A Short Biography of Zhao Meng Fu (趙孟頫/Chao Meng Fu)
The transition from the Song Dynasty to the Yuan was a turbulent time in China. In the artistic tradition, one man more than any other embodied the difficulties and opportunities presented by both the fall of an ailing dynasty and the assertion of foreign rule. Zhao Meng Fu (1254-1322), a descendent of the Song royal family, survived the fall of the Song and lived to gain great acclaim as a calligrapher and artist. Although he was linked by blood to the previous dynasty, Zhao nevertheless wholeheartedly promoted the legitimacy of Mongol rule in China. As a result many scholars in his own time and in the later Ming Dynasty criticized him as little better than a traitor.
Zhu Da (1626-1705), often known as Ba Da Shan Ren (八大山人/Pa Ta Shan Jen), had a most remarkable, yet somewhat melancholy life. As a descendent Ming royalty, his life was threatened from an early age as the Manchu invasions and the installation of their Qing Dynasty made retaining any kinship to the defunct Ming Dynasty a dangerous proposition. Indeed, in the early years of Qing rule, those who might even potentially contest the right of Manchu rule were actively sought out or assassination. It was for this reason, to escape persecution, that Zhu Da cast off his filial lineage to join a monastic Buddhist order. Moreover, anecdotes regarding his behavior show that he was incredibly eccentric in his conduct and bearing. It is said that for very long periods he would say nothing, only laughing, smiling and nodding when he needed to communicate. Whether this was evidence of his extreme mental duress or simply a mask of madness to avert the eyes of the authorities is difficult to determine: neither is likely to be the entire truth.