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]
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
元 耶律楚材 行書贈別劉滿詩 卷
Title:Poem of Farewell to Liu Man
Artist:Yelü Chucai (Khitan, 1190–1244)
Period:Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
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)
Credit Line:Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Inscription: Artist's inscription and signature (21 columns in standard script)
Half the population of Yun [zhong] and Xuan [de] has 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 of the tenth lunar month in the winter of the gengzi year [November 1, 1240] Liu Man of Yangmen requested a poem on the eve of his departure and I wrote this for him in admiration of his administrative ability. Wouldn’t abusive officials and wily functionaries feel ashamed! Yuquan [Yelü Chucai]
Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated:
Ink autograph of Prince Wenzheng, Yelü Chucai.
1. Baoxi 寳熙 (1871–after 1940), 3 columns in standard script, dated 1935; 1 seal (mounted on brocade wrapper):
Ink autograph of Prince Yelü Wenzheng [Yelü Chucai] of the Yuan dynasty. Baoxi inscribed this label in the summer, the fifth lunar month, of the yihai year . [Seal]: Baoxi
元耶律文正王墨蹟。 乙亥夏五寳熙題簽。 [印]: 寳熙
2. Shizhi Shanfang 石芝山房 (unidentified), 2 columns in standard script, undated (mounted in front of the poem):
Ink autograph of Prince Yelü Wenzheng [Yelü Chucai] with four colophons by people of the Yuan dynasty. [The master of the] Shizhi Mountain Retreat inscribed this label.
1. Song Lian 宋濂 (1310–1381), 12 columns in standard script, undated; 3 seals:
To the right is a farewell poem to Liu of Yangmen [Liu Man], a work by Secretariat Prince Yelü Wenzheng [Yelü Chucai]. The Prince was born in the gengxu year of the Mingchang reign era of the Jin period . Twenty-six years later he became a subject of our dynasty in the yihai year of the Zhenyou reign era . In his inscription after the poem he said it was the winter of the gengzi year . Tracing back from gengzi to yihai, there were additional twenty-five years. Therefore the Prince created this work at the age of fifty-one. At that time, the Jin subjects had come under the new rulers just recently, and most of the laws and systems had not been established. The newly acquired counties and prefectures were often divided into nobles’ and aristocrats’ vassalages. Since no pacification policy was implemented, most people ran away, to which [the poetic line about] people fled their homes seems to refer. How deeply the Prince cared about his subjects! The Prince was a profound, serious man, who did not commend people casually. Since he singled out Yangmen as an able administrator worthy of praise, we could tell how well Yangmen governed. The Prince was named Chucai, zi Jinqing, an eighth-generation grandson of Yelü Tuyu (active early 10th c.), Prince Dongdan of the Liao dynasty. For twenty years he was the prime minister, to whom all military and national affairs were entrusted. He lived close to Mount Yuquan, which he adopted as his style name. Song Lian, a junior scholar from Jinhua [in Zhejiang] inscribed this respectfully. [Seals]: Jinhua, Song shi Jinglian, Qianxi Song Lian
2. Li Shizhuo 李世倬 (1673–1744), 7 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1743; 2 seals:
It is said in the Catalogue of Paoweng’s Family Collection [by Wu Kuan, 1435–1504] that the calligraphy of Academician Song [Song Lian] was pure with an ancient flair and well disciplined. Lang Renbao [Lang Ying, 1487–1566] said Song’s cursive calligraphy evoked the images of circling dragons and dancing phoenixes. Li Rihua (1565–1635) said in his Miscellaneous Notes from the Liuyan Studio that masters of the Tang and the Song dynasties all specialized in semi-cursive and cursive calligraphy. During his own dynasty Song Jinglian [Song Lian] was the only calligrapher good at the small standard script. He Qiaoyuan (1558–1631) said in his Things to Be Kept in Famous Mountains [Mingshan cang] that Song never stopped practicing calligraphy from youth to old age, writing in a lush manner. Upon a closer look, one can see several characters written on a single grain. The above remarks are gathered from calligraphers’ biographies. His life in service and retreat has been clearly stated in the History of the Ming Dynasty. There is no need to repeat. On the twentieth of the fifth lunar month in the eighth year of the Qianlong reign era [July 11, 1743] Li Shizhuo inscribed this. [Seals]: Shizhuo, Yinxian shi
3. Dai Liang 戴良 (1317–1383), 26 columns in standard script, dated 1349; 4 seals:
Having read such poems as “Grandly Lofty” [Song gao] and “The Multitudes of the People” [Zhengmin], I realized that in ancient times people in charge of national affairs sometimes resorted to poetry to exhort the world. In view of Shen Bo’s (active 9th–8th c. B.C.) administration and Zhong Shanfu’s [Fan Muzhong, active 9th–8th c. B.C.] journey to Qi, Administrator Jifu [Xi Jia, active 9th–8th c. B.C.], a senior minister of the [Western] Zhou dynasty (ca. 1100-771 B.C.), composed these two poems for them. His praise of them was the highest, whereas his remarks not directly referred to them were meant to exhort the world. Consequently at the time everyone admonished himself to be good. As a result, worthies and talents arrived in quantities and the capable continued to be employed. King Xuan’s (r. 827–782 B.C.) virtue lay in securing the prosperity of a dynastic revival. As to his original inspiration, wouldn’t it be the exhortation to be good expressed in those two poems? Then Master Yelü’s farewell poem to Marquis Liu must have been inspired by this. When Master Yelü served as Secretariat, a Marquis Liu was leaving to take a post in charge of Yangmen and asked him for a poem. He therefore composed one of four lines for him as a gift and inscribed at the end, “What I admire about the Marquis is his administrative ability.” His admiration of someone’s administrative ability could make an exhortation to the world. Later on Marquis Liu, as a military commander-in-chief, led his army to vanquish the Jin dynasty and sacked [its capital] Bian [present-day Kaifeng, Henan], and became a celebrated minister of the time. In addition, between the Zhongtong (1260–1263) and the Zhiyuan (1264–1294) reigns groups of men of great talent and distinguished virtue appeared over and again. What can we say about poetry as exhortation to the world?
One day Marquis Liu’s great-grandson Zhizuo [Liu Shiji, active mid-14th c.] came to my hometown as Assistant Magistrate and, having shown me this poem by the Master, asked me to inscribe it below. That was how I realized that the Master had a profound understanding of the ancient’s intent. When the Master served as Secretariat, the north and the south were divided and the nation had not been unified. The logistics of dispatching the armies and transporting military provisions left him no spare moment any day. But just because Marquis Liu was an able administrator, he managed to put aside his official duties to compose a poem to establish his reputation, through which he eagerly spread his exhortation to the world. His intent, therefore, could measure up to Administrator Jifu’s, and his poem would go down history together with “Grandly Lofty,” “The Multitudes of the People,” and the likes. If this poem could indeed be passed on, Marquis Liu’s name will also be perpetuated like those of Shen Bo and Zhong Shanfu. Seeing this, how could people of later times not exhort good deeds even harder? The Master’s name is Chucai, zi Jinqing, last name Yelü. A descendant of the Khitan imperial family, he came to serve the great Yuan. His distinguished accomplishments, as well as his literary refinement and powerful calligraphy, have been permanently recorded in dynastic histories, so I will not enumerate them here. In the ninth year of the Zhizheng reign era, on the fifteenth of the intercalary [seventh] lunar month in the jichou year [August 29, 1349], Dai Liang from Pujiang [in Zhejiang] respectfully inscribed this. [Seals]: Xunzhi Zhai, Dongyang, Dai Liang zhi yin, Shuneng
4. Li Shizhuo 李世倬 (1673–1744), 3 columns in small standard script, undated:
[Dai] Liang, zi Shuneng, whose biography is included in the section of men of letters in the History of the Ming Dynasty [Ming shi, wenyuan zhuan], was erudite in the classics, history, and various philosophical schools, in addition to medicine, divination, Buddhism, and Daoism. Upon someone’s recommendation, Emperor Shundi (r. 1333–1367) of the Yuan dynasty conferred on him the position of Supervisor of Confucian Schools in the Provinces of Jiangnan Region. When Emperor Taizu of the Ming (r. 1368–1398) took over Jinhua [in Zhejiang], he became his subject. Shizhuo
5. Zheng Tao 鄭濤 (1315–ca. 1380), 7 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1352:
Every word in the writings of the ancients is intended to instruct the world; none is uttered casually. The farewell poem for Liu of Yangmen, had it been composed by someone other than Master Yelü, would have been nothing but sad expressions over parting. Only the Master admired Liu’s administrative ability. Furthermore, his statement that abusive officials and greedy functionaries feel dread is as compelling as the autumnal frost and the scorching sun, which inspires fear and awe. Even those who want to see it may not have a chance, let alone to handle it in person. The mere refinement of his calligraphy is not enough to measure his achievement. In spring, the first lunar month of the renchen year in the Zhizheng reign era [January 18–February 15, 1352] Zheng Tao from Yimen [in Jiangxi] inscribed this with respect.
6. Gong Su 龔璛 (1266–1331), 9 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1321; 2 seals:
This poem by Secretariat Yelü was not composed just for Marquis Liu of Yangmen in recognition of his preserving territorial integrity and people’s lives under his charge. At the time the nation was in chaos, and he hoped that everyone would become someone like Yuan Jie (719–772). Therefore viewing it now, one can imagine how people of those days were never unconcerned with benevolent intention and administration when they composed poetry and practiced calligraphy. On the twentieth of the first lunar month in the first year of the Zhezhi reign era [February 17, 1321] Gong Su from Gaoyou [in Jiangsu] respectfully viewed this. [Seals]: Guyang Shufang, Gong shi Zijing
7. Li Shizhuo 李世倬 (1673–1744), 6 columns in semi-cursive script and 2 columns in small standard script, dated 1743; 1 seal:
Yelü Wenzheng’s [Yelü Chucai’s] life in service and retreat has been recorded in history. His extant autographs are only this one or two, unlike Songxue [Zhao Mengfu, 1254–1322] and the likes whose names are perpetuated through brush and ink. The poetic colophons attached to the end of the scroll were all written by famous people of their times one after another. There used to be Liu Jing’an’s seals. Unfortunately they were cut off with only four left. Jing’an must be Marquis Liu’s great-grandson, which the remarks in the colophons indicate. One must not treasure this merely as a painting or a calligraphic piece. It elevates people’s morale and straightens the way of the world, which is a momentous contribution. Ziya, Shizhuo [Seal]: Shizhuo zhi yin
Gong Su, zi Zijing, was a poet of the Yuan period recorded in the History of the Yuan Dynasty. The Educational Official Lin Qingjiang [Lin Lingxu, 1678–1743] has gathered information about his life and written it down. On the twentieth of the fifth lunar month in the eighth year of the Qianlong reign era [July 11, 1743].
8 .Yuan Lizhun 袁勵準 (1875–1936), 16 columns in standard script, dated 1934; 2 seals:
The greatness of Prince Yelü Wenzheng’s [Yelü Chucai’s] career as prime minister was only second to that of Zhuge Wuhou [Zhuge Liang, 181–234]. His calligraphy is profound and vigorous with the awesome spirit of Mount Tai. Never in any connoisseur’s catalogue [of artworks] has Wenzheng ever been mentioned. This is indeed the only specimen of his in our nation’s calligraphic masterworks. Having lasted for seven hundred years, it appears as compelling as a living creature. In terms of the loftiness of his calligraphy, it is as if he were writing in the styles of Yan Lugong [Yan Zhenqing, 709–785], Su Wenzhong [Su Shi, 1037–1101], and Huang Wenjie [Huang Tingjian, 1045–1105] simultaneously. I once saw Luo Liangfeng’s [Luo Pin’s, 1733–1799] copy of a portrait of the Prince by a Yuan painter. The figure, in a tall hat and an ornate official robe with his beard almost three feet long, has the bearing of a founding member of a dynasty. It had over a dozen colophons written by famous people of the Qianlong (1736–1795) and Jiaqing (1796–1820) reign eras. This scroll only has a quatrain, but his encouragement to Liu of Yangmen is serious and thoughtful. His final statement, “Wouldn’t abusive officials and wily functionaries feel ashamed,” really shows how deeply he cared about the people. This poem is not recorded in [Yelü’s] Anthology of the Limpid-minded Man, so it is particularly precious. When my deceased friend Master Wang Zhongque, Guowei (1877–1927), was compiling the Prince’s chronology, he used this scroll as a source material. Otherwise it has never been mentioned anywhere. I once went outside the gate of the Yihe Yuan palace compound to pay homage to the Prince’s portrait and his tomb. Lost in thought every now and then, I couldn’t bear to leave. In the early autumn of the jiaxu year  Yuan Lizhun respectfully inscribed this. [Seals]: Yuan Lizhun yin, bawei shu
9. Deng Bangshu 鄧邦述 (1868–1939), 12 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1936; 3 seals:
Prince Yelü Wenzheng [Yelü Chucai] topped all other accomplished ministers of the Yuan dynasty. His Anthology of the Limpid-minded Man, included in the Siku [Siku quanshu, Encyclopedic collection of four literary categories, completed in 1781], is also the top choice of Yuan literature. Although the poem in this scroll is not recorded in his anthology, his sincerity in supervising officials and taking care of the people is revealed between the lines. Even viewed six hundred years later, it inspires awe and respect. That’s how deeply moving it is. The Yuan rule over China did not last a hundred years. Inheriting the declining Jin dynasty (1115–1234), it managed to unify the whole realm. I sometimes think, wasn’t it owing to the distinguished services of its sagacious administrators that it was able to establish national stability and receive people’s support? Modern scholars tend to insist on ethnic discrimination, but the mentality that “He who cares about me is my ruler and he who abuses me is my enemy” will not change through eternity. Didn’t Huang Chao (died 884) and Li Zicheng (1606-1645) appear a Han ethnic in every respect? But weren’t the catastrophes caused by them even more gruesome than the one caused by the Yuan barbarians? His remark “Wouldn’t abusive officials and wily functionaries feel ashamed” is obviously the words of a compassionate man. Song Jinglian’s [Song Lian’s] colophon was written prior to the Ming period. Dai Shuliang [Dai Liang] and Gong Zijing [Gong Su] were renowned scholars of the Yuan dynasty, whose anthologies are both in my family’s collection. Only the name of Zheng of Yimen [Zheng Tao] was somewhat obscure. Mr. [Zhou] Xiangyun (1878–1943) acquired this treasure and gave me a treat for my eyes. I therefore wrote this seriously. Deng Bangshu in the seventh lunar month of the bingzi year . [Seals]: Deng Bangshu yin, Zheng’an Xueren, Feidun Xuan
 Yunzhong is the Tang name for present-day Datong, Shanxi Province. Xuande is the Liao dynasty name for a district just west of Datong.  Translation after Wen C. Fong, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 416.  Translations from Department records. The colophons were reordered in a subsequent remounting. For a fuller discussion of these colophons, see Laurence Sickman et al., Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr., exhibition catalogue. The Pierpont Morgan Library, Sickman 1962, pp. 93-94; Kwan S. Wong and Stephen Addiss. Masterpieces of Song and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John C. Crawford Jr. Collection. Exhibition catalogue. New York: China Institute in America, 1981, pp. 58-59; and Yang Renkai, “Masterpieces by Three Calligraphers: Huang T'ing-chien, Yeh-lü Ch'u-ts'ai and Chao Meng-fu.” In Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting. Alfreda Murck and Wen C. Fong, eds. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991, pp. 34-35.  Song Lian’s colophon is not dated. Kwan S. Wong suggests that it may be written when Liu Man was in Pujiang [Jinhua] between 1349 and 1351. See Kwan S. Wong, Masterpieces of Sung and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection (New York: China Institute in America, Inc. 1981), p. 59.  The two poems are from The Book of Poetry (Shi jing). The translations of the titles here follow those in James Legge, The Chinese Classics, vol. IV, The She King (Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 1991), pp. 535, 541.  Yuan Jie was an exemplary official and great poet of the Tang dynasty. He once wrote a poem entitled “To Officials upon the Bandits’ Retreat, with Preface” (Zei tui shi guanli bing xu), in which he admonishes officials not to tax people heavily.
John M. Crawford Jr. American, New York (by 1971–d. 1988; bequeathed to MMA)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr.," June 17, 1965–August 1, 1965.
New York. China House Gallery. "Masterpieces of Song and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection," October 21, 1981–January 31, 1982.
Lawrence. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Masterpieces of Song and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection," March 14, 1982–May 2, 1982.
Osaka Municipal Museum of Art. "The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection," April 8, 2003–June 1, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Secular and Sacred: Scholars, Deities, and Immortals in Chinese Art," September 10, 2005–January 8, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty," September 28, 2010–January 2, 2011.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from The Met Collection (Rotation One)," October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016.
Weng, Wan-go, and Thomas Lawton. Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: A Pictorial Survey: 69 Fine Examples from the John Crawford, Jr. Collection. New York: Dover Publications, 1978, cat. no. 20.
Shih Shou-ch'ien, Maxwell K. Hearn, and Alfreda Murck. The John M. Crawford, Jr., Collection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Checklist. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 17, 19, cat. no. 22.
Fong, Wen C. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, p. 414–15, pl. 96 (detail).
Zhu Renfu 朱仁夫. Zhongguo gudai shufa shi 中國古代書法史 (History of ancient Chinese calligraphy) Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1992, pp. 410–12, fig. 304.
Twitchett, Denis, and John K. Fairbank, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 6, Alien regimes and border states, 907–1368, edited by Herbert Franke and Denis Twitchett. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 375–81.
Ouyang Zhongshi et al. Chinese Calligraphy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 284–85, fig. 5.43.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.