The Seven Sages in History

Yang’s Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest references the theme of the legendary Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a group of Daoist intellectuals from third-century China. Although their history has become mythologized, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove—also known as the Seven Intellectuals or Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove—is based on a historical group of men who rejected lives of official service, turning their backs on a government which they found morally corrupt. The Seven Sages are said to have spent much of their time playing music, composing poems, drinking, and practicing qingtan (pure conversation)—a Daoist-influenced form of philosophical discourse. Beginning in the fifth century, their legend spread from China to other parts of East Asia, and the theme was reproduced on many paintings, ceramics, and decorative objects. The exhibition Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove offers a close look at select examples of traditional artworks bearing this influential motif and provides some historical context for Yang Fudong’s Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest.

Learn more about Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.

Video Excerpt

View an excerpt from: Yang Fudong (born 1971, Beijing). Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part I, 2003. 35mm black-and-white film transferred to DVD, sound. 29 minutes, 22 seconds. Asia Society, New York: Promised gift of Harold and Ruth Newman