Album leaf “Juchang congxi” 踘場叢戲 (Group game on the kicking field) by Su Hanchen 蘇漢臣 (1094-1172)
Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei
Inscription: Poem by Qianlong Emperor 乾隆 (1711-1799, ruling 1735-1796)
Beginning in the army, the game was the work of the Yellow Thearch
And said to mirror military power in playing.
Later the quest for fun prevailed -
How does it compare with wiser gambling and chess?
The crowd’s eyes on the field are fixed on a single ball.
Bodies flexed, feet kicking, with an air of lightness and strength.
For vivid portrayal, [one] surely praises the [Painter-]in-Attendance
Who would by no means lose to Gu Hutou’s three hairs.
Masters of the Academy of Painting are skilled in advising by art:
How could [they] merely excel at pigments?
In an array of records for the Purple Tenuity [they] transmit forgotten activities
And recall seeing Xu and Wang [at the time of] the New Policies.
 The belief that the Chinese version of football was created by the legendary ruler Huangdi 黃帝 (Yellow Thearch) can be traced back to the first century BCE; see the fragment of Liu Xiang’s 劉向 (77-6 BCE) Bielu 別錄 quoted in the Taiping yulan 太平御覽: https://ctext.org/text.pl?node=397598&if=en.  This line alludes to Lunyu 17.20, where Confucius considers gambling and playing chess a wiser way of spending one’s life than doing nothing but feeding oneself; see https://ctext.org/analects/yang-huo.  The artist of this album leaf, Su Hanchen, once served the renowned artist Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (1082-1135, ruling 1100-1126) as Huayuan daizhao 畫院待詔 (Painter-in-Attendance of the Academy of Painting).  This refers to the famous painter Gu Kaizhi 顧愷之 (ca. 344-406), courtesy name Hutou 虎頭. He famously brought life to his portrait of Pei Kai 裴楷 (237-291) by finishing it with three strokes representing the beard on his cheek; see Liu Yiqing 劉義慶, Shishuo xinyu 世說新語: https://ctext.org/shi-shuo-xin-yu/qiao-yi.  Coloured characters rhyme.  Ziwei 紫微 (literary “purple tenuity”) refers to a celestial area around the North Pole, where stars representing the Heavenly Lord and his high ministers are found. By extension, the term is often used as a metaphor for the imperial court on earth. The last stanza focuses on the documentary aspect of artistic work. In light of the growth of genre painting during the Northern Song, it is believed that court painters sometimes depicted the everyday life of common people as a way of giving advice to the ruler.  The New Policies of the Xining era 熙寧 (1068-1077), led by Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086) and his supporters such as Xu Xi 徐禧 (1035-1082), introduced a series of measures that deeply transformed the military and personnel administration, taxation, education, and more.
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