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Illustrations to the poem “Qi yue” 七月, attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170) Colophons 1 & 2

Illustrations to the poem “Qi yue” 七月 (The Seventh Month) in the “Bin feng” 豳風 (Airs of Bin) section of the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs), attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170)

Picture credit: The Freer Gallery (


At the end of the handscroll we find three colophons by Wen Zhengming 文徵明 (1470-1559), Wang Zhideng 王穉登 (1536-1612), and Zhang Xigeng 張錫庚 (1801-1861), respectively, offering great insights into the historical reception of this work as well as what exactly is valued in such illustrations. The Freer Gallery of Art has provided full translations with very helpful annotations for all inscriptions and colophons.[1] The translations below aim to offer some alternative interpretations.

Colophon 1


The paintings of ancient people were always created for the purpose of exhortation. In these eight images of the “Seventh Month” in the “Airs of Bin”, painted by Ma Hezhi, everything is depicted in minute detail, including farming, hunting, and silk-making. Although [he] did not apply any colour, [the figures’] demeanour is perfectly represented, which is indeed impossible if it were not [Ma] Hezhi.


The old preface to the Book of Songs says that Duke Zhou set forth the endeavours of a king for King Cheng [ca. 1056-1025 BCE, reigned 1042-1021 BCE], which indicates that no one experiences more hardship than farmers and that those in charge of a state or a household should consider sympathising with them and pacifying them. Thereupon [Duke Zhou] composed this poem, delineating all the hardships in great detail.[2]


[When we] look at this painting by Ma Hezhi now, [the figures] look as if they were born during the Zhou and lived in Bin; the air of antiquity is vivid. How can [other paintings] that seek to entertain the senses by using pigments compare to this!


Inscribed by [Wen] Zhengming, at the age of eighty-six, in the spring of the yimao year of Jiajing [1555]

Colophon 2



I have seen several “Paintings on Mao’s Songs by Ma Hezhi, which are all in colour, none in ink. More often than not the calligraphy of Emperor Gaozong [of Song, reigned 1127-1162] is attached in front. Only this scroll is not in colour. The brushwork is pristine and unadorned, showing a taste for ease and freedom from care. The people of Bin founded their state on hard work and frugality, and the 800-year course of the Jis[3] started from this: was this not the reason why [Ma] Hezhi, who wished to aptly capture the idea and [considered that one] should not mar its simplicity with golden powder or pigments, created this samadhi in ink? When lightly powdered, Lady West looks more beautiful than in heavy makeup.[4] The viewers surely have wise verdicts.

Inscribed by Wang Zhideng [1535-1614]

[1] See [2] As the Freer Gallery of Art has pointed out, Wen Zhengming may be quoting a comment made by Song Lian 宋濂 (1310-1381) in his colophon of another illustration on the “Airs of Bin”; see (note 9) and Song Lian, Wenxian ji 文憲集: The Gallery also suggests that Wen Zhengming’s quote may have originated from a third source (an earlier, unidentified preface) that is preserved in Song Lian’s colophon. However, the context of Song Lian’s colophon suggests that the passage “周公陳王業以告成王” (Duke Zhou set forth the enterprise of a king for King Cheng) could be a summary of Mao’s preface to this poem, and the passage “民之至苦者,莫甚於農,有國有家者,宜思憫之安之” (no one experiences more hardship than farmers, and those in charge of a state or a household should consider sympathising with them and pacifying them) is Song Lian’s personal reflection on the preface. [3] Ji 姬 is the family name of the ruling house of the Zhou dynasty. As the house is traditionally associated with the virtue of “wood” in the Five Phases, the family name is also referred to as Cangji 蒼姬 (Verdure Ji); see Sun Shi’s 孫奭 (962-1033) commentary in the Mengzi zhushu 孟子注疏: [4] This passage alludes to two famous lines by Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101), which read, “欲把西湖比西子, 淡粧濃抹總相宜” ([I’d] love to compare West Lake to Lady West, / Light or thick makeup suits them equally well). Lady West refers to Xishi 西施, one of the legendary beauties.


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