清明上河图 The Social Genre Painting Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival
The Song Dynasty produced masterpieces of figure painting, landscape, flower-and-bird painting, and social genre painting describing both urban and rural life. The most famous of the latter works is one known as Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival. It was painted by Zhang Zeduan, who lived in the late Northern Song Dynasty and early Southern Song Dynasty. It depicts scenes along the Bianhe River at Dongjing (today's Kaifeng in Henan Province), the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, at the time of the Pure Brightness Festival. This traditional festival is held in early April, and is the time when people visit their ancestral tombs.
Now in the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing, the painting is divided into three parts: The first part shows a team of pack mules plodding along the river bank in the suburbs in the morning light; the second part shows the bustling scene around the Rainbow Bridge spanning the river; the third part depicts the downtown streets, thronged with people plying all sorts of trades, and their customers. The whole scroll is 25.5 cm wide and 525 cm long, and has over 800 human and 94 animal figures, and 170 trees. This fascinating painting shows a wealth of detail of life in those days, covering customs, transportation, business, architecture and the activities of boatmen, sedan-chair carriers, scholars, etc. It provides valuable material for the study of life in the Northern Song capital.