What Is Listening To The Qin?-Tin Qin Tu

What Is Listening To The Qin?-Tin Qin Tu

"The Painting of Listening to the Qin" is a silk painting in meticulous brushwork and color, traditionally attributed to Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song Dynasty, Zhao Ji. It is currently housed in the Palace Museum in Beijing.


The painting depicts a scene where a person is playing the qin under a majestic pine tree, while others are attentively listening. In the center of the composition stands a tall, verdant pine tree, with morning glories climbing up its branches and bamboo stalks swaying nearby. The qin player, dressed in Daoist attire with a yellow crown and dark robes, is depicted plucking the strings of the instrument with a focused expression. Behind him, a group of three listeners, two wearing court attire with gauze hats, sit opposite each other, deeply engrossed in the music. To the left of the qin player sits a figure in a red robe and hat, holding a fan and leaning on a stone pedestal, seemingly intoxicated by the melody. To the right sits another figure in a green robe, hands clasped inside their sleeves, leaning forward with a contemplative expression. Behind them stands a young boy, also drawn to the music. In the foreground, there is a delicate rock formation with an ancient bronze vessel holding a bouquet of flowers.


Above the painting, there is a seven-character poem written by Cai Jing, one of the "Six Ministers," which describes the scene in lyrical detail. At the top right corner, Emperor Huizong's name is inscribed in his distinctive thin gold script, while his seal is affixed in the lower left corner.


The painting is stamped with the seal of Emperor Jiaqing's imperial collection in eight places.


Historical Background


"The Painting of Listening to the Qin" centers around Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, Zhao Ji, and his strong belief in Taoism. Therefore, it is rooted in historical events. It is not just a typical portrait but has real events as its basis, with many implications regarding politics, the court, and religion. By interpreting the painting and corroborating it with "The Biography of Emperor Huizong" from the Song Dynasty, the year of creation of "The Painting of Listening to the Qin" can be traced. The most prominent record is from the seventh year of the Zhenghe era (1117 AD), which coincidentally marks the period of creation of the painting. This year can be seen as a significant turning point in the political landscape of the Northern Song Dynasty.


Historical records state: "In the second month, Emperor Huizong changed the Tianning Wanshou Temple to the Shengxiao Yuqing Wanshou Palace. In the first year, more than two thousand Taoists gathered in the Upper Qing Baizhuan Palace, and Lin Lingsu was appointed as the master to announce the descent of the Emperor. ... In the fourth month, Emperor Huizong admonished the officials of the Daoist Academy and declared himself the supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church." This period marks the pinnacle of Huizong's belief in Taoism, culminating in the declaration of himself as the supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church. In "The Painting of Listening to the Qin," Emperor Huizong himself is depicted wearing Daoist robes, assuming the lofty position of the supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church. Therefore, the painting depicts Emperor Huizong, after being declared the "supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church" in April of the seventh year of the Zhenghe era (1117 AD), receiving court officials, playing the qin, discussing Daoism, and conveying subtle messages through art. Its creation year is indeed in the seventh year of the Zhenghe era (1117 AD), commemorating Emperor Huizong's dual revered status as the "supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church."


Controversy over Authorship


There has been much debate over the authorship of "The Painting of Listening to the Qin." Some experts believe that the painting was created by artists from Emperor Huizong's Hanlin Academy of Painting, while others argue that it was painted by Emperor Huizong himself.

There is also disagreement regarding the identity of the figures depicted in the painting. Most people believe that the Daoist playing the qin is none other than Emperor Huizong himself. Because Zhao Ji was a fervent believer in Taoism and had built Taoist temples near the imperial palace, inviting Taoist priests to preach, and the Taoist priests took this opportunity to honor Zhao Ji as the "supreme Emperor of the Daoist Church." Therefore, it is not surprising that Emperor Huizong dressed himself as a Daoist, played the qin in the palace, and even had portraits painted of himself.




The partial poem by Cai Jing on "The Painting of Listening to the Qin" reads: "Reciting the tones of the zither, under the stove, a tong tree; In the midst of the pines, one suspects the pine wind entering. Gazing upward, peering downward, discerning guests with subtle emotions; It seems as if one is listening to a tune without strings." The poem alludes to historical and literary figures, suggesting the refinement of Emperor Huizong's qin playing skills. It also implies that the listeners are not ordinary people, but rather individuals who appreciate and understand the nuances of music deeply. In traditional Chinese culture, music has long been used as a metaphor to evaluate political situations. Confucius used the excellence of music during Emperor Shun's reign and King Wu of Zhou's reign to assess the political conditions of their respective eras. Similarly, in "Historical Records," it is mentioned that Prince Ji of Wu used music to discern the political situation of a state. In ancient times, the qin was regarded as the king of musical instruments, capable of rectifying improper behavior. Emperor Huizong playing the qin in the painting signifies harmony between the ruler and his subjects, with the melody of the qin representing the moral guidance of the monarch being received and followed by his subjects. This reflects the profound political significance of "The Painting of Listening to the Qin."




"The Painting of Listening to the Qin" depicts simple characters and settings, with morning glories entwined around tall pine trees. There is a sense of elegance and grandeur in the painting, with the Daoist figure exuding an air of refinement and the surrounding objects indicating wealth and luxury. The use of colors in the painting is subtle yet effective, with the black attire of the qin player contrasting with the red and blue robes of the listeners, creating a harmonious composition. The meticulous brushwork adds to the overall elegance of the painting, with fine lines conveying a sense of delicacy and grace. The composition is carefully arranged to create a sense of harmony and tranquility, with each element contributing to the overall atmosphere of the painting.




The composition of "The Painting of Listening to the Qin" is focused and balanced, with the qin music flowing upward through the painting. The arrangement of the characters and objects in the painting is carefully designed to create a sense of depth and perspective, with the Daoist figure placed in the center and the listeners positioned around him. The placement of the characters and objects ensures that the flow of the music is uninterrupted, with each element contributing to the overall harmony of the composition. The use of space in the painting is also well-executed, with the characters and objects arranged in a way that creates a sense of balance and unity.




The overall aura of "The Painting of Listening to the Qin" is one of elegance and refinement, with the music of the qin resonating throughout the painting. The inscription by Emperor Huizong and the seal affixed to the painting are carefully positioned to complement the overall composition of the painting, adding to its sense of harmony and balance. The painting is a testament to the artist's skill and attention to detail, creating a sense of tranquility and beauty that resonates with viewers.





Zhang Xiaomei, "Chinese Painting" (China Real Publishing House, April 2012), pp. 40.

Li Jierong, "Behind the Artistic Conception of Painting: Stories Behind the Scenes" (Huangshan Book House, December 2015), pp. 60-63.

Yuan Zhizheng, "Appreciation of Famous Chinese Paintings" (New China Publishing House, July 2015), pp. 159-160.

Yu Hui, "Stories of Paintings in the Forbidden City" (Forbidden City Publishing House, July 2014), pp. 94.

The Palace Museum Research Institute, "Research on Chinese Court Paintings" (Forbidden City Publishing House, August 2015), pp. 51-56.

The "National Treasure Files" Editorial Team, "National Treasure Files: Painting Cases" (China Democratic Legal Publishing House, October 2009), pp. 152.

Jiang Zhengcheng, "Elegant Charm of Chinese Painting: Understanding Chinese Painting with One Book" (China Fortune Publishing House, March 2016), pp. 112-114.

Zhou Linsheng, "Painting of the Song and Yuan Dynasties" (Hebei Education Publishing House, June 2012), pp. 127.

Exhibition: "The Painting of the Qin and the Imperial Collection of Treasures" (NetEase News, August 31, 2015).

Zhao Ji, The Palace Museum.

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