shouzan shikou 商山四皓
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Ch: Shangshan sihao. A pictorial subject depicting four elderly sages who fled from the turbulent society of the late Qin dynasty to Mt. Shang (Jp:Shouzan 商山) in Shanxi 陜西 province where they lived in seclusion, and engaged in scholarly pursuits. As all of the men had white hair, beards, and eyebrows they were called the shikou 四皓 (Ch:sihao) or the four whites, although they are most commonly referred to as the Four Greybeards in English. The scholars, Dong Yuangong (Jp:Tou Enkou 東園公), Qi Liji (Jp:Ki Riki 綺里季), Luli Xiansheng (Jp:Rokuri Sensei ろく里先生), and Xia Huanggong (Jp:Ka Koukou 夏黄公), had served as officials, but left the government to protest against the despotic reign of Shihuangdi (Jp:Shikoutei 始皇帝; BC 259-210). Later, when Emperor Gaozu (Jp:Kouso 高祖; BC 247-195) established the Han dynasty, he asked the four hermits to return to government service. At first the four refused, but when Gaozu passed over his eldest son the crown prince Huidi 恵帝 to pick the younger son of a favorite concubine to succeed him, the empress Zhai 斎 sent the officer Zhang Liang (Jp: Chou Rryou 張良; see *Chou Ryou・ Kou Sekikou 張良・黄石公) to Mt Shang to invite the recluses back to court to support Huidi. After long debate the four men retired to pay their respects to the crown prince. Thus, the subject has inherent political implications, although in Japanese painting it is frequently linked with such purely aesthetic themes as *kinki shoga 琴棋書画 and paired with the ostensibly anti-confucian theme of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove *chikurin shichiken 竹林七賢. Chinese paintings of the Southern Song and Ming dynasties show the Four Graybeards in reclusion. Japanese examples, beginning with Momoyama period fan paintings, Nanzenji 南禅寺 in Kyoto, are generally divided into ink monochrome depictions of the men in reclusion or polychrome paintings of them returning to court. The shouzan shikou were a favorite subject for Momoyama and early Edo period wall painting, with well-known examples by Hasegawa Touhaku 長谷川等伯 (1539-1610), Daitokuji Shinjuan 大徳寺真珠庵 and Watanabe Ryoukei 渡辺了慶 (?-1645), Nishihonganji Shiroshoin 西本願寺白書院 both in Kyoto.


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