Goddess of the River Xiang

Artist: Fu Baoshi (Chinese, 1904–1965)

Date: dated 1947

Culture: China

Medium: Album leaf; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 10 1/2 x 12 7/8 in. (26.7 x 32.7 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986

Accession Number: 1986.267.277


The youthful Fu Baoshi, fiercely idealistic and proud, often created images of unrecognized virtue, a theme that found its earliest expression in the poetry of Qu Yuan (343-278 B.C.), a loyal minister of the Chu kingdom who drowned himself in a tributary of the Xiang River in response to the false slander of his enemies.

Here, Fu was inspired by verses from a cycle of poems entitled the Nine Songs that is traditionally attributed to Qu Yuan. The Xiang River, a major tributary of the Yangzi that ran through the state of Chu, was known to harbor a goddess in its depths. She surfaced and enchanted the poet, who swore to make her his bride. The moment of enchantment depicted by Fu is described by the poet::

The Child of God, descending the northern bank,Turns on me her eyes that are dark with longing.Gently the wind of autumn whispers;
On the waves of Dongting Lake the leaves are falling.

(David Hawkes, trans., Ch'u Tz'u: The Songs of the South [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959], p. 38)