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.
The Life and Times of Qi Baishi (齐白石/Ch’i Pai-shih)
When looking at Qi Baishi’s vita, one might be surprised that someone with originally no connection to painting should become one of the greatest and most famous ink painters of modern times. Although taking painting very seriously throughout his life, it seems as if fame did not come to him until the last decade of his life.
Continuity and Routine in Chinese Painting during the Qing Dynasty
The fall of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and enthronization of the Manchu rulers did not, at least at the beginning, cause a disruption for artists and scholars as it had happened with the beginning of foreign rule during the Yuan Dynasty. In fact, the Manchu, now calling themselves Qing, took over all cultural institutions of the Ming and thus ensured stability. In art, conservatism ruled. No interruption of painting traditions occurred, with many painters continuing to paint in a variety of styles and ideals as laid out by Dong Qichang in the 16th century. The “Four Wangs” are the most notable group of artists in the Qing Dynasty, who followed Dong’s premise to imitate the older masters’ styles. However, this attitude did slowly, but steadily become a burden for painters, and boundaries between the Northern and Southern School blurred, when painters of the latter put more emphasis on technique and skill than painting in the free and spontaneous manner of that of the Southern School.