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Biography and information


Ni Zan (Chinese: 瓒, pinyin Ní Zàn, 1301–1374) was a Chinese artist, calligrapher, and poet.

Ni Zan was an outstanding artist of the Yuan era. He was born in 1301 in the province of Jiangsu, in the town of Meili near the city of Wuxi, in the family of a large landowner. His youth passed in the silence of a rich manor house, which was famous for its luxurious park, known as the “Forest of transcendental heights,” in which numerous pavilions and pavilions with poetic names were built - “pavilion of light sadness”, “Crane of the snow-white crane”, “arbor carefree peace ”, etc. The estate had a rich library in various fields of knowledge, as well as collections of ancient bronze, ancient musical instruments, and paintings and calligraphy, which were kept in one of the pavilions of the park. A small circle of writers and artists close to the Nee family gathered here. Until the middle of his life, Ni Zan studied science and art in this quiet corner. He did not want to enter the civil service. Today it is difficult to say what caused this - a patriotic unwillingness to serve the Mongolian dynasty, or the rejection of official fuss in principle and the desire to live a serene life. Ni Zan built the Qingbig (Clean and Secluded Pavilion), where he kept his library and painting collection, which he constantly replenished. By his nature, Ni Zang was a cold and even arrogant man, but he enjoyed the company of people whose taste seemed to him rather refined. He was obsessed with cleanliness, argued that everything he touches should be clean and washed his hands very often.

However, this ideal world was soon destroyed. In the 1330s, a series of natural disasters took place in the country. Floods, droughts, famines, diseases sowed chaos in the most fertile region of China, Jiannan. The Mongolian administration imposed heavy taxes on the richest families to replenish the treasury. Many of them were forced to sell property, or, to avoid taxes, to transfer their estates to the Buddhist or Taoist church. Ni Tsang, whose elder brother was a pious Taoist, probably used the second method, although the standard, idealizing artist’s biography ascribes to him the gift of foreseeing the things to come when changing the dynasty of troubles, which is why he allegedly distributed his property to friends and acquaintances. The author of this biography asserts that after this, Ni Zang got the nickname "Yuben" (impractical fool), but he had another nickname - Ni Yunlin (Neither Forest of transcendental heights), with which he signed his works, and under which later went his literary works.

In the 1340s, widespread peasant uprisings began, and the largest of them, the Red Dressing Revolt, which began in 1351, ruined the region even more. Shortly thereafter, Ni Zan and his family set off into what turned into 20 years of wandering along rivers and lakes located between Suzhou and Xinjiang. Most of the time he spent in the house on the boat, occasionally stopping with friends or acquaintances, and paying for their hospitality with his paintings. One of the claimants to the throne, the usurper Zhang Shicheng, who occupied Suzhou in 1356-1367, constantly invited Ni Tsang to join his “court”, however, Nei refused every time, trying to avoid any possibility of being dragged into military or political squabbles. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, and the establishment of the Ming dynasty in 1368, he stopped hiding. Since his wife died and the children left him, he continued to wander alone, like a hermit, then finally returned to his homeland in Wuxi, where he soon fell ill, and died in the house of his friend.

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