhuang Dian on Jing Hill, and were likely plundered by the French Army taking part in the Eight-Nation Alliance.
Each of the twelve scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour were extremely long, from more than ten meters to more than thirty meters. The remnant of the sixth scroll before us is only a portion of the original, far short of the original length. Though the painting has been damaged, the two edges where parts were cut away are very neat and were likely cut by a sharp instrument rather than being torn apart by hand. This circumstance perhaps resulted from the fact that most Europeans of the time did not know how to view long Chinese scroll paintings (one repeatedly scrolls and views). So someone cut out the most important part and framed it for hanging on a wall. Another possibility is that after the original owner died, because a number of individuals liked this painting, his offspring cut it up in sections and gave each individual a portion. If this is the case, then other sections of this painting still exist, and we can look forward to the day when they will reappear, be reunited, and form a well-matched whole.
1 Nie Chongzheng, 'Tan Kangxi nanxun tu juan (A Discussion of the Scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour)', Meishu yanjiu, 1989, no. 4.
2 Nie Chongzheng, 'Kangxi nanxun tu zuozhe xin zheng (New Evidence on the Authorship of The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour)', Rongbaozhai, 2003, no. 4.
3 Nie Chongzheng, 'Qingdai gongting huihua gaoben shukao (A Consideration of the Draft Sketches of the Qing Palace)', Gugong Bowuyuan yuankan, 2004, no. 3.
4 Nie Chongzheng, 'Toushi liusan zai Ouzhou de Qinggong huihua (Discerning the Truth about Qing Palace Paintings Circulating in Europe)', Shoucangjia, 2010, no. 1.
In the first month of 1689, the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) left Beijing and embarked on his second inspection tour covering the southern regions of the nation. This extensive journey took seventy-one days and included visits to Mount Tai, the Yangtze and Yellow river, the Grand Canal and a number of important urban centres in the south. Contemporary official chronicles heralded the tour as a great success, and claimed that it allowed the emperor to fulfil his wish to review major river works, examine local customs and inquire about civil administration.1 However, the main aim of the tour was to consolidate Manchu rule over the Han Chinese in the commercial and cultural centres of the Yangtze Delta region. During the tour Kangxi observed various functions and ritual ceremonies that served to enhance his image as a legitimate ruler while extending his control over the native Chinese population. At Mount Tai he led his officials in a ritual sacrifice to the deity of this sacred mountain and personally offered libations at the tomb of the first Ming emperor. He also made a special excursion from Hangzhou to the Temple of the Great Yu in Shaoxing in order to carry out a ceremony honouring the legendary tamer of the floodwaters and founder of the Xia dynasty.2 Paying lip-service to the Ming loyalists and to the southern gentry, Kangxi made all effort to take on the role of a traditional Confucian monarch. During his reign Kangxi completed six Southern Inspection Tours amongst which the second one was possibly the most important politically and certainly the most grandest and extensive in its schedule. It is no wonder that it was this tour that he commissioned to be painted as a documentary evidence for posterity.
The visit to Mount Jinshan, depicted in the sixth scroll of the Nanxun Tu ('Painting of the Southern Tour') with the subtitle Xun Guazhou du jiang deng Jinshan jin Changzhou fu ('From Guazhou, across the Yangtze River, up Jinshan and through Changzhou Prefecture') was one of the twelve highlights of the 1689 Southern Inspection Tour. The six-storey Jinshan Temple, a landmark on the small island in the middle of the Yangtze River, is immediately recognizable on the painting. The temple has a history dating to the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) when it was known as Zexin Temple or Longyou Temple. It was re-named Jinshan during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it became one of the important places of Buddhist pilgrimage in southern China. Kangxi renamed the temple Jiangtian Si (River and Heaven Temple), and was inspired to leave his calligraphy, 'Taking in the River and Heaven at One Glance' at the temple that fittingly described the magnificent view. To the west of the temple flows a spring called Zhongling - renowned for the purity of its water and known as the 'First Spring under Heaven'. During his first Southern Inspection Tour in 1684, Kangxi visited Mount Wutai, the sacred Buddhist mountain in the west, and Mount Tai, the Eastern Sacred Peak. Ascending Mount Jinshan was a continuation of his pilgrimage that he started five years ago.
Two further areas of interest are recorded on the present painting, Jiaoshan and Guazhou. Jiaoshan, located in the middle of the Yangtze River, was originally named Qiaoshan by the third emperor of the Song dynasty (960-1279) Zhengzong. Covered in lush greenery, Jiaoshan later came to be known as 'the Hill of Floating Jade'(Fuyu Shan). It also houses over four-hundred stone tablets inscribed with the writings of famous calligraphers from as early as the 7th century. The southern city of Guazhou was an important port from as early as the mid-Tang Dynasty. The painting depicts the Yilou Canal which was built in 738 to connect the Grand Canal with the Yangtze River.
The second Southern Inspection Tour not only set the pattern for subsequent tours by Kangxi, and his grandson, the Qianlong emperor, but also gave birth to the Southern Inspection Tour painting project. The 17th century painter Wang Hui (1632-1717) was commissioned with the mammoth task of undertaking the pictorial documentation of the emperor's tour. The project, overseen by Cao Quan from the Neiwufu (Imperial Palace Household Department), started two years after the emperor's return from the tour and took six years to complete. It became the earliest large-scale painting project commissioned by a Qing emperor and set precedence for court-sponsored commemorative art.3 This new genre provided historiographic evidence and was used as part of the official documentation and chronicle of important events in the emperor's life. Wang Hui belonged to the 'Orthodox School' of painting and was renowned for his large scale landscapes. He had undertaken commission work for a number of important officials, including the Grand Secretary Wu Zhengzhi (1618-1691), a powerful Court official who recommended him to the Kangxi emperor.
The importance of the Southern Inspection Tour scroll project on the arts of the Qing dynasty and the development of court painting cannot be emphasized enough. When Wang Hui arrived at the Forbidden City, there was no formal painting workshop or academy. What is known today as the 'Qing court painting' did not exist and it was up to Wang to formulate a style that was suitable for the project, acceptable to the Manchu taste and in harmony with his own artistic heritage. Wang systematically divided Kangxi's grand journey into twelve different landscapes and cityscapes, each representing an event which was of particular importance. He also depicts the different military and official entourage with each section, possibly to show the immense power and undertaking of the tour. By the time the twelve scrolls were completed, Wang became the master of this new genre. Maxwell K. Hearn, in his study of Wang Hui and Kangxi's Southern Inspection Tour scrolls notes that Wang's work reflects the documentary, didactic and commemorative requirements of Kangxi and his court, showing Kangxi as an exemplary Confucian ruler who adhered to inherited paradigms of imperial behaviour.4
Wang's work set precedence for further grandiose painting projects, such as Kangxi's Gengzhi Tu (Illustrations of Agriculture and Sericulture) and the Kangxi Liuxun Wanshou Qingdian Tu (Painting of the Kangxi Emperor's Sixtieth Birthday Celebration). Qianlong's Southern Inspection Tour, painted by Xu Yang in 1770 was heavily influenced by Wang's work. However, there is a significant difference and shift in style between the two artist's works. 'Xu Yang's scrolls fuse a simplified version of Wang Hui's landscape style with a new, Western-influenced descriptive verisimilitude introduced to China by European Jesuit missionaries and greatly favoured by the Qianlong emperor.'5 Realistic depiction of facial expressions, more accurate interpretation of the human anatomy and the use of Western three-dimensional techniques characterize 18th century paintings. However, as a result of this new painting style, the area covered by the artist becomes far smaller than that seen in Wang's work. 'Although a typical Qianlong tour scroll is more than sixty-one feet (18 metres) long, the portion of the tour route depicted in each scroll is limited to one or two miles (1.6-3.2 kilometres). In place of the enormous distance encompassed in Wang Hui's paintings, which often covered more than 120 miles (200 kilometres) in a single scroll, Xu Yang's scrolls are mono-scenic in conception: each illustration is reduced to a unified panorama centred on the figure of Qianlong.'6 The aim and raison d'etre of the painting is significantly changed from that produced by his predecessor, Wang Hui.
Of the twelve scrolls five are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, sections of which are illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 5 (fig.1); one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; two in the Musée Guimet, Paris; one in the MacTaggart Art Collection at the University of Alberta, Edmonton; with the location scroll five and eight unknown. It appears that another part of the present sixth scroll is in a private collection in Phoenix, Arizona. The significance of the sixth scroll is that it is possibly the only one that has remained in private hands amongst the extant scrolls.
1 See Maxwell K. Hearn, 'Art Creates History: Wang Hui and The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour', Landscapes Clear and Radiant, New York, 2008, p. 132.
2 Ibid., p. 132.
3 Ibid., p. 129.
4 Ibid., p. 181.
5 Ibid., p. 180.
6 Ibid., p. 180.
The Kangxi Emperor'S Nanxun Tu
68 by 362 cm., 26 3/4 by 142 1/2 in.