Asian Art Museum | Education

The best of Asian art at the tip of your fingers for use in the classroom or at home.
Close

Sign up

In My Resources you can save the content you like all in one place. Get started by creating an account.

Create a new account

The five sons of Dou Yanshan, 1808

The five sons of Dou Yanshan, 1808, by Tani Buncho (Japanese, 1763 - 1868), Hanging scroll; Ink and colors on paper, In celebration of Mrs. Clarice Chuang Szeto's 70th birthday from her children, James, Thomas, Clarice, Sylvester, and Anthony, 1991.132. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The five sons of Dou Yanshan, 1808, by Tani Buncho (Japanese, 1763 - 1868), Hanging scroll; Ink and colors on paper, In celebration of Mrs. Clarice Chuang Szeto's 70th birthday from her children, James, Thomas, Clarice, Sylvester, and Anthony, 1991.132. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

This painting depicts the offspring of Dou Yanshan, who was famous for having five sons who all passed China’s competitive civil-service examinations. For more than twelve centuries, the Chinese had considered the passing of these examinations paramount, because it opened doors to high-ranking positions. A man whose sons became officials, as did Dou Yanshan’s, became a model for parents of later generations.

This scene is filled with auspicious Chinese symbols. The apricot tree and magpie at upper left signify the achievement of the “three firsts”: first place in the provincial, metropolitan, and imperial civil-service examinations. The son at the right rear holds a package containing a seal, a symbol of government position; the one at the left rear carries on his back a gourd, a symbol of long life. Bamboo, depicted on the scroll painting that two of the sons carry, is also a symbol of long life; in the foreground are peonies, a symbol of wealth. The inclusion of Chinese auspicious symbols in this Japanese painting is an indication that the Japanese shared the Chinese aspiration for success in education, a value still cherished in Japan.

See More [+]See Less [-]