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Yongle Palace Mural

The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) was the first ethnic minority political power to rule China. The government abolished the imperial examination and imposed a four-class system in China that divided the population into four separate ethnic groups: Mongols, semu ren, bei ren and nan ren -- people who were under the Southern Song rule and of the lowest social order. Since scholars in South China were not regarded in high esteem by the government, to express their feelings of abandonment, they turned to painting, which became popular and brought about significant changes to Yuan Dynasty painting. Meanwhile, along with the unity of the country and the extension of the territory, art communication among ethnic groups became frequent and ethnic artists who were fond of the traditional art in the Central Plains emerged in large numbers.

The Yongle Palace, located in Yongji County of Shanxi Province, was one of the three great ancestral palaces of Quanzhen Taoism in the Yuan Dynasty. The murals in Longhu Hall, Sanqing Hall, Chunyang Hall and Chongyang Hall cover over 430 square meters and are considered to be gems of world art. With religion as its main subject, the ancient mural was of utmost importance in Chinese painting before the dawn of scroll painting. The Yongle Palace murals are therefore highly regarded in art history.

Completed in 1368 in the Yuan Dynasty, the Chunyang Hall mural is a pictorial rendition of the life of Lu Dongbin in 52 consecutive scenes; the picture Zhong Liquan Du Lu Dongbin is hailed as the most outstanding. Combining a romantic style, elaborate strokes and magnificent scenes, the murals in three halls are symbols of the high level of folk craftsmanship of the Yuan Dynasty, as well as the highly developed religious paintings of the 14th century.

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