‘fair southern shore, with scenery i much adore.’ when we look back upon the history with fantastic scenery of jiangnan in our imagination, we can retrace many poetic and romantic descriptions of jiangnan in the tang and song, ming and qing dynasties, but can seldom recall what jiangnan was like in the yuan dynasty.
after the perish of the southern song dynasty, yuan government set up censorate in the south of yangtze river, which had jurisdiction over jiangzhe (mostly modern jiangsu and zhejiang), jiangxi and huguang (mostly modern hubei and hunan) provinces, of which, jiangzhe, with rich resources of rivers, lakes and canals, dominated overseas trading and was the base of jiangnan region in the yuan dynasty. taking advantages of favorable geographical position and climatic condition, jiangnan paid tax grains every year and traded goods to various parts of the country and even the world with continuously prosperous production and trade in the yuan dynasty.
thanks to the removal of the regional barrier and the opening of passage that connected the south with the north at the time, there were increasingly communications and travels between the south and the north. even overseas visitors came here out of admiration. people thronged to jiangnan from all directions. they lived by ethnic groups and varying class ranks and followed their own traditions and laws, while learning from and influencing each other during the exchanges. southerners were seen wearing northern ornaments and many outlanders tended to learn literati culture and cherish handicrafts of jiangnan. different religions spread freely here and a great number of churches and mosques were built in various regions. however, they posed no threat to the dominant position of buddhism, taoism and confucianism, which experienced further development and integration as well.
the sudden increase of social elements brought emerging forces to the field of arts and crafts in jiangnan. blue and white porcelains started to prevail and were exported overseas, but traditional categories and styles of artifacts survived. the lacquered works of zhang cheng and yang mao, and the silver raft cup made by zhu bishan were known for exquisite technique and rich literati aesthetics. moreover, refined gathering of men of letters became a fashion. a large number of celebrities and retired scholars formed poem-composing associations, the most famous of which was the literary gathering at yushan thatched cottage of gu ying from kunshan. new styles of painting art emerged due to the influence of men of letters in jiangnan. literati painters renovated painting styles by referring to the ancient art and drew inspiration from the nature. they incorporated calligraphy into paintings and painted landscapes and cottages to express a free, unrestricted, natural and refined attitude towards life.
in this exhibition we are trying to show an overview of jiangnan from the perspectives of impression, scenery, religion and literary gathering of the area. we have selected rare literati paintings and artifacts to reproduce the scenery of misty jiangnan and represent its diversified and inclusive folk customs. we invite audiences to share the unique cultures and arts of the yuan dynasty. the success of this exhibition owes to the palace museum, national library of china, nanjing museum, shanghai museum, tianjin museum, liaoning provincial museum, zhejiang provincial museum, anhui museum, china silk museum, hangzhou museum, nanjing museum administration, wuxi museum, changzhou museum, museum of wu, haiyan county museum, taicang museum, suzhou archaeology research institute, the palace museum of taipei, nelson-atkins museum of art, cleveland museum of art and tokyo national museum. we would like to avail the opportunity to express sincere gratitude for their substantial support.
at the picturesque sight of a painted boat coming through sun-lit misty river flanked by folk houses, you may feel free to exclaim ‘i love you so, jiangnan!’
so much for the foreword.