Guan Daosheng

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Guan Daosheng was the wife of Yuan Dynasty master painter Zhao Mengfu, and a great painter in her own right. She is noted as the first female painter in China for whom a considerable body of work is extant today.

Born into a prominent local family and raised with no brothers, Guan was said to be of particular intelligence. Her father was known for his talent and unconventional nature.

Guan married Zhao Mengfu in 1289, when she was twenty-seven, and he 35. He had five children from a previous marriage, and she gave birth to two sons and two daughters of her own. As was typical in traditional Chinese households, Guan, as the wife, managed the household's finances and other affairs, and is said to have been particularly adept at it, managing monetary loans, land purchases, temple donations, and the like.

She may have learned to paint from her husband; whether she received other training is unclear. She is most known for her paintings of bamboo, but also produced works of a wide range of other subjects, including flowers & birds, landscapes, and Buddhist subjects.

During the time of her marriage to Zhao Mengfu, she and her family moved several times between Hangzhou and Beijing, her husband's position at court earning her access to have potentially seen a number of the most celebrated artworks of earliest dynasties. At one time, while in Beijing, Emperor Renzong of Yuan, impressed with her calligraphy, commissioned her to produce a copy of the "Thousand Character Classic" for him; the work was then added to the imperial library.

Guan fell ill in 1319 and requested to return home to the south; she died on the way there.


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 360-363.
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