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Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang

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Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang

“The Portraits of Periodical Offering” is an official historical print with the portraits of ambassadors to the imperial court of China lined up to pay tribute with gifts. The Chinese phrase roughly translated to “duty offering pictorial”. The description of each ambassador is set at the back of the figures.

Throughout Chinese history, kingdoms and tribes conquered by Chinese forces were required to send ambassadors to the imperial court of China. This print with descriptions was used to record the expression of these ambassadors and to show the cultural aspects of the ethnic group represented in the drawing. These historical descriptions became the equivalent of documents of diplomatic relations with each country. The illustrations were reproduced in woodblock printing and distributed among the bureaucracy in albums.

The Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang by the Emperor Yuan of Liang Xiao Yi, dated to the 6th century, is the earliest surviving of these historical paintings. The original of the work was lost, and the only surviving edition of this work was a copy from the 11th century.

The envoys from right to left are:

  • Uar (Hephthalites) – They were based in Bactria and expanded east to the Tarim Basin, west to Sogdia and south through Afghanistan to northern India.
  • Persia – The Sasanian Empire, the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the rise of Islam
  • Baekje – Located in southwest Korea, it was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea,
  • Qiuci – An ancient Buddhist kingdom located on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin and south of the Muzat River.
  • Wo (Japan) – Wō is one of the oldest recorded names for Japan.
  • Langkasuka – An ancient Malay (Hindu-Buddhist) kingdom located in the Malay Peninsula.
  • Dengzhi (Qiang) ethnic from Ngawa – An ethnic group in China.
  • Zhouguke – Today party of China
  • Hebatan – Today party of China
  • Humidan – Today party of China
  • Baiti (Hephthalite stocks), who dwell close to Hephthalite – Today party of China
  • Mo (Qiemo) – Today party of China

Emperor Yuan of Liang

Emperor Yuan of Liang (508 – 555) was an emperor of the Chinese Liang Dynasty. After his father and brother were successively taken as a hostage and controlled by the rebel general, Xiao Yi was viewed as the de facto leader of Liang, and after defeating the rebel general in 552, he declared himself emperor.

In 554, Emperor Yuan made a major diplomatic faux pas when both Western Wei and Northern Qi ambassadors arrived at Jiangling, as he treated the Northern Qi ambassadors with far greater respect than the Western Wei ones. He then compounded the insult by sending an arrogant letter to Yuwen Tai, the paramount general of rival Western Wei, requesting that the borders be refixed to earlier times. Yuwen made a comment, that Xiao Yi is the type of person that, as said in Proverbs,

“One who has been abandoned by heaven cannot be revived by anyone else.”

Western Wei, Western Wei forces descended on and captured Emperor Yuan of Liang capital executing him and instead declaring a nephew, Xiao Cha (Emperor Xuan) the Emperor of Liang.

Emperor Yuan was a renowned writer and collector of ancient books but was criticised by historians for concentrating on eliminating potential contenders for the throne rather than on fighting the rebel general. As Western Wei troops besieged emperor Yuan of Liang at his capital, he set his collection of more than 140,000 volumes of ancient books on fire, and this was considered as one of the greatest disasters for the study of ancient works in Chinese history.

Reflections

  • The ambassadors came all the surrounding territories far and wide.
  • What did Emperor Yuan aim to achieve by setting  his collection of more than 140,000 volumes of ancient books on fire?

Explore the National Museum of China

Explore China’s Museums

Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang

  • Title:                   Portraits of Periodical Offering of Liang
  • Chinese:             职贡图
  • Year:                   6th century (original) – 11the century (copy)
  • Period:               Song Dynasty
  • Museum:           The National Museum of China

~~~

“It is easy to find a thousand soldiers,
but hard to find a good general.”

– Chinese Proverb

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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