Both the First and the Second Odes are two of the most celebrated pieces in Chinese history. The first ode was written in the seventh lunar month of ren shu (1082) and the second in the tenth month. The Second Ode narrates Su Shi (蘇軾)‘s moonlight excursion to the Red Cliff with two friends on a winter night, similar to one they had made three months ago. Su and his friends enjoyed a picnic at the base of the cliff, after which Su climbed to the top alone. He was saddened by the strange and wild windy sound and descended. The three friends floated with the current in a small boat and saw a single crane fly by. In Su’s dream after returning home, a Taoist priest appeared as the transformation of the crane. After he woke up, Su attempted to search for the Taoist priest but in vain.


Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Latter Ode on Red Cliff (仿趙伯驌後赤壁圖) Wen Zhangming (文徵明) (1470-1559), Ming Dynasty, handscroll, ink and colour on silk, 31.5 x 541.6 cm

Painting Anime: Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Latter Ode on Red Cliff (古畫動漫: 明文徵明仿趙伯驌後赤壁圖)′



Imitating Zhao Bosu’s Latter Ode on Red Cliff (仿趙伯驌後赤壁圖) Wen Zhangming (文徵明) (1470-1559), National Palace Museum

This scroll is based on Su Shi’s Second Ode to the Red Cliffs, and is divided into eight sections, depicting Su Shi and his two friends returning to the Red Cliff with wine and fish. The fundamental colour of the entire scroll is light green and blue (青綠山水). The figures are depicted in simplistic lines, while the mountains and rocks are stacked closely and varied in shapes and forms, demonstrating the leisurely spirit (安閑雅興) of the literati in the face of astonishing sceneries. The year annotated on the work is the 27th year of Jia Jing (嘉靖) reign (1548). Wen was 79 years of age.



On the sixteenth of the tenth month of the same year (1082), I walked from Xuetang (Snow Hall) to Lingao accompanied by two friends. We passed Huangniban (Yellow Muddy Slope).


The dew and frost had begun to fall and the leaves on all the trees had all shed. Our shadows were cast on the ground and the moon was bright in the sky. Being filled with joy, we sang in response to one another as we walked along.


After a while, I heaved a sign, saying, “I have friends but no wine. Even if I had wine, I would still lack food.  As the moon is bright and the wind is refreshing, how should we spend the enjoyable night?”


A friend answered, “I have just netted a fish at dusk. It looks like the perch of Songjiang (Pine River) with a big mouth and fine scales. But where can I get wine?”

歸而謀諸婦。婦曰︰「我有斗酒,藏之久矣,以待子不時之需 。

I returned home to discuss with my wife, and she said, “I have kept some wine for a long time, in case of your unexpected need.”

The maid holding a candle depicts the night scene.
A servant boy is carrying a jar of wine and a fish.

Then with wine and fish we return to the foot of the Red Cliff.


The flowing river gurgled between cliffs that rose to a height of a thousand feet. The moon looked small over the lofty mountains. As the river fell low, the rocks came into view. It was only a few months since I last visited and now the mountains and the river were hardly recognizable!


Holding up my long robe, I went ashore, stepped on the rugged rocks, cut through the entwining and entangling bushes, squatted on rocks in the shape of tigers and leopards, climbed aged trees with gnarled branches like dragons. I got up to the lofty nest of the wild birds. I looked downwards and saw in the water the palace where Fung Yi, the water god dwelled.


My two friends could hardly follow me. All of a sudden I gave a long howl. The grass and trees trembled. The sound reverberated in the valleys. A strong wind rose and waves surged up.


I felt so sad at heart and scared. I felt terrified and could stay no longer.


We returned to the boat, letting it pursue its own course on the river, and rested wherever it took us.


Shortly before midnight and all around us was silence, just then a lone crane flew across the river from the east. Its stretched wings were like flying wheels. The upper part of its body looked as if dressed in white and the lower part, in black. With a long cackle cry it flitted over our boat and headed westward.


Soon the friends departed and I went to sleep. In my dream I met a Taoist priest dressed in a robe made of birds’ feathers, glided below the Ling Kao Tower. He was passing my house and made a bow to me with hands clasped. He asked, “Did you have a pleasant trip at the Red Cliff?”


I asked his name, but he bent his head and did not answer me.

「嗚呼! 噫嘻!我知之矣。疇昔之夜,飛鳴而過我者,非子也耶?」

“Ah, I know,” said I. “Wasn’t it you who flitted by me last night with a loud cry?”


The Taoist looked back at me and smiled. I was awakened from the dream.


I opened the door and looked around, I saw no trace of him.


I wish to make a trivial note.

I think Su Shi’s house in Wen Zhangming’s painting was too nice in relation to Su’s desolate financial state during his exile to Huang Zhou.  In Su’s Han Shi Poems (寒食詩), he described that the spring river wanted to flood his house (春江欲入戶), his small house was like a fishing boat (小屋如漁舟), in his empty kitchen he boiled cold vegetables in a broken stove by burning damp reeds (空庖煑寒菜, 破灶燒濕葦). We can imagine how desperate Su was.  In The Second Ode to the Red Cliffs, Su and his two friends had to rely on a fish caught earlier on that day. Su did not bring any other food from his home except the wine from his wife.


Other important paintings and calligraphy on Chibifu

(1) Chibitu (赤壁圖) by Wu Yuanzhi (武元直)(circa 1149-1189), Jin (金) Dynasty, National Palace Museum

Chibitu (赤壁圖) Wu Yuanzhi (武元直)(circa 1149-1189), Jin (金) Dynasty, handscroll, ink on paper, 50 x 136.4 cm


This painting depicted Su Shi, his two friends and a boatman travelling the Red Cliff as narrated in the Second Ode to the Red Cliffs, not the First Ode. In the First Ode there were many guests on the boats. The river was less calm on the Second Ode. The flowing water gurgled between cliffs.

Detail – Su Shi with his two friends and the boatman. The river was rough.
Detail – The flowing river gurgled between cliffs 江流有聲,斷岸千尺..
Detail – The violent waves over the bases of the cliffs.
Detail – Aged trees with gnarled branches like dragons
Detail – The rugged rocks in the shape of tigers and leopards with the entwining and entangling bushes


(2) Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff by Qiao Zhong chang (喬仲常), The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Sung Dynasty, dates of birth and death of Qiao unknown, but Qiao was active late 11th to early 12th century.

Qiao Zhong chang (喬仲常), handscroll, ink on paper, 30.5 x 566.4 cm, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Qiao Zhong chang (喬仲常), ink on paper, 30.5 x 566.4 cm, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Detail – Su Shi have got a jar of wine from his wife. Su is holding a fish in his left hand and the jar of wine in his right hand.
Detail – Su with his two friends are having a picnic on the rock. A servant boy in attendance is standing by their sides. The prose does not mention about the servant boy.
Detail – Su is sleeping on his bed and he dreams about meeting two Taoist priests. Three of them are sitting down.



Detail – 須臾客去,予亦就睡。夢道士,羽衣蹁躚,過臨皋之下,揖予而言曰︰「赤壁之遊樂乎?」… Qiao Zhongchang might have got the wrong text, there was only one Taoist priest in the dream not two…予亦就睡。夢一道士….

Again, I think Su Shi’s house in Qiao’s painting was too nice in relation to Su’s desolate financial state.


(3) Chibitu by Qiu Ying (仇英) (1494-1552), 1584, The Liaoning Provincial Museum

Chibitu, ink and watercolour on silk, handscroll, 26.1 x 292.1 cm, dated 1548


Frontispiece (引首): Tour of Chibi (赤壁游) by Wen Zhengming (文徵明)


Chibitu Qiu Ying (仇英) (1494-1552), ink and watercolour on silk (There are 5 people on the boat, servant boy is cooking.)
Colophons (受幅題跋) : Writings of Houchibifu by Wen Jia (文嘉)(ca.1501-1583) (second son of Wen Zhengming) and ZhouTianqiu (周天球)(1514-1595)(student of Wen Zhengming)

(4) Chibitu (Red Cliff) by Qiu Ying (仇英) (1494-1552)

Chibitu, ink and watercolour on paper, 23.5 x 129 cm

(5) Chibitu by Yang Shixian (楊士賢), Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Sung Dynasty, dates of birth and death of Yang unknown

Chibitu by Yang Shixian (楊士賢), handscroll, with Frontispiece: 江山風月
Chibitu by Yang Shixian (楊士賢), ink and watercolour on paper, 30 x 129 cm

(6) Writings of Houchibifu in cursive writing by Zhao Shen () Emperor Xiaozong of Song (宋孝宗)(1127-1194) The Liaoning Provincial Museum

Writings of Houchibifu in cursive writing by Zhao Shen (趙眘), handscroll
Frontispiece: Feng zhu luan xiang (龍鸞翔翥)
Houchibifu in cursive writing by Zhao Shen (趙眘), gold on blue rice paper
Colophons by Bao Shanshu, Yu Zhang, etc

(7) Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫)(1254-1322), National Palace Museum

ink on paper, 9 leaves, each 27.2 x 11.1 cm

The portrait of Su Shi was drawn by Zhang Mengfu. It is in the frontispiece of the writings.

(8) Wen Zhengming (文徵明)(1470-1559), written in regular script, The Palace Museum

written in 1553, ink on paper, 24.9 x 18.7 cm


I would like to thank The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for permitting me to use the image of Qiao Zhongchang, Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff.


陳耀南 (1991) 古文今讀初編 (p233 to p252) The Chinese University of Hong Kong

陳萬雄 (2002) 名家大手筆 經典新閱讀 赤壁賦 商務印書館(香港)有限公司 ISBN 962 07 4401 2

平山博 (1976) A Chronology of Wen Cheng-ming’s Painting 文徵明畫系年, Origin Publishing Co.

李天鳴, 林天人(2009) A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves, The Legendary Red Cliff Heritage 捲起千堆雪赤壁文物特展, National Palace Museum, ISBN 978-957-562-555-9

Wang Xinyu (2012) Classics Appreciation of Chinese Visual Arts – Calligraphy, The Yellow River Publishing & Media Group Co. Ltd. ISBN 978-7-227-05114-5/J.348

Ouyang Z and Wen C.F. (2008) Chinese Calligraphy, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-12107-0

Wan-go-Weng (1978) Chinese Painting and Calligraphy A Pictorial Survey, 69 Fine Examples from the John M. Crawford, Jr Collection, Dover Publications, Inc., New York ISBN 0-486-23707-9

Zhang Hongxing (2013) Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, V & A Publishing, ISBN 978-1-851-77756-3 (歷代書畫家的赤壁情懷 ——蘇軾《赤壁賦》) translation) (English transitions by 潘正英, 罗经国) (楊士賢 赤壁圖卷, 美国波士顿博物馆) (仇英 赤壁圖卷 辽宁省博物馆) (武元直 赤壁圖卷 國立故宮博物院) (無款) (仇英) (楊士賢) (趙昚) (趙昚) cursive writing (趙昚)