China’s Mona Lisa in the China Art Museum in Shanghai

In the massive China Museum of Art in Shanghai you can see one of China’s greatest works of art, often called the Mona Lisa of China: The Qing Ming Scroll. And no, not the 800 year old, small paper object, but a 30 times bigger, animated version.

Because the Qing Ming Scroll is such a fragile and valuable object, it is only occasionally on display. In the Palace Museum in Beijing, where the original is kept, these rare events attract thousands of visitors from all over China, who stand in line for hours if not days. To experience the famous artwork anyways, the Chinese have come up with smart solutions.

In the China Art Museum in Shanghai, the scroll is blown up to an animation of  6 metres high and 130 metres long,  that brings the drawings to life with movement and sounds. It shows the people and animals walking around through a landscape with a village, a river and many temples, while the light shifts from day to night. It very cool way to get to know this renowned Chinese work of art and explore a little of China’s history.

Why so famous?

Eight hundred years ago, Chinese Artist Zhang Zeduan  (1085 –1145) painted the paper scroll for Emperor Huizong. He could hold it in his hands and roll out the 5 metre wide paper to enjoy the drawings. The theme is the annual Qing Ming festival, when the Chinese people traditionally clean their ancestors’ graves. Zeduan choose not to draw these ceremonial activities, but instead he depicts the celebrations on the streets in the city of Kaifeng (Northern China), and the people going about with their daily activities. He drew more than 800 figures: showing people of all levels of the Chinese society of the time. Everything, from the clothes and the houses to the boats and the carriages is done in excruciating detail. This makes it not only fun to look at – so many details you could spend hours with it – but also an object telling us a lot of daily life in the twelfth century.

 

Theft and forgeries

The scroll’s turbulent history also adds to its fame, just as it has done for the Mona Lisa. In the fourteenth century, the scroll was stolen from the imperial collection. It stayed missing for many centuries, and during these times many people made forgeries of the scroll, which they tried to sell as the original.

Nobody knows the exact course of the original painting, but somehow it returned to the imperial collection. Only after the Second World War the original reappeared, when China’s last emperor Puyi was captured by the Soviets in Manchuria. He had secretly taken the scroll with him when he was banned from the palace in Beijing in 1924.

Today, you can even see forgeries of this famous artwork in museums around the world (France, Japan and Taiwan). If that isn’t enough, there is still an entire theme park dedicated to the scroll to be visited in Kaifeng.



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