Anecdote: The Pavilion of Borrowed Bamboo

Calligrapher: Wu Xiqi (1746-1818)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, late 18th-early 19th century
Hanging scroll; ink on rose gold-flecked paper
H x W (overall): 201.3 x 32.5 cm (79 1/4 x 12 13/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

China, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection

To 1998
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (born 1929), New York City, to 1998

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, given by Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 1998 [1]


[1] All Chinese calligraphy in the gift were published in Mr. Ellsworth's Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950, vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1986) (according to Curatorial Note 1, Joseph Chang, May 19, 1998, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


The Pavilion of Borrowed Bamboo, Xu Ming's residence was very small, so over near his neighbor's bamboo garden he built a little framework pavilion, which received the cool shade through its window, and he stayed there during  summer months to escape the heat. He therefore wrote a sign for it, which read: Borrowed Bamboo.

Translation by Stephen D. Allee

Wu Xiqi used a typical scholarly style of running script to write the text of this short anecdote about Xu Ming, a poor, obscure scholar, who cleverly found a way to use his neighbor's bamboo for his own enjoyment and relief. Xu Ming remains unidentified and may have been a contemporary of the calligrapher; however, several other poor scholars during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties also "borrowed" bamboo from their neighbors and named their constructions "The Pavilion of Borrowed Bamboo."

Wu Xiqi was a prominent poet and prose stylist during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After receiving his advanced degree (jinshi) in 1775, he served in the imperial Hanlin Academy, briefly became a tutor to younger members of the imperial family, and eventually rose to the position of Chancellor of the National University in 1801.

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vol. 3.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 256-261.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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