72. People reading in Chinese art

I was thinking about paintings that feature people reading. The ones that came to mind showed mostly a woman or young girl reading a book in quiet contemplation in an interior setting – private moments (perhaps voyeuristic too).  Most of these artworks feature “western” females – perhaps there’s a specific genre and scholarship on western females reading in art? But I didn’t venture much further down that route than the Wikipedia page Women reading in art, the blog Reading and Art (which has many examples), also 20 powerful paintings of parents reading to children and ART & Reading / Paintings.

I started looking for images of Chinese people reading. We had asked Zhang Xinxin if we could use her artwork of children reading on the steps of the bookshop for our banner and were delighted when she agreed. Surely there must be more?

zhang xinxin

Our banner head is an image from Zhang Xinxin’s graphic novel Pai Hua Zi and the Clever Girl

Searching online I found plenty of photographs of Chinese people reading – especially children – but I was really looking for paintings. After a while, I discovered that there are many Chinese paintings and artworks (including public sculpture) that feature people reading. I’ve pulled the images I found together as Chinese people reading  on our Pinterest page. (It wasn’t easy to give full captions for all the images – for details, follow the links on Pinterest)


“My daughter” by Chen Guangjian — 陈光健: 《我的女儿 – 写女儿山花在斗室》 1995 (Pinterest)

san mao

“San Mao reading” by Zhang Leping 张乐平:《三毛读书》   (Pinterest)

There are also themes relating to people reading, often expressed in four-character-phrase captions, with a story behind them, such as these:


Hanging books from the buffalo’s horn(s) – 《牛角挂书》(Pinterest)


“Borrowing light through a hole” by Chen Zhengming – 陈政明 : 《凿壁借光》(Pinterest)


Tying one’s hair to the rafters to stay awake – 《悬梁刺服》 (Pinterest)

If you’re feeling diligent, there’s a list of 30 more sayings here (in Chinese) .


3 thoughts on “72. People reading in Chinese art

  1. Pingback: 73. Our first 72 posts! | Chinese books for young readers

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