The Grandeur of the Qing | Asia for Educators

II. Lesson Plans

How to Read a Chinese Hand Scroll:
the Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour

Christine Naitove, The Chapin School, New York, New York

Student Exercise

Guiding Questions for students

Students will then divide into two groups. One group will analyze the Tour III scroll and the other group will analyze the Tour VII scroll. They should examine the scroll in detail from start to finish, reading the text explanations of all the stops along the way. Each group will prepare oral and written reports on their findings. Each group will divide up the reporting into four sections, which will answer the following study questions:

Section 1: Power & Authority

  1. How did the emperor’s tour exemplify the values and politics of the early Qing dynasty? What was the meaning of the phrase “mandate of heaven”? How did this tour relate to the emperor’s status?
  2. Why did the emperor visit Mt. Tai?
  3. What impression of Chinese society under the Qing is conveyed by this scroll? Support your answer with specific examples.
  4. Who accompanied the emperor and why?
  5. What does this scroll show of how the Chinese people regarded the emperor?
  6. Can you identify the emperor in the scroll? How is he portrayed? What interpretations can you draw about how the emperor was viewed in Qing society?

Section 2: Landscape & Nature

  1. What was the Orthodox school of Qing landscape painting? To what extent were the painters of the Southern Inspection Tour scrolls inspired by earlier landscape paintings of the Song, Yuan, and Ming?
  2. Name as many typical elements of a traditional landscape painting as you can. Can you find those elements in these scrolls?
  3. How does this landscape relate to Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist concepts? Discuss the symbolic meanings of mountains, rivers, forests, and humans in Qing landscape painting.
  4. How do the painters of the Southern Inspection Tour scrolls organize space? How did they differ from Western conceptions of pictorial space? How do they represent objects in the far distance?
  5. What is the role of mist in the scroll paintings?
  6. What types of landscape, animals, vegetation, communities, and people did the emperor encounter on his way?
  7. Compare the scale in which people and their dwellings are presented in comparison with the scale of natural surroundings. What interpretations can you draw about how the Chinese viewed man’s relationship to nature?
  8. At the start of the journey, in the middle ground, is a group of oxen, including a mother licking a newborn calf. Why do you think the artist included this image?

Section 3: Sacred Spaces

  1. In what ways did Mt. Tai qualify as a "sacred space"?
  2. What religion(s) was it associated with?
  3. How did the emperor’s visit to Mt. Tai relate to his role in maintaining the “cosmic order”?
  4. Temples are a common element in traditional Chinese landscapes. How are they typically placed in the landscape? How does the depiction of a temple encourage the viewer to "dwell in the landscape".

Section 4: Narrative in Art

  1. Why were the scrolls created?
  2. For what audience were the scrolls intended?
  3. Who painted the scrolls? What materials were used?
  4. How does one view a hand scroll?
  5. What was the meaning or purpose of the written passages and hand-stamped seals on the scroll?
  6. How does the scroll function as a narrative?
  7. What limitations did the physical medium of the scroll impose on the artists, and how did they deal with those limitations? Discuss with regard to perspective and geographical orientation of the scroll.
  8. How was mist or empty space used as a narrative or transitional device?