Small portion of qingming scroll - yellowed and ornage

China's Commercial Revolution: The Qingming Scroll

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In the 1100s China was arguably the richest country in the world, having experienced several centuries of sustained economic growth. A key factor in this prosperity was a commercial revolution that greatly expanded trade across the region.

The commercial revolution affected society profoundly. A scroll completed sometime before 1186 (the first date on the painting) offers a glimpse of this prosperity. The painting’s title in Chinese is Qingming shanghe tu ?????, which is usually translated as: Going Up River on the Qingming Festival. (The Qingming festival is the major grave-sweeping festival in China, occurring some time in the early spring.) Another possible translation of the painting’s title is Peace Reigns over the River. Scholars also debate the location of the scroll: does it, as is widely thought, show the capital of the Northern Song (960-1126)? Or is this actually an imaginary cityscape?

In recent years the Qingming scroll has acquired a new role as a symbol of traditional Chinese culture and a source of national pride for citizens of the People’s Republic. The press often refers to it as the Mona Lisa of China. The scroll traveled to Hong Kong in 2007, where it was placed on exhibit to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Hong Kong’s incorporation into the PRC. It was also displayed rolled out in a glass case at the Shanghai Exhibition in the summer of 2010; above the case, an animated version of the scroll on LED screens captivated the crowds who waited on long lines for hours to visit the Chinese pavilion.

Published Date: 17/10/2013

Suggested Citation: Valerie Hansen and  Jean W. Rosenthal, "China's Commercial Revolution: The Qingming Scroll," Yale SOM Case 13-018, October 17, 2013

Keywords: China, Women in Leadership