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Hu Zhengyan

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Hu.
Hu Zhengyan
Born c. 1584
Xiuning, China
Died c. 1674 (aged 89–90)
Nanjing, China
Other names Hu Yuecong, Hu Cheng-Yen, Ku Yueh-Tsung
Occupation Publisher, artist, seal-carver
Known for Colour woodblock printing
Bird on a Flowering Branch, a colour print by Hu Zhengyan from the Shizhuzhai Shuhuapu
Three Oranges on Knotted Stand, a colour print by Hu Zhengyan from the Shizhuzhai Shuhuapu

Hu Zhengyan, also known as Hu Yuecong, Hu Cheng-Yen, Ku Yueh-Tsung, Chinese: 胡正言 (c. 1584 – 1674 C.E.) was a Chinese artist, printmaker and publisher, owner of the Ten Bamboo Studio (Shizhuzhai) in Nanjing. He worked in calligraphy, traditional Chinese painting, and seal-carving, but was primarily a publisher, producing academic texts as well as records of his own work. A Ming loyalist, he was offered a position at the rump court of the Hongguang Emperor, but declined the post, never holding anything more than minor political office. He was best known for his manual of painting entitled The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Painting and Calligraphy (Shizhuzhai Shuhuapu).


Hu was born in the town of Xinan in Xiuning County, Anhui Province during the Ming Dynasty, but lived for most of his life in Nanjing (which was, at the time, China's capital). According to Wen Ruilin's Lost history of the South (Nanjiang yishi, Chinese: 南疆繹史), Hu studied at the National University there, and whilst a student was employed by the Ministry of Rites to record official proclamations; he produced the Imperial promotion of minor learning (Qin ban xiaoxue, Chinese: 御頒小學) and the Record of displayed loyalty (Biaozhong ji, Chinese: 表忠記) as part of this work. As a result, he was promoted to the Ministry of Personnel and gained admittance to the Hanlin Academy, however before he could take up this appointment, the Ming Dynasty fell to the Manchu rebellion.[1] Contemporary biographies (Wen's work was not published until 1830) make no mention of these events, which are thought to have been fabricated after Hu's death.[2]

Around 1619 he set up the Ten Bamboo Studio as a meeting-house for like-minded artists.[3] It also functioned as the headquarters for his printing business, where he employed his two brothers Zhengxin (Wusuo) and Zhengxing (Zizhu) as well as his sons Qipu and Qiyi (Zhigua).[2]

Following the fall of Beijing in 1644, remnants of the Imperial family and a few ministers set up a Ming loyalist regime in Nanjing, enthroning Zhu Yousong as the Hongguang Emperor.[4] Hu, who was noted for his seal-carving and facility with seal script, created a seal for the new Emperor. The court offered him the position of Drafter for the Secretariat (zhongshu sheren, Chinese: 中書舍人) as a reward, but he did not accept the role (although he did accord himself the title of zhongshu sheren in a number of his subsequent personal seals).[2]

Hu retired from public life and went into seclusion after the end of the Ming Dynasty.[5] He died in comparative poverty at the age of 90.[2]

Seal carving[edit]

Hu Zhengyan was a noted exponent of seal-caving, producing personal seals for numerous contemporary dignitaries. His style was rooted in the classical seal script of the Han Dynasty, and he followed the Huizhou (Xingyuang) school of carving founded by He Zhen. Hu's calligraphy, though somewhat more angular than the classical models he followed, is balanced and carefully structured. Huizhou seals attempt to impart an ancient, weathered impression, although unlike other Huizhou artists Hu did not make a regular practice of artificially aging his seals.[2]

Hu's work was known outside his local area. Zhou Lianggong stated that Hu "creates miniature stone carvings with ancient seal inscriptions for travellers to fight over and treasure",[6] implying that his carvings were popular with visitors and travellers passing through Nanjing.[2]

In 1644, Hu took it upon himself to create a new Imperial seal for the Hongguang Emperor, which he carved after a period of fasting and prayer. He presented his creation with an essay, the Great exhortation of the seal (Dabao zhen, Chinese: 大寶印), in which he bemoaned the loss of the Chongzhen Emperor's seal and begged Heaven's favour in restoring it. Hu was concerned that his essay would be overlooked because he had not written it in the form of rhyming, equally-footed couplets (pianti, Chinese: 駢體) used in the Imperial examinations, but his submission and the seal itself were nevertheless both accepted by the Southern Ming court.[5]

Ten Bamboo Studio[edit]

Despite his reputation as an artist and seal-carver, Hu was primarily a publisher. His publishing house, the Ten Bamboo Studio (Shizhuzhai, Chinese: 十竹齋), produced reference works on calligraphy, poetry and art; medical textbooks; books on etymology and phonetics; and commentaries on the Confucian Classics (as well as copies of the Classics themselves). Unlike other publishers in the area, the Ten Bamboo Studio did not publish works of narrative fiction such as plays and novels.[7] This bias towards academia is likely a consequence of the studio's location; the mountain on which Hu took up residence was just to the north of the Nanjing Guozijian (National Academy), which provided a captive market for academic texts.[8]

After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Hu renamed the studio the Hall Rooted in the Past (Digutang, Chinese: 迪古堂) as a sign of his affililation for the previous dynasty, although the Ten Bamboo imprint continued to be used.[2] Certainly (and despite Hu's withdrawal from society after 1646) the studio continued to publish well into the Qing Dynasty, for the most part focussing on seal impression catalogues showcasing Hu's carving work.

At his studio, Hu Zhengyan experimented with various forms of woodblock printing, creating multi-coloured prints and developing embossed printed designs.[9] As a result, he was able to produce some of China's first printed publications in colour, using a technique known as dou ban yin shua (watercolour block printing).[10][11][12][13] Between 1627 and 1644, the Ten Bamboo Studio produced over twenty printed books of this kind, aimed at a wealthy, literary audience.[14]


Hu's most notable work was the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Painting and Calligraphy (Shizhuzhai Shuhuapu, Chinese: 十竹齋書畫譜), an anthology of around 320 prints, published in 1633. It consisted of eight sections, covering calligraphy, bamboo, flowers, rocks, birds and animals, plums, orchids and fruit. As well as a collection of artworks, it was also intended as an artistic primer, with instructions on correct brush position and technique and a number of pictures designed specifically for beginners to copy.[2]

This volume went on to influence colour printing across China and also in Japan, laying the foundations for the popular ukiyo-e genre.[15][16] It used a form of multiple block printing called taoban.[3] The popularity of this manual was such that print runs continued to be produced all the way through to the late Qing Dynasty (late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).[2]

He also produced the work Ten Bamboo Studio Manual (Shizhuzhai Jianpu, Chinese: 十竹齋箋譜), a collection of paper samples, which made use of his gong hua stamped embossing technique to make the illustrations stand out in relief.[3][11][17][18]


  1. ^ 温睿臨 (1971). 南疆逸史. 崇文書店. pp. 306–307. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Hu Zhengyan: Fashioning Biography". Ars Orientalis (The Smithsonian Institution) 35: 129–154. 2008. doi:10.2307/25481910. JSTOR 25481910. Retrieved 29 May 2013.  edit
  3. ^ a b c Rawson, J. (1992). The British Museum book of Chi. London: The British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-2446-9. 
  4. ^ Denis Crispin Twitchett; John King Fairbank (1988). The Cambridge History of China: The Ming dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 642. ISBN 978-0-521-24332-2. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  5. ^ a b 杜濬 (1894). 變雅堂遺集. 上海古籍出版社. pp. 18–20. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  6. ^ 印人传. 海南出版社. 2000. ISBN 978-7-80645-663-7. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Cynthia J. Brokaw; Kai-Wing Chow (2005). Printing and book culture in late Imperial China. University of California Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-520-23126-9. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  8. ^ 馬孟晶 (1993). 晚明金陵"十竹齋書畫譜""十竹齋箋譜"硏究. National Taiwan University Dept. of Art History. pp. 29–30. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Fan Dainian; R.S. Cohen (30 September 1996). Chinese Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Springer. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-7923-3463-7. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  10. ^ 10,000 Chinese Numbers. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-557-00621-2. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Hu Zhengyan". China Culture. China Daily. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Guo, Hua (1621). "Selected Anecdotes about Su Shi and Mi Fu". Chinese Rare Book Collection. World Digital Library. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Robert E. Hegel (1998). Reading Illustrated Fiction in the Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-8047-3002-0. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  14. ^ Kai-Wing Chow (2004). Publishing, culture, and power in early modern China. Stanford University Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-8047-3368-7. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Kathleen Kuiper (2010). The Culture of China. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 213. ISBN 978-1-61530-140-9. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  16. ^ James Albert Michener (1954). The floating world. University of Hawaii Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-8248-0873-0. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  17. ^ The East Asian Library Journal. Gest Library of Princeton University. 1998. p. 96. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  18. ^ Robert H. van Gulik (1974). 中國古代房内考: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society from Ca. 1500 B.C. Till 1644 A.D. Brill Archive. p. 322. ISBN 978-90-04-03917-9. Retrieved 3 June 2013.