© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Xu Bing, Chinese (born 1955)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: 文字寫生
Work Type
painting, album leaf
Find Spot: North America, United States, New York, New York City
Physical Descriptions
Album leaf; ink on paper; with artist signature reading "Xu Bing" (in idiosyncratic Roman letters); with artist circular, red, relief seal reading "Xu Bing" (in idiosyncratic Roman letters)
painting proper: 48.9 x 74.5 cm (19 1/4 x 29 5/16 in.)
with mounting: 64.2 x 104.5 cm (25 1/4 x 41 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: In lower right corner, in idiosyncratic Roman letters: "Xu Bing" (artist's signature)
  • seal: Circular, red, relief, in idiosyncratic Roman letters, immediately above the signature: "Xu Bing" (impressed by the artist)
Xu Bing (the artist), New York, sold; to Patricia P. and Henry Tang, May 2001, gift; to Harvard Art Museums, December 2010.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Patricia P. and Henry Tang in memory of Melvin R. Seiden
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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An album leaf, this painting depicts a thatched-roof cottage set in a lush landscape. The cottage sits at the very center of the composition, nestled between a small lake in the foreground and a series of rolling hills in the background and flanked on either side by groves of trees. Grasses and short bamboo plants surround the lake, in which various insects swim. A small, tile-roofed building appears to the (viewer's) left of the cottage, and vegetables grow in a garden to the left of the tile-roofed building. A clump of bamboo grows behind the thatched-roofed cottage. The trees to the right of the cottage are identified as cypresses and pines; those at the left of the composition are unidentified. Written in his own idiosyncratic Roman letters, the artist's signature reading Xu Bing appears in the lower right corner of the composition. The artist impressed his circular, red, relief seal immediately above his signature; the seal, also in his own idiosyncratic Roman letters, reads "Xu Bing".

Xu Bing has coined the English word "Landscript" to describe his landscapes of this type; the proper Chinese translation is 文字寫生 ("wenzi xiesheng"), though it sometimes also is translated as 讀風景 ("dufengjing"). Landscapes of this type use Chinese characters as pictorial elements, the characters varying from standard script ("kaishu") and draft script ("caoshu") to simplified forms as well as such archaic forms as bronze and oracle-bone scripts. Thus, the doorways of both thatched-roof cottage and tile-roofed building are represented with the character meaning "door" ("men"), just as the windows in the thatched-roof cottage are represented with the character for window ("chuang"). The various characters incorporated into the composition can be identified as follows:

Doors: "men" 門 (door, doorway, gate);
Windows: "chuang" 窗 (window, portal);
Thatched roof: "cao" 草 (grass);
Tile roof: "wa" 瓦 (rooftile);
Beans: "douzi " 豆子 (bean)--the plants in the lower right corner, in front of the lake;
Bamboo: "zhu" 竹 (bamboo)--the plants in the lower left corner and behind the thatched-roof cottage;
Insects: "chong" 虫 (insects, bugs, worms)--the tadpole-like animals in the lake;
Soil: "tu" 土 (earth, soil)--the characters to the right of the lake and at the top center of the composition;
Vegetables: "cai" 菜 (vegetables)--the plants in the garden to the left of the tile-roofed building;
Trees: "mu" 木 (trees, wood)--the trees at the left of the composition, to the left of the vegetable garden;
Grove: "lin" 林 (copse, grove, woods, forest)--the trees at the left of the composition, to the left of the vegetable garden;
Leaves: "yezi" 葉子 (leaves)--the trees in the upper left corner of the composition, above the "mu" and "lin" characters; because the trees are far away, one sees only the trees' crowns (i.e. leaves), rather than the trunks and branches;
Cypress: "bo" or "bai" 柏 (cypress tree)--the trees to the right of the thatched cottage;
Pine: "song" 松 (pine tree)--the trees at the right edge of the composition.

Xu Bing's artistic practice is an exploration of language. In works ranging from monumental installations to handcrafted books, he plays with the written word, usually in the form of the Chinese character. Working in a wide range of media, Xu Bing creates installations that question the idea of communicating meaning through language, demonstrating how both meanings and written words can be easily manipulated. In fact, in awarding his 1999 "genius grant," the MacArthur Foundation cited his "originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy." In playing with Chinese characters, Xu Bing typically explores the relationship between word and image--that is, the close relationship between painting and Chinese characters of a pictorial or semi-pictorial type, as he does in this and other paintings in the "Landscript" series.

Exhibition History

Recent Acquisitions, Part II: Building the Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/19/2012 - 09/29/2012

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu