Go see the animated scroll with barf bag in hand

If you have spare time this Chinese New Year, go see the digitally animated version of Qingming Shanghe Tu at the Singapore Expo (hall 3). It will be on until 6 February 2012. Admission for adults: $21; closes at 9 p.m.

However, do take a barf bag with you.

The Qingming Shanghe Tu, a 5.28-metre long scroll, is perhaps the most celebrated painting in Chinese art. Painted by Zhang Zeduan (1085 – 1145 CE) during the Song Dynasty, it provides a panorama of scenes from bucolic countryside to bustling city streets. It is generally believed that the city depicted was Bianjing, the Song capital, whose present name is Kaifeng, in Henan province. Containing 814 humans, 28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, 20 vehicles, nine sedan chairs, and 170 trees, the painting gives a glimpse of life, trades, architecture and clothing during the Song period.

The original scroll is not on exhibit; only a copy is.

The highlight of the exhibition, which first went on show at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, is a computer-animated wall, about 30 times the original. The houses, trees, city gate and bridges are almost exactly the same as in the scroll, but the people and animals are animated. They walk around, and gesticulate to each other. The boats on the river also drift upstream and downstream.

The digital wall flips from daylight to night. It gets quite magical when dusk falls and lanterns are lit. The restaurants and wine houses get crowded while life on the river calms down.

It is a fascinating marriage of computer animation and an old classic.

You will forget that you have a barf bag in hand.

But why is one needed? Because the preceding sections of the exhibition are so badly curated. Intended to provide context by sketching key features of life during the Song period — one  generally regarded as among the most prosperous and peaceful in Chinese history — the audio commentary threw it all away by:

1. Descending to meaningless comparisons with other countries, thus only proving how mean and insecure the Chinese are about their place in the world. At one point, to stress how rich and grand the Song capital was, it said Bianjing had a million population when London had a mere 15,000. For goodness sakes, one can pluck all sorts of comparisons from various time periods to “prove” anything. There is no need puff oneself up by running others down.

2. Sickening obsequiousness to Singapore state propaganda. Every time the commentary had something positive to say about Song China, it bent over backwards to suggest that Singapore shares the same “virtue”.

It’s alright if you speed through the preliminary sections, and spend time only at the scroll — both the copy of the original and the digitized version. You can easily spend an hour watching the figures on the animated wall. There is more than enough detail to keep you engrossed.

7 Responses to “Go see the animated scroll with barf bag in hand”

  1. 1 Anonymous 22 January 2012 at 15:23

    Great suggestion. It would really be a memorable experience to see a group of Singaporeans throwing up while the commentary is being played.

  2. 2 Kay 22 January 2012 at 22:46

    I think it’s subtle brainwashing!

  3. 3 Chee Wai Lee 23 January 2012 at 03:56

    I wouldn’t so much puke as to do my double-face-palm. Anyway, it behooves us to try to understand human history as accurately as possible, so here’s wikipedia’s entry on Kaifeng (Song’s Bianjian):


    I suggest using it as a source for an overall picture and if there are assertions that one is interested in, attempt to find records or research with evidence for those assertions.

    In any case, I enjoyed the little factoid that while it was probably the largest city in the world for some 100 years, it was also reduced to just a marketplace after its sack by Qin forces. The same rise and fall of fortunes happen to pretty much every major city in the world. Oslo (under various names) was sacked no less than 5 times. The population of a city at any given time is (well, frankly, most things are) a meaningless measure of “superiority” (if that is what is implied) of a nation or society.

  4. 4 percevale 23 January 2012 at 07:14

    @ Kay – It’s about as subtle as a channel 8 drama in my opinion 🙂

  5. 5 Anonymous 25 January 2012 at 07:03

    There’s actually 2 copies of the exact same painting. One copy is in China but the better known copy is in Taiwan. Not sure which is the original. The experts are still debating.

    Saw the copy in Taiwan. It was magnificent.

  6. 6 Cher Yiing 25 January 2012 at 09:33

    I was just remarking to my wife last night over a Donnie Yen movie that it was ‘oh no, another bash the foreigners’ movie again. I think this ‘chip on the shoulder’ has been so thoroughly embedded in the mainland Chinese psyche that it permeates every single thing they do.

    We humans are doomed to live in a world where we constantly value ourselves by comparing against others (another example – ministerial salary benchmarks!)

    That’s why I liked ‘Let the Bullet Fly’ – at least it wasn’t a revisiting of the same old theme.

  7. 7 Tan Zhong Xian 29 January 2012 at 18:18

    I went to the exhibition and I have to say that listening to the naration during the front portion of the exhibition makes me wonder if the exhibition was on Singapore, or on the painting.

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