Definitions

Dong Qichang

Dong Qichang (1555–1636), courtesy name Xuanzai (玄宰), was a Chinese painter, scholar, calligrapher, and art theorist of the later period of the Ming Dynasty.

Painter

His work favored expression over formal likeness. He also avoided anything he deemed to be slick or sentimental. This led him to create landscapes with intentionally distorted spatial features. Still his work was in no way abstract as it took elements from earlier Yuan masters. His views on expression had importance to later "individualist" painters.

Art theory

He considered there to be a Northern school, represented by Zhe, and a Southern school represented by literati painters. This name is misleading as it refers to Northern and Southern schools of Chan Buddhism thought rather than geography. Hence a Northern painter could be geographically from the south and a Southern painter geographically from the north. In any event he strongly favored the Southern school and dismissed the Northern school as superficial or merely decorative.

Scholar and calligrapher

Dong Qichang was the son of a teacher and somewhat precocious as a child. At 12 he passed the prefectural civil service examination and won a coveted spot at the prefectural Government school. He first took the imperial civil service exam at seventeen, but placed second to a cousin because his calligraphy was clumsy. This led him to train until he became a noted calligrapher. Once this occurred he rose up the ranks of the imperial service passing the highest level at the age of 35.

His positions in the bureaucracy were not without controversy. In 1605 he was giving the exam when the candidates demonstrated against him causing his temporary retirement. In other cases he insulted and beat women who came to his home with grievances. That led to his house being burned down by an angry mob. He also had the tense relations with the eunuchs common to the scholar bureaucracy. Dong's tomb was vandalized during the Cultural Revolution, and his body dressed in official Ming court robes, was desecrated by Red Guards.

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