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Xitong 洗桐 (Rinsing the Wutong Tree)


Ni Zan [1] was an unrivalled mysophobiac. In his later years, [he] stayed in seclusion at Mr Xu’s place in Guangfu.[2] One day on an outing to the West Hill with [Xu], [he] chanced to drink from the Seven Treasures Spring and loved its delightful taste. Xu had two shoulder poles of the spring water delivered [to Ni Zan] every day, the buckets in front for drinking and the ones at the back for washing.[3] [Despite] living five miles from the spring, [Xu] offered them respectfully for half a year without slacking. After Ni Zan returned home, Xu went to visit [him] and pleaded to be allowed into his Hall of Pure Secrecy which Xu admired. At one point [Xu] spat; Ni Zan ordered his servants to search for where he had spat around the hall. The servants could not find it; therefore, [he] searched for it personally and found it at the foot of a Wutong tree [Firmiana simplex]. [He] then had [the servants] bring water over and rinse that tree endlessly. Terribly embarrassed, Xu left – such was Ni Zan’s ruthlessness.

* From Wang Qi 王錡 (1433-1499), Yupu zaji 寓圃雜記 6.40b-41a:

[1] Ni Zan 倪瓚 (1301-1374, style name Yunlin) is one of China’s most celebrated landscape painters. Because of him, "rinsing the Wutong tree" has become a recurring theme in paintings representing a gentleman's pursuit of absolute purity.

[2] A town in the jurisdiction of Suzhou in Jiangsu province.

[3] Some believe that Ni Zan was concerned that the servant might fart and contaminate the water at the back. Another anecdote says that when he was in custody, he requested that the jailer hold the tray above eye level when delivering food for fear that his food might be contaminated by the spatter of the jailer’s saliva; see Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574-1646), Gujin xiaoshi 古今笑史:

"Xitong tu" 洗桐圖; hanging scroll by Xian Gu 錢穀 (fl. 16th century)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei (

Detail of "Yunlin xitong tu" 雲林洗桐圖; hanging scroll by Cui Zizhong 崔子忠 (d. 1644)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei (


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