Book covers drawn by artist Jian Guo.
Part of a competition held by the publisher of the new Chinese text, the beautiful, monochromatic illustrations draw on many of the design elements of Tolkien’s original paintings for the trilogy’s covers, elaborating on the iconic ring and towers with intricate Asian lines and flourishes.
The artist, an architectural student, describes his style as “glass painting style,” which he uses for its “sense of religious magnificence.” Interestingly, before seeing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation in 2002, he had never heard of the books. (Previous Chinese translations of the books feature rather unimaginative covers with images from Jackson’s movies.) The films converted him into an avid reader of Tolkien.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, and its literary influence in East Asia rivals that of Shakespeare in the English speaking world. “Written 600 years ago,” writes the BBC, “it is a historical novel that tells the story of a tumultuous period in Chinese history, the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Partly historical and partly legend, it recounts the fighting and scheming of the feudal lords and the three states which came to power as the Han Dynasty collapsed.”
And now the ancient meets the modern…
If you listen to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms podcast, you can hear John Zhu’s attempt to retell this epic tale and make it accessible to a Western audience. The first 110 episodes are available on YouTube, the web, and iTunes–with at least another 10 to come. Quite a feat. Have a listen.
To learn more about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, listen to this episode of the BBC’s In Our Time.
This is an ink painting by Chinese artist Fu Baoshi (1904–1965) showing a scholar artist in his studio. Fu Baoshi was a scholar painter and art historian. He studied Western and Japanese art in Tokyo where he developed his own style based on a fusion of Western realism and traditional brushwork. His work expressed a personal taste for subjects drawn from Chinese poets of the past.
Image © Fu Baoshi estate
The earliest example of multicolor printing is now available for the public eye, digitally available through Cambridge University Library’s Digital Library site. The 17th century book, Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu), is so fragile that it was previously forbidden to be opened, its contents a total mystery before its recent digitization.
The book was created in 1633 by Ten Bamboo Studio and is the earliest known example of polychrome xylography, invented by Hu Zhengyan. The technique, also referred to as douban, uses several printing blocks applied in succession with different inks to achieve the appearance of a hand-painted watercolor. The Cambridge site explains that although the skill required to achieve such douban prints is admirable, the gradations of colour within the book are what led to its reputation as “perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made.”
The manual contains eight categories showcasing birds, plumbs, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings and miscellany. All of these sections of the manual are contained in the original “butterfly binding,” and has been identified to be the finest copy in the original binding by a leading scholar.
In addition to Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, the library has also digitized other selections from its Chinese collections including the oracle bones (the earliest surviving examples of Chinese writing anywhere in the world), a Buddhist text dated between 1127 and 1175, and a 14th century banknote that threatens forgers with decapitation.
(via This Is Colossal)