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. It then retreated to the south of the Yangtze River and established the Southern Song (1127-1279), founding its capital at modern-day Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province.

Zhejiang government initiated the Song Dynasty Cultural Legacy Project in August 2021, aiming to build Song culture into a paramount icon of Zhejiang Province, featuring Zhejiang elements and distinguishing it from other dynasties by its booming economy and invigorated art.

This year, Hangzhou will host a series of Southern Song-themed activities and exhibitions to help residents explore citywide cultural heritages and popularize historic knowledge among young generations.

THE Han Meilin Gallery inside the Hangzhou Botanical Garden is hosting an exhibition that captures the detailed lives of people from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) .

The exhibition was put together for International Museum Day on May 18 and will be on display through July 18.

Among ancient scholars, burning incense, drinking tea, flower arranging and painting were popular pastimes. In recent years, a number of Hangzhou museums have put on related exhibitions featuring centuries-old artworks and paintings.

Unlike its counterparts, the Han Meilin Gallery is exhibiting 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 highlight Song Dynasty aesthetics but also incorporate contemporary artistic elements.

Incense burning is a Buddhist ritual. As it burns, believers pray in front of the Buddha. The censers discovered in temple ruins across China were used for this purpose.

Incense has long been thought to be beneficial in creating a tranquil environment and refreshing the mind. The practice reached its apex during the Song Dynasty, when it became a way of life for the literati. They lit incense while reading, playing the Chinese seven-string 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 exhibits, modern artists are gradually abandoning such mythical shapes in favor of minimalist designs.

Centuries ago, dedicated incense materials were imported from other countries, and local artisans began producing exquisite ceramic censers. The exhibition depicts common herbs used by the Song people.

During that dynasty, craftspeople fired daily-use vessels and containers for flowers because scholars and literatus practiced flower arranging and bonsai planting.

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

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

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

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

The preparation and consumption of powdered tea became a ritual, complete with a series of performances, procedures and specific criteria for using tea leaves and vessels.

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’s ceramics are distinguished by muted 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-like texture.

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

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, along with 500 additional works by him.

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

‘Salute to Romantic and Poetic Song Dynasty people’ exhibition

Date: Through July 18, closed on Mondays

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

Address: 3 Taoyuanling Rd

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