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Past exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
Our Beloved Treasures
    Throughout history, humans have grappled with life’s inevitable trials: birth, aging, sickness, and death, along with its inherent physical and mental hardships. The enduring quest to confront and transcend these realities, perhaps even achieving immortality or finding peace and contentment, remains a vital theme that has led to profound philosophical and religious ideas, vividly expressed through literature and art and serving both to evoke emotion and to impart wisdom.
    This exhibition features the works of two prominent painter monks from the late Ming and early Qing dynasties: Bada Shanren (1626–1705) and Shi Tao (1642–1707). Born into royalty, they saw their lives upended by political upheavals which drove them to find refuge in religion. First, they became monks, and later Taoist practitioners, but they also devoted themselves to art. Steeped in the traditions of Zen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy, their works, including calligraphy and paintings, demonstrate a profound comprehension of nature and universal truths.
    Originating in the Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods, Laozi’s and Zhuangzi’s philosophies embraced the idea that the Tao (the “Way”) mirrors nature. They suggested a strategy of inaction and harmony with the natural world, cultivating a unique philosophical view of life and death. As Taoist philosophy evolved during the Han dynasty, it integrated the Yin-yang and Five Elements theories with existing beliefs in immortality, until Taoism took form as a religion. This transformation emphasized the pursuit of personal immortality and spiritual transcendence, and at the same time created a grand pantheon of gods and celestial realms. By the Ming and Qing dynasties, as Taoism became deeply ingrained in popular culture, a wide array of deities and auspicious themes emerged. These symbolized the aspiration for longevity and worldly contentment, offering the beholder both visual appeal and spiritual comfort.

    When the Ming dynasty fell, Bada Shanren (1626–1705) and Shi Tao (1642–1707), both royal descendants, turned to religion for solace. Amid the tumultuous changes, they released all the anger and agony in the tranquility of the Shanshui (landscape), where they achieved a Zen-inspired understanding of the universe and life. This profound realization deeply influenced their poetry, calligraphy, and painting.
    During the transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties, Buddhism and Taoism were much intertwined and both greatly impacted the two artists. They embraced the philosophy that “the ultimate method is no-method”, a call for creativity and transformation in art. Their distinctive styles established a break from traditional imitation, positioning them as forerunners of Expressionism in the annals of Chinese art, with a lasting influence on subsequent generations.

    In response to life’s struggles, sorrows, and challenges, the Taoist philosophy of going with the flow and respect for nature inspired the concept of transcending worldly existence to attain immortality. Artistic depictions of this idea include mystical celestial realms and portrayals of heavenly beings. The Bagua (Eight Trigrams) are also important motifs which symbolize Taoist practices of numerology. Moreover, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the popularization of Taoism manifested in desires for prosperity, status, and longevity, often symbolized by auspicious animals such as cranes and deer and celebrated through festival performances of The Eight Immortals.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 3F S302
Zhu Da (Bada Shanren, 1626-1705), Qing Dynasty
Landscape, Scroll
    Also known as Bada Shanren, Ming dynasty royal descendant Zhu Da embraced monastic life as Chuanqi after the dynasty’s fall. Zhu Da is renowned for his mastery of painting. His work, characterized by a free and expressive style, often diverges from traditional methods. His signature, “Bada Shanren”, forms hard-to-tell expressions that resemble either laughter or tears, suggesting deeper meaning. Alongside Hongren (1610-1663), Shi Xi (1612-1686), and Shi Tao, he is one of the early Qing’s “Four Great Painter Monks”.
    The scroll is narrow and elongated and designed with “dragon veins”—invisible lines that bind the composition, emphasizing continuity while eschewing detailed depiction. The landscape style, austere and reflective, evokes solitude and spirituality, resonating with Buddhist and Taoist perceptions of a vast, empty universe.
    This artwork was donated by Mrs. Luo Jialun, née Chang Wei-chen.
Zhu Da (Bada Shanren, 1626-1705), Qing Dynasty
Poem in Cursive Script, Scroll
    Ming dynasty royal Zhu Da became a monk after the fall of the Ming in 1644 and later turned to Taoism. Known for his literary talent from an early age, he was skilled at seal carving and renowned for his distinctive calligraphic style.
    His cursive script is marked by a subtly concealed brush tip and a robust, consistent thickness. This scroll features the last lines of a Tang dynasty poem by Wang Zan, evoking a scene of natural beauty and the passage of time. The poem’s placement in the upper right corner, against a largely blank lower-left, creates a stark contrast, reflecting the concept of wondrous existence within the void.
    This artwork was donated by Mr. Wang Shih-chieh.
Shi Tao(1642-1707), Qing Dynasty
Self-Portrait Planting a Pine Tree, Scroll
    Shi Tao (1642–1707), originally named Zhu Ruoji and of Ming dynasty royal descent, embraced Buddhism after the Ming fall, adopting the name Yuanji.
    In this subtly colored self-portrait, Shi Tao is seen relaxing under a pine tree, hoe in hand. Nearby, a monk and a monkey carry a small pine to be planted. Shi Tao’s face is rendered in portrait style, with reddish-brown hues adding depth and realism. His clothing is detailed with fine white lines in dense, overlapping strokes, creating a “wet robe” effect that accentuates the human form. Shi Tao’s work is known for its innovative composition and free, dynamic brushwork, in divergence from traditional norms. This piece depicting his image is dated 1674, when he was 33.
Qing Dynasty
Luo Pin’s Rendition of Shi Tao’s Planting a Pine Tree/Shi Tao’s Calligraphy of the Tao Te Ching
    In his later years, Shi Tao’s conversion to Taoism significantly influenced his artistic style. His calligraphy of the Tao Te Ching in this album merges a relaxed, rustic approach with clerical script, reminiscent of Wei and Jin era elegance. This piece was donated by Mr. Chang Chun.
    Luo Pin (1733–1799) of the Yangzhou School replicated this work, now the first page of “Shi Tao’s Calligraphy of the Tao Te Ching”. Luo’s version preserves the complex “wet robe” technique but simplifies the background.
Southern to early Tang Dynasty
Boshan incense burner
    Boshan incense burners, popular in the Han dynasty and Wei-Jin period, are containers with mountain-shaped lids, adorned with mythical creatures and immortals. The design, complete with a tray and holes in the lid, creates a mystical, smoke-filled scene when the incense is lit.
Eastern Han Dynasty
Mirror decorated with King Wu, King Yue, and deities
    Bronze mirrors were once daily essentials. They took on spiritual significance because of their reflective powers and were thought to reveal spirits, offering protection and enlightenment. They became common in burials and Taoist rituals.
Yuan to Ming Dynasty
Agate cups, a saucer and a tray with Bagua motif
    Originating from the I Ching, the Bagua uses solid and broken lines to represent Yang and Yin, forming eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams, symbolizing various natural and human phenomena. In Taoism, the Bagua is revered and often features on ceremonial objects.
Ming to Qing Dynasty
Tree-root Ruyi scepter
    Initially a domestic item, the Ruyi became a Taoist symbol in the Southern and Northern dynasties. Ming and Qing literati preferred them crafted from natural wooden growths such as roots or branches, subtly shaped like Lingzhi mushrooms, which symbolize immortality. Embellished with crane, peach, or deer motifs, Ruyi signifies longevity, prosperity, and fortune.
Qing Dynasty
Bamboo carving of the Eight Immortals
    Revered in Taoism, the Eight Immortals represent the various social strata: men, women, old, young, rich, and poor. Central to Song and Yuan dynasty theater, they were also popular auspicious motifs in folk culture.