Twenty years ago, no one paid attention to it, and twenty years later, the world was astonished

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Before becoming famous, Wuzhen and Sheng Mao, the two great painters of the Yuan Dynasty, were neighbors and “lived close to each other”.

They are both from Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, but their painting styles are quite different:

Wuzhen is a country painter who mainly uses wet ink to paint landscapes, plum trees and bamboos; Sheng Mao, a “professional painter”, was called a “painter” at that time, with exquisite strokes and bright colors.

The funny story is on.

In front of Sheng Mao’s house, people from all over the world have poured out large sums of money for a painting by Sheng zizhao (Sheng MAO).

The wuzhenzhaidi next door was left out in the cold.

Seeing such scenes every day, Wuzhen’s wife gets angry and almost laughs at her husband, saying that Lao Sheng’s painting is “Jue Jue Zi”. As for you, without the word “Jue”, your son will starve to death.

At this time, Wuzhen only said: “no more in 20 years.”

Sure enough, after only 20 years, the world turned upside down: Wuzhen salted fish turned around and became very popular; Sheng Mao next door was like an old star. He couldn’t carry the goods.

This story was told by dongqichang, a great calligrapher and collector in the late Ming Dynasty.

Now some scholars have verified that Sheng Mao and Wuzhen are not neighbors. This is pure fiction. But it doesn’t matter. The key is that Dong Qichang stated a truth with the sensitivity of calligraphers and painters: the transformation of public aesthetics will only take 20 years.

As long as you are good enough and persistent enough, you will amaze the world sooner or later.

The tall Wutong tree can naturally attract Phoenix, and the blooming flowers will naturally have butterflies landing. Practice yourself well and wait quietly.

? portrait of plum blossom Taoist Wuzhen


Wuzhenchao likes to draw a kind of man: fisherman.

There are many paintings in his life, but his works are limited. Among them, paintings containing the image of the fisherman account for a large proportion.

The fisherman in the picture may be Wuzhen’s ideal self:

The blue waves are thousands of acres, and the wind is blowing at night. The boat is anchored by the lake and a leaf is horizontal. Mind steady, grass clothes light, only catch bass, not name.

——The painting of hidden fishing in Dongting, Wuzhen

? hidden fishing in Dongting (partial)

Fisherman, since the pre Qin period, has been endowed with a reclusive image of indifference, decency and complacency. In the past, Fan Li helped the king of Yue destroy Wu, and later Yan Guang did not covet Lilu, and spent his life fishing in Tonglu, Zhejiang. Wuzhen, like the famous fishing hermit in history, sometimes takes a boat on the Taihu Lake.

Why does he want to be a fisherman?

This is a passive and active choice.

Wuzhen was born in 1280. At that time, the baby was still ignorant of the disaster the land where he grew up had experienced not long ago – in 1279, with Zhao Min jumping into the sea with luxiufu and more than 800 members of the Zhao song royal family, the Southern Song Dynasty was declared dead and the yuan Dynasty was unified.

This catastrophe to the Han people in the Southern Song Dynasty had no unexpected impact on the baby’s life.

After the rule of the Yuan Dynasty, in order to consolidate the political power, different ethnic groups were divided according to their ranks, from high to low, they were Mongolian, Semu, Han and Nan (all ethnic groups in the former Southern Song Dynasty). This discriminatory policy made the Han people the lowest social class.

If you happen to be a Han literati, it will be even more depressing.

In the past few hundred years, the imperial examination system, which had made countless scholars at the bottom of the society stand out, was under the rule of the Yuan government and was not restored until the second year of Yanyou (1315). It is a kind of extravagant hope for the Han literati to stand out from the imperial court.

This is the objective reason why the Han literati Wuzhen chose to live in seclusion for a lifetime.

But the most important thing is that in his bones, he was loyal to the Song Dynasty and not to the Yuan Dynasty.

? fisherman’s picture axis

Wu Yuan, the supreme ancestor of Wuzhen, was a Jinshi in the Southern Song Dynasty. He once served as an official to participate in political affairs and assist the prime minister. During this period, he also served as a transfer envoy and a shipping envoy. His grandfather, Wu Ze, was a fierce general in the Southern Song Dynasty who fought against the Yuan Dynasty. He once participated in the battle to defend Xiangyang.

Also from the generation of their grandfather, the Wu family in Jiaxing established the family political concept of being loyal to the Song Dynasty and not to the Yuan Dynasty.

In the generation of his father Wu He, due to the increasing penetration of the rule of the Yuan Empire, Wu gradually moved away from the imperial court and turned to the development of navigation. Taking advantage of the east wind of the Yuan Empire’s conquest of the world and the construction of southeast coastal ports, the Wu family’s maritime career reached its peak and accumulated a lot of wealth. The Jianghu people call it “the big boat Wu”.

After the Yuan Dynasty destroyed the Southern Song Dynasty, it was once intended to attract some famous scholars of the Southern Song Dynasty who had been in office to be loyal to the new court. In the 23rd year of the Yuan Dynasty (1286), they went to the Jiangnan area to search for suitable candidates. But Wuzhen’s parents were not interested in this, and no one answered.

Wuzhen was born in such a rich family loyal to the Southern Song Dynasty for generations.

Nowadays, people talk about Wuzhen’s seclusion in his life. They think that he lives in poverty and mainly depends on teaching and divination. Painting and poetry are actually interests, not profits. However, it should be noted that the poverty of Wuzhen is a choice he made, not a forced move.

The reason why he was poor was probably that he was so indifferent to money and money and lived a simple life that people ignored the rich family foundation behind him.

His painting “you do not ask for it, but give it to the poor”, which is not only the result of personal cultivation, but also the result of being rich since childhood. He has no sense of money.

As for Wuzhen’s youth, the historical records are not detailed. It is only said that he liked to make friends with heroes and learn martial arts and fencing. Later, he and his brother Wu Yu worshiped Liu Tianji at piling (now Changzhou, Jiangsu Province) to study physiognomy. Since then, he began to play in the mountains, rivers and seas, watching beautiful scenery, making ink paintings and writing poems.

As a scholar of Jiangnan, Wuzhen has never been as persistent in pursuing official career as huanggongwang or Wang Meng. Instead, it has made its own choice early on and has never wavered.

It is in this extremely calm state of mind that he painted a fisherman between mountains and rivers.

In the painting of wild geese in the reed blossom, there is a misty heaven and earth, remote mountains are misty, flowing water is empty, nearby reeds are swaying with the wind, and wild geese fly low. A fisherman, sitting in the bow of the boat, looked up at the sky, as if he had established a unique connection with heaven and earth, and entered an extremely private space of thought.

The feeling of super dust and refined came to my face.

? the painting of wild geese with reed flowers

Fishing for no reason is empty. A big fish makes a great boat light. Sorrow falls, but it is ups and downs. Everything is light, not deep.

——Fisherman in Wuzhen


Wuzhen likes to live in seclusion and has no intention of meddling in the affairs of the imperial government. However, it does not mean that he has no feelings for the rule of the Yuan people.

If the choice of seclusion was his first attitude towards the rule of the Yuan Dynasty, then his preference for painting bamboo was his second attitude – poverty and lowliness could not be removed, and power could not be surrendered.

When you are pitching yuan, you have no intention. When you are upright, you know that there is a knot. When an empty mountain falls, it does not change to frost and snow.

——Cliff bamboo in Wuzhen

? cliff bamboo in ink bamboo manual

In terms of bamboo painting, Wuzhen was one of the best painters in the Yuan Dynasty. According to his own words, after 50 years of painting bamboo, he has reached the point where he can “play and write”, and he can do whatever he wants and be handy.

Among them, wild bamboo is his favorite.

How does Wuzhen draw bamboo? In addition to Li Zhen, Su Shi and Wen Tong, who have deep bamboo painting skills, they specialize in their theories and imitate their paintings. More importantly, he attached great importance to the “communication” between people and bamboo.

He often had to carefully observe the growth state of wild bamboos and keep them in mind before showing the unusual posture of each bamboo on the drawing paper:

Relative to two forgetful words, you can only enjoy yourself. I cherish my talent, and I keep it at leisure.

——Wuzhen “three paintings one”

Compared with others, Wuzhen’s ink bamboo paintings are brilliant in that there are only a few strokes, and the personality of bamboo is very prominent.

His ink bamboo has thin, vigorous and proud branches and leaves.

The bamboo of some contemporary painters has the air of leisure and elegance at first sight, and then on closer inspection, it is the air of leisure and elegance raised in wealthy families. However, Wuzhen shows the nature of bamboo – the spirit of mountain monks, Taoists and wild people.

He appreciates the powerful posture of bamboo and its high moral integrity. Unconsciously, he also reveals his dissatisfaction with the rulers of the Yuan Dynasty:

Dongxuanzhilie, Yanyan Festival. Unyielding head, strong point wind and snow.

——Snow bamboo in Wuzhen

? the painting of snow bamboo in the ink bamboo manual

When he saw the wild bamboo outside, he never bowed his head, regardless of the wind and snow, and he could not help thinking of what people looked like in the face of real difficulties.

For those scholars who persist in official advancement, he has some disdain in his heart. The literati he saw at that time were just like lingche, a poet monk in the Tang Dynasty, who said: “it’s good to be off duty after meeting each other. How can you ever see anyone under the forest?”

When Wuzhen was 71 years old, he painted a lot of bamboos for others by making ink bamboo manual and bamboo manual map. This is probably a summary of the understanding of bamboo for decades.

The unyielding heart is always with bamboo. Therefore, later generations evaluated him as “a man who resists being simple, isolated and clean, and has a high self-standard”.

? dead wood, bamboo and stone scroll


Wuzhen, a plum blossom Taoist, has planted hundreds of plum blossoms in his own residence.

I love plum as much as I love bamboo.

His love for Mei is noble and lonely, and it is this belief in loneliness that has kept him calm and peaceful throughout his life.

? dark plum blossom scroll (partial)

In the Yuan Dynasty, there were many literati who were not in high position and could not leave office. Some people chose to use banquets and social intercourse to numb themselves with the pleasure of seeing and hearing, and forget their worries and anger. Therefore, the comings and goings of scholars at that time were normal.

However, Wuzhen is not keen on various literary collections.

Compared with other scholars of his time, his circle of friends is simple and clean.

From the inscriptions and postscripts of Wuzhen’s calligraphy and painting, he made the most friends with Taoists and monks, such as monk Songyan, Zen master zhusou, and teacher Guquan. Of course, there are also literati friends such as Weisu, huanggongwang, Nizan and so on.

In addition to maintaining a minimum of family and friends, his most comfortable state is to be alone.

In his life, apart from devoting his energy to poetry, books and paintings, all that remained was his understanding of the three religions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

He often meditates under the moon alone.

Under the moonlight, he sat alone in the woods and meditated until the sun rose and the moon set, and he did not leave.

? Heart Sutra volume (part) in Wuzhen cursive script

In 1354, he built a tomb in the plum blossom nunnery, where he lived, and wrote his own tombstone:

“He was born on the 16th day of July in the 17th year of Zhiyuan (1280) and died on the 15th day of September in the 14th year of Zhizheng (1354).”.

“Plum blossom monk’s Tower”.

Then he died peacefully.

Wuzhen was a lonely and clear-cut man, and his heart was calm and detached, so he created thick and gloomy paintings with innovative techniques, which was the reason why he was able to stand on the painting scene of the Yuan Dynasty. But in fact, he is pessimistic about the times.

He once said that his paintings will not meet a bosom friend until 500 years later.


In fact, after 500 years, as dongqichang said, the value of Wuzhen will be “discovered” by the world in only 20 years.

This is still Wuzhen’s life.

After his death, his mysterious low-key made him more and more popular.

In the Ming Dynasty, there were many people who studied the painting style of Wuzhen.

About 100 years after Wuzhen’s death, Shenzhou, the leader of the “four families of the Ming Dynasty”, announced that he was an iron fan of Wuzhen:

I love the plum blossom Weng, and the great old man spreads his heart seal.

Repair this ink edge, and everything will be green and moist.

Trees and stones fall into the brush, and nature cannot be stingy.

Now under the oak forest, I would like to sweep the news.

About 200 years after Wuzhen’s death, wangshizhen, a literary magnate of the Ming Dynasty, ranked painters of the Yuan Dynasty. Zhao Mengfu, Wuzhen, huanggongwang and Wang Meng were called the “four families of the Yuan Dynasty”.

About 250 years after Wuzhen’s death, dongqichang, a calligrapher and painter of the late Ming Dynasty, redefined the “four yuan families” and replaced Zhaomengfu with Nizan. Wuzhen is still on the list.

When the world heatedly discussed the works of the yuan Sixia, people found that compared with the other three people, Wuzhen’s life seemed to have fewer ups and downs that should be regarded as a “legend”:

Huanggongwang hoped to become an official with an official, and his pursuit for half a life ended in failure. After the age of 80, he became a great master with his “Fuchun Mountain Residence map”;

Wang Meng became an official in the Ming Dynasty, but died in prison because of the “huweiyong case”;

Nizan, a rich son, is an introverted person who attends Zen and learns Taoism. Finally, he abandoned his family and became a recluse in the Jianghu;

Wuzhen, on the other hand, lived in seclusion all her life, was not good at communication, and was good at Buddhism and Taoism. Finally, she died peacefully, that’s all.

However, it is precisely this seemingly ordinary life that is beyond the reach of countless people.

He has seen through the ups and downs of the world, the ups and downs of the world, and the ups and downs of the world. He has never had any waves.

Ancient and modern how many romantic. How long will it take for a fly to make a name for itself. Look at him yesterday, today I am, three times to worship each other, two times to be marquis. There is only one hill in Mang Mountain, beside the chrysanthemum fence and in the melon garden. A man with a torn skin is a skeleton.

——Spring in Qinyuan, painted skull, Wuzhen

Great works should not only have superb techniques, but also be full of penetrating hearts. Only in this way can we amaze the world and make it immortal.

As a Polish poet wrote more than 600 years after Wuzhen’s death:

There is nothing in this world that I want to possess.

I know no one deserves my admiration.

I have forgotten any misfortune I have suffered.

It is not embarrassing to think that I am the same today.

There is no pain in me.

Straightening up, I saw the blue sea and the sails.

——Miwalsh’s gift (Xichuan / translation)


Compiled by Jiashan County Cultural and historical Committee of the Chinese people’s Political Consultative Conference: Jiashan County Cultural and Historical Materials Volume 15: selected research papers of Wuzhen, 2001

Shou qinze: the masters of painting: huanggongwang, WangMeng, wuzhenchuan, Zhejiang People’s publishing house, 2007

Lijierong: Research on poetry and painting of the four schools of Yuan Dynasty, Doctoral Dissertation of Jinan University, 2011

Li Qi: Research on fisherman’s complex in Wuzhen landscape painting, master’s thesis of Henan Normal University, 2014

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