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Chinese historical and mythological characters. Album of drawings by a Chinese artist.

  • Xu, Zhonglin, active 16th century.
  • Pictures

About this work


The album contains 79 folios, foliated from left to right, with a drawing on each recto and a blank page on each verso. The drawings are drawn with brushes of different fineness, and form three sequences

Folios 1-32 are drawn with ink brush with pencil outline underneath, and lettering written on the margin of the page naming the figures. The figures are all taken from the epic fantasy novel Fengshen yanyi (The investiture of the gods) by Xu Zhonglin, a Ming Dynasty writer (16th century). The novel tells of the overthrow of the tyrant emperor Zhou at the end of Shang Dynasty by a group of strategists, generals and deities who were later given investiture as gods according to their contribution to the political revolt. Some figures are mythological or legendary, whereas others have an archetype in ancient history around the end of the Shang Dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty

Folios 33-71 are drawn with ink brush, but without pencil outline. The contours are of greater sharpness and clarity with lettering close to or within the figures, identifying them. All figures are taken from the classical novel Shui Hu Zhuan The water margin), one of the four classical novels in Chinese literature, written by Shi Nai'an in the Ming Dynasty. The story is set in the Song Dynasty and tells of how a group of 108 outlaws gathers at the marsh in Mount Liang to form an army before they are granted an amnesty by the government to fight against foreign invaders. Most of the figures are fictitious based on historical archetypes

Folios 72-79 are drawn in coloured inks with calligraphy vertically written from right to left on the corner of the page. The style is less constrained, with free lines and colour washes. These scenes are taken from history and biographies; the figures are usually well-known literati and officials in Chinese history

Physical description

1 album (approximately 75 drawings) : pen and ink on paper ; sheets 31.5 x 24.7 cm


Portraits of Chinese historical and mythological characters


Fol. 1r : Hòu fēi : Probably the empress of the tyrant Emperor Zhou (ca. 1046 BC) in Shang Dynasty, wearing sumptuous dress and holding flowers
Fol. 2r : Zhòu wáng : The ancient tyrant Emperor Zhou (ca. 1046 BC) in the Shang Dynasty, seated on a throne and holding the ceremonial sceptre Ruyi which symbolizes power and good fortune
Fol. 3r : Zhōu gōng : Duke of Zhou (ca. 1100 BC), a major politician and sage in West Zhou Dynasty who inspired Confucius and also figured in a famous episode in I Ching; portrayed making a traditional greeting gesture
Fol. 4r : Huáng fēi hǔ : Huang Feihu, a fictitous character from the epic fantasy novel Fengshen Yanyi (The Investiture of the Gods) who took vengeance on Emperor Zhou following the ancient strategist Jiang Ziya; portrayed in armour, holding a spear
Fol. 5r : Dèng jiǔ gōng : Deng Jiugong (ca. 1043 BC), the general for Emperor Zhou, who was responsible for the attack on West Zhou
Fol. 6r : Zhōu wǔ wáng : King Wu of Zhou (ca. 1087 BC), the first king of the West Zhou Dynasty and brother of Duke of Zhou, portrayed with his face turned away from the viewer
Fol. 7r : Yóu yún : unidentified
Fol. 8r : Jī zǐ : Probably Jizi, the legendary sage in ca. 1000 BC who later gave advice to King Wu of Zhou
Fol. 9r : Nán gōng kuò : Nangong Kuo, an official of Zhou and a key minister of King Wen of Zhou, and one of the founders of West Zhou Dynasty, portrayed holding a spear
Fol. 10r : Jù liú sūn : unidentified figure, probably a Taoist sage holding a characteristic stick with tasseled ends made of animal fur
Fol. 11r : Wēi zǐ : Wei zi of Song, the commoner brother of Emperor Zhou who ruled the region of Wei and had remonstrated with the policy of Emperor Zhou in vain
Fol. 12r : Nán bó hóu è chóng yǔ : E Chongyu, vassal of the South, one of the four vassals during the reign of Emperor Zhou, bowing his head in a pose to give remonstrance
Fol. 13r : Bì : Bi Gonggao, an official of the early West Zhou Dynasty
Fol. 14r : Xī bó hóu jī chāng : Ji Chang, vassal of the West, also King Wen of Zhou, who helped King Wu of Zhou to establish the new dynasty
Fol. 15r : Yáng rèn : Yang ren, a legendary official of Emperor Zhou, who was blinded by the Emperor and with the aid of an alchemist had his eyes replaced with hands extending to two sides; portrayed holding with his right hand his flame fan and right (??) hand holding a lightning spear
Fol. 16r : Yáng jiǎn : Yang jian, a mythological figure who has a third eye to see extreme distances, portrayed holding his characteristic spear with three sharp ends and two blades
Fol. 17r : Hā jiàng zhèng lùn [sic] : Zheng lun, the Heng guardian of the two guardians of Buddhist temple (the two Heng Ha), who, in the fiction, was a general of Emperor Zhou, and could exhale white light from his nose to absorb the spirit of others
Fol. 18r : Tǔ xíng sūn : Tu xing sun, a legendary figure within the army of Jiang ziya, whose small and dexterous body can walk underground, portrayed using his characteristic stick
Fol. 19r : Wén tài shī : Wen zhong, or Wen tai shi, the legendary Thunder god who originally serves Emperor Zhou, portrayed with his characteristic whip to tame his lion
Fol. 20r : Jiāng tài gōng : Jiang tai gong, or zi ya, the sage and military strategist whom King Wen of Zhou followed as apprentice and who led the army to overthrow the Shang Dynasty, portrayed in his characteristic costume and accessorial weapons
Fol. 21r : Yú huà : Yu hua, a legendary general who understand Taoist esoteric magic, portrayed with his falchion and magical wand in his hands, showing in three arms
Fol. 22r : Né Zhà : Nezha, a Taoist protection deity who was the third son of a general, portrayed with his characteristic "wheels of flame and wind", golden ring and a spear
Fol. 23r : Lóng sū hǔ [sic] : Long su hu, or Long xu hu, a fictional and mythological creature who was described as having body parts resembling different animals (goose, shrimp, fish, eagle, tiger, dragon, etc.) portrayed with only one foot and with stones in hand as weapon
Fol. 24r : Hēng jiàng chēn qí [sic] : Chen qi, the Ha guardian of the two guardians of Buddhist temples, together with Zheng lun, who could exhale yellow air from his nose to absorb the spirit of others
Fol. 25r : unidentified figure, probably one of the deities or mythological characters in the novel Fengshen yanyi
Fol. 26r : : unidentified figure, probably one of the strategists in the novel Fengshen yanyi
Fol. 27r : Bó yì kǎo : Bo yikao, the son of King Wen of Zhou, who was cruelly made into a meat pie by Emperor Zhou, portrayed in front of a guqin, with a creature, probably an ape, which was one of his three treasures to be given to Emperor Zhou to rescue his father
Fol. 28r : Huáng Tiān Huà : Huang tianhua, the son of Huang feihu, portrayed carrying a legendary sword originally belonging to Mo ye, a legendary hero, and throwing possibly a needle of magical power
Fol. 29r : Sǎn yí shēng : San yisheng, an official of Kings Wen and Wu of Zhou, who contributed to the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty
Fol. 30r : Beǐ bó hóu chóng hóu hǔ : Chong houhu or the Duke of Chong state, vassal of the north, the first informant in Chinese history
Fol. 31r : Dá jǐ : Daji, the favourite concubine of Emperor Zhou, portrayed as an evil fox spirit in fiction to corrupt the Shang Dynasty; one of the archetypal femmes fatales in Chinese literature
Fol. 32r : Dōng bó hóu jiāng huán chǔ : Jiang huanchu, the vassal of the East, who confronted Emperor Zhou fiercely and was punished cruelly by the Emperor
Fol. 33r : Shí yǒng : Shiyong, a fictional character within the 108 outlaws in Shuihuzhuan who is fond of gambling
Fol. 34r : Zhū guì : Zhugui, the ninety-second hero within the 108 outlaws, who hosted a tavern around Mount Liang to capture information about anyone entering the area
Fol. 35r : Wèi ding guó : Wei Dingguo, a general who is good at fire strategy in war, portrayed holding his two red copper spears
Fol. 72r : Zhào qīng xiàn (yi qin yi he) : Zhao Qingxian (1008-1084), an honest official in the North Song Dynasty, portrayed with his sole travel equipment, a plucked intrument (guqin) and a crane
Fol. 74r : Táng zǐ weì : Tang ziwei, or Tang yin, the figure on the left who was one of the four literati in the Ming Dynasty, portrayed being visited by an admirer on the left who would like to learn from him the arts of poetry and painting
Fol. 78r : A master musician on a couch with a guqin on his lap, visited by another musician to discuss the art of music
Fol. 79r : Sū dōng pō : Su dongpo, or Su shi, the poet and Buddhist in the Song Dynasty, portrayed sitting on a chair while being visited by a scholar to discuss Zen

Lettering note

Lettering on inside cover, "John Henry Gray" ; on first page, "Portraits of historical and mythological characters"


Wellcome Library no. 580456i

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  • album of drawings

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