华中企业新闻网 2018-10-27 16:49 付恒
Chinese food, as the saying goes, could be found anywhere people live. It is not an overstatement to say that food serves as the most dynamic element of Chinese culture in international stage today.
There have been many records about food in ancient Chinese history. The Book of Han says that “Food is heaven to the people” and ancient Chinese people regarded “jiu ding” (the nine tripod cauldrons) as a symbol of state power. The Lüshi Chunqiu (Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals) recorded that Yi Yin (a great minister and official of Shang Dynasty) persuaded Tang, who was the founder of Shang Dynasty, with the words “zhi wei” (the best taste) as the guidance for state governance and administration. Yi translated complex political philosophy into delicious diet. The Book of History compared the prime minister to chef. Laozi said, “Governing a large state is like cooking a small fish.” Confucius said “There are only two things that matter-- sacrifice and army.” These quotes express that food is important and irreplaceable in Chinese culture. Until today, many Chinese people still ask “Have you had your meal?” when they greet others.
With the absence of cameras in ancient times, people used paintings to record their lives. Now let’s take a look at some of the memories of “food” in Chinese painting.
In the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC) and the Warring States period (475-221 BC), there were paintings of banquets carved on bronze wares. Plenty of depictions of chefs and banquets can be found on stone reliefs in Qin dynasty (221-207 BC) and Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), frescoes of Six Dynasties (220-589) and in drawings since Tang dynasty (618-907) and Song dynasty (960-1279). In addition to formal and royal feast, painters also pictured scholars’ gathering and ordinary people’s lives.
The first is the fresco of banquet scene in Dahuting Tomb of Han dynasty, which was painted more than 1800 years ago.
Dahuting Tomb of Han dynasty，located in Xinmi, Henan Province，is the largest unearthed tomb of Han dynasty in China. The dweller of the tomb is Zhang De, Taishou (governor of a province) of Hongnong County in later Han Dynasty. The wall of the tomb was painted with colorful murals on the top and bottom that a row of guests in colored robes sitting by a banquet table, drinking, and watching Baixi (the name of acrobatics in ancient China). The red plates, bowls, cups, and Zhan (a kind of small cup in ancient China) filled with delicacies and alcohol were placed on dining-tables in front of the guests. In the middle of the fresco, many entertainers performed drum, gong, Tapan (plate tapping), Zhiji (beat of wooden boards), and fire blowing. It’s as if we traveled back to the Han Dynasty and found ourselves surrounded by music and acclamation.
In the Wei and Jin Dynasty (220-420AD), Jiayuguan, the western end of Great Wall, was known as the strategic place of border area. It was an important joint point for the integration of the ancient Silk Road and national exchanges.
The image of Fanzhi (kebab) in the murals of Weijin tomb in Jiayuguan which showed that Hu people’s food (Hu: ethnic groups in the north and west of China in ancient times) had become an indispensable cuisine in the feast held by Hexi nobles (Hexi: land west of the Yellow river, usually refers to Shaanxi, Qinghai and Gansu Provinces). The Book of Jin writes, “People in Jin Dynasty follow the trend of eating lamb hot pot and roast whole lamb. Royal households and aristocrats are zealous in collecting the wares of Hu. The joyous gathering is also in such practice.”
In the later Jin Dynasty, Gu Kaizhi (about 348-409 AD), the great painter, was hailed as the “Huazu” (painting master) of Chinese paintings and owns the same reputation of Wang Xizhi (a famous calligrapher of Eastern Jin, known as the sage of calligraphy). Gu Kaizhi was the first painter with established reputation and preserved works in Chinese history. Before him, the painters were just downplayed as craftsmen whose names faded out. After him, zither, chess, calligraphy, painting were highly praised by society so that the artists’ names went down in history.
The line drawing of Gu Kaizhi was praised as “the thread of spring silkworm” in art history for its smoothness and consistency. One of his painting Wise and Benevolent Women records a story about Duke Ling of Wei and his wife. It was late night, the couple heard some noises of a rolling carriage. However, the noises disappeared when it moved to the inner door and appeared again when it passed the inner door.
The Duchess thought it must have been Bo Yu, and said to the Duke, “I once read in the Book of Rites that there are rule for the carriage to pass through the gate. Bo Yu is a man of virtue so that he won’t forget the etiquette at night.” The Duke thus sent a man to check if it was Bo Yu and it turned out he was the man. However, the Duke lied to the Duchess that it was not Bo Yu. The Duchess filled a cup with liquor and again congratulated the Duke (the picture showed in the painting), saying “I once thought there was only one capable and virtuous official in the state of Wei while it turned out there is another one. What a blessing for the state!” The Duke was pleased by the duchess’s words and told her the truth.
In the Wei-Jin Period of China, seven virtuous men of that time including Ruan Ji and Liu Ling used to gather in the bamboo forest, drinking and singing. They were called Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, the scholars who ignore the social norms and refuse to work for the government. The painting of seven sages of the bamboo grove by artist Sun Wei of Tang Dynasty depicts their gathering. Liu Ling, the man on the right side, was a toper. He once wrote a poem to extol alcohol which says “the only thing that matters in the world is alcohol.” It is said that he would be drunk and vomit then drink again. Every time he drank in a carriage, he would have a man with a hoe follow him and bury him wherever he was intoxicated beyond recognition. He was thought to be free from worldly concerns at that time. Nevertheless, some people thought his behavior was too pretentious after the rise of Zen. These people mocked him that if he would not be bothered to be buried for his drunken death.
In the painting, with his head sideways, Liu Ling is deep drunk and about to vomit, holding the wineglass in his hands. The potman near him is kneeling down and trying to catch his vomitus. This picture makes us think about the “Bacchus” drawn by Caravaggio, a western painter. Even though the styles of the figures and wineglasses are totally different, both of those paintings indicate the same meaning that people should enjoy the present since life is difficult and short.
There is another painting named A Palace Concert in Tang Dynasty by an anonymity, which was finished in the late Tang Dynasty (about 862-907 AD), coinciding with the time when Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, finished the Book of Tea.
In the painting, several ladies from the imperial harem are sitting around the square table, fanning slowly and tasting tea as well as listening to the music. There is a big teapot on the table. One lady takes the tea scoop and shares the tea with others. Another lady, the second from the right, takes the tea cup and forgets to drink tea as if she had been absorbed in the music. The lady, who is first from the left, is bowing her head and drinking tea. A maid stands behind her and supported her in case that she would be drunk with tea. Western artistic images always strictly follow the rule that is called the “Focus Perspective”. For example, the table in the painting should look wider when you see it from a close range and narrower when you see it from afar. However, the table in the painting A Palace Concert presents the visual effect that goes against the western rule, which is the classic practice of traditional Chinese painting that is called “Anti-Perspective”. Why do painters usually take the technique called “Anti-Perspective” to present the tables and appliances in the traditional Chinese paintings? There are two reasons. One is that Chinese painters are not willing to draw the things from an objective perspective because they usually see neatness as ordinariness. Another reason is that painters can put more figures and things in the painting by adopting “Anti-Perspective”, which gives more space for people to think.
There is another mural called Slaughterhouse that was painted in the late Tang Dynasty in the cave 85 of Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang. The words on the inscription board above the mural are from The Lankavatara Sutra-The Faults of Eating Meat. The original meaning of the scripture is that flesh is formed by filthy substances. Therefore, monks and men of good deeds should abide by the rules and refrain from eating meat.
Nevertheless, the drawings in the Mogao Grottoes are all scenes of delicious meat with aromatic flavor. Butchers are in high spirits to sell meat and make a living. In the early 17th century, Netherland painter Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck drew an oil painting called The Kitchen with the similar scene. No matter in the East or the West, secular life and religious sermon are often quite different.
可是莫高窟里的画师所绘，却是肉满架、案飘香，屠夫精神抖擞，要卖肉赚钱。17世纪初尼德兰画家凡·罗克（Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck）有一幅油画《厨房》，也是一般的肉满架、案飘香。无论东西方，世俗的生活与宗教的说教，常常是相反的图像。
After the collapse of the great Tang Dynasty, China entered the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Most of us have read the classic poetry—“Tell me, what is the uttermost extent of pain, you say. Mine is a river swollen in spring and welling east away.”, written by Li Yu, an emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty.
Li Yu appreciated the minister Han Xizai and wanted to appoint him as Prime Minister for many times. But after analyzing the situation, Han Xizai thought that the Song Dynasty which was stationed in the northern Central Plains was eyeing the regions south of the Yangtze River with hostility. Once the divine emperor emerged, people in southern region would be eager to yield to his power. It’s the final nail in the coffin. How could he become Prime Minister of a defeated country and the laughing stock for later generations? Then he chose to live a life of dissipation to protect himself.
It is said that the famous painter Gu Hongzhong (910-980), sneaked into Han Xizai’s home and watched his banquet secretly at the order of Li Yu. Then the painting Han Xizai Evening Banquet came out. In this painting, Han Xizai looked as if he had no ambition at all. The hunched quilt on the right side and a Pipa laid on the bed spoke of his indulgence.
Compared with the oil painting The Banquet of the Gods of the 17th century in Flanders, the eastern people were much more implicit and euphemistic to draw an indulgent banquet.
Among paintings in Northern Song Dynasty, the most well-known one is Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan (about 1082-1135), in which Sun Yangzheng’s Shop was doing well with all the tables occupied on the second floor. In the rightmost private room, the table was fully placed with dishes and one of the most distinctive pieces of porcelain from the Song Dynasty, vase and bowl for warming wine. A ewer is a wine pot and the bowl outside used to hold hot water. The ewer is soaked in hot water to keep the warmth of wine and make it more comfortable to drink.
There is a detail worth noting, in the upper right corner of the picture, the yard in the open space was unexpectedly stacked with five-layer high big wino, which once again proved that the business of the tavern is great.
In western world, the famous painter Bruegel Pieter, like Zhang Zeduan was good at depicting the folk customs and density of people. Food, clothing, shelter and travel, and the desire to eat, are always the most basic human pursuits of life.
Painters in the Northern Song Dynasty preferred the panorama images, while in the Southern Song Dynasty they favored local composition, which is said to have a kind of hidden psychological association with the self-satisfied court. The work Tea Fight by an anonymous painter mirrors such status by simply capturing an image of people’s living.
In Song Dynasty, citizens particularly liked tea fight (called “Dou Jiang” or “Dou Cha” in Chinese), which means that people display their own tea cultures, and then the tea tasters selected the winner according to their skills as well as the tea’s color, flavor and taste.
The contestant in the lower-left position held a teapot in his right hand and a stack of saucers in his left hand. He wore a broad smile, looking very innocent and lovely. Any ordinary thing could be transformed into something visually extraordinary through artist’s exaggeration and enlargement. An American sculptor named Robert Therrien adopts this kind of strategy into his creation - a big stack of saucer, which is exhibited in art gallery. It is said that viewers’ appetite was immediately aroused once they appreciated his work.
Traditional Chinese scholars pursue playfulness and a sense of ritual in their tea and alcohol drinking. Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), a famous painter in Yuan Dynasty, drew a picture named Purification Ceremony at Orchid Pavilion in Chinese which depicts Wang Xizhi with his friend Xie An and other literati holding a Spring Purification Ceremony at Lanting, Kuaiji Prefecture. The painting shows they gathered along the banks of a coursing stream and engaged in a drinking contest - cups of wine were drifting down from the upstream, and whenever a cup stopped in front of a guest, he had to compose a poem or otherwise drink the wine.
Then, Wang Xizhi compiled these poems into an anthology and made a preface, the famous work At the Orchid Pavilion. This has become a typical calligraphy work on the following generations on the topic of water flowing, drinking and composing.
Spring Morning in the Han Palace, painted by Ming Dynasty painter Qiu Ying (about 1494-1552), is one of the top ten famous masterpieces in China. It describes daily trifles of the palace in the early spring, including dressing up, dancing, singing, reading, and feeding. The characters in the painting live an extravagant life and stand in various postures. It seems to be busy, but actually they sit around.
The value of this painting lies on its extraordinarily bright colors. Even the huge Taihu stone behind the maid resembles a dark-blue diamond. It is said that Qiu Ying was a varnisher at his young age. His paintings were bold in color, and push Chinese paintings to the extreme application of color.
Henri Matisse, a famous master in the Western art history, did the same. No matter what the color of the objective reality was, he used pigments willfully to paint according to his own subjective idea. He pushed the western painting to the extremes, earning him the name Fauvism by art historians.
The court painter Yao Wenhan (1736-1796) of Qing Dynasty drew a picture named Banquet in Ziguang Pavilion. The social background of this work was that the Qing Empire stepped into its most splendid and prosperous era after Qianlong Emperor’s dynastic territory expansion. He boasted himself as a super warrior who never lost. In order to promote his achievements and motivate soldiers, he rebuilt Ziguang Pavilion in 1760. On the second day of the first month of the following year, a grand feast was held in the rebuilt pavilion. Kings, nobles, ministers, leaders of Mongolia, and hundreds of soldiers attended the banquet. This work shows magnificent spectacle of the feast at that time.
Located on the west side of Zhongnanhai, Ziguang Pavilion remains an important venue for Chinese leaders to meet foreign guests.
Banquet in Ziguang Pavilion is a typical long scroll painting, which was a unique creation by Chinese painters in the history of the world art. In ancient times with the absence of camera technology, Chinese artists used long scrolls, nearly the same as today’s movies, to record continuous scenes and events.
The process in which people appreciate long scroll paintings is described by scholars as “changing scenes at every step”. As viewers look at the painting while walking, the scene changes constantly. David Hockney, a famous contemporary British artist, once said that the day when he saw a long scroll painting of Qing Dynasty court for the first time at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1983, was “the most exciting day” in his life. He strongly felt that long scroll paintings were pictures that could move with time, including lateral movement, while Western paintings were fixed and static “windows”.
In Hockney’s view, the dimension of long horizontal scroll is far superior. The concept of “changing scenes at every step” has profound influence on his creation, such as Pearblossom Highway, which he created while walking.
We have appreciated visual feasts in temple, literati gathering and folk’s living in Chinese paintings, and also experienced the civilization and history of traditional China in vision and imagination, which are reflected not only in the feasts and banquets, but also in everyday food and drinks.