Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图) is a painting by the Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145). It captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng, from the Northern Song period. The theme is often said to celebrate the festive spirit and worldly commotion at the Qingming Festival, rather than the holiday’s ceremonial aspects, such as tomb sweeping and prayers. Successive scenes reveal the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city, and offer glimpses of period clothing and architecture. The painting is considered to be the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings, and it has been called “China’s Mona Lisa.”
The scroll is 25.5 centimetres (10.0 inches) in height and 5.25 meters (5.74 yards) long. In its length there are 814 humans,28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, 20 vehicles, 8 sedan chairs, and 170 trees. Only about twenty women appear in the Song dynasty original, and only women of low social rank are visible out of doors unless accompanied by men.
The countryside and the densely populated city are the two main sections in the picture, with the river meandering through the entire length. The right section is the rural area of the city. There are crop fields and unhurried rural folk—predominately farmers, goatherds, and pig herders—in bucolic scenery. A country path broadens into a road and joins with the city road. The left half is the urban area, which eventually leads into the city proper with the gates. Many economic activities, such as people loading cargoes onto the boat, shops, and even a tax office, can be seen in this area. People from all walks of life are depicted: peddlers, jugglers, actors, paupers begging, monks asking for alms, fortune tellers and seers, doctors, innkeepers, teachers, millers, metalworkers, carpenters, masons, and official scholars from all ranks.