Xin Pi Tugging the Emperor’s Robe

Historical period(s)
Yuan or early Ming dynasty, 14th century
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 106.1 x 49.7 cm (41 3/4 x 19 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

China, emperor, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), minister, Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368)

To 1917
You Xiaoxi (late 19th-early 20th century), Shanghai, to 1917 [1]

From 1917 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from You Xiaoxi in 1917 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Kakemono and Makimono List, L. 1207, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
You Xiaoxi (C.L. Freer source) late 19th-early 20th century


When Charles Lang Freer purchased this hanging scroll from Seaouke Yue [You Xiaoqi] in November 1917, it was attributed to the Tang dynasty (618-906) and identified as an episode in the history the tragic Han dynasty heroine, Wang Zhaojun (first century B.C.E.). Since nothing in the traditional representations of the Wang Zhaojun story corresponds in any way with the relationships of the figures in this painting, it is celar that the traditional identification of the subject was incorrect.

A brief entry in Guo Ruoxu's Tuhua jianwen zhi (late 1070s) provides the answer to the identity of the participants in the painting Xin Pi Tugging the Emperor's Robe. Xin Pi was the loyal but outspoken minister who served Emperor Wen  of the state of Wei (reigned 220-26). The dramatic confrontation depicted in the Freer painted occurred when Xin Pi criticized a decision by the emperor because he felt it would place an undue hardship on the people. Angered by such outspoken criticism, the emperor rose from his seat and was about to withdraw. But refusing to be ignored, Xin Pi followed the emperor and continued to remonstrate by tugging at the hem of his gown. Eventually, Xin Pi's extraordinary courage caused the emperor to reconsider his decision. Paintings depicting the exploits of meritorous ministers, loyal generals, and paragons of filial piety, reflect the influence of Confucian tradition.

Stylistic features in the rendering of details of the landscape and figures support a 14th-century date for the scroll. That date would also be consistent with the choice of a didactic Confucian narrative theme, since artists of all schools during that period were re-examining ancient themes and traditions of painting.

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1: p. 252.
  • Thomas Lawton. The Sixtieth Painting: An Ancient Theme Re-identified. vol. 11, no. 1 Taipei, Autumn 1976. pp. 11-23, pls. 1-10c.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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