Ba Da Shan Ren (1626-1705), Lotus and Birds, 1659, 182 × 98 cm, Xuan paper, ink

Ba Da Shan Ren (1626-1705), Lotus and Birds, 1659, 182 × 98 cm, Xuan paper, ink

Metaphors of the Bird Image in Ba Da Shan Ren’s Painting by Ziwei Wang

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chinese ink wash drawing has a history of about one thousand years, it is a kind of Chinese traditional painting, as opposed to Western styles of art which became popular in China in the 20th century. Traditional painting involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; Oils are not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made of “xuan paper” (rice paper) and silk, Chinese ink wash drawing is particular in applying colors. Its colors most are from natural mineral materials and the animal shell. They can bear all kinds of weather and not fade, and they are often applied on the picture levelly. This way of applying colors pursues the original colors of the objects, the change of light and shadow is not often appears. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, Chinese ink wash drawing can be regarded as a kind of watercolor to some degree, though Chinese painting’s color using is usually one-fold, Western painting‘s color using is abundant and bright-colored.

Qing Dynasty Master Painter Ba Da Shan-ren (Zhu Da)

Kevin, an artist, has described the three levels of an artist in a special perspective. He thought the highest level sees subject matter with an intuition. Quang Ho describes intuitive as “gentle awareness”.  At this level, you don’t have to think about how to represent the can of Coke, but can lay down paint within the right visual approach best for the subject.  Color, value, drawing, texture, all the things that I know I think about when painting are second nature to the intuitive level. Frankly speaking, I don’t quite agree with Kevin, but I must admit that the true feelings from the bottom of our heart and the intuition of the subject matter is very important in the art production progress, this kind of artist, I think they are real temperament person, idea always different from the rest. Ba Da Shan Ren (Zhu Da) is exactly that kind of artist.

Ba Da Shan Ren, his true name is Zhu Da, Chinese painter and poet. A descendant of the imperial Zhu family of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and a leading artist of the early Qing period (1644–1911), Zhu Da painted flowers, birds and landscapes in a distinctive and highly dramatic calligraphic style. His connections with the previous dynasty led him to flee Nanchang after the Manchu conquest of China in 1644. Adopting the sobriquet Chuanqi (legend), Zhu Da became a Buddhist priest and soon a respected Buddhist master, quickly attaining the position of abbot. He also became an accomplished poet and painter; his earliest extant work is an album of 15 leaves (1659; Taipei, National Palace Museum). In 1672, after the death of his Buddhist master, Abbot Hong min, Zhu Da relinquished his solitary monastic existence to pursue his fortune as an itinerant monk-artist. He joined the coterie of Hu Yitang, magistrate of Linchuan County, and participated in the splendid poetry parties held in 1679 and 1680. Zhu Da was thwarted in his attempts to take up an official career because of his imperial lineage and in 1680 was devastated by the departure of his patron Hu Yitang. Reportedly, Zhu Da went mad; one day, laughing and crying uncontrollably, he tore off his priest’s robe and set it on fire. The burning of the robe signaled the end of Zhu Da’s life as a Buddhist monk, and from then on he lived as an itinerant painter. Between 1681 and 1684 he called himself Lu (‘donkey’ or ‘ass’), a derogatory name for monks, or Lu hu (‘donkey house’); from 1684 onwards he called himself Ba Da Shan Ren (‘Mountain man of eight greatnesses’). Zhu Da adopted other names throughout his life, many reflecting his state of mind or his loyalty to the Ming dynasty. Of these, only a few (such as Chuanqi, which identifies his earliest extant work) were used as signatures, the most common being Ba Da Shan Ren.

Ba Da Shan Ren developed a school of freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting and became an outstanding painter and Taoism believer. The individualism of his ink paintings of flowers, birds, fish, and landscapes appealed to the Japanese, and his style has become synonymous with Zen painting in Japan. There is an Art Gallery of Ba Da Shan Ren in a southern suburb of Nanchang. The gallery was once a Taoist temple called Qingyunpu and legend says that 2,500 years ago Qiao, son of Emperor Ling of the Zhou dynasty (1100-221BC) came here to seek a way to produce pills that would make him immortal.

Above is mentioned that, BA Da Shan Ren is a descendant from a royalty in Ming dynasty. He has experienced the collapse of Ming dynasty and rise of Qing dynasty, and has to continue to live under the rule of Qing dynasty. Everything went terrible for him.  He felt upset, disappointed and was in deep sorrow.  He loved drawing birds but his painting hardly have a common feature.  The birds all throw their head back and look up at the sky with open-eyed.  A sad expression appeared on their faces as if they are human being.  When you do not want to submit to someone, maybe you will throw your head back to express your backbone. Perhaps, Ba Da Shan Ren just express his sadness and dissatisfy by those birds.

Many historical background can help us to demonstrates that the bird image drew by Ba Da Shan Ren is phoenix ,from the aspects such as painting, five elements orientation, and mythology, I think that Ba Da Shan Ren uses symbol metaphor to describe the images of various birds. Besides, it dates from Chinese traditional cultural art, the birds drew by Ba Da Shan Ren is a Phoenix. This acts of Ba Da Shan Ren implicit his love and memory of Ming dynasty because a phoenix is the symbol of sun and brightness in the Chinese traditional culture.  Based on traditional Chinese five elements theory, Ba Da Shan Ren repeatedly characterizing bird image showing that he struggles with reality, which is fire restricting metal.  The Qing Dynasty is also known as Later Gold.

The painting style of Ba Da Shan Ren is fresh, refined and charming which shows his perception of life and emotional experience and so on. It is full of metaphors and gives people the wisdom of enlightenment and the experience of emotional resonance. When modern people study Chinese painting, they should learn from Ba Da Shan Ren who engages in painting activities with true feelings, make painting no longer just mechanical simulations to image, but with rich connotative meaning, rich in metaphor.

ShiXin Zhou,Ba Da Shan Ren and Art,(Hua Gang journal,1970),235-243.

Ding Chen, The Biography of Ba Da Shan Ren,(JiangXi people’s publishing House,1986),319.

PingHua He, Ba Da Shan Ren’s brushwork and ChuSao spirit,( JiangXi Fine Arts Publishing House,2004),79-160.

—Ziwei Wang


Ziwei Wang is a student from The Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) in Beijing, she engaged in Chinese calligraphy study and Chinese traditional painting study for many years. She has published seven articles in《Chinese Calligraphy》 ,《Chinese Calligraphy Communication》,《Chinese Painting World》 ,《Oriental Art》,《The Research of Calligraphy and Painting》,《The Collected Works of The Central University Of Finance》,《Business Guide of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting》during her undergraduate period. She is a 3+2 program student of Multidisciplinary Master’s (Visual Arts) in Buffalo State College.