Bitong, Brush Pot


Photo of Bitong, Brush Pot

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Basic Information

Artifact Identification Bitong, Brush Pot   (2007.12.0006A)
Communication T&E : Written Communication T&E : Writing Accessories
Artist/Maker Mo Shan Zhi, an art name used by Chou Nai-shih. Native of Chia-ting, Kiangsu.
Geographic Location Asia, East, China
Period/Date Reign of Shunzhi (1644-1661) or Kang Hsi (1662–1722), Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), 17th century
Culture Chinese

Physical Analysis

Dimension 1 (Height) 16.2 cm
Dimension 2 (Diameter) 12.5 cm
Dimension 3 (N/A) N/A
Weight 426 g
Measuring Remarks None
Materials Pigment, Plant--Bamboo
Manufacturing Processes Carved, Incising, Staining
Munsell Color Information N/A

Research Remarks

Published Description N/A

"A Chinese bamboo bitong (brushpot), 6 1/2” high by 5” wide, carved with the design known as “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”, signed Mo Shan Zhi. Mo Shan is one of the art names used by Chou Nai-shih. In addition to Mo Shan, other art names include: Wan-chou, and Yu-wen. Mo Shan was a native of Chia-ting, Kiangsu. He was active during the reigns of the Shunzhi (Shun-chih) (1644-1661) and Kangxi (K’ang His) (1662-1722). This important bitong dates from the 17th century, created by an artist skilled in painting, calligraphy as well as bamboo carving (in the manner of the Chou family). Artist signed bamboo bitong with the motif known as Sages of the Bamboo Grove (Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, or Chu-lin ch’i-hsien, or Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove, or Zhulinqixian) (Chinese literary group) are rare.

The theme “Seven Sages in the Bamboo Grove” has a long history in both Chinese and Japanese painting. It is part art fact and part legend. The Seven Sages were Daoists (Taoists) supposedly endowed with supernatural powers. They rejected the authority of Confucian teaching and government, opting instead for a reclusive lifestyle. They were said to gather in a bamboo grove from time to time to enjoy one another’s literary talents, irreverence, and eccentricities. This behavior contested the long-held Confucian ideal of virtue earned through public service. It proposed, instead, that self-perfection came through the cultivation of individuality. While those marginalized from the affairs of government often politicized the seven sages theme, those whose reclusive sensibilities were motivated by religious practice or aesthetic pursuits also ascribed to it. Zen monasteries and their patrons, for example, often commissioned seven sages paintings.

The group of friends gathered in a bamboo grove near the country estate of the writer and alchemist Ji Kang in Shanyang (in the south of present-day Henan province). Ji’s independent thinking and scorn for court custom led to his execution by the state, which was strongly protested by his several thousand followers; his execution testifies to the very real dangers that forced the Sages’ retirement from palace life.

Most prominent among the Seven Sages was the free-thinking, eccentric, and highly skilled poet Ruan Ji. Xiang Xiu wrote Sijiufu (”Reminiscence”) and, with Guo Xiang, a Neo-Daoist contemporary, the Zuangzizhu, a famous commentary on the works of the early Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi. The other members of the group were the poet Liu Ling, the musician Ruan Xian, the devout Daoist Shan Dao, and Wang Rong (who was known mainly for his wealth).

The tensions that caused the forced retirement of the Seven Sages are revealed in their writings and those of other eremetic poets of the time. Their poems and essays frequently center on the impossibility of palace life for the scholar (with criticisms of the court sometimes necessarily veiled in allegory) and the pleasures and hardships of country life. The retirement of the Seven Sages served as a model for that of later Chinese writers living in troubles times." - Bernie McManus, Appraiser, Woodbury House, Connecticut, 10/29/2007


Comparables: Sotheby’s Hong Kong 10/23/05, sale 0225, lot 5, signed Gu Jue, Chinese bitong 6 3/4 in. Superbly carved in varying relief with a continuous scene of a lady and her attendant holding a fan, standing outside a mountain retreat, bidding farewell to a scholar on horseback followed by an acolyte who carries a qin and a picnic box on a pole over his shoulder, while two figures standing beside a carriage converse with one another behind the retreat, all set amidst towering peaks, trees and mist, the rock face signed Gu Jue followed by the seal Zongyu, the base with a long inscription, with wood mounts to both the slightly flared rim and tripod base, Kangxi period. Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 10/23/2005, sale HK0225, lot 8. A Finely Carved Seven Sages Chinese Bamboo brushpot, 18th century, 6 in., of cylindrical form supported on three small feet, the exterior skillfully carved in deep relief with the ‘Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove’ in leisurely pursuit, attended by five acolytes within a dense bamboo grove along a rocky riverbank, one scholar approaches a bridge with his attendant and the others drink wine, play the qin and converse, while four acolytes carry a picnic box and various supplies towards the seated group, the rock face with a six-column inscription followed by the seal Yuan. Christie’s, Hong Kong, sale 2207, 11/28/2005, lot #1458; Qing Dynasty, 17th/18th century; Exceptionally finely carved bitong, exquisitely carved in low relief from a segment of bamboo of rich honey-brown tones, with composite scenes of figures in landscape, one side depicting a gathering of sages in a bamboo grove beside a flowing stream amidst rocks and trees, with billowing clouds above, the other side of the cylindrical brush pot with a scene from the painting, ‘Literary Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion’, featuring scholars seated in a pavilion, in animated discussion on a riverbank shaded by pine and wutong trees, and assembled in a bamboo grove 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm.) high, original stand, unsigned, Japanese wood box. Christie’s, Hong Kong, 5/30/06, lot 1226, sale 2309. A Finely Carved ‘Seven Sages’ Chinese Brushpot. The exterior finely carved in high relief and openwork to render a continuous scene depicting the ‘Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove’, each Sage preoccupied in his own leisurely pursuit to include walking, playing the qin, drinking and reclined under the shade in a recess of a bamboo grove, attended by acolytes variously tasked at brewing tea, preparing food and washing beside a running stream, inscribed with two characters Gu Jue on the rock face, Kangxi period. 6 1/2 in, (16.5 cm.) high. Christie’s, New York, 3/22/07, sale 1814, lot #438; A Finely Carved Chinese Bamboo Brushpot, Bitong, 17th/18th century, deeply carved and undercut with a scene from the Lanting Xu (Orchid Pavilion Preface), depicting numerous scholars and attendants in a wooded mountain setting, with one group gathered around a table set with painting or writing material, another group seated discussing books in a bamboo grove, a third group in a pavilion raised on pilings above swirling waters, of a river that bisects the scene, with ducks in the water and scholars and attendants on the river banks, with smaller groupings of scholars and attendants, and one attendant standing off to one side beside a table laden with scholars’ objects, with huanghuali mounts, 6 1/2” H., unsigned, box. This same unusual combination of scenes can be seen on another finely carved bamboo brushpot sold in Woodbury House Hong Kong rooms, 28 November, 2005, lot 1458. Compare, also, the fine carving of the present brush pot to that seen on a brushpot carved with a scene from Ouyang Xiu’s Ode to the Pavilion of the Inebriated Old Man, bearing the signature Gu Jue (active late 17th century), illustrated by D. P. Leidy et al., in ‘Chinese Decorative Arts’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer, 1997, p. 50. Christie’s, London, May 15, 2007, sale 7415, lot 76: A Finely Carved Chinese Bamboo Brushpot, 17th/18th Century. Deeply carved and undercut with a scene from the Lanting Xu (Orchid Pavilion Preface), depicting numerous scholars and attendants in a wooded mountain setting, with one group gathered around a table set with painting or writing materials within a pavilion, another group seated discussing books, a third group within a bamboo grove and a fourth smaller group playing a game, all bisected by a flowing river with ducks in the water and scholars and attendants on the river banks, with further smaller groupings of scholars and attendants in various spots 5 7/8 in. high, unsigned.


Cameron, Nigel. The Chinese Scholar's Desk. Hong Kong: FormAsia Books, 2003.

Artifact History

Archaeological Data N/A
Credit Line/Dedication Fred A. Freund Collection
Reproduction No
Reproduction Information N/A

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