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Couplet in cursive script




circa 19th century -


‘Smoke-veiled village, the warm air shadows thousands of houses;
Monkey-roared gorges, the sleeves are swaying with a gust of wind.’
Inscription and signature: For Mr Haitao as he requested, written by Song, alias Xi’nong.

At first glance, the couplet represents a sweet pastoral landscape. The image in the second line, however, may suggest a deeper reading: in Chinese literature ‘sleeves swayed with a gust of wind’ alludes to the expression of a white-handed official free from corruption and bribery (the long and wide sleeves of a mandarin could serve as the best receptacle to drop money or valuables in). With such an overtone the couplet would be a meaningful motto for an official scholar.

Nothing is known of the life of Liang Song.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.132.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales

The couplet, written on two narrow pieces of paper or silk, and hung either side of a large painting or doorway, is one of the most common forms of calligraphic art and has a long standing history in China. They first appeared in the Five Dynasties period (907-979) as pairs of plaques, carved after written master copies, to decorate architectural columns, courtyards and garden doorways. Couplets for indoor display, written on paper or silk, came into existence in the 17th century and gained great popularity in the Qing dynasty. The couplets themselves are either taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers themselves and their friends. A couplet is made up of two parts called the head and the tail. The two lines of verse are antithetically parallel. Formerly it was a very common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriages and birthdays, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2003.


Place where the work was made


Media category


Materials used

pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper


a - right scroll; 144.5 x 37.3 cm; image

a - right scroll; 180.1 x 44.7 cm; scroll

b - left scroll; 144.5 x 37.3 cm; image

b - left scroll; 180.1 x 44.7 cm; scroll

Signature & date

Signed c.l. part b, in Chinese, inscribed in black ink “Written by Song, alias Xi’nong.”
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Liang Song [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Cao Nong [artist's seal]".
Not dated.


Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information


Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 132, 133 (illus.). 43. In the catalogue this work has been given the incorrect accession number. The correct accession number is 296.2003.a-b