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Gu Hongzhong’s Night Revels of Han Xizai, 顧閎中 韓熙載夜宴圖, 12th century. Ink and colours on silk, 28.7 x 335.5 cm, Palace Museum, Beijing


Gu Hongzhong’s Night Revels of Han Xizai  顧閎中 韓熙載夜宴圖 depicts the life-style of Han Xizai.

Han Xizai (韓熙載) (902 – 970) was a scholar-official of the Southern Tang (南唐) court in Nanjing. As he wanted to save himself from a delicate political situation, Han pretended to live a dissolute life, so as to dispel Emperor Li Yu’s (李煜) (937 -978) doubts and suspicion.

Gu Hongzhong (顧閎中) (937 – 975) was a court-painter in the painting academy of the Southern Tang dynasty during the Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdoms (五代十國) period. Gu excelled at figure painting. Emperor Li Yu sent Gu to spy on one of Han’s infamously erotic parties. Two more artist-officials, Zhou Wenzhong (周文矩) and Gāo Tàichōng (高太沖) were also dispatched to secretly observe Han Xizai to not only bear witness to the rumored night revels, but produce a record of the scenes there.

The painting features smooth lines, fine brushwork and a vivid presentation. Art historians suspect that the painting may not be the original work of Gu but a replica copied during the period of Sung Dynasty (宋朝).

There are five scenes on the scroll. Han is in every scene. Screens are used to separate one scene from another. But Scenes 2 and 3 are not separated by a screen.

Scene 1

Han was sitting on a couch with guests and female company, listening intently to a girl playing a pipa lute. The setting was elegant and the mood still formal. The messy and untidy bed behind Han hints at what might be anticipated after the performance. According to literature, those women in the painting may be Han’s concubines or prostitutes. The guests are high officials in the court of Southern Tang.

Scene 1


Han listens intently to the pipa performance. According to literature, the guest dressed in red is zhuangyuan (principal graduate) (狀元)  Lang Can (郎粲). The female attendant was deliberately drawn smaller to show her low status in society


The guest listens intently to a performer playing a pipa lute. According to literature, the guest is Li Jiaming (李家明), the head of ministry of music.  The performer is his sister. (The pipa is a four-stringed plucked lute with a pear-shaped wooden body. It was introduced to China from Central Asia). The pipa is held more horizontally and is played with a pick. The girl dressed in pale blue on the right is Wang Wushan (王屋山) who dances sensuously in Scene 2.


The rumpled and messy bed with the pipa lute on it hints what may happen after the performance.


Scene 2

A girl dances sensuously and accompanied by Han on a large drum. The dance performance is watched by male guests. A monk is standing there turning away from the performance. Art historians think that the dancing girl may be Wang Wushan. She was one of Han’s favourite attendants or concubines.

Scene 2
Han beats on a large drum accompanying the dance performance. A monk is standing there turning away from the performance.


A girl dances sensuously. The dancing girl may be Wang Wushan.


Scene 3

Han sits on a couch with four women and he washes his hands in a bowl of water. A woman holding a pipa and flutes comes along with a maid. Again there is a curtained bed ready for use.

Scene 3


Han sits on a couch with four women and he washes his hands in a bowl of water. The candle light creates a romantic atmosphere in the room. The woman coming into the room with a pipa and flutes catches Han’s attention.


A woman holding a pipa in her right hand and flutes in her left hand comes along with a maid.


Scene 4

Han has taken off his top garment and sits on an easy chair with his under garments dishevelled. He has also taken off his shoes and he talks to a woman. A female band of five are playing the flute. A guest is accompanying the music.

Scene 4
Dishevelled Han sitting on an easy chair talks to a woman. Some scholars believe that the furniture was more characteristic of Song period and differed from furniture depicted in Zhou Wenju’s (周文矩)  paintings.


A female band of five playing the flutes (The flutes – xiao 簫 and di 笛 are traditional Chinese musical instruments.) The lady’s attire are characteristic of Song period. This may indicate that the painting may be a replica copied during the period of Sung Dynasty.


Scene 5

Han watches as contact between the guests and female companions becomes more physical and intimate.

Scene 5



The guest and his female companion becomes more physical and intimate.
The guest and female companion look at each other affectionately and touch each other.
The guest and female companion become more intimate.


Han watches. He looks sad and depressed.

Han in his yellow robe is carrying a pair of drum sticks in his right hand. This should have continued on following Scene 2. The order of the scenes were thus likely to have been tempered with or the painter deliberately put Han in this special order.

Despite the painting is a visual record of the excess and self-indulgence in Han Xizai’s home, Han does not look happy and joyful. Instead the lack of expression on his face may depict he is confused, depressed and unhappy.  This supports the theory that Han has put on these parties to dispel the Emperor’s suspicion.

The painting shows precise portraits of the figures with fine and continuous brush lines and delicate colours. This is indeed one of the masterpieces of Chinese fine art.

Another Copy of Gu Hongzhong’s Night Revels of Han Xizai by Tang Yin (唐寅) (1470—1523) Ming Dynasty (明朝)

Tang Yin (唐寅), Gu Hongzhong’s Night Revels of Han Xizai, ink and watercolour on silk, long scroll, 30.8 x 547.8 cm, The Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing (重庆中国三峡博物馆)            Image Credits:

The above painting is unsigned but has the inscriptions of Tang Yin (唐寅), so the painting is regarded to be Tang Yin’s (唐寅). Some scholars suspect that the scroll was painted by Qiu Ying (仇英) (1494- 1553), a contemporary of Tang Yin.



I would like to thank Dr Richard Wu most sincerely for his guidance and extra information to be put into this webpage. (Dr Wu is an internationally renowned Chinese fine art historian, artist and practising psychiatrist based in Sydney.)


Bibliography :

胡德智 (2005) 中国人物画经典 -五代卷 Masterworks of Chinese Figure Painting- Five Dynasty (AD 907 – 960), Cultural Relic Publishing House 文物出版社.  ISBN 7-5010-1699-2

Pratt Keith, et al (2013) The Chinese Art Book, Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-6575-1