Poem of Farewell to Liu Man

Artist: Yelü Chucai (Khitan, 1190–1244)

Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Date: dated 1240

Culture: China

Medium: Handscroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 14 1/2 x 111 3/4 in. (36.8 x 283.8 cm)
Overall with mounting: 15 in. x 37 ft. 7 11/16 in. (38.1 x 1147.3 cm)

Classification: Calligraphy

Credit Line: Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988

Accession Number: 1989.363.17


Yelü Chucai played a pivotal role in mitigating the harsh rule of the Mongols over the occupied territories of North China. A trusted adviser to both Chinggis Khan and his son Ögödei, he introduced fiscal reforms and an amnesty for tax debts. Unfortunately, many of his administrative reforms were short-lived.

The blunt, monumental writing on this handscroll, with its emphatic hooks and dots and square character forms, recalls the unrestrained style of Huang Tingjian (1045–1105), a Northern Song master who advocated "driving every brushstroke with full force." The poem lauds the virtuous administration of a young official in an era of widespread exploitation and reflects Yelü's own attempts to institute more humanitarian policies:

Half the population of Yun[zhong] and Xuan[de] have fled
their homes;
Only the few thousand people under your care are secure.
You are among our dynasty's most able administrators.
Your good name is as lofty as Mount Tai.

On the sixteenth day of the tenth lunar month in the winter of the gengzi year, Liu Man of Yangmen requested that I write a poem on the eve of his departure. I wrote this for him in admiration of his administrative ability. Abusive officials and wily functionaries should feel ashamed! Yuquan [Yelü Chucai]