Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Figures from Romance of the Western Chamber

  • Description

    From as early as the 10th century, The Romance of the Western Chamber has been one of the most famous love stories in China. Gao Made, known for painting theatrical figures, presents the story in the format of a handscroll. As the handscroll is unrolled from the right hand side, the story is narrated from right to left.

    The story tells of a poor young scholar called Mr Zhang, who falls in love at first sight with the daughter of a former Prime Minister, Miss Cui Yingying. Zhang stays in the western chamber of Pujiu Temple, and recites poems to her at night from across the wall. One day, an outlaw comes to claim Yingying because of her beauty, and threatens a massacre if cannot have her. Yingying’s widowed mother therefore promises to marry Yingying to the hero who can save her. Upon such a promise, Zhang asks for help from his friend, General Du, who manages to defeat the outlaw outside the temple. The mother does not keep her promise, however. Yingying’s maidservant, Hongniang, nevertheless helps Zhang to exchange messages with Yingying, and arranges their secret rendezvous at night. When Yingying’s mother discovers the affair, she whips Hongniang, but it is too late to separate the couple. She therefore promises Mr Zhang Yinying’s hand in marriage if he becomes an official through the civil service exam, and so he leaves for the capital city.

    The artist does not illustrate the ending of the story, most likely because there are different versions from different plays. The original story, recorded by the Tang dynasty scholar Yuan Zhen (AD 779-831), is a tragedy, as Zhang leaves Yingying after passing the exam. A later edition of the drama has a happy, more popular ending, in which Zhang returns as a high-ranking official and secures the mother’s permission for a happy marriage.

  • Details

    Associated place
    AsiaChinaZhejiang province Mount Siming (place of creation)
    Gao Made (1919 - 2007) (artist)
    Gao Made (1919 - 2007) (calligrapher)
    Material and technique
    ink and colour on paper
    scroll 23.3 x 730 cm (height x width)
    painting 21.9 x 132 cm (height x width)
    Material index
    Technique index
    Object type index
    No. of items
    Credit line
    Presented in honour of Dr Angelita Trinidad and the late Jose Mauricio Reyes to celebrate the opening of the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Gallery of Chinese Painting, 2000.
    Accession no.

Past Exhibition

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    • currently in research collection

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