Made in China: how landscape painting was invented in the east

Chinese poetry, calligraphy and painting are together known as the “Three Perfections”.  


In the history of China, some of the first recorded texts are poems. Literary Chinese, from c 771 BC, during China’s ‘golden age’ was the language used to write poetry. It was also used to write many popular books of the time including those written by Confucius. This type of language is not used in modern times, however the poetry is still loved and enjoyed.

In Chinese culture, the genre of a poem is dictated by the content matter instead of its form.

The following five influential poets wrote throughout the Song and Tang Dynasties. Their poetry spanned several different genres:

李白 (lǐ bái) Li Bai (701-762)

Li Bai, although having the same family name as the imperial family of that time, was actually from a more lowly family. When he was 24 , he married and began to write poetry. In order to gain employment , he wandered, showing off his poetry. When he rached Chang’an, which was the Tang capital city, he became part of a poetry group and eventually became the unofficial poet laureate for Prince Lin. Unfortunately for Li Bai, Prince Lin was executed for treason and Li arrested and eventually banished. Li Bai had a love love of drinking and celebrated this in his poetry. He also wrote poems about friendship and nature.

自遣 (zì qiǎn) Amusing Myself


(duì jiǔ bù jué míng)

Drunk with friends, unaware that it is almost dusk.


(luò huā yíng wǒ yī)

Fallen blossom fill my clothes


(zuì qǐ bù xī yuè)

Drunk, I take a walk along a stream by moonlight,


(niǎo huán rén yì xī)

Birds come back home, few people on the road.

杜甫 (dù fǔ) Dufu (712-770)

Dufu had a Confucian education. His and travelling companion was Li Bai. Although he had held some positions at court and was well-regarded, he was not fortunate enough to have money or title, .but eventually became a gentleman farmer. Dufu’s poetry mainly celebrated the beauty of the natural world. In his later years his poetry considered darker themes.

雨晴 (yǔ qíng) Rain Clearing


(tiān shuǐ qiū yún báo)

The sky’s water has fallen, and autumn clouds are thin,


(cóng xī wàn lǐ fēng)

The western wind has blown ten thousand miles.


(jīn zhāo hǎo qíng jǐng)

This morning’s scene is good and fine,


(jiǔ yǔ bù fáng nóng)

Long rain has not delayed farming time.


(sāi liǔ xíng shū cuì)

The row of willows begins to show green,


(shān lí jiē xiǎo hóng)

The pear tree on the hill has little red flowers


(hú jiā lóu shàng lóu shàng)

A hujia pipe begins to play upstairs,


(yī yàn rù gāo kōng)

One goose flies high into the sky.

Bai Juyi (772-846) 白居易 (bái jū yì)

Bai Juyi (Tang Dynasty) started composing poetry at the age of 5 years. He rejected the decadent behaviours of his time and believed that poetry should contain a social and moral message.

春眠 (chūn mián) Spring Sleep


(rì zhào fáng mén zhàng wèi kāi)

The sun shines on the door of the room, the curtain is not yet open.


(hái yǒu shào nián chūn qì wèi)

The youthful scent of spring is still in the air,


(shí shí zàn dào mèng zhōng lái)

Often it will come to you in your dreams.

杜牧 (dù mù) Dumu (803-852)

Dumu carried a great deal of influence as a poets during the Tang dynasty. His most famed works are his romantic quatrains, although he also wrote long-form narrative poems. Although Dumu was fortunate enough hold several official positions, he felt that his career had been a failure. He expressed his dissatisfaction in his poetry.

赠别 (zèng bié) On Parting


(duō qíng què sì zǒng wú qíng)

I feel deep love, but always seem heartless,


(wěi jué zūn qián xiào bù chéng)

I think I should laugh during the banquet, but I can not.


(là zhú yǒu xīn hái xī bié)’

The candle has a heart, so reluctant to part


(tì rén chuí lèi dào tiān míng)

It is crying till dawn instead of us.

李煜 (lǐ yù) Li Yu (937-978)

Unlike our previous poets, Li Yu was in the privilaged position of being the final ruler of the south Tang dynasty. This was before before Taizu, founder of the Song dynasty invaded and took over. Li Yu was the master of the ‘词‘ song form. True to his experience, his earlier poems reflected the luxury of court. His most impressive poetry however, came through loss, that is the loss of his kingdom to Taizu.

How many tears? 望江南 · 多少泪 (wàng jiāng nán) (duō shao lèi)


(duō shao lèi, duàn liǎn fù héng yí)

How many tears cross my cheeks.


(xīn shì mò jiāng hé lèi shuō)

I do not speak things of my heart when crying,


(fèng shēng xiū xiàng lèi shí chuī)

Please do not play the phoenix flute when I cry,


(cháng duàn gèng wú yí)

I am no doubt extremely sad now.

梅尧臣 (méi yáo chén) Mei Yaochen (1002 – 1060)

悼亡 (dào wáng) Mourning Loss


(jié fà wéi fū fù, yú jīn shí qī nián)

It is 17 years ago since we got married.


(xiāng kàn yóu bù zú, hé kuàng shì cháng juān)

It is still not enough to stay with you, how can I afford to lose you now forever!


(wǒ bìn yǐ duō bái, cǐ shēn nìng jiǔ quán)

Already, the hair on my temples are mostly white, how long can my body survive?


(zhōng dāng yǔ tóng xué, wèi sǐ lèi lián lián)

In the end, we’ll share a tomb; As I’m still not dead, I still can not help but cry.





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The Peaches of Immortality are found in Chinese mythology, specifically that of Taoism. These fruits are believed to confer immortality if eate . This is similar to the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides (Greek mythology). The Peaches of Immortality are said to grow in the orchard of a Chinese goddess,

The Peaches of Immortality are found in Chinese mythology, specifically that of Taoism. These fruits are believed to confer immortality if eaten . This is similar to the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides (Greek mythology). The Peaches of Immortality are said to grow in the orchard of a Chinese goddess, Xiwangmu (literally translated to mean ‘Queen Mother of the West’), who, in some accounts, is the wife of the Jade Emperor, the supreme deity in the Taoist pantheon. According to legend, Xiwangwu who resides in the mythological Kunlun Mountains at her abode, the Jade Pool. In her orchard she is said to have as many as 3600 peach trees. Needless to say, these trees produced the legendary Peaches of Immortality. It is believed that these celestial peaches only ripen after a very long time, some 3000 years, and when that occurs, they are served at a special banquet for the immortals.

According to wikipedia, a longevity peach, or shoutao, is a type of lotus seed bun. It is white with a red dyed tip with a crease along the side, mimicking the shape of a peach. The longevity peach is a representation of Peaches of Immortality. According to Chinese folk legends, these peaches ripen every thousands of years, and grant immortality to humans when consumed.
The pastry is typically served at the birthdays of elderly people as it celebrates their achievement in having reached old age.

The Eight Immortals (before the 1970’s sometimes known as the Eight Genies)

The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary immortals in Chinese Mythology. Each immortal’s power can be transferred to a vessel. Each vessel can bestow life or destroy evil. Together, they are the “Covert Eight Immortals”. Most immortals are said to have been born in the Tang or Song Dinasty. They are a popular element in secular Chinese culture and revered by Taoists. The immortals are supposed to live on a group of five islands in the Bohai Sea. One of the islands contains Mount Penglai.

The Immortals are:

  • Lu Dongbin, considered to be the leader of the Eight Immortals, is a scholar and poet.
  • He Xiangu,  the only female of the group, often depicted holding a lotus flower.
  • Lan Caihe  is adrogynous, and is the patron of florist and gardeners.
  • Cao Guojiu, was a relation of a Song dynasty emperor before he became an immortal..
  • Lu Dongbin, considered to be the leader of the Eight Immortals, is a scholar and poet.
  • Han Xiangzi isa flute artist.
  • Li Tiequai, considered to be mentally disturbed. He is associated with medicine and easing the suffering of the sick and needy. He uses an iron crutch and carries a Calabash bottle.
  • Zhang Guolao a fangshi associated with old age.
  • Zhongli Quan, often depicted holding a fan, is associated with the power to create silver and gold, often depicted holding a fan and with death.

They were first described in the Yuan Dynasty and were probably named after the Han Eight Immortal Scholars.