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Art Through Time: A Global View

Conflict and Resistance Art: Fish and Rocks

» Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (Chinese, 1626–1705)

Fish and Rocks

Fish and Rocks
Artist / Origin: Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (Chinese, 1626–1705)
Region: East Asia
Date: Qing Dynasty, 1699
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 53 in. (134.6 cm.), W: 23 7/8 in. (60.6 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of John M. Crawford, Jr./Art Resource, NY

After conquering Mongols established the Yuan Dynasty in China in the thirteenth century, a number of scholar-artists, or literati, choosing not to associate with the foreign rulers, had gone into self-imposed seclusion.

Similar circumstances attended the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchus, which led to the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. Artists and others loyal to the deposed Ming rulers would neither abide by nor serve the new government. The responses of these so-called yinmin, or “left-over subjects,” to foreign occupation were wide-ranging. Some committed suicide, while others fell into poverty. Many took up reclusive lifestyles.

Zhu Da, a descendant of the Ming royal house, is one of the most renowned of the yinmin artists. After the Manchus took power, Zhu Da withdrew to a Buddhist monastery. Some three decades later, however, he renounced his life as a monk and turned to painting as his livelihood. Like a number of other yinmin artists, Zhu Da, who now called himself Bada Shanren, developed a highly idiosyncratic style. Fish and Rocks is a fine example of the artist’s preference for simple compositions made up of essential but expressive lines and large expanses of blank space. His work, individualistic and tending towards abstraction, rejects the conservative, Western-influenced styles employed by a number of contemporary court artists, and by extension, constitutes an act of resistance against Qing rule.

Additional Resources

“Bada Shanren (Zhu Da): Fish and Rocks (1989.363.137).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. 2006).

Bai, Qianshen. In Pursuit Of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings And Calligraphy by Bada Shanren. New York: Weatherhill, 2003.

Clunas, Craig. Art in China. Second edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Barnhart, Richard, Wang Fangyu, and Judith Smith. Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren (1626–1705). New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Sullivan, Michael. The Arts of China. Fifth edition, expanded and revised. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

“When the Manchus Ruled China: Painting under the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).” In Special Exhibitions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site.

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