First appearing in China in the eleventh century, the “Eight Views of the Xiaoxiang” (Shōshō hakkei) is a theme of ink painting that depicts the landscape of the Xiaoxiang region (Hunan province). This region is famous for legends about the goddesses of the Xiang River, and has been a destination of exile since the Warring States period (ca. fifth to third centuries BCE). It plays an important role in classic Chinese literature, and since at least the Tang dynasty (618–906) has been represented in paintings. These cultural associations and contexts had a direct influence on the later “Eight Views of the Xiaoxiang” paintings in China.
Current research about the reception of the “Eight Views of the Xiaoxiang” only focuses on the periods that followed the introduction of the theme in Japan in the thirteenth
century. This paper discusses the cultural context of the Xiaoxiang Region before its arrival. Through a thorough examination of Heian Period (794–1185) texts, this paper demonstrates that the region not only figured as a significant theme in the poetic tradition since the Heian period, but also that it was painted on folding screens as a famous place of China. In so doing, this paper sheds new light on the widespread reception of the Shōshō hakkei immediately following its introduction to Japan and helps us to understand why it became one of the most popular ink painting themes in the Muromachi period (1336– 1573).