National Palace Museum
MoreInfo Painting and Calligraphy of Northern Sung (960-1127)
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Sung Timeline

Emperors of the Sung Dynasty and Their Reign Eras



Reign & Era Years

Northern Sung

T'ai-tsu 960-975

Chien-lung 960-963
Ch'ien-te 963-968
K'ai-pao 968-975

T'ai-tsung 976-997

T'ai-p'ing hsing-kuo 976-984
Yung-hsi 984-987
Tuan-kung 988-989
Ch'un-hua 990-994
Chih-tao 995-997

Chen-tsung 998-1022

Hsien-p'ing 998-1003
Ching-te 1004-1007
Ta-chung hsiang-fu 1008-1016
T'ien-hsi 1017-1021
Ch'ien-hsing 1022-1022

Jen-tsung 1023-1063

T'ien-sheng 1023-1032
Ming-tao 1032-1033
Ching-yu 1034-1038
Pao-yüan 1038-1040
K'ang-ting 1040-1041
Ch'ing-li 1041-1048
Huang-yu 1049-1054
Chih-ho 1054-1056
Chia-yu 1056-1063

Ying-tsung 1064-1067

Chih-p'ing 1064-1067

Shen-tsung 1068-1085

Hsi-ning 1068-1077
Yüan-feng 1078-1085

Che-tsung 1086-1100

Yüan-yu 1086-1094
Shao-sheng 1094-1098
Yüan-fu 1098-1100

Hui-tsung 1101-1125

Chien-chung ching-kuo 1101
Ch'ung-ning 1102-1106
Ta-kuan 1107-1110
Cheng-ho 1111-1118
Ch'ung-ho 1118-1119
Hsüan-ho 1119-1125

Ch'in-tsung 1126-1127

Ching-k'ang 1126-1127

Southern Sung

Kao-tsung 1127-1162

Chien-yen 1127-1130
Shao-hsing 1131-1162

Hsiao-tsung 1163-1189

Lung-hsing 1163-1164
Ch'ien-tao 1165-1173
Ch'un-hsi 1174-1189

Kuang-tsung 1190-1194

Shao-hsi 1190-1194

Ning-tsung 1195-1224

Ch'ing-yüan 1195-1200
Chia-t'ai 1201-1204
K'ai-hsi 1205-1207
Chia-ting 1208-1224

Li-tsung 1225-1264

Pao-ch'ing 1225-1227
Shao-ting 1228-1233
Tuan-p'ing 1234-1236
Chia-hsi 1237-1240
Ch'un-yu 1241-1252
Pao-yu 1253-1258
K'ai-ch'ing 1259-1259
Ching-ting 1260-1264

Tu-tsung 1265-1274

Hsien-ch'un 1265-1274

Kung-tsung 1275-1276

Te-yu 1275-1276

Tuan-tsung 1276-1278

Ching-yen 1276-1278

Wei-wang 1279

Hsiang-hsing 1278-1279

(note: dates and imperial designations may vary)



Dynasty Timeline

Brief Timeline of Chinese Dynasties and Periods (with emphasis on the Five Dynasties and Sung Period)
Period Years
Shang Dynasty circa 1600-circa 1100 B.C.
Chou Dynasty circa 1100-221 B.C.
Ch'in Dynasty 221-206 B.C.
Han Dynasty 206 B.C.-A.D. 220
Three Kingdoms 220-265
Chin (Tsin) 265-317
Southern Dynasties 317-589
Northern Dynasties 386-581
Sui Dynasty 581-617
T'ang Dynasty 618-907
Five Dynasties Ten Kingdoms 907-960 902-979

Latter Liang




Latter T'ang




Latter Chin




Latter Han




Latter Chou
























Southern T'ang




Southern Han




Northern Han




Former Shu




Latter Shu



Sung Dynasty


Northern Sung


Southern Sung


Chin Dynasty 1115-1234
Yüan Dynasty 1279-1368
Ming Dynasty 1368-1644
Ch'ing Dynasty 1644-1911

(Note: Dates may differ from other chronologies based on varying criteria and convention)




Five Dynasties Map


Northern Sung Map


Sourthern Sung Map



Explanation of Terms

The following is a brief introduction to some aspects, listed alphabetically, encountered in Chinese painting and calligraphy in general as well as in this website. It is by no means intended as a comprehensive or detailed overview, for which the general reader is encouraged to pursue on one's own in the following bibliography.

Term or Subject Explanation

In addition to the abundant bibliographic information found in this website on Northern Sung painting and calligraphy, the general reader may also wish to acquire a broader understanding of Chinese art and culture. To do so, a short (due to limitations of space) list of books on the subject has been compiled here, to which the reader may add others as one becomes more familiar;

Fong, Wen C., James C. Watt, and the National Palace Museum , Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum , Taipei (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996)

Rogers, Howard, ed., China : 5,000 Years (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998)

Sullivan, Michael, The Arts of China (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000)

Thorp, Robert, and Richard Vinograd, Chinese Art and Culture ( New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2001)


The art of writing with brush and ink on paper or silk in China is generally divided into various script types; seal, clerical, cursive, running, and standard. In the discussion of Sung calligraphy provided here within individual descriptions, it should be noted that several terms had been developed for the individual strokes of a character, here rendered into English as, for example, (left- or right-falling) diagonal, horizontal, vertical, and hooked. However, in terms of actually describing the style, a wide range of often terms--such as “strong”, “bold”, “rounded”, or “fluid,” were traditionally used to define the often abstract qualities of calligraphy. These terms have been preserved in the translation to also indicate the manner of traditional appreciation. Likewise, metaphors are often made to the natural world, such as the “movement of a snake through grass” or “water dripping down a wall”. Starting in the Sung dynasty, calligraphy was copied and engraved in wood or stone, forming the basis of mass-produced ink rubbings. Actual pieces or ink rubbings made after them might also be referred to as modelbooks, indicating that they served as models for calligraphic practice. In both painting and calligraphy, copying was not only accepted but encouraged as a means to acquire skills and techniques in art.


Dynastic and Period Terms

The Sung dynasty is often referred more specifically to the two distinct periods which it encompasses--the Northern Sung and Southern Sung. Referring to them as dynasties, however, incorrectly implies a different ruling clan for each. Though most of the imperial family and court were captured by Chin dynasty troops in 1126, one prince escaped to keep the Sung house alive and re-establish the dynasty in the south. Likewise, the description as northern for the first half of the Sung falsely suggests geographic restriction to the north (which is why maps, along with timelines, have been provided for this project). Thus, the Northern Sung refers to the full territory controlled by the Sung house before the north was lost. The Southern Sung indicates the remaining area in the south.



In addition to impressing seals on works, it was also not uncommon for individuals other than the artist (either later or contemporary) to write on the work of painting or calligraphy. Inscriptions can either be by the artist (usually along with a signature and/or seal), an associate, or a later figure (collector, viewer, etc.). Writing on the work itself is usually referred to as an inscription, whereas one written on another piece of paper and added to the work (such as a handscroll) is generally referred to as a colophon. The contents of such inscriptions cover a wide range, sometimes relating to personal information, the transcription of previous texts, or even just verse by the viewer inspired by the work. In this project, the more personal information was selected as of greater importance for translation, while many of the verses or repetitive information were left untranslated.



In traditional China , individuals often had several names (in addition to their family and given name), depending on age and other factors. Here, for example, many scholars and officials have a style name, which often refers to the name given upon coming of age. A sobriquet is often referred to as a pseudonym or a courtesy name, and it is generally much more informal or even playful in nature. In the descriptions, sometimes a literal English translation of the name is provided. Buddhist monks also assumed another name upon taking the tonsure. Likewise, an emperor, in addition to having a personal name, was either referred to by a temple name (given after death) or by his reign name (as in the case often of Ming and Ch'ing dynasty emperors). Therefore, Hung-li is much more commonly referred to by his reign name, Ch'ien-lung, or his temple name, Kao-tsung (which, however, is the same as a Sung dynasty emperor, hence the use of a prefix Sung or Ch'ing to distinguish them). Thus, many names are often used to refer to a single individual.


Official Titles and the Civil Service

In traditional China , the civil service examination system was considered one of the major routes to success in life--becoming an official (that is, for those who could pursue advanced education). In the Sung dynasty, with the opening of the system to those of commoner status, many competed in the examinations. Based on a progressive system, as well as irregularly held ones, one of the highest of such candidates was referred to as a Presented Scholar. Other means of gaining entry to officialdom also existed. Those who became an official often held more than one rank or title. For more on the world of officialdom in traditional China , please see Charles O. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985), which was consulted for many of the titles used herein.



Like calligraphy, Chinese painting is done with brush and ink (with or without color) on paper or silk. In traditional Chinese aesthetics, more emphasis is often placed on the general impression suggested by the work (sometimes using metaphors from nature). In terms of theme, the Sung dynasty is noted for advances in landscape painting (monumental and intimate scenery) and bird-and-flower subjects (fine-line and rustic manners). Chinese painting was also often divided into traditions, either based on individuals or regions, that were sometimes referred to as schools. Another general pattern that emerged in the Sung dynasty was the distinction made between scholar (sometimes referred to as amateur) and court or professional painting. In the former, as with calligraphy, individual expression sometimes reigned. In the latter was a pursuit of naturalism and/or realism based on observation of natural phenomenon. Chinese painting also uses a wide range of vocabulary to deal with matters of technique and style (such as “fine-line”, “bone”, “texture strokes”, etc.).


Place Names

The names of many places in China changed over the years, resulting in differences with their modern equivalents. In certain instances in this project, the name in parentheses after a place gives its modern usage. Sometimes general areas are referred to, such as Kiangnan (“South of the River”) or Hua-pei (“ North China ”). Place names are also sometimes used for regional styles (such as the Kiangnan school) as well as in the titles of officials (the term Kiang-Che, for example, referring to Kiangsu and Chekiang ). A map with provinces and cities in traditional postal romanization has been provided here.



The system of romanizing Chinese phonetics (using letters to reproduce sounds in Chinese using writing, sometimes referred to in Chinese as pinyin) used here is one of the variations known as Wade-Giles. Extensively used before the advent and adoption of the Hanyu pinyin system, it is still frequently found in traditional renderings. For the convenience of those trained exclusively with Hanyu, this site includes a correspondence chart. In the Republic of China on Taiwan , two other systems are also used. One is a set of symbols referred commonly as Bopomofo and the other is a newly devised system of romanization known as Tongyong. Both have also been included in the above-mentioned chart.



Unlike in the West, the direct alteration of an ancient work of art (in this case, through the impression of seals) did not diminish its value, but in the past added to its status and pedigree. Therefore, in addition to the seal(s) of the artist, later collectors and viewers also often added their own. These, along with inscriptions, are an invaluable source of information for determining the history of a particular work. Generally divided into white characters (engraved) against a usually red background, or vice-versa (in which the background is engraved away), contents and styles vary considerably. In terms of content, they are often personal in nature, reflecting names or phrases of significance to the owner. Seals can also be divided according to function, with some being used to prove the unity of the work and mounting or the separate pieces used in a work. Due to limitations of space and the contents of some seals, here they have been rendered in romanization rather than translation.


Titles of Works

Titles of works of painting and calligraphy are sometimes given by the artist on the work itself. However, often the work is entitled by a much later collector based on its contents or inscriptions, sometimes leading to confusion and misinterpretation. In calligraphy, sometimes the first two characters are used, especially with respect to letters, as a title designation. Hence, a piece of calligraphy (as seen in this project) may have a formal title and a subtitle indicating its modelbook name. The English titles of works and books without romanization are provided here, sometimes based on convention.


Years and Age

Two methods for determining years in the Chinese calendar are generally used: the imperial year and cyclical year. The former refers to the year of an emperor's reign or era, while the latter is determined by two characters (each from a set) that repeat every sixty years. Traditional means of expressing age often include an extra year or two (compared to the Western means of calculation), depending on one's time of birth in relation to the lunar new year. In the descriptions, years equivalent to the Western calendar have been used, while both traditional Chinese and Western equivalents are found in the translations of the inscriptions.


Formats (Mounting)

Chinese painting and calligraphy generally appears in several formats: wall, screen, handscroll, hanging scroll, and album leaf and/or fan. Much wall painting has long been destroyed along with the buildings that housed them. Ancient screen paintings were sometimes remounted as hanging scrolls and thus stood a better chance of survival. Hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and album leaves, due to their portability in being rolled or folded, often had a much better chance of surviving. Sometimes works in one format were remounted as another. Handscrolls were also the most conducive for lengthy inscriptions and colophons. For the appearance of a few major mounting types and their individual parts, see the accompanying diagrams.




Formats (Mounting)

Chinese painting and calligraphy generally appears in several formats: wall, screen, handscroll, hanging scroll, and album leaf and/or fan. Much wall painting has long been destroyed along with the buildings that housed them. Ancient screen paintings were sometimes remounted as hanging scrolls and thus stood a better chance of survival. Hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and album leaves, due to their portability in being rolled or folded, often had a much better chance of surviving. Sometimes works in one format were remounted as another. Handscrolls were also the most conducive for lengthy inscriptions and colophons. For the appearance of a few major mounting types and their individual parts, see the accompanying diagrams.


Diagrams of the Basic Handscroll Format


Diagram of a Hanging Scroll


Diagrams of Basic Album Leaf Mountings