NMA collection record

'Harvest of Endurance' scroll, 1988


This is a handscroll depicting the history of the Chinese in Australia. It was made to commemorate the Australia Bicentenary in 1988. Images show Chinese Australians engaged in agriculture, mining, construction, commerce and in social, political and religious activities. One section at the beginning and one section at the end of the scroll are inscribed with calligraphy in black ink. The scroll is mounted on paper with blue-grey coloured silk border to the front. The ends of the scroll are secured around brown wooden rollers and mounted with green and gold patterned silk front and back. This resource is supported by a Flash interactive of the scroll.

Educational value

'Harvest of Endurance' is a 50-metre-long scroll that represents two centuries of Chinese contact with, and emigration to, Australia. Stories of hardship and survival, resourcefulness and reward are painted in the traditional gong bi style. Artist Mo Xiangyi, assisted by Wang Jingwen, painted the scroll. Mo Yimei carried out the historical research.

The project was sponsored by the Australia-China Friendship Society in celebration of the Australian Bicentenary in 1988. The scroll took just over 12 months to complete and consists of 18 elaborately painted panels. The scroll is read from right to left.

The aim of the gong bi style of painting is to achieve harmony through balance and an application of the principles of yin and yang. Thick lines are balanced with fine lines; soft colours are contrasted with more vibrant colours. Some themes are painted in great detail, while others, such as paintings of swirling clouds, allow the eye to rest and the imagination to interpret freely. The artists also imagined the story they were trying to tell as a melody or 'a sound wave with peaks and troughs' occurring at different stages throughout the scroll.

The scroll is neither strictly chronological, nor tied to a geographical order. The subject of each segment also varies from actual events, to specific eras, to key personalities. The foreground and the background of a scene can be used to depict different activities in completely opposite areas of Australia. For example, the section entitled 'Riverboat trade' shows rice being transplanted near Darwin in the foreground, while in the background the Murray riverboat trade is depicted.

Colour is used to symbolise change. The soft tertiary greys, browns and blues which the artists found in the Australian landscapes near Young, Braidwood, Castlemaine, Ballarat, Bendigo and Maldon are dominant in the first sections of the scroll. The artists used these colours to represent not only the landscape but also the era and the hardships endured by Chinese labourers. Sections of the scroll representing later periods are painted using stronger colours to indicate a change of mood for what was largely a happier and more successful time for Chinese people in Australia.

To indicate a change of theme or era the artists have painted various species of Australian flora. For example in the segment entitled 'Isolated and homesick', southern east coast banksias are juxtaposed with banana trees to denote the change in theme.

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