The origin and content of the Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour scrolls
The Kangxi Emperor undertook six Southern Tours during his reign—in 1684, 1689, 1699, 1703, 1705, and 1707 respectively. He described the purpose of these tours as follows: “The Yellow River and the Grand Canal are intimately connected to the livelihood of the people. I care about them dearly… Now I have selected an auspicious time to tour the south so as to experience the waterways and also because I desire to understand the living conditions of the people.” On the surface, Kangxi wanted to inspect the flood control of the Yellow River and the Grand Canal and to understand the local customs of the various regions, but the social and political environment of the time suggested a less explicit motive: to ease the anti-Qing sentiments of the Jiangnan region.1 Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Fujian belonged to the Southern Ming Dynasty. When it was conquered by the Qing, the local officials, gentry, and commoners were vehemently opposed to its rule. Even during Kangxi’s reign, some of them remained loyal to the Ming, which posed a serious danger to the Qing. To win over the hearts of these people, Kangxi showed himself as a benevolent ruler and made a point of worshipping at the mausolea of the legendary ruler Yu the Great in Shaoxing and of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty in Nanjing. As a way to encourage the Jiangnan literati to accept Qing rule and offer their services to it, the Southern Tours contributed to the political stability and economic development of the Qing Dynasty. They were also extravagant affairs involving many participants, and were richly documented in both texts and images. Kangxi’s court created a set of 12 scrolls of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour, based on the second tour of 1689.
The creation and creators of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour
In 1689, after the conclusion of the second Southern Tour, Kangxi decreed the creation of the scrolls in question. The frontispiece of the twelfth scroll indicates that the set took “six years to complete.” According to Qing court regulations, every important court painting must be approved by the emperor in draft form. The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour underwent a similar process, and indeed some of the drafts are still extant. The scrolls in the set are all 67.8 in height but range in length from 14 to 26 meters. Each of the scrolls consists of a specially made seamless piece of silk of unusually high quality, with a fine texture and luxurious sheen.
At the Qing court, the Imperial Household Department (Neiwufu) organized the work of the painting workshops. A record in court documents stored at the First Historical Archives of China names Cao Quan as “Supervisor of the Painting of the Southern Tour Scrolls.” Cao Quan was the younger brother of Cao Yin, Head of the Imperial Manufactory in Suzhou. Dated to the fourth day of the fourth month of 1690, this record also makes clear the intimate relationship between the Caos and the Qing imperial family.
Song Junye, whose office was affiliated with the Imperial Library, was among the painters responsible for the execution of the scrolls, and he recommended his teacher Wang Hui (1632-1717) to Kangxi for the Southern Tour project. Wang Hui, the chief designer and draftsman of the scrolls, was one of the renowned landscape painters of the early Qing period and a native of Changshu, Jiangsu. His zi was Shigu, and his hao included Gengyan shanren, Jianmen qiaoke, Wumu shanren, and Qinghui laoren. Wang Hui, Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, and Wang Yuanqi were known as the Four Wangs; in turn, these four, Wu Li, and Yun Shouping were together known as the Six Masters of the Early Qing. Shiqinggao mentions that Wang Hui “through his verbal instructions and personal demonstration, pictured a thousand miles within a few feet, divided the composition among the various painters, and synthesized their work.” The Qing writer Chen Zufan, in his Memorial on Master Wang Gengyan [that is, Wang Hui] describes the process in greater detail: “[Wang] painted The Southern Tour. All the skilled painters of the realm gathered at the capital. Having mixed their ink, wetted their brushes, and laid down their silk, they simply looked at each other, not having courage to paint and waiting patiently for Master Wang to give his signal. Wearing his grass-woven robe loosely, Master took the foremost seat, and for a long period gazed intensely and concentrated his mind. Then he instructed the painters, ‘Set the capital here, and set the mountains and streams here. [Paint] some figures eagerly awaiting the emperor’s arrival, some following him obediently, some clearing the emperor’s path, and some on their return trip.’ He enumerated the topographical variations of several thousand miles and the twists and turns of the path, and then the design was complete. The various painters followed his compositions diligently. Master then added some flourishes to the paintings to enliven them.” Very pleased with the completed scrolls, the Kangxi Emperor bestowed on Wang Hui the characters Shanshui qinghui (“Landscape Clear and Radiant”), from which Wang derived his late hao Qinghui laoren.
The following painters also participated in the creation of the Southern Tour scrolls:
Yang Jin (1644-1728), zi Zihe, hao Xiting, was a fellow townsman and student of Wang Hui. He went to the capital with his teacher. He is recorded to have “accompanied Shigu [Wang Hui] on his travels as a student and learnt painting from him. [Wang Hui] tasked him with the painting of all the figures, carriages and bridges, camels and horses, and so on.”
Wang Yun (1652-?), zi Hanzao, hao Qingchi, Wen’an, was a native of Gao’you, Jiangsu. He was skilled at painting landscapes, figures, architecture, and had a conscientious manner. He was friendly with Wang Hui, and is recorded to have participated in the Southern Tour project (according to Peng Baiyun’s colophon on Wang Yunhua’s Xiuyuan tu).
Leng Mei (ca. 1670-1742), zi Jichen, biehao Jinmen huashi, was a native of Jiaozhou, Shandong. He served at the courts of the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors. A student of the court paint Jiao Bingzhen, Leng Mei was skilled at painting figures, court ladies, landscapes, and bird-and-flower subjects, and had a refined and luxuriously colorful style. Jiaozhou zhi records that he participated in the Southern Tour project.
Wang Hui, Yang Jin, Xu Mei, Yu Yuan, Wang Yun, Wu Zhi, and Gu Fang collaboratively painted Peaches, Birds, and Fish, dated to 1693, during the production of the Southern Tour scrolls. These painters very likely were part of the project. The Kangxi-era high official Gao Shiqi owned an album of leaves by Wang Hui, Song Junye, Yang Jin, Xu Mei, and Gu Fang, and inscribed on it that “In the yihai and bingzi years [1695-1696], a number of skillful painters gathered at the capital to paint the Southern Tour scrolls.” This inscription confirms that Song Junye, Yang Jin, Xu Mei, and Xu Fang worked on the project.2
As we have seen, the Southern Tour scrolls were produced collaboratively by a number of painters under the leadership of Wang Hui. This mode of production was common for Qing-dynasty court paintings.
The content and artistic characteristics of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour
The Southern Tour scrolls are a masterpiece of early-Qing court painting. Measuring over 200 meters in total, the scrolls depict the notable natural sights and cities along the emperor’s journey, including over a thousand human figures and animals and a rich variety of topographical features and professions. The sheer magnitude and richness of the scrolls’ is rare among classical Chinese paintings. Organized around the emperor’s daily itinerary according to the qijuzhu format of court records, the scrolls faithfully record the sites and major events of the Southern Tour. Kangxi appears once in each scroll at a slightly larger scale than other figures to indicate his superior status. As each scroll unrolls, it reveals rich details of topography, scenic sites, and local customs, offering a comprehensive picture of the social, economic, and cultural conditions of the time. The Southern Tour scrolls are thus equally a historical and ethnographic document and a masterwork of art.
The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour narrates the emperor’s journey visually in the horizontal scroll format. It follows the compositional format of the renowned Qingming shanghe tu by the Northern Song painter Zhang Zeduan, but unlike the latter is divided among multiple scrolls. The scrolls are each self-contained but are interconnected as a whole. Each scroll may depict what events and journey of a day, several days, or one or two weeks, preserving narrative continuity while transcending the constraints of space and time. The paintings depict the major events and scenes in great detail and selectively summarize and condense the scenery along the way. Perspective shifts flexibly according to representational needs: “level distance,” “deep distance,” and multi-point perspective tend to be used in the distant landscape scenes to accentuate their majesty. In the urban segments, by contrast, the paintings tend to take a bird’s-eye view to encompass entire cityscapes. Qianlong Emperor’s Southern Tour and Prosperous Suzhou (Gusu fanhua tu) of the Qianlong period preserve these formal features.
The current condition of the Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour scrolls
The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour is a documentary painting that includes the emperor’s appearance. According to regulations of the Qing court, any portrait of a deceased emperor had to be sent to Shouwangdian on Jingshan for veneration, and indeed the Southern Tour scrolls were stored there for over 200 years after Kangxi’s death. In 1900, invading Beijing, the Allied Forces of Eight Nations occupied imperial palaces such as Yingtai and Shouwangdian and looted many treasures of the imperial collection, including the imperial portraits housed at Shouwangdian. The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour were then dispersed. The sixth edition of Gugong wenpin diancha baogao, issued by the Palace Museum in 1919, records the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and first scrolls, which were entered into the museum’s collection. In the 1950’s, the museum received the twelfth scroll, which had been donated by Jin Bosheng, from the Ministry of Culture.
Among the scrolls that had left the Forbidden City and are known to be extant, the second and fourth scrolls are at the Guimet Museum in Paris; the third at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and the seventh part of the Mactaggard Art Collection of the University of Alberta, Canada. The locations of the fifth and eighth scrolls are unknown.3 In recent years, fragments of the sixth scroll have gradually appeared, which is fortunate.
The first scroll covers Kangxi’s journey from Yongdingmen to Nanyuan. Kangxi rides on a white horse and is surrounded by a large group of guards. A ceremonial formation of carriages and elephants lines his path to the temporary palace at Nanyuan. Yongdingmen and Nanyuan are named in the painting.
The second scroll covers the journey of Kangxi’s retinue from Beijing to Jinan, Shandong.
The third scroll depicts the distance from Jinan through Tai’an to Mount Tai. Kangxi stands on the city wall of Jinan and inspects what is ahead of him. The walled city of Jinan, Kaishan Temple, Zhangxia, Mount Tai, Tai’an Prefecture, and Mengyang County are labeled.
The fourth scroll depicts Kangxi leading officials to inspect the flooding of the Yellow River and Huai River. The labeled locations and scenes are: Honghuapu, “the Emperor examines the drought in Pizhou,” Suqian County, “the Emperor inspects a dike,” the Yellow River, the intersection of Yellow River and Huai River, and “the Emperor inspects Gaojiayan.”
The locations depicted in the fifth and sixth scrolls are not entirely clear. Records of Kangxi’s journey suggest that they should encompass locations from Yangzhou, through Zhenjiang and Danyang, to Changzhou.
The seventh scroll depicts the distance from Huishan and Xishan to Suzhou. Kangxi disembarks his imperial boat, which is anchored outside the Chang Gate of Suzhou. The labeled locations are: Mount Jiulong, the Qin Garden, Huishan Temple, Xishan, Huangpodun, Wuxi County, Yaotou, Xin’an, the Hushu Pass, Wenchangge, Fengqiao, Hanshan Temple, Bantang Temple, Guandi Temple, Shantang, Zhenzhuo Bridge, Tiger Hill, Wanshou Temple, its Main Hall, the Chang Gate of Suzhou Prefecture, Huangpengfang, Gao Bridge, Yuanmiao Daoist Temple, Miluoge, and the Imperial Manufactory.
The eighth scroll is at an unknown location and should depict Kangxi’s journey from Jiaxing to Hangzhou.
The ninth scroll depicts Kangxi and his retinue after their crossing of the Qiantang River and arrival at Shaoxing Prefecture. Accompanied by guards, the emperor leaves the city of Shaoxing to conduct rituals at the Mausoleum of Yu the Great. The labeled locations are: a tea pavilion, Xixing Pass, Xixing Relay Station, Xiaoshan County, Keqiao Township, Shaoxing Prefecture, Jiaochang, Mount Fu, Yuewang Gazebo, Zhendong Pavilion, the Temple of Yu the Great, and the Mausoleum of Yu the Great.
The tenth scroll depicts the northward trip from Zhejiang to Jiangning Prefecture. The frontispiece mentions that Kangxi has conducted rituals at the Mausoleum of Emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty. The labeled locations and scenes are: Jurong County, Taipingzhuang, Moling Pass, Tongji Gate, Qinhuai River, Chaoku Street, Examination Hall, Confucius Temple, Sanshan Street, Old Palace, Inner Bridge, Tongxian Bridge, “bestowing silk on an old man,” Jiaochang, Guandi Temple, Jiming Temple, Bell Mountain, “commoners offering fruit,” Terrace for Astronomical Observations, Taipinghui, Storehouse of Household Records, and Rear Lake.
The eleventh scroll depicts the crossing of Changjiang from Swallow Rock at Jiangnin Prefecture. Kangxi rides on a dragon boat along the river and is guarded by boats of a variety of sizes. The labeled locations are: Bao’en Temple, Shuixi Gate, Hanxi Gate, Shitoucheng, Hongji Temple, Guanyin Gate, Guandi Temple, Swallow Rock, Dajiang, Liujiashan, Yizhen County, and Jinshan.
The twelfth scroll depicts the return to Beijing through Yongdingmen. Kangxi arrives at Zhengyangmen on a carriage and is accompanied by an orderly formation of followers. At the rear of his retinue are representatives of the Four Occupations—gentry, peasants, craftspeople, and merchants—forming the four characters Tianzi wannian (“Long Live the Son of Heaven”), which announce the conclusion of the Southern Tour festivities. The labeled scenes include: Taihemen, Wumen, Duanmen, Tiananmen, Taiqingmen, Zhengyangmen, and Yongdingmen. At the end of the scroll is Song Junye’s essay “A Record of the Southern Tour scrolls,” inscribed by the imperial decree by Sun Yue. This is followed by the inscription “mounted during the wuzi month of the forty-seventh year of the Kangi reign by imperial decree.”
The condition of the fragments of the sixth scroll
Three different sections of the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour surfaced in 2009, 2012, and 2016 respectively. They are painted on silk and of identical height and painting style, but differ in length.
This fragment measures 68 cm in height and 362 in width and comes with an intact silk backing bearing the label, “The sixth scroll of the Southern Tour: crossing the river from Guanzhou to Jinshan, passing through Changzhou Prefecture.” The label’s format is identical to the format of labels on the other scrolls. The fragment opens with Jiaoshan, a small island on Changjiang, shrouded in mist. Along the river are boats of various sizes. The viewer then encounters a shore and a section of a city wall, whose gate is open and decorated. Officials and commoners pass through the gate, which opens to a road that leads to a pier by the river. Above the city gate is a label reading “Guazhou.” Further ahead, the boats become more densely packed, and a large island with jagged rocks and luxuriant vegetation appears in the middle of the river, labeled “Jinshan.” Atop Jinshan is a high pagoda, and on the level ground at its base are decorative scaffolds. On the mountainside is a white jade platform, on which a revered figure stands under a yellow umbrella and surrounded by officials and servants. Although the figure’s face is extremely small, one can still recognize from his dignified composure and dress that he is none other than Kangxi himself.
This fragment measures 68 cm in height and 250 cm in length. It opens with a quiet misty scene on Changjiang in which many boats are scattered. Further ahead, the magnificent scenery of the south shore of Changjiang appears, with its beautiful vegetation and fluttering flags. A crowd bustles on a pier, awaiting the emperor’s arrival. Beigu Mountain, Iron Pagoda of Ganlu Temple, and Yinshanmen Pier, all famous sites of Zhenjiang, are labeled.
This fragment measures 68 cm in height and 475.3 cm in length. It ends with a city gate. In front of the gate is an arrow-shaped tower, and further ahead a label reading “Changzhou Prefecture.” This fragment seems to be the conclusion of the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour. In painting style, it is consistent with the rest of the set, depicting dense populations and Jiangnan scenery. In particular, a few large trees in this fragment show clear traces of Wang Hui’s painting style.4
The first and second fragments are continuous, but the third fragment does not follow them immediately, indicating a lost intervening segment. Although the three fragments total over 10 meters in length, they remain shorter than the complete scrolls, which measure 15 to 20 meters. It is clear from the above that the sixth scroll of The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour was cut into four or more segments. The extant fragments are in good condition. It is hoped that the remainder is cherished and will surface and rejoin the other fragments someday.
1. See Shenzu shilu.
2. Nie Chongzheng, “Kangxi nanxun tu zuozhe xinzheng”, in Rongbaizhai, no. 4, 2003.
3. Nie Chongzheng, “Tan Kangxi nanxun tu juan,” in Meishu yanjiu, no. 4, 1989.
4. Nie Chongzheng, “Xin jian Kangxi nanxun tu di liu juan canben kao,” in Wenwu, no. 8, 2013.
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