The exhibition revives the times and life of the Song Dynasty

Editor’s note:

The Song dynasty (960-1279) is divided into two distinct periods, Northern and Southern. During the Northern Song (960-1127), the royal court built its capital in present-day Kaifeng City, Henan Province. He then retreated south of the Yangtze River and established the Southern Song (1127-1279), founding his capital in present-day Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province.

The Zhejiang government launched the Song Dynasty Cultural Heritage Project in August 2021, aiming to establish Song culture as a primary icon of Zhejiang province, showcasing elements of Zhejiang and distinguishing it from other dynasties by its booming economy and reinvigorated art.

This year, Hangzhou will host a series of Southern Song-themed activities and exhibitions to help locals explore the cultural heritages of the whole city and popularize historical knowledge among younger generations.

Incense containers made by Ge Xiangqi

The Han Meilin Gallery inside the Hangzhou Botanical Garden hosts an exhibition that captures the detailed lives of people in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

The exhibition was organized for International Museum Day on May 18 and will be on display until July 18.

Among ancient scholars, burning incense, drinking tea, arranging flowers and painting were popular pastimes. In recent years, a number of museums in Hangzhou have held related exhibitions featuring century-old works of art and paintings.

Unlike its counterparts, Han Meilin Gallery exhibits works by seven contemporary artists including Zheng Yicheng, Chang Shu, Ge Xiangqi, Cao Mingliang, Ning Qinbo, Xu Can and Wu Junwei. Their works not only showcase the aesthetics of the Song Dynasty, but also incorporate contemporary artistic elements.

Burning incense is a Buddhist ritual. While it burns, believers pray before the Buddha. Censers discovered in temple ruins across China were used for this purpose.

The exhibition revives the times and life of the Song Dynasty

A container of incense made by Ge Xiangqi

Frankincense has long been considered beneficial for creating a tranquil environment and refreshing the spirit. The practice reached its peak in the Song dynasty, when it became a way of life for scholars. They lit incense while reading, playing the seven-stringed Chinese instrument, writing calligraphy and participating in religious rituals.

Mythical creatures have always appeared on censers as a symbol of protection dating back millennia. However, as evidenced by Ge’s exhibitions, modern artists are gradually abandoning these mythical forms in favor of minimalist designs.

Centuries ago, incense materials were imported from other countries, and local craftsmen began to produce exquisite ceramic incense burners. The exhibit features common herbs used by the Song people.

During this dynasty, craftsmen pulled vessels and containers for everyday use for flowers because scholars and scholars practiced flower arranging and bonsai planting.

Several classic designs were created by ancient artists and have persisted in art for centuries. Some of them are still the most popular types of celadon, such as meiping (梅瓶), feng’erping (凤耳瓶) and djiping (大吉瓶).

Xu uses a branch and a chrysanthemum to evoke the aesthetics of the Song people for her flower arrangement. Floral arrangements from this era often take on a mood of silence rather than ornate floral designs.

The exhibition revives the times and life of the Song Dynasty

Xu Can’s flower arrangement

In Chinese culture, tea ceremonies are an important affair. However, contrary to modern drinking habits, the Song people pioneered a new method of tea drinking known as Sunday (点茶) – the preparation of a finely ground powder from processed green tea.

Powdered tea is brewed with a small amount of boiling water, then whipped into a mush with a small whisk. To dilute the porridge, more boiling water is added.

The preparation and consumption of powdered tea has become a ritual, supplemented by a series of performances, procedures and specific criteria for the use of tea leaves and containers.

Although some vessels are no longer used in modern tea ceremonies, they are considered classic designs and have found favor with contemporary porcelain makers. Zheng’s Song dynasty-style containers are on display at the exhibition.

Zheng ceramics are distinguished by soft shades and quiet simplicity. Clay composition and glazing techniques have been modified by modern artists to create whitish, bluish, yellowish, and pinkish-green varieties. Connoisseurs admire and seek out their elegant shapes and jade texture.

The exhibition revives the times and life of the Song Dynasty

Zheng Yicheng’s Working Tea Vessels

Visitors will also be able to see the works of 86-year-old Han Meilin, who donated hundreds of his works to the Hangzhou government. Paintings, porcelain and folk art were among the items donated by Han and are currently on display at the gallery.

The exhibition revives the times and life of the Song Dynasty

Chang Shu’s ink painting

Han donated 1,000 of his works to Hangzhou in 2005. That same year, the gallery bearing his name was built. The second phase of the gallery was completed in 2011, with 500 additional works by him.

The gallery had a new addition in 2020. The new 1,500 square meter exhibition space is focused on education. It combines public space with an interactive experience to encourage young people to engage with art.

Exhibition “Tribute to the people of the dynasty of romantic and poetic songs”

Date: until July 18, closed on Mondays

Admission: 10 yuan (1.4 USD) for the Hangzhou Botanical Garden. The exhibition is free.

Address: 3 Taoyuanling Road

桃源岭3号

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