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Painting in Southern Song Dynasty (906 AD - 1279 AD)

The Jin state defeated the Song rulers in 1127, the descendants of Hui Zong fled south and established the new capital in Hangzhou. The rulers of the southern Song encouraged the continuation of Northern Song style of painting. However, the environment of the south soon transformed the landscape paintings of the Southern Song artists. The monumental landscape style was typical of the Northern Song period was replaced by a gentler and more intimate style most suited for the idyllic climate of the south.

Ma Yuan and Xia Gui used monochrome ink washes to create an intimate and almost mystical style that typified Southern Song artists. Painters of the southern period focussed on nature in an intuitive and spontaneous manner, much like the philosophies of Chan Buddhism and Daoism.

The painting entitled "Walking on a Path in Spring" by Ma Yuan, emphasized the Daoist perspective of the natural world. According to Daoist philosophy the natural world is asymmetrical as exemplified in this composition. The scholar is off to one side, gazing at an angle into the distant horizon as the weeping willow tree leads the viewer's eyes to the bird that has flown into the distant landscape, giving an experience of being one with nature. As in Daoism, to achieve the "Way", one must intuitively experience it, in much the same way as the portrayal of "Walking on a Path in Spring"

Later painters of the Southern Song period combined the Ma Yuan and Xia Gui's preference for monochrome ink and spontaneous calligraphic brush work, with Daoist and Chan Buddhist views of nature. The spontaneous style reflected Chan Buddhist idea of enlightenment. Enlightenment, according to Chan Buddhism, does not arrive gradually through laborious studies of scriptures, but in a flash of realization.

Liang Kai, a master of the spontaneous Chan style, painted figures, landscapes and both Daoist and Buddhist subjects. In his famous work, Liang Kai portrayed the Poet Li Tai Bo (famous Tang poet) with a few spontaneous brush strokes.

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