Water Margin Leaves


Shui hu ye zi (Water margin leaves) was a masterpiece of early Qing created by Chen Hongshou (1598‒1652). It contains 40 illustrations depicting the outlaws in the novel Shui hu zhuan (Water margin). Ye zi (leaves) were actually a set of printed playing cards, to be used in a wine drinking game at a banquet. A player drew a card and would empty a cup of wine according to the meaning of the painting on the card cover and the instruction written on the card. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, such games flourished, and became very popular. The paintings on the playing cards often were adapted from Chinese drama and fiction. Chen Hongshou, childhood name Lianzi, alternate name Xu’an, courtesy name Zhanghou, style names Laolian and Xiaojingming, was a native of Zhuji, Zhejiang. He studied with scholars Liu Zongzhou and Huang Daozhou and was conversant with poetry, calligraphy, and painting, particularly with figure painting. Among his many works, Jiu ge tu (Illustrations to the nine songs), Bo gu ye zi (Leaves of venerating the antiquities), Zhang Shenzhi zheng bei xi xiang ji mi ben (Secret edition of the northern west chamber corrected by Zhang Shenzhi), and Xin juan jie yi yuan yang jia jiao hong ji (New edition of the story of mistress Jiaoniang and maid Feihong), were considered his masterpieces. According to Tao’an meng yi (Reminiscences in dreams of Tao’an), by Ming writer Zhang Dai, Chen Hongshou completed this work in four months. The paintings show all of the outlaws of Water Margin (for example, Song Jiang) with the imposing manner of loyal and righteous heroes. The book presented here has no preface or table of contents. The work became very popular after its publication.

Last updated: June 7, 2017