Duke University Press
  • Meritorious Heroes:Allegorical Hawk Paintings in Yuan China and Early Chosŏn Korea

This study explores the allegorical usage of hawk painting to praise a hero with meritorious deeds in Yuan China (1271–1368) and early Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910). Through an analysis of Yuan-dynasty poems inscribed on hawk paintings, this article demonstrates that paintings of a hawk sitting still on a tree in the woods conveyed the allegory of a hero subduing wily beings, such as rabbits and foxes. Moreover, Yuan paintings of a hawk and a bear (yingxiong 鷹熊) employed a Chinese rebus and represented the animals as heroes, comparing them to historical heroic and loyal figures. This article then turns to Chosŏn Korea, where two types of hawk paintings reflected the Korean reception of Yuan counterparts. One was the painting of a hawk sitting still, which indicated the hero's readiness for future achievements. Another, with the motif of a rabbit caught in the hawk's talons, emphasized the hero's successful achievements and gained popularity through the late Chosŏn dynasty. The Chinese and Korean allegories of heroic contributions emerged in response to complicated politics, as the Yuan government comprised multiple ethnic groups and the early Ming and early Chosŏn were newly established after the fall of previous dynasties. For the same reason, the hawk-hero allegory began to lose its relevance over time, and hawk paintings came to take on rather mundane meanings.


animal painting, animal allegory, rebus painting, yingxiong, rabbits and foxes

Hawks were among the types of birds most favored as subjects for painting in premodern China and Korea.1 The hawk was seen as wise, with attentive qualities related to its ability to spy prey clearly from a great distance and react swiftly. Various hawk images were continuously developed throughout the long history of the domestication of hawks as ideal hunting companions for the ruling classes in East Asia.2 These images can be classified roughly into two types: a hawk that belongs to a skilled owner sitting on a gorgeously decorated perch or on the arm of the well-dressed owner going out to hunt; and a hawk in the wild, perched on the branch of a tree in a forest or fiercely pursuing prey. Both types exhibited the hawk's robust power and heroic demeanor, attracting male viewers who sought to assert their physical or political power.

Instead of representing the hawk in its purely natural appearance, many paintings portrayed the bird instead within a deliberately devised image to convey power as the prime example of strength from the ornithological perspective [End Page 1] or as the emblem for the owners of the paintings, most of whom were politically influential people. Hawk paintings in China and Korea almost always referred to supreme power and ability through their allegories or metaphors, which changed their meaning according to a particular political or social climate. Hawk painting was in fact a type of Chinese rebus painting that alluded to hidden meanings (Bai 2016).3

Several studies have yielded significant findings regarding Chinese and Korean hawk paintings. Houmei Sung (1995, 2009: 7–38), a leading researcher in traditional Chinese animal painting, traced the depictions of hawks and their meanings across the expanse of Chinese painting history. Sung identified the following four types of hawk depiction: the tame and the wild hawk during the Tang dynasty (618–907); popularized images of the hawk chasing its prey during the Song dynasty (960–1279); the hawk as two kinds of satirical metaphors referring to the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368); and creative themes in hawk paintings from the Ming court (1368–1644). Although her research outlined the extensive history of Chinese hawk painting and provoked interest in deciphering the hidden codes of animal paintings in East Asia, its focus was primarily on the Ming court and the unique and unprecedented creativity of Ming court painters. Another outstanding study on Chinese hawk painting is by Richard M. Barnhart, who suggested that the hawks portrayed by Bada Shanren 八大山人 (ca. 1626–1705) in the Qing dynasty expressed the painter's defiant spirit against the Kangxi emperor (Wang and Barnhart 1990: 86–91).4 Some hawk paintings have also become the subject of studies by multiple scholars offering differing views.5 My previous research has dealt with Chinese and Korean hawk paintings and brought attention to two aspects. The first was that depictions of ostentatious hawks belonging to Chinese emperors celebrated the sovereign's power, as evidenced in the long line of hawk portraits from the seventh to the eighteenth century in China. The hawk represented in these paintings was a fast white hawk, indispensable to the diplomatic relationship between Korea and China. Korean kings paid various kinds of tribute to Chinese emperors, who often preferred the coveted white hawks since at least the seventh century (Kho 2012). The second aspect was the supernatural function of hawk paintings based on a belief in their magical power; this aspect persisted through the late Ming, Qing, and late Chosŏn periods (Kho 2013).

These previous studies were insufficient in understanding the historical context and interregional flows of hawk paintings. This article expands on them by examining Yuan dynasty hawk paintings in more depth and by delving into hawk paintings from the unstudied early Chosŏn period, thus providing a more comprehensive history of the genre. Although most of the early Chosŏn works are not extant today and only a few from the Yuan period survive, investigation of these early hawk paintings is possible through contemporaneous textual sources.

The Allegory Developed and Established in Yuan China

Houmei Sung's pioneering study of Yuan dynasty hawk paintings has inspired new ideas about the genre (Sung 1995: 50–55; 2009: 11–14). Sung analyzed two works to explain that Yuan hawk paintings included satirical metaphors to express [End Page 2]

Figure 1. Wang Yuan 王淵, Hawk Chasing a Huamei (Yingzhuhuamei 鷹逐畵眉). Ink on silk: painting, 117.2 ×53.3 cm; shitang, 31 ×53.3 cm. Taipei Palace Museum.
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Figure 1.

Wang Yuan 王淵, Hawk Chasing a Huamei (Yingzhuhuamei 鷹逐畵眉). Ink on silk: painting, 117.2 ×53.3 cm; shitang, 31 ×53.3 cm. Taipei Palace Museum.

Figure 2. Zhang Shunzi 張舜咨, Dark Green Paulownia, Bamboo, and a Hawk (Cangwuzhuying 蒼梧竹鷹). Color on silk, 146 × 93 cm. Shandong Museum.
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Figure 2.

Zhang Shunzi 張舜咨, Dark Green Paulownia, Bamboo, and a Hawk (Cangwuzhuying 蒼梧竹鷹). Color on silk, 146 × 93 cm. Shandong Museum.

internal resistance against the Mongolian government. In Hawk Chasing a Huamei (Yingzhuhuamei 鷹逐畵眉; fig. 1), the hawk, representing a barbarian Mongol, harasses a bird with beautiful eyebrows, which stands for an accomplished Chinese scholar. In Dark Green Paulownia, Bamboo, and a Hawk (Cangwuzhuying 蒼梧竹鷹; fig. 2), the hawk indicates a lofty scholar who has withdrawn from worldly affairs, like a Chinese scholar in retreat from the Mongol invasions. [End Page 3]

Hawk Chasing a Huamei (fig. 1) by the Yuan court painter Wang Yuan 王淵 (fl. late thirteenth–early fourteenth century) bears five poetic inscriptions from late Yuan that primarily describe the scene of a brave hawk and the huamei bird.6 Sung considers the hawk to symbolize a Mongol invader on the basis that one of the inscriptions, by Du Yuncheng 杜允誠 (dates unknown), uses the word huying 胡鹰 (literally, "barbarian hawk") to designate it. However, the word huying frequently appeared in sources ranging from Tang China to Chosŏn Korea, where it simply meant a brave hawk in a positive sense.7 Furthermore, the inscriptions show sympathy toward the huamei and do not necessarily criticize the hawk. One of the inscribers, Ban Weizhi 班惟志 (1275–1349), writing in the largest and clearest handwriting in the upper left corner, praised the excellence of the hawk for its distinguished service, comparing it with the character of the huamei that caused its unfortunate fate.8 Likewise, another inscriber, the Ming scholar Chen Jiru 陳繼儒 (1558–1639), who had read all five annotations, discussed how the theme of the painting related to a particular historical moment from the early Song dynasty.9 Regarding the image, the Yuan and Ming annotators seem to have shared sympathy for the huamei. Rather than rebuking the hawk, however, they appreciated the hawk's strength and ability.

Sung's example for the second type of Yuan hawk paintings is Zhang Shunzi's 張舜咨 (fl. early fourteenth century) Dark Green Paulownia, Bamboo, and a Hawk (fig. 2), which depicts a hawk sitting alone in the trees of paulownia and bamboo. Sung cites a phrase from the painter's inscription in the upper left corner—"ordinary eagles had an appetite only for the flesh of their prey"—and explains that the hawk that despises such regular hawks is a symbol of a reclusive Chinese scholar under the Mongol's rule.

However, the phrase merely indicates the hawk's lofty spirit. Another inscription in the upper right corner by Sa Dadao 薩達道 (dates unknown) points us to a new direction for interpretation: These lines portray the hawk staring far into space with its attentive, piercing eyes, overpowering other wild animals and bringing peace to the forest. Thus, the hawk here anthropomorphizes not a reclusive scholar but, rather, a competent inspector or military person who successfully performs his duties. This painting was then a different type of Yuan hawk painting that incorporated the allegory of a magnificent, heroic hawk.

[The hawk] turned its head to look far to the south on an autumn day, 回首楚天秋萬里,
To where so the wild mink and wild pheasant flee? 山貂野雉竟何逃.

The allegory of a heroic hawk is most evident in three poems by Yuan scholars that appear in a collection of poems inscribed on paintings.10 These three poems are "Shanyingtu" 雙鷹圖 ("Painting of Two Hawks") by Gong Shitai 貢師泰 (1298–1362), "Ti huaying" 題畵鷹 ("Inscribed on a Hawk Painting") by Li Qi 李祁 (active mid-fourteenth century), and "Ti Liu Luchu Suozhang Mo Qingshan Ying" 題 劉履初所藏莫慶善鷹 ("Inscribed on a Hawk Painted by Mo Qingshan at the Home of Liu Luchu") by Guo Yu 郭鈺 (1316–?), cited below. They describe the hawk in the paintings as a hero who can subdue deceptive beings such as rabbits and foxes. [End Page 4]

[Two hawks] on a rock and beneath a green pine tree, 青松之下白石上
stand opposite each other, deep in thought. 㩳身對立意沉沉
Wily foxes and sneaky rabbits do not act free or joyful. 妖狐狡兔莫漫喜
A falconer's shout in the foggy thicket at sunset. 落日一呼煙草深
(Gong Shitai, Wanzhaiji 玩齋集, 7:5a)  
[There are] no more foxes and rabbits in the forest. 草間狐兔盡,
[A hawk] gazes askance at the blue sky. 側目望青霄.
(Li Qi, Yunyangji 雲陽集, 2:9b)  
[A hawk] folds its wings in the autumn sunlight, 日光縣秋雙翮齊
It wants to fly, but does not, remaining pensive under the clouds. 欲飛不飛愁雲低
Did you not see 君不見,
the qilin's words in the peaceful and prosperous age of wise rule? 天下太平角端語
No need to mind the foxes and rabbits in the grass. 狐兔草間何足數
(Guo Yu, Jingsiji 靜思集, 1:10b)  

In these poems, rabbits and foxes take on the role of thieves, and the mighty hawks righteously inflict justice on them. Gong Shitai explicitly personifies the fox and the rabbit as wily and sneaky, respectively. The motifs of rabbits and foxes were not new to the Yuan dynasty but derived from the Tang and Song poetic tradition. "Huaying" 畵鷹 ("Painting a Hawk") by the Tang dynasty poet Du Fu describes a hawk painting with a rabbit: "[A hawk] stands poised, trained on a sneaky rabbit" (㩳身思狡兎; Quantangshi 全唐詩, 224:10a). He Ning 和凝 (898–955), another Tang poet, had also written about a hawk and a rabbit in a poem titled "Tiyinjietutu" 題 鷹獵兎圖 ("Inscribed on a Painting of a Hawk Hunting a Rabbit"): "You may boast of the swiftness of the hawk's eyes, but I feel sorry for the rabbit's frightened heart" (君誇鷹眼疾, 我憫兎心忙; Yuding lidai tihuashilei 御定歴代題畫詩類, 94:9b). By the Song dynasty, the breathless moment of a rabbit scurrying away at the mere glare of a hawk had become familiar imagery and appeared repeatedly with the phrase tuqigulou 兎起鶻落 ("when a rabbit jumps, a hawk swoops down upon it"). The phrase even came to describe quick and powerful brushstrokes in calligraphy and painting.11

Unlike their precedents, the three Yuan poems describe the hawks as contemplative yet vigilant, perched motionless on trees and staring out into the sky, neither scanning for prey nor hunting. The poems instead focus on the hawk's posture and explain why the hawks in the paintings do not need to hunt because they have already subdued the rabbits and foxes. Li Qi clearly indicates the lack of foxes and rabbits in the forest that the hawk oversees. The hawk still observes its surroundings, prepared to defeat any cunning animals at short notice. Guo Yu further defines the world of these animals as being under a "peaceful and prosperous age of wise rule," where people could hear the jiaoduan's words 角端語 or [End Page 5] "qilin's words."12 The phrase "jiaoduan's words" appears in the biography of Yelü Chucai 耶律楚材 (1190–1244), a loyal politician under the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.13 When people heard the jiaoduan's words, Yelü Chucai explained to them that it was an auspicious sign. The supposed appearance of such an auspicious animal was not a record of fact but acknowledgment and evidence of the ruler's excellent governance. The poets then tried to suggest a world in which the faithful hawks and hunters live as if under the peaceful reign of a wise ruler. Overall, the three Yuan poems manifest the following allegory: a military general or inspector general (the hawk) has subjugated all the cunning crowds of corrupt officials (the rabbits and foxes) and brought peace to the world (the forest) that is governed by a wise ruler (the falconer), but the general is ready to use force when needed.

The allegory was flexible in terms of exhibiting one's political standing. It is possible that the poets were loyal subjects under the Mongol emperor and used the allegory to pray for the stability of the empire. But it is also possible that the poets used the allegory to express their undying loyalty to the Song. Two of the poets, Gong Shitai and Li Qi, were indeed loyal officials under the Mongol emperors. Gong became an official in 1327, worked as inspector general, and occupied other high positions in the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Interior in the Mongol government until he died in 1362. Li Qi was one of the yimin 遺民 (people remaining from the previous dynasty) who devoted themselves to the Yuan emperor even after the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. Adamant that a subject must be loyal to only one master, Li renamed himself "Old Man Not of Two Minds" (buerxin laoren 不二 心老人) and rejected the Ming emperor's invitation to an official post. Li expressed his grief when his friend, another yimin, died in battle against the Ming. Gong and Li surely indicated their wish for the stability of Yuan governance by extolling generals and eulogizing the peaceful world under the Yuan emperor.

None of the paintings described by the three poets survives, making it difficult for us to obtain a sense of the pictorial image. But we can turn to a couple of extant paintings that employ the same allegory of a heroic figure during a peaceful reign. Dark Green Paulownia, Bamboo, and a Hawk (fig. 2), as discussed above, depicts a hawk sitting in a forest and alludes to a military person maintaining peace. Yellow Hawk on an Old Juniper (Huangyingguhuitu 黃鷹古檜圖; fig. 3) at the Palace Museum is another painting that exhibits the allegory. The painting, by Zhang Shunzi and Xue Jieweng 雪界翁 (fl. mid-fourteenth century), renders a dark amber-colored hawk sitting alone and undisturbed on a perch in the forest. The inscription on the painting neither clearly identifies the political standing of the painting's owner nor describes its meaning.14 However, this hawk, with its distinctive plumage and sharp eyes,15 communicates that it is a capable hawk of a worthy breed (Purtle 2016); with its imposing appearance, it ensures the peace of its world with keen and dignified eyes.

Falcon (Huaying 畵鷹) at the Taipei Palace Museum (fig. 4) is an excellent example of the hawk-hero allegory.16 Although the painter is unknown, the scroll has five poem inscriptions that reveal its functional meaning. The inscribers from the late Yuan and early Ming are Mo Shian 莫士安, Zou Yi 鄒奕, Pan Ruoshui 潘若水, Yang Quan 楊泉, and Cai You 蔡祐.17 They all extol the hawk's accomplishments as follows: [End Page 6]

Figure 3. Zhang Shunzi 張舜咨 and Xue Jieweng 雪界翁, Yellow Hawk on an Old Juniper (Huangyingguhuitu 黃鷹古檜圖). Ink and light color on silk, 147.2×96.8 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.
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Figure 3.

Zhang Shunzi 張舜咨 and Xue Jieweng 雪界翁, Yellow Hawk on an Old Juniper (Huangyingguhuitu 黃鷹古檜圖). Ink and light color on silk, 147.2×96.8 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.

Figure 4. Anonymous, Falcon (Huaying 畵鷹), ink and light color on silk, 164.2 × 80.3 cm, Taipei Palace Museum.
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Figure 4.

Anonymous, Falcon (Huaying 畵鷹), ink and light color on silk, 164.2 × 80.3 cm, Taipei Palace Museum.

[End Page 7] Although the painting does not depict rabbits or foxes, all the inscribed poems mention these sly creatures. The allegory of the hawk as a hero subduing rabbits and foxes, then, must have been firmly established by this time. In their appreciation of the hawk as a symbolic expression of the general's military service, the writers also emphasize his time of peace. In particular, Zou Yi's poem honors the brave general for contributing to the establishment of a peaceful world, where a phoenix appears. In China the phoenix or fenghuang 鳳凰 is an auspicious sign for an era of wise rule. By praising the role of the general and its consequences, the poets exhibit their own wish to assist the emperor in becoming a great leader.

[A hawk] seized a thousand-year-old fox, as if subduing malicious flatterers, 搏媚曾擒千歲狐,
and snatched rabbits from three burrows, as if suppressing cunning people. 擊狡常殲三窟兎.
—Mo Shian  
[A hawk] keeps looking back and forth at the clouds. 向來瞻雲屢廻顧,
It spies in vain foxes and rabbits hiding somewhere in the world. 徒覺乾坤蟄狐兎
—Cai You  
[A hawk] sees swans in the high sky. 九霄且伺駕鵝群,
It doesn't have to catch cunning rabbits or wild goats. 狡兎野羊何足擊.
The old tree is a thousand years old, glistening green. 古木千年翠光潤,
The phoenix need not perch and gives way to the heroic bird. 鳳凰不棲讓英駿.
—Zou Yi18  

Chen Yunru 陳韻如 (2001) has suggested that the inscriptions by Mo Shian and Zou Yi point to a certain Yuan dynasty general as the owner of the painting.19 The general may be a meritorious figure from the late Yuan, but I would like to note the lack of any information in the inscriptions that would help determine the exact time the poets refer to. Some of the inscribers worked for the Yuan and also held government posts in the early Ming.20 Moreover, a line from one of the poems indicates the difficulty of founding a country.21 The painting in question shows the hawk agitated, fluffing up its chest, with sharply turned head looking out with piercing eyes. The hawk captured at the moment just before spreading its wings and taking flight seems to evoke the energy of a new era. We should thus remain open to the possibility that the poets could have been writing about a general of the early Ming dynasty. Nonetheless, Falcon, with its inscriptions, epitomizes the type of hawk painting with the hawk-as-meritorious-hero allegory that emerged and developed in the Yuan and continued into the early Ming.

These paintings and the allegory embedded in them were a construction, not a faithful representation of reality. First, it was difficult for painters to observe a hawk sitting at leisure in nature, let alone to have an opportunity to paint the scene. Trained hawks often entered China as political tribute from the northern part of Korea or other states. The image of a quiet hawk in nature must have been a composite picture of a trained hawk and a natural landscape. In other words, painters imagined such a scene and painted it through a rather synthetic process. Yellow Hawk on an Old Juniper (fig. 3) is a good example. According to the inscriptions, it involved two different painters, one in charge of the bird and the other of the background. Second, the political realities of the late Yuan and the early Ming were both challenging, and complete eradication of "wily ones" was unlikely. The paintings and the allegory instead presented an idealized vision and meaning. What led to such an idealization and its repetition in poetry? The general, who defeated villains and established order in society, played the critical role of a loyal subject to the emperor, the ruler of the territory. The act of praising the hawk in the painting for its associations with military contributions to the peaceful reign was a method for the writer to convey his loyal heart and sense of belonging to the peaceful world in a subtle yet effective way. The repeated use of the allegory in poems tells us that it had become conventional among Yuan dynasty officials. Because the allegory was not specific to a particular dynasty, it could easily have been used in the early Ming as well.

Following the hawk-hero allegory, another intriguing and unrealistic subject of painting developed: the combination of a hawk and a bear, or Yingxiong 鷹熊. [End Page 8] Yingxiong, which literally means "hawk and bear," is a homonym in Mandarin with yingxiong 英雄, which means "hero."22 Zhou Tingzhen 周霆震 (b. 1294), who tried unsuccessfully to become an official under the Mongol government, composed a poem about a painting titled "Painting of a Hawk and a Bear Listening to a Stream" ("Yingxiong tingjian tu" 鷹熊聽澗圖). Zhou described the two heroic animals in tranquil repose by a clear stream and explained that a great leader ought to pay attention to remonstrance. In his poem, Zhou used tingjian 聽諫, "listening to remonstrance," instead of tingjian 聽澗, or "listening to a stream," in a homophonous pun similar to yingxiong (Shichuji 石初集, 14a).

Wang Li 王禮 (1314–86), a Confucian scholar in the late Yuan, complimented the hawk in a Yingxiong painting as a hero and compared it and the bear with two famous historical figures. His essay, "Inscribed on the Painting of a Hawk and Bear" ("Ti yingxiong tu" 題鷹熊圖), reads:

A raptorial bird is soaring to attack its prey in autumn, while a wild creature stays in the mountains to seclude itself in winter. Are they not outstanding among all beasts? One is Ying, the wisest among all, and the other is Xiong, the strongest. We can compare them with Zhang Liang 張良 [262–186 BCE] and Han Xin 韓信 [231–196 BCE] in that they were as different as the two, a hero of the earth and a hero of the sky. The painter expressed people by drawing animals, indicating "here" by showing "there." The composition of this painting is also excellent.

(Wang Li, Linyuan wenji 麟原文集, 10:3a)23

According to Wang, the painting showed a hawk and a bear poised to fight. Zhang Liang and Han Xin, the historical figures compared with the animals, were distinguished loyal heroes who contributed to the founding of the Han dynasty and were also known to have had entirely different personalities.24 Wang clarifies the meaning of the hawk and the bear by invoking these well-known heroes from history.

"Hawk and bear," as a theme of heroes, seems to have become popular during the late Yuan and the early Ming dynasties for display on the walls of inns in a southern city in China. Chŏng Mongju 鄭夢周 (1337–92), an official from Koryŏ (918–1392), records an instance of seeing such a painting during his diplomatic mission to China. In 1386, Chŏng visited the Tongyang Inn in Jiangsu Province, one of the stop-offs for Korean envoys, and saw a hawk-and-bear painting. Upon seeing it, he wrote a poem titled "On the Painting of a Hawk and Bear on the Wall of Tongyang Inn, I Sing of It with the Rhyme of a Poem by Chen Jiaoyu." According to Chŏng, Chen Jiaoyu (Chen De 陳德, 1330–78) composed the poem at the order of Jiang Yinhou 江陰侯 (1324–81), who fought for the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Chen's poem was a case in which writers from the late Yuan dynasty praised a general during the early Ming by using the yingxiong fable. Chen's poem, already written before Chŏng's visit, touched Chŏng and prompted him to write a long poem:

When I stayed at the Tongyang Inn for half a month, 僮陽驛中住半月,
I finally encountered this masterpiece. 適見畵工精所業.
On the great wall of the high building, 高堂大壁
an artist displayed his ability, wielding his brush. 使之揮筆展其才,
Even Guo Xi and Han Gan are far inferior to him. 郭熙韓幹眞輿臺.
A bear raises its head, while a hawk spreads its wings. 維熊昂頭兮鷹奮翼
The spirituality, ingenuity, and exquisite senses [of this painting] 精神妙處
are not bound by the rules of brushwork or composition. 不在矩與規
Hawk! Bear! 鷹兮! 熊兮!
I ought to follow both of you out of the painting! 我當效汝於丹靑 之外兮!
I will decide to be brave with my fighting spirit. 決吾之勇兮起吾衰
How can I become strong like these outstanding heroes, 又安得壯士如汝二 物之神俊者
be loyal even in a life-and-death battle, 死生終始莫相違
take the heads of the ferocious Huns, 繫頸匈奴之頑黠
and erect a monument on the top of Mt. Yanran? 勒銘燕然之崔巍.
I hope to bow to the emperor after I fulfill some meritorious deed, 功成歸來報天子
and ask him to let me return to my hermitage in the mountains. 乞身試向山中回.
(Chŏng Mongju 1607, 1:5b–6a)  

The painting Chŏng saw must have displayed excellent execution. Chŏng compares its painter with Guo Xi 郭熙 (1023–85) and Han Gan 韓幹 (fl. eighth century), high praise for painters at the time. Guo Xi was regarded as the best painter in late Koryŏ and early Chosŏn times, while Han Gan had a great reputation for his naturalistic animal paintings. Moved by the painting of the hawk and bear, Chŏng described it in detail. The painting portrayed an impressive scene of confrontation between the two strongest animals, one of the skies and one of the forests, much like the painting Wang Li had seen. Chŏng refers to Douxian 竇憲 (d. 92), the renowned loyal general of the Han dynasty who defeated the Huns and set up a monument on the top of Mt. Yanran to boast of the nation's glory.25 Like Wang Li's comparison of the hawk and bear with Han dynasty generals, Chŏng associates the two animals with Douxian, who made a significant contribution to the peace and territorial expansion of the Han dynasty. Chen's poem may have exhibited the emotional tone of loyalty and recalled the Chinese historical heroes in Chŏng's mind. It certainly led Chŏng to consider his own loyalty, as he wrote: "I hope to bow to the emperor after I fulfill some meritorious deed."

Although the Chinese emperor in 1386 was the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, the painting on the wall and the poems gracing it show the long usage of yingxiong painting since the Yuan. Chŏng's poem is valuable evidence that attests to the existence of a hawk-and-bear painting with the message of bravery and loyalty and also its dissemination, as it was displayed in a location where numerous people came and went during the late Yuan and early Ming periods. Although the painting at the Tongyang Inn with Chen's poem inscribed on it is no longer extant, we can presume that such an impressive hawk-and-bear painting alluding to loyalty was not a one-off in China.

It is rather difficult to visualize the composition of the painting, considering that hawks and bears do not fight each other in nature and that bears were not a familiar sight in China at the time. Previous scholarship has suggested that the [End Page 10] so-called Yingxiongping, or Champion Vase, made of bronze or jade and dated to the Han and Song period, employed the theme of heroic Yingxiong during the Ming (Sung 2009: 34–38). In fact, this unnatural scene originated in early times; the image juxtaposing a hawk and a bear appeared on the flags of ancient Chinese ritual processions (Wang Anshi, Zhouguan xinyi 周官新義, vol. 11).26 The flags painted with a hawk and a bear must have displayed robust and wonderful power. It can be surmised that the image of the two animals together came from such ritual sights. Therefore, the vases of Yingxiong and the pre-Yuan and Yuan paintings of Yingxiong were an application of the traditional image of the strongest beings. Especially in Yuan paintings, Yingxiong came to express a tone of loyalty, comparing the animals to historical heroes who possessed that virtue.

The Allegory Received and Transformed in Early Chosŏn Korea

Chŏng Mongju was the foremost influential figure in Korean scholars' understanding and appreciation of Yuan hawk painting. Several scholars from the late Koryŏ and early Chosŏn periods praised his poem on the hawk-and-bear painting. Yi Saek 李穡 (1328–96) pointed out Chŏng's magnanimous spirit (Chŏng Mongju 1607, appendix 1b), and Chŏng Tojŏn 鄭道傳 (1342–98), a key figure who argued for the legitimacy of founding the Chosŏn dynasty, likewise complimented Chŏng Mongju's manly vigor (Chŏng Tojŏn 1791, 3:38a). Chŏng Mongju's willingness to die in opposition to the founding of a new government in the last moments of the Koryŏ dynasty moved early Chosŏn kings and scholars to honor him and his loyalty. Chŏng's poem inscribed on the hawk-and-bear painting also became symbolic of his allegiance to Koryŏ. However, Korean scholars who read Chŏng's poem were not able to see the painting mentioned in the poem and catch the homophonous pun, so they were not particularly interested in the combination of the hawk and bear. Despite the interest Chŏng's poem generated among scholars, therefore, Yingxiong paintings did not catch on in Korea. This is a marked difference in the history of Korean hawk painting, with Yingxiong painting never developing as it did in China. Bear paintings, in general, were rarely executed in Koryŏ and Chosŏn; only hawk paintings as representations of meritorious heroes flourished there.

Textual sources suggest that early Chosŏn scholars appreciated elaborate and colorful Chinese hawk paintings from the Yuan. Prince Anp'yŏng 安平大 君 (1418–53), the third son of King Sejong 世宗 (1397–1450; r. 1418–50), was an ambitious collector of Chinese painting and calligraphy and owned many hawk paintings. According to Sin Sukchu's 申叔舟 (1417–75) Hwagi 畵記 (Record of Paintings), the list of items in Prince Anp'yŏng's collection included five hawk paintings with such titles as Hawk in Brown (Hwangŭng 黃鷹), Hawk in Indigo (Haech'ŏng 海靑), and Crow-like Hawk (Agol 鴉鶻) (Sin Sukchu 1645, 14:3b). Haech'ŏng, the title of three scrolls in the prince's collection, was a specific name for the best breed of hawks. Sin Sukchu explained that some hawk paintings depicted the animal with folded wings, while others showed it in hot pursuit of prey. He had a favorable comment for all: "Either way, all of them draw the hawks naturalistically."

All the hawk paintings and another twenty bird-and-flower paintings in the prince's collection are listed under the name of a Yuan painter named Wang Gongyan [End Page 11] 王公儼, who does not appear in any Chinese records. Present-day Korean art historians have agreed on the possibility of miswriting, and that Wang Gongyan must be, in fact, Wang Yuan, a well-known professional painter of bird-and-flower paintings in the Yuan dynasty (O Tayŏn 2011). Wang Yuan was a prolific painter with a meticulous and brilliant style, usually completing his works with great detail and attention. Sin Sukchu praises the painting titles attributed to the name of "Wang Gongyan" for their elaborate style, making the connection between Wang Gongyan and Wang Yuan all the more possible. Although all the paintings in the prince's collection were scattered or burned shortly after his untimely death, Sin's record confirms that hawk paintings were appreciated in the early Chosŏn period.

Among early Chosŏn scholars' poems on hawk paintings, we find only one written about a Korean painter's work. The painter was An Kyŏn 安堅 (fl. fifteenth century), considered the most competent painter from the early Chosŏn dynasty. The poem describes An's painting as portraying a hawk on its perch. It praises the painting as a historical masterpiece, using the Korean idiom "a tiger skin left after the tiger's death," often used to indicate something excellent (Ŏ Tŭkkang 1617: 32b). We can presume that An Kyŏn's hawk painting exhibited the Yuan style, because his major patron was Prince Anp'yŏng. Studying the prince's excellent collection, including Wang Gongyan's hawk paintings, must have motivated An to demonstrate in his works what he had learned from them. We can also infer An's high-quality brushwork and naturalistic portrayal from how satisfied early Chosŏn scholars were with his hawk painting.

Written documents also inform us that in the early Chosŏn period scholars understood hawk paintings according to the hawk-hero allegory prevalent in Yuan China. A poem on An Kyŏn's hawk painting identified the bird as a hero with a chivalrous disposition. Another poem, "Hwaŭng" 畵鷹 ("On the Painting of a Hawk") by the influential scholar-official Sŏ Kŏjŏng 徐居正 (1420–88),27 describes the hawk as a hero: According to Sŏ's poem, a skillful painter has depicted a white hawk sitting motionless and with dignified features, such as white feathers, green talons, and yellow pupils. Sŏ emphasizes the hawk's excellent ability, aspirations, and high-minded thought as implied through its ruffling of its gorgeous plumage. The [End Page 12] hawk is not currently hunting but remains faithful to its owner, who may need its hunting ability; it awaits the day when his service would be required. The hawk is like a perfectly prepared general, waiting to "render merit" for the sake of the country and, of course, for the king.28 This poem has a different nuance from the Yuan dynasty poems discussed above. It puts more emphasis on the hawk's future achievements than on its past contributions. This particular emphasis by the Korean poet may reflect the influence of Chŏng Mongju, who had pledged to become a hawk-like official and indeed fulfilled that mission when he later died for the Koryŏ dynasty.

[The hawk of] the highest talent and spirit in the universe 天地奇才意氣雄,
can pierce through the clouds and pass through the sky 穿雲掣電瞥靑空.
like a thunderbolt. Ultimately, he will satisfy [his owner] in times of need; 終然可合爲時用,
when he renders merit by subduing rabbits and foxes. 伐兔殲狐始見功.
With jade-like talons, gold-like pupils, and a snow-like body, 玉爪金睛白雪姿,
he sometimes ruffles his beautiful feathers. 有時刷盡羽毛奇.
His thoughts reach far out to the sky. 巖然萬里雲霄意,
How could other birds discern them? 凡鳥紛紛寧得知.
(Sŏ Kŏjŏng 1795, 5:23b)  

In the following century, the renowned scholar Kim Inhu 金麟厚 (1510–60) used the same allegory in his poem on a hawk painting, which expresses his anticipation of playing the role of a truly loyal subject with outstanding ability: The painting Kim saw must have been a simple image of a hawk perched rather than in the act of hunting. Like all cultured viewers at the time, Kim immediately conjured up the allegory of rabbits and foxes and followed Sŏ Kŏjŏng in expecting the hawk to display its ability in the future. Kim calls the turbulent time when the hawk can perform its ability "Ch'o-t'aek" 楚澤 (C. Chuze; "marsh in the state of Chu of Southern China"), which refers to the unfortunate historical event of the loyalist Qu Yuan 屈原 (d. 278 BCE) being exiled and committing suicide. When King Injong 仁宗 (1515–45; r. 1544–45) died before completing even the first year of his reign, Kim left the royal court and held a memorial service for the king every year for the rest of his life. Kim, who was revered as a loyalist throughout the rest of the Chosŏn period, fittingly speaks of his hope for the arrival of a hero who will overcome any difficult situation that might test his loyalty. The cases of Sŏ and Kim demonstrate that during the early Chosŏn period, the hawk-hero allegory conveyed hope for a faithful hero's future achievements, which in turn implied the poet's own commitment. In their engagement with the Chinese hawk-hero allegory, Korean scholars further strengthened its aspect of loyalty and honored the faithful hero.

It hasn't hunted rabbits and foxes yet. 攫兎追狐縱未曾,
It is in high spirits soaring far away. 雲霄九萬勢將凌.
When a turbulent year comes, it will spread its wings; 何年楚澤翻輕翮,
With one strike a great bird shows its ability. 一擊鵬雛效爾能.
(Kim Inhu 1802, 7:17a)  

Another characteristic that distinguishes Chosŏn hawk paintings from their Chinese counterparts is that those from the late fifteenth century depicted a hawk having already caught a rabbit while still incorporating the hawk-hero allegory. Painting the hawk's successful subjugation of the rabbit was a departure from the Yuan paintings, in which a hawk was beautifully painted without any trace of a rabbit or a fox. King Sŏngjong 成宗 (1457–95; r. 1469–95) used such a hawk painting, titled A Hawk Seizes a Rabbit in Autumn (Ch'uŭngbakt'odo 秋鷹搏兎圖), to demonstrate his expectations of his subjects. The recipient, Sŏng Hyŏn 成俔 (1439–1504), wrote a long poem in gratitude. The poem "A Hawk Seizes a Rabbit in Autumn, the [End Page 13] King's New Year's Painting for Me" ("Susa sehwa sohwa Ch'uŭngbakt'o" 受賜歲畫所 畫秋鷹搏兎) reveals his thoughts on the meaning of the hawk in the painting: The scene of the rabbit attacked by the hawk must have been surprisingly vivid, because the only comment Sŏng Hyŏn makes directly on the painting is the phrase "surprised by this painting of a rabbit struck." What surprises him is the hawk's power and swift, resolute behavior. After designating the hawk as a mighty hunter and the rabbit as its prey, Sŏng discusses the lessons he has learned from the painting and ponders his obligation to live up to the king's expectations. At the time of composing this poem, Sŏng had recently been appointed by the king as hyŏngjo ch'amp'an 刑曹參判, a position akin to vice minister, in the Ministry of Justice.29 When Sŏng swears his allegiance to the king and the obligations of his high position, he uses the allegory of the hawk fulfilling its role in the future. King Sŏngjong's gift of the fierce hawk image indicates that early Chosŏn sovereigns and subjects understood and employed, in relevant circumstances, the hawk-rabbit allegory. King Sŏngjong and Sŏng Hyŏn even appear to treat the allegory with a hint of humor, which relates to the political atmosphere of the time. They equated the impressive scene of a hawk catching a rabbit with Sŏng's job, which would be to judge and punish those who committed crimes. Although the hawk-and-rabbit painting followed the traditional allegory of pledging loyalty, the treatment by the king and Sŏng with such a tone of amusement demonstrates a loosened connection between the allegory and the weighty concept of loyalism. In the past, King Sŏngjong had given another painting titled A Beautiful Lady (Yŏindo 麗人圖) to Sŏng Hyŏn as a New Year's gift,30 and the subject of the painting elicited laughter from everyone present at the occasion. Sŏng also immediately understood the message and wrote in an essay that the king had admonished him to watch out for [End Page 14] women (Sŏng Hyŏn 1842, 9:10a–b). The hawk-and-rabbit painting also surprised viewers like Sŏng, who reacted with an element of pleasure rather than with gravity. Sŏngjong, the ninth Chosŏn king, recorded a number of achievements, such as completing state legislation codes and ordering large-scale publications on Korean literature and music. During such a time of stability and flourishing culture, a painting need not embody notions as serious as loyalism.

Oak trees deep green within a deep forest 山深櫟樹靑重重,
are half colored by clear frost in mellow autumn scenery. 淸霜半染酣秋容.
An old hawk ruffles its feathers in the crisp autumn breeze, 西風老鷹整羽翮,
Twisting a tree branch with its sharp, gold-colored talons. 翻枝利爪黃金鋒.
The wily rabbit relies on the safety of its deep burrows, 林間狡兔恃深窟,
while its body grows plump on the autumn grass. 秋草丰茸身更腯.
It lies down lazily, defenseless to any attack from above, 閒伏無心防碎首,
but in a trice it feels a deluge of blood and wind in its fur. 雨血風毛禍倉卒.
Surprised by this painting of a rabbit struck, 忽驚碎子丹靑滋,
I hold this colorful scroll against the white wall. 展掛素壁光參差.
How could the king have given it to me without reason? 天之錫我豈徒爾
It means to strike the leopard, the fox, and the raccoon dog. 搏擊豺虎摧狐貍.
Because I am soft and vulnerable by nature, 我性本柔鉛繞指,
remonstrating with the King was as difficult as touching a dragon's scales. 批鱗牽裾難疑似.
As a white-haired old man now, I appreciate this painting. 白髮對畫感深恩,
Like a judge wearing a haech'i's hat, I feel ashamed of myself. 頭上戴豸空自恥.
(Sŏng Hyŏn 1842, 4:54a)  

One noteworthy painter who recognized the attitudes of these scholars and produced many hawk paintings was Yi Am 李巖 (b. 1499). A descendant of the royal family, he was one of the most renowned bird-and-flower painters of the early sixteenth century. A number of Yi's extant works show a high level of professional skill, with elaborate brushwork and exquisite pigments. Yi's paintings were highly appreciated in Chosŏn Korea, where many scholars wrote poems on his works.31 Yi also gained a great reputation for his hawk paintings. Sin Kwanghan 申光漢 (1484–1555), a scholar-official who composed many poems on Yi's paintings, described a pair of scrolls titled White Hawk and Black Hawk 白黑二鶻 (Sin Kwanghan 1573, 3:11b–12a). According to Sin's poem, Yi's two hawks evinced a heroic spirit, gracefully and peacefully perched. At least three paintings with Yi's seal that depict a perched hawk remain today, although whether these paintings inspired Sin's poem remains unclear.32

Yi Am further developed the image of a hawk hunting a rabbit, which was rare in the history of Chinese hawk painting but became widespread in Chosŏn Korea. "Inscribed on Tusŏng Kongja's 杜城公子 [Yi Am] Painting of a Hawk" by a contemporaneous scholar named Na Sik 羅湜 (d. 1546) described such an image. In the painting, one hawk is chasing a rabbit, and the other hawk has already caught one. Na Sik's poem portrays the scene of the capture as follows: The poem describes the scene of a rabbit under the sharp talons of a hawk. A rabbit in the cold is a rabbit that has gained weight from hibernation—a perfect target for hunting. The poet imagines the wild birds mourning. While still employing the allegory of a heroic hawk vanquishing a sneaky rabbit, he reinterprets the scene with the bustle and animation of wild birds.

A rabbit in the cold hops in the grass. 草中躍寒兎,
A hungry hawk swoops down upon it. 飢鵰時下擊
Judging from the little bit of blood, 但見血糢糊,
who would know that the talons have pierced its eyes? 誰知爪貫目
Wild birds take wing in surprise, 山禽驚且起,
their cries piercing the sky as they mourn the rabbit. 刺刺空中哭
I would tell the painter Tusŏng, 寄語杜城翁,
"I see that you have appropriated Heaven's power." 知君奪天力.
(Na Sik 1678: 4b)  

Such a depiction of a hawk gripping a rabbit in its talons is almost nonexistent in extant Chinese paintings and textual records but appears frequently in literary records and paintings from Chosŏn Korea. The hawk painting that King Sŏngjong gifted to Sŏng Hyŏn featured such an image as well. Because the paintings inscribed by Sŏng Hyŏn and Na Sik have not survived, we need to turn to a painting of the [End Page 15] same subject from a later period, such as A Brown Hawk Seizing a Rabbit (Hwangŭngbakt'odo 黃鷹搏兎圖; fig. 5) by Sim Sajŏng (1707–69). It shows a fierce hawk clutching a rabbit and wild birds crying in the trees, echoing the scene described in Na Sik's poem. The eighteenth-century painting further tells us that such portrayals of a rabbit caught in the talons of a hawk were enjoyed for a long time in the Chosŏn period.

Figure 5. Sim Sajŏng 沈師正, A Brown Hawk Seizing a Rabbit (Hwangŭngbakt'odo 黃鷹搏兎圖). Ink and light color on paper, 121.7 × 56.2 cm. Sunmoon University Museum.
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Figure 5.

Sim Sajŏng 沈師正, A Brown Hawk Seizing a Rabbit (Hwangŭngbakt'odo 黃鷹搏兎圖). Ink and light color on paper, 121.7 × 56.2 cm. Sunmoon University Museum.

Korean hawk paintings maintained the same heroic hawk allegory as did Yuan Chinese hawk ones, but they also showed an interesting departure from their Chinese counterparts. Hawk paintings in Chosŏn Korea developed into two types of images. The first was a hawk perched and looking afar, expecting to undertake the duty of hunting a rabbit out of solemn loyalty. The second was a hawk having already caught a rabbit, which served as a metaphor for the accomplishment of the heroic hawk. It is difficult to explain why Chosŏn scholars enjoyed the latter image so much. They seem to have appreciated the scene of the hawk catching the rabbit before their very eyes—of the hero completing its mission. The scene may also have the mental composure that came with political stability, even leading people to enjoy with a sense of humor the image of a rabbit trembling beneath the robust hawk. [End Page 16]

After the Allegory of Meritorious Hero

Hawk paintings during the Ming period carried over the previous Yuan imagery and meanings but, at the same time, began to show distinctive features related to worldly desires. The most impressive image produced by Ming painters was a pair of hawks with two or four magpies.33 Although a written record regarding the combination of hawks and magpies is yet to be found, it seems to impart a message of blessing. In China, magpies have traditionally signified good news,34 and a hawk was a forceful subject who punished the sly and wily in the Yuan. Thus, images that combined the two meant good things to come and that bad fortune would be defeated.

Another type of image created during the Ming was a hawk catching a beautiful pheasant in a tree, usually with a bear hiding nearby. The bear seems to have lost the pheasant to the hawk. The Ming scholar Cheng Minzheng's 程敏政 (1445–99) poem on the painting titled Heroes Fighting for a Pheasant (Yingxiong duojin 英雄奪錦) makes the meaning clear (Cheng 1773–85, 88:21b): to hold a pheasant is to win an honorable prize.35 Cheng's poem conveys that the image of a hawk holding a pheasant is a figurative expression for a promising scholar who has passed the civil examination. Therefore, this painting may have been a congratulatory gift for a scholar who had surpassed others, succeeded in the difficult test, and was now on track to occupy high office. The main theme of hawk paintings came to be concerned with an individual's success in life.

Besides a pheasant, a white-headed bird also began to appear in hawk-and-bear paintings. According to a poem by He Jingming 何景明 (1483–1521), in one such painting by the well-known court painter Lin Liang 林良 (1436–87), the white-headed bird signified a baidu bird, which in turn indicated human old age. The baidu of "baidu bird" is 白頭, or "white head"—a metaphor for longevity that appeared continuously throughout the history of Chinese painting.36 The poem by He Jingming (Dafuji 大復集 13:25b) tells of the message of the painting: "Lin Liang's drawing skill is truly outstanding. Both the blue hawk and the black bear look as if they are alive. A white-headed bird is also painted with them. Seen from a distance, its plumage seems poised for flight. … There's nothing more precious to enjoy. Please appreciate this hero approaching the white-headed."37 The last phrase has a double meaning: a hawk will go to the white-headed bird, or a hero will live a long life. Therefore, a painting of a hawk and a white-headed bird conveys the wish that someone hero-like will enjoy a long life.

A type of hawk painting with a more powerful and practical function for ordinary people in the late Ming period was those purported to be by Huizong 徽 宗 (1082–1135; r. 1100–1126), the last emperor of the Northern Song (Kho 2013). Considered to have the apotropaic function of a talisman against evil, many hawk paintings with Huizong's signature that bear his peculiar style were repeatedly copied and distributed across East Asia. It is thus not difficult to come across a hawk painting attributed to him today, although they are unlikely to be authentic. These hawk paintings believed to have been authored by Huizong were especially prevalent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Wang Shizhen's 王士禎 (1634–1711) collection of stories that circulated widely at the time, late Ming and early Qing people believed that owning a hawk painting by [End Page 17] Huizong killed evil foxes (Wang Shizhen, Chibeioutan, 29:2b–3a).38 In this case, the painted hawk functioned to solve personal problems.39

Such hawk paintings "by Huizong" came to be appreciated and popular in late Chosŏn as well, for Korean people also believed in the mysterious power of the image. Because Chosŏn scholars had criticized Huizong's preoccupation with paintings and music, which they believed had ultimately led him to lose his throne, it is somewhat ironic that Koreans came to believe that such paintings prevented misfortune. Paintings or prints of a hawk as talismans against evil continued to be extremely popular in Korea until the early twentieth century (Kho 2013).40

In the late Chosŏn dynasty, the hawk-hero allegory in paintings all but disappeared. Instead, hawk paintings of strong power to avert evil, as explained above, or those characterized by witty humor came to be favored. An example of the latter is a work by the aforementioned painter Sim Sajŏng, who added another interesting motif to his paintings of a hawk catching a rabbit (fig. 6). This additional motif was a pair of pheasants hiding under a cliff, where a hawk has caught a rabbit and pinned it down. Because the rabbit has been caught, the pheasants are safe. Still, the male pheasant thrusts its head under the rocks in panic. The humor lies in the male pheasant's gorgeous tail, a symbol of pride, that sticks out shamefully against the cliff. The painter tried to delineate the tail in incredible detail to make the pheasant cock look ridiculous enough to elicit laughter. The Chosŏn scholar Yi Kiji 李器之 (1690–1722) mentions the painting in a poem: "People laugh too hard at the pheasant under the rock. It can't hide properly with its head stuck in the bushes" (Yi Kiji 1768, 1:2b).41 This image fundamentally transformed the theme of hawk painting from that of dignified subject of heroic achievements into something more comical. Thus, viewers of this painting could simply enjoy the various features of the animals.


The hawk, a bird of prey in nature and a stalwart assistant to humans in hunting, has always been an attractive subject for painting because it represents strength. Hawk paintings in East Asia have a long history, but their inclusion of the hawkas-hero allegory to praise a meritorious subject appeared most prominently from the Yuan to the early Chosŏn period. The image of a hawk silent in the forest symbolized a heroic military general or a faithful subject under a well-governed reign. Yingxiong, or a hawk and a bear, signified heroes and recalled famous military generals in history. As Korea appropriated the Chinese hawk paintings and their hawk-as-hero allegory in the late Koryŏ and early Chosŏn periods, more emphasis was placed on loyal deeds. In the process, remarkable differences emerged between the hawk paintings of China and Korea. In Chosŏn Korea, the Chinese pun of Yingxiong did not transmit well, and the image of a rabbit caught in the hawk's talons developed as a conspicuous message of heroic achievements. In both cases, the allegory of sly rabbits and foxes was always included.

Both China and Korea witnessed a shift in the meaning of hawk paintings from meritorious hero to more mundane and even humorous messages. This shift reflected the changing political climate. The allegory of a hero fulfilling his mission of bringing peace to the realm emerged and became established in the [End Page 18]

Figure 6. Sim Sajŏng 沈師正, A Hawk Seizing a Rabbit (Hoch'wibakt'odo 豪鷲搏兎圖). Ink and light color on paper, 115.1×53.6 cm. National Museum of Korea.
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Figure 6.

Sim Sajŏng 沈師正, A Hawk Seizing a Rabbit (Hoch'wibakt'odo 豪鷲搏兎圖). Ink and light color on paper, 115.1×53.6 cm. National Museum of Korea.

complicated political circumstances of the Yuan, early Ming, and early Chosŏn: the consolidation of multiple ethnic groups under the Mongol Khan and the unstable society under newly established regimes. Those who worked under the rule of the Yuan, early Ming, or early Chosŏn wanted to demonstrate their fidelity to their sovereigns. Hawk paintings with the allegory of praising a heroic contribution were an effective medium for displaying their political standing. The symbolic meaning of the hawk as a loyal hero was precisely the reason that the popularity of hawk paintings gradually waned. The rise of the image of a hawk catching a plump rabbit indicated the changing mood following the stabilization of the Chosŏn dynasty. What used to be achievements owing to loyalty now took on some humorous nuances. In late Chosŏn, the motif of a silly pheasant in the hawk-rabbit painting completely changed the tone of the painting into a whimsical one that made viewers laugh. Ming hawk paintings also came to be associated with various worldly pursuits or puns. Once the complicated politics dissipated with the collapse of the Mongols and the more stable societies of the Ming and the Chosŏn, the need for expressing political affiliation diminished. [End Page 19]

Youenhee Kho
Sungkyunkwan University
Youenhee Kho

Youenhee Kho is an assistant professor at Sungkyunkwan University, where she teaches Korean and Chinese art history. She received her PhD from the Department of Art History, Ewha Womans University, in 2012. She is interested in the relationship between literature and painting. Her publications include "Chosŏn sidae sansuhwa" [Landscape paintings of the Chosŏn Period] (2007) and Kŭrim, Munhak e Ch'wihada [Paintings Intoxicated by Literature] (2012).


This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2018S1A6A3A01023515).

1. Many different sinographs refer to hawks, falcons, or eagles: ying 鷹, jiu 鷲, yao 鷂, gu 鶻, zhi 鷙, haidongqing 海東靑, haiqing 海靑, and so on. In this article, I consistently use the umbrella term hawk to denote all these terms, because biological specificity and differences among the species are irrelevant to my discussion.

2. An examination of royal hunts throughout the Eurasian continent shows that hawks were highly valued as hunting birds and as tribute in diplomacy (Allsen 2006: 58–70).

3. Bai 1999 discusses the same topic. Scholars of Western art history have identified a similar perspective in their examination of Dutch still-life paintings, which included hidden meanings tied to the economy, political space, or consumer morality (Bryson 1990).

4. Hearn and Fong (1999: 135–39) agree with Barnhart's interpretation.

5. For instance, two different interpretations exist on Birds in a Winter Landscape by Lü Ji 呂紀 (b. 1447) at the National Gallery of Victoria. Barnhart (1993) has argued that the pine tree in the painting represents the emperor's ultimate power, whereas Sung (1995) sees the two hawks as representing wise rulers.

6. The inscriptions are, from right to left, by Zha Chu 趙俶, Du Yuncheng 杜允誠, Yang Shen 楊深, Xu Rulin 許汝霖, and Ban Weizhi 班惟志. Zha Chu, Xu Rulin, and Ban Weizhi were active in the late Yuan, and the other two are thought to be also from the late Yuan.

7. For example, Li Bai 李白 (701–62) included the phrase "huying of sleek white plumage" (胡鷹白綿毛) in his poem titled "Looking at a White Hawk Flying" ("Guanfangbaiying" 觀 放白鷹; Li Taibai wenji 李太白文集, 22:2b); and Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039–1112) wrote "only a huying is sleeping on a rock" (惟有胡鷹石上宿) in his poem titled "On Su Shi in Jinshan" ("Hezizhanjinshan" 和子瞻金山; Luanchengji 欒城集, 4:2a–b). In these poems, the hu 胡 of huying meant "gallantness" or "bravery," without any negative sense. Hu was also used to express metaphorically a hawk's fierce eyes focused on a sneaky rabbit ("[a hawk] stands contemplating a sneaky rabbit, with a glaring glance like an anxious barbarian" 㩳身思狡兎, 側目似愁胡) in Du Fu's 杜 甫 (712–70) poem "Hawk Painting" 畵鷹 (Quantangshi 全唐詩, 224:10a). Du Yuncheng's phrase that uses the word huying is "In the eighth month, a huying [a gallant hawk] skimmed the ground and soared up" 八月胡鹰掠地飛. The character lüe 掠 just after huying can be misread as a verb meaning "to plunder." However, when taken with the characters 掠地飛, it means "to skim the ground and soar up." The same combination of characters was already in a poem by Su Shi of the Song dynasty: "趁兎蒼鷹掠地飛," meaning "Chasing a rabbit, a blue hawk skimmed the ground and soared up" (Dongpo quanji 東坡全集, 7:9a–b). Thus we cannot read "a barbarian attacking" in the phrase by Du Yuncheng.

8. Ban Weizhi writes, "[Huamei] was humming a tune on a branch of a small wild pear tree. It is like Zoumalang [走馬郎], whose affection brought a horse to stop. A hawk can resign after rendering distinguished services. It is really the best among the birds" (小棠枝上語調簧, 曾駐多情走馬郎. 騺鳥見攻能引避, 禽中眞是白眉良). The Zoumalang that Ban mentions is Zhang Chang 張敞 (d. 48 BCE) of the Han dynasty, who was famous for being so affectionate as to apply his wife's eyebrow makeup every morning and pat a horse on the street. Such a personality was a hindrance to Zhang's rise to important official posts. Recorded in the "Biography of Zhang Chang" ("Zhangchang zhuan" 張敞傳) in the Hanshu 漢書, the story also developed into a play in the Yuan dynasty. Contrastingly, Ban praised the hawk as "the best," using the word "a man of white eyebrows" (白眉良) in his "Biography of Malang" ("Malang zhuan" 馬良傳, in the Sanguozhi 三國志, vol. 39, Shushu 蜀書). Ban Weizhi's poem emphasizes the hawk as the most capable and wise being.

9. According to Chen's writing on the shitang 詩塘, the added piece of silk atop the painting scroll, the image referred to the instance when Song emperor Taizong 太宗 (939–97; r. 976–97) wanted to shoot Lady Huarui 花蕊, who had been a queen of the emperor of the Later Shu dynasty (Houshu 後蜀) and became an object of love for the Song emperors Taizu 太祖 (927–76; r. 960–76) and Taizong. Moreover, Chen was sure that the painter was Huang Quan 黄 筌 (b. 903), which may have led Ming and Qing viewers to believe the painting was by Huang. A recent reading of the seals has revealed that the painter was in fact Wang Yuan.

10. The collection, Yuding lidai tihuashilei 御定歷代題畫詩類 (Imperially Endorsed Categorized Poems Inscribed on Paintings from Previous Dynasties; 94:2b–4a), includes six poems inscribed on hawk paintings during the Yuan dynasty.

11. For example, Su Shi蘇軾 (1037–1101) and Jujian居簡 (1121–1203) employ the phrase tuqigulou 兎起鶻落 in their writings "A Record of Wen Tong's Painting of Bamboo Drooping at the Yundang Valley" ("Wenyukehuayundangguyanzhuji" 文與可畫篔簹谷偃竹記; Dongpo quanji, 36:22a) and "Portray the Spirit" ("Xieshen" 寫神; Beijianji, 6:32b), respectively.

12. As seen in the poem cited above, I translated jiaoduan as qilin. Considering that the "flag of the jiaoduan" 角端旗 used in traditional Chinese and Korean rituals depicts the beast known as the qilin 麒麟, jiaoduan must be qilin, the mythical hooved chimerical creature that appears in an era of a wise ruler.

13. "When the Khan arrived in the East Indies, there appeared a qilin with a green-colored, deer-like body and a horse's tail and spoke human words. Yelü Chucai claimed the qilin was anauspiciousanimalcalledjiaoduanthat could speak the words of the four directions" (Yuanshi, "Yelü Chucai zhuan" 耶律楚材傳).

14. The inscription on the painting reads, "Xuejie painted this yellow hawk, and another painter painted these old trees. □ □ [unreadable] in Tongcheng likes paintings. Finally, [we] gave this to him" 雪界翁畵黄鹰,師夔作古檜,桐城囗樂好事,遂與之.

15. The yellow hawk was identified as a Eurasian sparrow hawk, Accipiter nisus.

16. Falcon is the English title designated by the Taipei National Palace Museum. Its Chinese title, Huaying 畵鷹, means "painting of a hawk" (Chen 2001).

17. Details of their lives are unknown. Cai You was a friend of Yang Weizhen 楊維楨 (1296–1370), who was a Yuan official and a great poet. Mo Shian and Pan Ruoshui were Yuan officials and worked under Ming government. See note 20.

18. Most of the transcription is mine, but I have also referred to Chen Yunru's transcription. For Chen's transcription, see Chen (2001).

19. From passages such as "[this painting] hung high in the general's house" by Mo Shian and "the cheerful general valued bravery" by Zou Yi, Chen (2001) convincingly suggests that the general in question was the owner of the painting. Chen also argues that all the inscriptions date from the end of the Yuan dynasty. For Chen's transcription, see Chen (2001).

20. Mo Shian had been an official in the Yuan dynasty and participated in the compilation of the Taizushilu 太祖實錄 (Annals of Taizu) in the Ming. Pan Ruoshui, also previously a Yuan official, similarly worked on the compilation of the Yongle daquan 永樂大全 (Yongle Canon) for the Ming.

21. The lines by Cai You, such as "Founding a country with institutionalizing authority is really no small matter" and "In the time of a spirit, there appears this person" (this refers to the saying by Mencius: "When a new king came with a hero's spirit, this person appeared"), suggest the possibility that they refer to the birth of the new Ming dynasty.

22. I have added to and revised the pioneering study on Chinese Yingxiong paintings by Sung (1995).

23. Original text: 鷙鳥之秋高摶. 擊與猛獸之山居冬蟄. 非動物之傑然者乎. 然擬之智 過萬人之英. 勇冠一世之雄. 若張良韓信. 則霄壤不侔矣. 畵工托物以喻人. 其寓筆於彼. 以歸 美乎此也歟. 亦意匠經營之善也.

24. Zhang Liang and Han Xin initially appeared in the Shiji 史記, vol. 55, Liuhoushijia 留侯世家, and Shiji liezhuan 史記列傳, vol. 55, Han Xin Lü Wan liezhuan 韓信盧綰列傳, respectively. The two men were both loyal subjects to the first emperor of Han, but their different roles and characters have often been compared: Zhang as a wise schemer and Han as a brave general. Zhang was smart enough to hide after the founding of the Han, while Han was too courageous to protect himself.

25. Douxian erected a memorial on the top of Mt. Yanran to record the dignified virtues of the Han, with the help of well-known scholar Ban Gu 班固 (32–92 CE; see "Douxian liezhuan" 竇憲列傳).

26. The ancient Chinese ritual processions date to the Zhou dynasty. A bear flag and a hawk flag signified "to adore strength" 尙毅 and "to value justice" 貴摯, respectively.

27. Sŏ Kŏjŏng exercised a strong influence on his contemporaries during his lengthy tenure in the post of taejehak 大提學, which would be equivalent to minister of education today.

28. "Satisfy in times of need" (wisiyong 爲時用) was a blessing made to encourage loyalty upon becoming an official, and "to render merit" (kyŏn'gong 見功) usually means to accomplish something worthy of praise, such as military achievement.

29. Sŏng Hyŏn uses the term "haech'i's hat" to indicate this position. The haech'i, sometimes translated as "unicorn goat," is the traditional East Asian symbol of a strict judge.

30. King Sŏngjong's bestowal of a painting on his subjects as a New Year's gift was a customary annual event.

31. Yi was also well received in Japan, where his paintings of puppies, in particular, became remarkably influential.

32. Yi Am's hawk paintings can be found at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, or Mingeikan; a private collection in Japan; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These three paintings depict a hawk with an identification tag sitting on a gorgeous perch.

33. According to Sung's (2009: 27–33) assertions regarding ten hawk-and-magpie paintings from the Ming, the magpies are remonstrating against or admonishing the emperor, who is the hawk. She explains that this kind of lesson from the subjects was necessary for the Ming emperor during a time of severe political turmoil. However, as mentioned previously in this article, images of hawks listening to remonstrance already existed in the Yuan.

34. Ge Hong 葛洪 (283–343) writes, "When the magpie sings, the man who left comes back; and when the spider builds its web, everything goes well" (Ge, Xijingzaji, 3:7b). The encyclopedia Shiwen leiju houji 事文類聚 後集 (44:27b), first edited by a Song scholar Zhu Mu 祝穆 (?–1255) and later by Yuan scholars, also writes about magpies: "Tianbao yishi 天寶遺事 records that people at the time regarded the sound of magpies as a good omen (吉兆) and that of a divine magpie as good news" (Shiwen leiju houji, 44:27b).

35. A hawk taking a pheasant in the painting was compared to an able man taking jin 錦 in the poem. Jin here means the jinbiao 錦標, which is a flag made of silk and a token given to a person who passed an exam. Sung (1995: 52–53) discusses it as a creative and homonymic message of Ming hawk painting.

36. For example, the inscription on Huizong's (1082–1135) Plum Blossom in the Twelfth Month and Mountain Birds (Laimei shanjin tu臘梅山禽圖), which depicts two white-headed birds in a yellow plum tree, reads: "A promise painted already, pointing to the white-headed birds for a long time" 已有丹靑約, 千秋指白頭, implying that the mind never changes. The title of a painting by Sun Qifeng 孫其鋒 (b. 1920) that depicts two white-headed birds is Baidu xielao tu 白頭偕老圖, which means "these white-headed birds will age together."

37. Original text: "林良畫筆真絕倫, 蒼鷹玄熊俱有神. 白頭翁鳥更相共, 毛羽遙看欲飛 動. … 世間玩物不足貴, 要見英雄到白頭."

38. According to the story of "Daojun [Huizong] Painting of a Hawk" 道君畵鷹 recorded by Wang Shizhen, a certain daughter-in-law in Wuchang 武昌 was possessed by a fox. There seemed to be no way to save her. However, once they erased the leash from the hawk's foot in the Huizong hawk painting hanging in her house, the hawk in the painting killed the fox and saved her.

39. This change in the meaning and function of hawk painting, from a metaphor for moral virtue during the Yuan and early Ming to more worldly meanings during the middle and late Ming, was not exclusive to hawk painting. Previous scholarship has suggested a dramatic shift in the symbolic meaning of such virtuous plants as pines, bamboo, and plum blossoms, evidenced in poems on paintings from the Ming dynasty. For example, pine trees with bamboo and plum blossoms denoted moral virtue in early Ming. However, in the middle and late Ming, when the three plants of the cold season were combined with chrysanthemums, orchids, and peach blossoms, they were transformed into a vehicle for worldly desires, such as riches and longevity (Zheng 1995: 325–45). A similar shift also manifested in Chosŏn Korea, especially in the patterns of ceramics. The preferred designs for ceramics changed from plum blossom and bamboo in early Chosŏn to abundant peonies in late Chosŏn. The change reflected changing values, from the strong spirit and fidelity that was crucial in the early days of the newly founded government to the wealth and prosperity that became more desirable in later centuries.

40. In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Korea, a hawk with three heads was a prevalent theme in painting and even in print. The hawk's three heads and attentive eyes gazing out in three different directions acted as a powerful talisman.

41. The original text reads: 巖底雉子人爭笑. 頭揷叢榛隱不得.



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