‘In the dream I see the bamboo slumber
My guest would wish to walk in the garden
I accompany him barefoot.’
– Yuan Mei

In the old China a mandarin was a man of power who was charged by the emperor with the day-to-day control of districts and provinces. In the early days of the Christian era a rich and autocratic intellectual culture evolved around the figure of the mandarin.
It was the beginning of a centuries-old tradition of erudition and sophisticated taste. Particularly the glittering period at the end of the Ming and the beginning of the Qing dynasties, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, is comprehensively illustrated in this book. The Mandarins Three Dreams sketches a poetic portrait of the life of the Chinese man of letters, his education, dreams and tribulations, his links with his ancestors and masters, and his attachment to emblematic objects, books and paintings. The dream of the bamboo grove refers to the mandarins vision of life, his independence in relation to power, the friendship among likeminded people and intense practice of the arts. The dream beneath the plum tree illustrates the emotional life of the intellectuals. Finally The dream of the butterfly takes the reader into the garden, where the mandarin in all intimacy can lose himself in his dream and become one with nature.

This accompanies the exhibition of the same name in the ING Cultuurcentrum, Brussels (22 October 200914 February 2010).


In collaboration with ING, the Capital Museum of Beijing, the Royal Museums for Art and History in Brussels, the Musée Guimet, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Sackler Gallery in Washington and the Ostasiatiska museum in Stockholm.