Kwek Hong Png Wing
For centuries, the scholar represented an ideal in Chinese culture. Great respect was accorded to individuals who could read classical texts, write and paint, play music, pursue academic studies, and demonstrate elegance and grace. Whether a civil servant, a successful merchant, or an overseas Chinese, learned individuals played a key role in Chinese culture.
The ideal of the scholar is derived from the texts attributed to Confucius (551-479 BC). In response to the political chaos and war of his time, Confucius advocated a moral philosophy that he felt would stabilise society. Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618-907), social mobility was possible through an examination system, which tested candidates on their knowledge of the Confucian classics and literary abilities. Scholar-officials, also called mandarins, were placed at the top of the social hierarchy.
The definition of the scholar class changed over time, and it became fused with the wealthy merchant class by the late Ming dynasty (early 17th century).
The Scholars Gallery explores Chinese systems of belief, philosophy and ritual, some of it derived from from Confucian ideas of propriety, through presentation of the courtly arts and objects collected and admired by scholars of the literati tradition. Many of these traditions still survive in some form in many Asian countries. Furniture, calligraphy, and paintings, along with decorative arts, reveal the tastes and pursuits of scholars and those who would emulate them.
Table screen: Gathering of scholars
China, mid 18th century
63.4 x 65 x 23.5 cm
This exquisite carved lacquer screen shows refined scholarly taste during the Qianlong reign (1736-95). The narrative scenes on the front and back are carved through thick layers of red, green, and ochre lacquer. One side depicts a 4th century gathering of scholars. The famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi is shown at his writing desk, while other scholars compose poems by the river. Wine cups on lotus leaves float along the river.
Ladies Outing in the style of Li Gonglin
Pu Ru (1896-1963)
China, mid-20th century
Chinese ink and colour on silk
37 x 718.5 cm
From the Xiang Xue Zhang Collection in memory of Dr Tan Tsze Chor
Lady Guoguo was the sister of a famous Tang-dynasty concubine Tang Guifei. The details of the robes and figures on horseback are gorgeously rendered here. The artist is paying tribute to a revered artist of nearly 1000 years before: the original painting by Li Gonglin (1049-1106) is in the Palace Museum in Beijing.