Thanks to Sina Weibo, China’s most popular blog network, I stumbled across this neat art blog, which I recommend taking a stab at if you like art, as you’ll learn a bunch of useful simplified Chiense artist vocabulary. This post discusses the fable-like origins of Ukiyo-e, a traditional style of Japanese art. The Chinese for “Ukiyo-e” is 浮世绘, or “Floating world paintings”.

Learn to Read Mandarin: Art Essays, Artist Blog PostsFor me, the hardest part of this read was the following phrase, which seems to make sense on its own, but makes little sense in the context of the sentence: 不用于往日视觉经验的. By itself, this says “no use (不用) in looking to days past (于往日) for this visual experience (视觉经验的)”. Okay, fair enough. But the full sentence is: 显然这种全然不用于往日视觉经验的作品深深的吸引了他. We’ve got the beginning of the sentence (显然这种全然) – this means “Obviously this type of completely…”. And we’ve got the end of the sentence (作品深深的吸引了他), which means “works of art deeply attracted him.” But when we add the middle bit, the sentence no longer seems clear: “Obviously this type of completely [no use in looking to days past for this visual experience] work of art deeply attracted him.


I’m told by my Chinese friend that this language is pretty rare, but turns out, the middle phrase is just a way of describing just how different from other things this Ukiyo-e actually was. There’s “no use consulting the past” to re-live this experience, because the experience (seeing the work of art) has never been had before (by the person viewing). (Anyone with input, please feel free to add to this in the comments).

If I were to write that sentence in English, I’d replace that phrase with “revolutionary” – “Obviously this type of completely revolutionary artwork deeply attracted him” – but the word “revolutionary” in Chinese tends to call up a lot of other associations that aren’t relevant in this context.

I’ve only translated the first paragraph here. Here’s the original post, if you care to finish it on your own. The original post has the best pictures.

Click to Listen

荷兰 – hé lán – Holland
瓷器 – cí qì – Porcelain
包装纸 – bāo zhuāng zhǐ – Wrapping paper
肖像 – xiào xiàng – Portrait
姿态 – zī tài – Pose
各异 – gè yì – All different
版画 – bǎn huà – woodblock painting
震撼 – zhèn hàn – To shock, mind-blowing
以至于 – yǐ zhì yú – To the extent that…
色情 – sè qíng – Erotic
梵高 – fàn gāo – Van Gogh
印象派 – yìn xiàng pài – Impressionism

In the beginning of the 19th century, a businessman from Holland was in his office when he suddenly noticed, [painted on] the wrapping paper of some porcelain, a beautiful portrait, the pose both vivid and lifelike, but it was unlike any of the Western portraits he had seen. Clearly this completely revolutionary work of art deeply attracted him, and he turned over every piece of porcelain wrapping paper, discovering that all of them were painted with a colorful, bright and beautiful scene, each one different. From then on, the businessman took to the road seeking this type of Japanese wood cut painting. At that time, this type of woodcut was actually quite cheap, and easy to collect. When he took these collector’s items out and exhibited them, it practically stunned all the visitors. These Japanese woodcut paintings are “Ukiyo-e”. These woodcuts had a deep and lasting influence on the European art world, so much so that when anyone raises the topic of ukiyo-e, the first association that comes to mind is pornography, the second is Van Gogh and Impressionism.

8 comments to "Art Blog: The Tale of Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Paintings"

  1. Thanks, I am really interested in it.

  2. 但是郄不同他見過的所有西方肖像 i dont understand the 所有>< it doesnt make sense to me, can you please please help me understand and break it up for me? Thank you for all your efforts!

    • Sure, sorry for the insane wait on a reply. In this instance, 所有 means “all” – so this means “all of the other”. “But this was unlike ALL of the other Western portraits.”

  3. Reply Pino paintings says: May 14, 2014 at 5:03 am


  4. If you are amazed with wood artworks, I would like to tell you that those skills are actually fron Korea(韩国). When the Japnese invaded Korea, they took many skilled Koreans back to Japan and made them teach those skills. So originally, it all began from Korea.

  5. i like the story

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