Modern China Reimagined in Famous 12th Century Chinese Painting


Chinese artist and photographer Dai Xiang recently exhibited at the 2014 Lianzhoufoto Festival, his reinterpretations of the famous Song Dynasty painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”(清明上河图). By inserting modern scenes into an ancient backdrop, Dai Xiang cleverly depicted numerous “incidents” in recent years across China, including popular topics such as chengguan, forced demolition, prostitution, gutter oil, among many others. Netizens praised his work as an embodiment of modern Chinese society.

Click to enlarge:

Click to enlarge:

Artist description of his work:

An Account of the Creation of “The Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival”

From planning to completion, this work has taken two and a half years. Based on the structure of Zhang Zeduan’s “The Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival”, i made a complete transformation in terms of both characters and events. Relying on the present, my work intends to cross the boundaries of time and space by incorporating the typical phenomenon of China in the form of dramatic posing. Realistically, this work brings to the foreground the conflict between the imported Western culture and Chinese traditional worldviews since China’s reform and opening-up. Technically, I intended to violate the laws of optics, putting multiple perspectives together so as to create an in-depth panorama, with the emphasis on the layout of all details. “I” as a sign played various roles from all walks of life, both as an onlooker and a participant, indicating the inherent connection and conflict among all elements, experiencing all kinds of stories in the process of China’s modernization.


From Sina Weibo:

@马向明微博: The new “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”. It’s artist Dai Xiang explained that it took him 2 years using over 1,000 photographs to complete this work.


“My dad is Li Gang incident”

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Blow-up doll in front of a sex shop


Prostitution raid in China


Demolition Slogan: “The earlier you sign the relocation agreement, the earlier you’ll live a happy life”.


Time-travelling woman


Ruthless chengguan city managers


“Holding a body for ransom incident”


Government officials inspecting construction


Artist Dai Xiang

Comments on Sina Weibo:


Ancient Chinese commoners were simple, hardworking and hardy, the culture was like that too. But the garish modern scenes in this new “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” are ugly and offensive, all the bystanders were still wearing ancient clothes; instead I see more of the common people’s helplessness and naivete.


I’m on my knees, so niubi so talented.


The artist have mental issues, he should see the doctor.


This is the epitome of modern society, the artists is very talented.


Modern version, very interesting!


A work that will be handed down through the ages!


Full of connotations!


Do they have singing red songs and plaza dancing?


This is interesting, Li Gang, chengguan, forced demolition


Such realistic scenes, such familiar images.


I suspect this [post] will be deleted.


Our dynasty’s chengguan are so powerful.


I think there lack of scenes of plaza dancers and air pollution.


There is even a blow-up doll…


Chinese people all understand!


The National Museum should consider this as part of its collection.


A classic in a new era!


The dynasty changed, yet the common people are still the same common people.

Update: More Pictures

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What do you think? Can you spot more Easter eggs?

Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai

  • mr.wiener

    Somehow I don’t think the authorities are going to be too happy with this.
    Freakin’ brilliant stuff though and as funny as.

    • ClausRasmussen

      They couldn’t care less. It is all well known stuff, it doesn’t criticize the system, name any individuals, or (horror) organize people to protest

      • don mario

        its allowed somehow? but looks like a criticism of modern day china to me. i don’t know who is to blame for such a thing over than the government so how this is cool with them i do not know.

        • ClausRasmussen

          >> who is to blame for such a thing over than the government

          Haha… how about the people themselves? The culture? The rapidly changing society? The local authorities?

          • don mario

            are you thick as shit? who is the one responsible for such things as a rapidly changing society??? the people who just sit back and get on with their lives?…….. or the government.

            if you knew jack shit about china you would know that the party micro manage everything. they do it this way so they have a tight grip on power, its the most important thing to them. to say it is down to the people is laughable.

          • Don’t Believe the Hype

            apathy i bliss

  • firebert5

    “The artist have mental issues, he should see the doctor.”

    Nail on the head. That seems to be the explanation the government in China poses for any non-conformist.

  • waihang

    A normal day in China…

  • Dolph Grunt

    “Chinese people all understand!”

    Kinda funny. I was just thinking to myself, “Chinese who live in China and say bad things about China, their stories are usually liked with many agreeing comments… and yet, Chinese who leave China and say nothing bad about it are despised.”

    Just some reflection between one of the last stories and this one.

    • jin

      It’s the same everywhere, if you don’t live in the country, don’t talk crap about it. If you live in the country, whining, complaining, talking shit is accepted.

      • jin

        Like how your friends and family can say how lazy you are, but someone you don’t know well isn’t allowed.

      • Don’t Believe the Hype

        unless you are a “foreigner,” in which case you “don’t understand” lol

  • terroir

    No matter if they agreed with the artist or not, every single commentator above understands what the art is about, a rather rare occurrence.

    Welcome to the future; you have lived through it already.

  • Jahar

    Reminds me of when i saw Terminator 4. It sucked so bad, my friend and I went back home and photoshop/paint program created our own, using the Terminator arcade game screenshot, random terminator and other robot pics, Bruce Willis and Kurt Russel, and then posted online. Ours received better feedback. No one called it art though.

    • terroir

      Guess you didn’t see the third one, or the fifth one either or else there would be more anecdotes from you.

      Unless to want to continue with this hobby, don’t see the next one either.

      On topic: if you move to China, the one thing you will do whenever you meet your expat friends is complain about China while someone else tries to explain it. Then, the next time you meet, you will exchange roles.

      • jin

        Love and hate relationship.

        • terroir

          In addition to those two presets, I think the T-800 is also programmed to serve as a jive-talking sidekick. “I’ll be back… sucka!”

    • jin

      Link or it didn’t happen.

      • Surfeit

        BOO-YA! Callin you out!

      • Jahar

        yeah. I totally made that up.

        Actually, I just tracked down the site where my friend had posted it, and it’s all in storage. I’ll see if he can open it up, or send me the pic

  • Surfeit

    “Ancient Chinese commoners were simple, hardworking and hardy, the culture was like that too. ” People always think the past was good/pure and simple. Its so naive.

    • must touch brain

      Most Chinese tell me about how horrible life was before the CCP and even after. Most believe life in China is better than it was before.

      • Zappa Frank

        life everywhere is better than It was before.. except if there is a war

  • bujiebuke

    Brilliant. Anyone know if the “three officials”, Guo MeiMei, or Sanlu milk made it in his murals?

    • ClausRasmussen

      Red Cross is there. No modern Chinese is seen contributing while some ancient are…

  • AbC

    “The dynasty changed, yet the common people are still the same common people.”
    This commoner knows the common people’s predicament. Too bad no one will do anything to change that.

  • Joe

    Dunno if you guys noticed it but the funniest one has got to be the scene where ancient Chinese were helping an old person who fell down, while modern Chinese stood-by doing nothing lol

    • ClausRasmussen

      Good catch, I actually wondered about that one. I noticed the passive onlookers (with phones and cameras of course) and found it odd that some other people people were helping at all…

    • donscarletti

      Oh well, I like the modern Chinese with the waist length hair and miniskirt. At least some things have improved during these 900 years.

      • guest

        She appears in several places. Maybe there be one of those artiles with who she is!!!

  • don mario

    bravo to the artist.

    “Ancient Chinese commoners were simple, hardworking and hardy, the culture was like that too.”

    not from what i have heard. apparently if you had a daughter you could just dump it because they prefered to have a son. so there were these towers that you could go to get rid of your baby daughter. a tower full of dead baby’s…. i think they called it the dead baby tower.

    yea seems like china’s past was simple and wholesome!!!

  • vonskippy

    Not very realistic – the scene isn’t obscured by lung smothering smog.

    • must touch brain

      And where are all the cars, factories and trash?

  • TQ


    • terroir

      It’s here on cS. Basically, it’s a viral marketing thing, a video with a twist ending.

    • Don’t Believe the Hype

      i’m pretty sure that figure is referring to the popular chinese tv shows where she goes back in time to the Qing Dynasty and falls in love. — I never watched it, and have never looked back.

    • donscarletti

      There is a link in the article just under the picture, if you had clicked it, then you would know.

      And it’s “穿越女”, seriously, “穿越时空的妇女”?

      The general rule is (assuming you’re male), if you’d “hit it”, she’s called a “姑娘”. “妞”, “女孩子”, “妹妹”, “妹子” can be used informally or “女子” can also be used just to mean female. 妇女 is for putting behind “中年” or for legal and medical documents.

  • biggj

    I would not call this art. It just a bunch of Photoshop shit. If that shit is art than so is this pic. It is cool though, but any fool could make something like that. Case and point…me.

    • Surfeit


    • jin

      A photoshopped photo of nature is not art.
      A natural beautiful photo of nature is art.

      See the difference?

      • donscarletti

        Art is made by mankind, nature is not created by mankind. It seems to me that some photoshopping or at least some tricky depth of field or exposure effects would be required for a photo of nature to be art.

    • donscarletti

      He was telling Hitler:

      “I’ll admit that invading Czechoslovakia and annexing Austria turned out pretty well, it’s just that I’m not sure that your plans for Poland are going to work out long term.”

      Hitler took his advice into consideration until he summarily executed for editing himself into a photo supervising construction of Zepplinfield when he was really drunk on Schnapps at a Berlin cabaret.

    • NeverMind

      Meaning of the word ‘Art’ can be debated till the cows come home. For some, drawing patterns on snow with their urine is ‘Art’.

      The ‘Artist’ here is trying to make a commentary on the negative aspects of Modern China. This is ‘food for thought’ so it makes it ‘Art’ to me. I cannot mandate that if it doesn’t seem as art to me it is art to nobody.

      Regarding the technique chosen, what you have depicted is a Photoshopped character in an existing photo (no regard for copyrights of the original photographer?). As far as I know, no photos exist from the 12th century period, so the Photoshopping technique would not apply here. Besides, Photoshopping actual photographs of people in a painting would achieve very poor results and would distract from the message.

  • biggj

    This took him 2 and a half years??? Give me a computer, internet, Photoshop, 4 joints and about 5 hours and I could make something close to the same idea. And i suck at PS. So if someone who actually knew what they where doing could do something like that with ease.

    • mike

      Erm, if you compare it to the original painting, he didn’t just slab some photos on the existing picture, he recreated the whole thing.

      • biggj

        I understand fully what he did….still takes little skill to do. You still are just pretty much just copy/paste. it just looks like an internet meme some kid would put online. Now if the guy hand drew the whole picture as it is now….that would be respectable to me.

        Now I know this is a form of art…..fair enough. I just saying that the skill and the creativity to make this is very low. Now if the goal was to make people smile and get a laugh. Great job. If the guys thinks he’s some kind of great artist with this…he’s not…in my opinion.

    • ClausRasmussen

      >> This took him 2 and a half years???

      Probably from when he got the idea and decided to go through with it. Then he had to get funding for the setup, all those houses or the bridge can’t be cheap, get costumes, assemble a lot of people and find a spot to do the whole thing

      >> Give me a computer, internet, Photoshop, 4 joints and about 5 hours

      Show up or shut up

      • biggj

        Dude, you must be joking. Do you think people posed for this and he just took a picture??It’s just a lot of separate pictures off the internet just photoshopped on to a background. Anyone can do that. I think it’s cool picture, just seems like 2/12 year is a bit much.

        • ClausRasmussen

          Haah… how embarrassing… I actually thought he created the scene and took a pic of it, but reading his explanation again I now see he PSed it

          • biggj

            Now if he would done as you thought with props and costumes and actors and so on….this picture would be quite a feat and I understand your thinking. To make apic like this with PS…..2 1/2 years just seems a bit much. That’s all I’m saying.

          • ClausRasmussen

            Yeah, I have to agree with that

        • Mike

          Ok, maybe i’m just a bit more daft than usual, but could you please point me at where he got the picture of the Background (Houses, Bridge, Boats, River, Gate etc.) and the ancient people from?

          • biggj

            Well im no expert or anything, but the houses and boats look like hand made miniature models. Some museums have things like these set up. The water would be easy. And the people would actually be the easiest…just watch any Chinese movie or tv about the past…and there are 100’s of them, just cut them out and paste them in. The pic with the time traveling chick….the building to the left is all wood…even the cloth hanging down is wooden. So pretty much a mix between internet pictures, movies, and pics of miniature models. And you could pretty much do the whole picture.

          • Mike

            Ok, possible, but I’d have thought that the background looks more like a nicely done 3D rendering, similar to the pictures architects give you to show you your yet-to-be-build new office building. With miniature models, I’d expect small changes in coloring, dirt spots etc. But either way, I think creating it required a bit more effort than you give him credit for.

          • biggj

            I’m sure it took some time and effort….but 2/12 years worth…i dont think. The people that are PS in there really look shitty. Like it was just slapped in there fast. Kind of like this pic.

            The message is there…thats great…the idea is wonderful…but the presentation of it…it just seems to me the quality could be better with a 2/12 year time frame.

      • biggj
        • ClausRasmussen

          It looks exactly like it was photoshopped in 5 minutes lol

  • terroir

    I remember doing that story, and it wasn’t that interesting back then either.

  • guerrinho

    finally something actually brilliant by a Chinese “artist”

  • Gerhana

    I like it that there are people on the ground and no one is doing anything just passing by like its a normal thing. lol

  • Xio Gen

    This is truly art. Not just commentary, but a fantastic piece of hard work and aesthetics. My only criticism is shouldn’t the women’s feet be smaller?

  • Dr Sun