a thousand li of rivers and mountains by wang ximeng

a thousand li of rivers and mountains by wang ximeng

The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" is an epic masterpiece of ancient Chinese painting, portraying a vast expanse of green mountains and waters. This artwork, a treasure of ancient Chinese painting, depicts magnificent natural landscapes with its grand scale, intricate brushwork, and profound symbolism. It has become a brilliant gem in the realm of Chinese art.



what is a thousand li of rivers and mountains?

The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" measures 51.5 centimeters in height and an impressive 1191.5 centimeters in width, marking the enduring legacy of Wang Ximeng, a painter from the Northern Song dynasty. Presented in a scroll format, this painting showcases towering peaks, intertwining rivers, and creates a magnificent landscape painting. The artwork abounds with diverse elements, offering clear layers meticulously crafted with delicate brushwork and ingenious composition, seamlessly merging the grandeur and harmony of natural scenery.


Regarding its use of color, "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" employs the technique of green-and-blue landscape painting, predominantly utilizing mineral pigments like stone blue and stone green, presenting a refreshing and vibrant color palette. Mountains, trees, rivers, and other features within the painting are endowed with rich layers of color, enhancing the three-dimensional and lively aspect of the composition. Furthermore, the artist utilizes varied brushwork and ink tones to portray textures, adding a sense of realism to the scenery. 

Beyond color and composition, this masterpiece is laden with poetic sentiments. The depicted landscapes harmonize with natural scenery, offering viewers an aesthetic delight. Simultaneously, it incorporates rich cultural connotations and historical contexts, displaying the profound depth of ancient Chinese culture. Through the depiction of these landscapes, the artist expresses reverence for nature and conveys aspirations for a better life.

As an epic scroll painting, "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" holds a significant position in the history of Chinese painting. It represents not only the pinnacle of Northern Song green-and-blue landscape painting but also contributes immensely to the development of Chinese artistic expression. Additionally, this painting possesses substantial artistic and collectible value, becoming a precious artifact eagerly sought after by major museums and collectors.

The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" is an entire scroll painting without the artist's signature but bears inscriptions by Emperor Qianlong from the Qing Dynasty, a commentary by Cai Jing from the Song Dynasty separated by water, and a concluding inscription by Li Puguang from the Yuan Dynasty. Upon opening the scroll, numerous vermilion seals and an introductory poem can be observed at the beginning.

The initial section ascends to the summit of towering mountains, with undulating hills, majestic peaks, and a gradual transition to breathtaking vistas. Nature's incredible craftsmanship springs to life under the painter's brush, beginning with foreground mountainous villages, distant peaks rising across the banks, extending wings gracefully to complement the initial setting. A grand bridge spans the lower left, leading to secluded dwellings visible after traversing two mountain layers. In these settings, white-robed recluses are seen, pausing intermittently, seemingly composing poetry or music while continuing ahead, encountering another bridge with a small pavilion. Progressing further leads to the riverbank. The distant view exudes vast misty expanses and undulating peaks resembling an ethereal realm. Upon landing, cliffside paths spiral through the mountains leading to a courtyard deep within. Waterfalls amidst the mountains cascade and merge into the river, captivating viewers with scenic transitions from distant to intimate. A magnificent bridge crossing the river marks a transition to the second segment.

The spectacular bridge, constructed with wooden beams and columns, boasting thirty-two piers beneath a palatial two-tiered structure, akin to a rainbow, forms a majestic sight. Here, the rhythm of uneven peaks intensifies, culminating in leftward spirals, extending to an island that gracefully blends into nearby mountains, fishing villages, and the riverbank. This sequence concludes with towering peaks intertwining with the serpentine river's course, marking the end of the second segment. Moving ahead, a series of rustic bridges with pavilions punctuate the entire scroll amidst towering peaks that seemingly pierce the sky, reaching a crescendo. Peaks on the left interact with winding river currents, serving as a transition and finale for the second segment.

Journeying from the river-crossing bridge onto the shore, structures line both sides, traversing high mountains and valleys to reach a plain with clustered village houses. The precipice bordering the plain poses a dramatic contrast to the village's safety ensured by the surrounding towering mountains. However, the village appears isolated, lacking a passage to the next, prompting a return along the original path. Villages nestled in the valley, boats along the riverbanks, and an idyllic secluded life beckon boatmen to continue forward. Boats on the water reveal two distant mountains, mirroring each other, resembling the separated Cowherd and Weaver in the Milky Way, leaning towards each other but unable to touch. A verdant green swath of land by the bank exudes vitality, with scattered fishing boats, echoing the calls of fishermen. After traversing mountains and valleys, one stands beneath the pinnacle. Though there's a sense of ascent, the courage to climb seems elusive. 

The third segment pivots from the preceding tense and intricate passage, adopting a gentle, soothing rhythm, alleviating the prior tension. A small island appears, adorned with a fishing village and dotted boats, heralding a transition and serving as a connective point. The lower left section portrays nearby slopes, functioning as a transition. The final part depicts an abruptly rising peak extending over the river and distant mountains, concluding the journey.



wang ximeng

Wang Ximeng, a renowned painter of the Northern Song Dynasty, was a prodigious young talent in the annals of Chinese art history. Historical records about his life are scarce, but glimpses of his exceptional painting talent and artistic achievements can be gleaned from his masterpiece, the "Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains."


According to historical accounts, Wang Ximeng, at the age of around thirteen, entered the palace "painting school" as a student. Initially, he didn't display extraordinarily outstanding painting skills. However, driven by his passion and dedication to painting, he persevered in learning, gradually standing out in the painting school. His talent was recognized by Emperor Huizong, Zhao Ji, who summoned him into the imperial library and afforded him opportunities to serve in Huizong's presence. 

Emperor Huizong, a remarkable artist and scholar himself, possessed a discerning eye and believed in Wang Ximeng's teachability, personally guiding him in brushwork techniques. Under Emperor Huizong's careful tutelage, Wang Ximeng's painting skills soared, quickly surpassing other artists in the court.

In the third year of Zhenghe (1113 AD), Wang Ximeng commenced the creation of the scroll painting "Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains." Measuring 51.5 centimeters in height and a striking 1191.5 centimeters in width, extending over 16 meters in length, it stood as the largest green-and-blue landscape painting in Chinese art history at the time. Remarkably, he completed this masterpiece in just half a year, at the age of eighteen. The painting depicts a magnificent landscape with towering peaks, intertwining rivers, and a multitude of scenic elements. Wang Ximeng skillfully merged the grandeur and harmony of natural scenery using delicate brushwork and ingenious composition, showcasing the unique charm of green-and-blue landscape painting.

Beyond painting techniques, the "Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" embodies rich cultural connotations and historical context. Wang Ximeng infused profound insights into nature and life, as well as the cultural and artistic spirit of his time into this painting. Through his portrayal of landscapes, he expressed reverence for nature and aspirations for a better life. This painting not only represents the pinnacle of Northern Song green-and-blue landscape painting but also made a significant contribution to the development of Chinese painting artistry.




how did wang ximeng die

The cause of Wang Ximeng's death remains an enigma, as historical records do not offer a clear account.

Wang Ximeng, a renowned painter in the later period of the Northern Song Dynasty, stands as a prodigious youth immortalized through a single painting in the annals of Chinese art history. However, historical texts lack documentation about him. Wang Ximeng, entering the palace's "painting school" at the age of thirteen, initially showed moderate proficiency. He was a student in the imperial painting academy during the reign of Emperor Huizong, Zhao Ji. Later, he was summoned to the imperial library and had the opportunity to serve Emperor Huizong directly. Emperor Huizong possessed a keen eye and believed in Wang Ximeng's teachability, stating, "His nature is educable," and personally imparted his techniques. Under Emperor Huizong's guidance and direct instruction, Wang Ximeng's artistry advanced, surpassing conventional standards.





creation background  

During the late Northern Song Dynasty, a precarious military standoff with the Jin Dynasty emerged, accompanied by the decline of the Song royal court, territorial losses, and widespread hardships among the populace. Within the court and beyond, a robust sense of patriotism took root, particularly among young scholars. Faced with a weak government and military, these patriotic forces, primarily composed of young students, placed their aspirations for national prosperity and military strength within their own artistic and cultural creations.

Since Emperor Taizu's separation of military and political power through the "cup of wine" ceremony, the society had transitioned into one governed by culture and intellect. Scholars held significant status in this era, influenced by the gradual evolution of education since the Han Dynasty and the advent of printing technology during the Song Dynasty. These factors shaped the themes of artistic creation, redirecting painting from addressing the issues of "people and society" to pondering the relationship between "people and nature."

Emperor Huizong, as a monarch, altered the social status of court painters. As the leader of artistic creation, he imposed direct and explicit requirements on painting. He, as a painter himself, never allowed court painters unrestrained creative freedom. His aesthetic preferences became the absolute standard determining artistic style. Court painters had strict guidelines to adhere to his aesthetic tastes and inclinations in terms of subjects and techniques.

The Painting Academy was established by Emperor Huizong in the third year of Chongning (1104 AD) as an institution for court painting education, later falling under the Hanlin Academy's painting department. Wang Ximeng, in the role of a court painter, created "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains."



Art Appreciation

The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains depicts the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature, embodying an ideal human habitat where the integration of heaven and humanity prevails. This concept, deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, is exemplified in the form of landscape paintings, steering people's choices in selecting living environments. The ancient concept of "unity of heaven and humanity" and the harmony between humans and nature under the belief of "Taoism following natural principles" have always been present in landscape paintings' ideology. 

Landscape Art as a Shelter: The artwork represents a haven for the masses, acknowledging the need for secure habitats and defensive measures to secure favorable resources for survival. Over time, people have evaluated living environments based on their suitability for protection and established principles for creating habitable surroundings.

Psychological Appeal of Habitable Landscapes: Traditional Chinese cosmology, natural views, landscape perceptions, environmental perspectives, and aesthetic concepts align seamlessly with Chinese landscape paintings. Wang Ximeng's "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" exhibits the unity of "Tao and art" and the fusion of "residence and leisure" in its composition. The painting captures the essence of "residency" and "leisure," allowing people to walk, gaze, and enjoy their surroundings, creating an ideal living environment.


Depiction of Nature:

The painting showcases verdant landscapes, mirroring the Song Dynasty's imperial pursuit of longevity. It resonates with Taoist notions of health and immortality, aligning with the imperial desires. The use of vivid colors unseen in actual landscapes, such as stone blue and stone green, conveys a realm of overseas paradises and longevity secrets.

The artwork portrays intricate natural scenery closely intertwined with human activities, vividly illustrating diverse societal life. It meticulously depicts various scenes of daily labor, including boats lining the riverbanks, showcasing bustling activities like fishing, planting, and village maintenance, evoking a serene and harmonious atmosphere.


Artistic Technique:

Despite the passage of centuries, "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" retains its clarity, emphasizing the richness of mineral-based colors, especially in the depiction of green mountains. The painting technique involves outlining contours with intense and subtle lines, followed by shading and coloring techniques utilizing various mineral pigments, creating depth and visual allure.

The painting method inherits the traditional "blue-green landscape" approach, primarily utilizing mineral pigments for a decorative and slightly exaggerated effect. Though predominantly blue-green, it emphasizes variations within this color scheme, with nuanced applications of reddish hues to highlight the landscape's depth and grandeur.





The journey of the painting "Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" has been tumultuous and endured many trials. After Wang Ximeng completed the artwork, he presented it to Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, who greatly admired it and subsequently gifted it to his favored minister, Prime Minister Cai Jing. Later, during the reign of Emperor Qin Zong Zhao Huan of the Song Dynasty, the painting became part of the imperial collection.

Following the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty, it was taken to the Jin Dynasty, then passed to the hands of Prime Minister Gao Ruili. In the Yuan Dynasty, it was acquired by the painter and calligrapher Monk Li Puguang. During the Ming Dynasty, it found its way into the possession of the prominent collector Liang Qingbiao. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, it entered the imperial collection.

In the late Qing Dynasty, Puyi removed it from the imperial palace, placing it in the Xiaobailou in Changchun. In 1945, after the collapse of Manchukuo following Japan's surrender, looting ensued, and the painting was lost to the public. In the early days of liberation, it surfaced in the Liuli Factory and was acquired by the patriotic businessman Jin Bosheng, who later donated the artwork to the state.

Finally, in 1953, the "Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains" officially became part of the collection at the Beijing Palace Museum (also known as the Forbidden City Museum), where it has been preserved and revered ever since.

In summary, "The Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains," as an epic scroll painting of green-and-blue landscapes, has become a treasure in Chinese art due to its unique artistic allure and profound cultural significance. This painting, with its grand scale, intricate brushwork, and rich cultural connotations, presents the magnificent scenery of natural landscapes and the vast depth of ancient Chinese culture. It not only represents the pinnacle of Northern Song green-and-blue landscape painting but also makes a significant contribution to the development of Chinese artistic expression. Let us collectively appreciate this brilliant gem and savor its unique artistic charm.




  1. "Northern Song Landscape: Magnificent Atmosphere" by Lai Yingqin, published in Mei Shu Da Guan on November 15, 2015.
  2. "Traveling Through 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'—Appreciating Wang Ximeng's Green Landscape Painting" by Zhou Lili, in Wen Wu Jian Ding Yu Jian Shang on June 10, 2011.
  3. "Why Did 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' Cause a 'Forbidden City Run'" by Phoenix News on September 30, 2017.
  4. "From 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' to Fuchun Mountain Residence: The Role and Influence of the Aesthetic Perception Model of the Creative Subject on the Evolution of Painting Style" by Zhang Hongmei and Liu Zhaowu, in Wen Yi Zheng Ming on December 25, 2015.
  5. "Northern Song Painting Academy and Wang Ximeng's 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Liu Xuewei, in Wen Yi Zheng Ming on December 15, 2010.
  6. "From 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' to the Exploration of Human Settlement Environment in Ideal Environments" by Zhang Kaiyue, in Xian Dai Yuan Yi on May 25, 2016.
  7. "Introduction to 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Shuhua, in Mei Shu on April 1, 1977.
  8. "Wang Ximeng's 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' Only Publicly Displayed 3 Times: Why Keep It Hidden" by China Social Sciences Network on September 7, 2017.
  9. "Culture | Heritage Painting 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' Exhibited in Full This Month at the Palace Museum" by Phoenix News on September 12, 2017.
  10. "Experts Decipher 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains': Scenes from Lushan and Poyang Lake" by Zhejiang Online on February 2, 2018.
  11. "The 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' Makes Its Debut as a National Treasure-Level Digital Collection, Limited Release by Phoenix Artworks" by Phoenix News on May 6, 2022.
  12. "Appreciation of 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Yue Yue, Zhang Xiaomei, and Fu Chengling in Xi Ju Zhi Jia in 2020.
  13. "A Brief Analysis of the Spatial Creation of 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Sun Xiaofan in Guo Hua Jia in 2023.
  14. "Drawing 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' Through Dance" by Yu Jingyuan in Xiao Kang in 2021.
  15. "Entering the 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains' in the Spring Festival Gala" by Zhang Biao in Chu Zhong Sheng Shi Jie in 2022.
  16. "Semiotic Study of Cultural and Creative Products Derived from 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Li Yufen and Kang Lijuan in Lv Se Bao Zhuang in 2023.
  17. "The Beauty of Colors: A Case Study of the Context Derived from 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Huang Chunxia in Liu Xing Se in 2022.
  18. "Thousand Miles and Thousands of Years: The Circulation of 'Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains'" by Pengpai News.
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