Inscription of a Eulogy on the Burial of a Crane

Yi he ming (Inscription of a eulogy on the burial of a crane) is a very famous carved rock inscription of great significance in the history of Chinese calligraphy. It is a eulogy mourning the death of a family crane. The inscription is considered the progenitor of large-character calligraphy of the Southern Dynasties (420‒589). The original rock carving, situated on the west crag of Jiaoshan Mountain, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, was carved in the 13th year (514) of the Tianjian reign of Liang of the Southern Dynasties. Later it fell into the river and was not rediscovered until the Northern Song (960‒1127). The great scholar Ouyang Xiu (1007‒72) recorded this work in his Ji gu lu (Collected inscriptions of the past); thus it became well known and was reproduced numerous times in rubbings. In the 52nd year (1713) of Qing emperor Kangxi, Chen Pengnian (1663‒1723) of Changsha, prefect of Zhenjiang, enlisted laborers and pulled five pieces of stone out of the river. They were then moved and some were built into the walls of the Dinghui Temple on Jiaoshan Mountain. The year 1713 thus became the demarcation point of dating the rubbings, the earlier ones before the rock fell into the river and the later ones after its recovery. The earlier group is extremely rare because it was difficult to make rubbings of the inscription. The remaining stone pieces are now placed in Baomoxuan (Baomo Pavilion), also called Jiaoshan bei lin (Stele Forest of Jiaoshan), where Yi he ming is the most famous stone inscription. This rubbing dates from the late Ming dynasty. It is considered a rubbing of the earlier group. The two characters sui and wu are in perfect shape, and the last stroke of the character xiang reaches into the stone flower. The inscription on the rubbing reads: “Text written by Huayang Zhenyi, calligraphy by Shanghuang Shanjiao.” Scholars of later centuries have disputed the identities of the author and the calligrapher.

Portraits of 500 Arhats

Wu bai Luohan tu (Portraits of 500 arhats), written and inscribed by Emperor Gaozong (1711‒99), reign title Qianlong (reigned 1736‒96), was originally a painting by Wang Fangyue. Wang Fangyue, born in Wuxi, Jiangsu, was a court painter during Emperor Qianlong’s reign, and excelled in figure and landscape painting. An arhat is someone who has reached true enlightenment (nirvana). The entire painting is divided into ten sections, each section assigned in order with one of the names of the ten heavenly stems (days in a calendrical cycle). Each painting is followed by a text. At the front is a preface, which briefly describes how Emperor Qianlong supervised the entire process, from the beginning to the end, of the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats on Longevity Hill in Beijing. It also explains the characteristics of the 500 arhats, who positioned themselves in the woods, at streams, and in the pavilions, on terraces and towers, instead of being placed side by side in rows. Some of the arhats are in motion and others are still. Their expressions are all different, and they are lifelike. A stone carving was made in the 22nd year (1757) of the Qianlong reign. The stone tablet was originally placed in the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats on Longevity Hill in the Garden of Clear Ripples, located in present-day Haidian District, but it has long been lost. This copy is a first-generation rubbing, in intermittent dark and light shades of black ink. The rubbing is of high quality and between the Chinese characters there is clear spacing, thus highlighting the nuances. The rubbing is framed with yellow brocade and is elaborately mounted and wrapped. This rubbing is very rare and is a fine art treasure.

Emperor’s Poems, in Manchu Language, on Bishu Shanzhuang, the Imperial Summer Mountain Resort: Two Juan

Bishu Shanzhuang, the Imperial Palace Garden of China, was a mountain resort, situated in present-day Chengde, Hebei Province, and was where the Qing emperors resided during the summer and handled affairs. This work in Manchu, which was considered the “national language” throughout the Qing, was written by Emperor Kangxi (1654‒1722, reigned 1662‒1722) and annotated by Nalan Kuixu (circa 1674‒1717) and others. It contains 36 poems depicting 36 scenes of Bishu Shanzhuang. They describe the beautiful scenes of the palace and express the emperor’s noble and lofty emotions. Each poem is followed by an illustration painted by Shen Yu, a treasurer of the Imperial Household Department. The result is a perfect match of poetry and landscape painting, presenting strong literary and artistic characteristics. The work is in two juan. There is a preface by Kangxi, dated 1711, the 50th year of his reign. The preface is followed by the impressions in red of his two seals: Ti yuan zhu ren (his style name used on his seals) and Wan ji yu xia (Brief leisure), which thus provide additional value to this edition.

Records of the Grand Historian: 130 Juan

Shi ji (Records of the grand historian), the first biographical general history of China, was compiled by Sima Qian, the Western Han historian, who devoted his entire life to this endeavor. Sima Qian (circa 145‒86 BC), courtesy name Zichang, a native of Xiayang (present-day Hancheng, Shaanxi), was an official at the court of Emperor Wu (also known as Han Wudi, reigned 140‒87 BC), as a palace attendant, court astrologer, and imperial secretary. The work records the events beginning with the legendary Yellow Emperor and ending with the first year (122 BC) of the Yuanshou reign of Han Wudi, covering around 3,000 years. It consists of 130 chapters including: 12 basic annals, recording the words and deeds of individual emperors or of individual dynasties; 10 tables, listing one genealogical and nine chronological royal lineages, reigns, personalities, and important events; eight monographs, describing the historical evolution of systems of astronomy, geography, rites and music, military and financial administration, and so forth; and 30 hereditary houses, with earlier chapters containing historical accounts of the leading states, such as Shang and Zhou, and later chapters on Han containing biographies of outstanding men in Chinese history. Shi ji was not only the first work of Chinese historiography, it was also a popular literary masterpiece, praised by the Chinese scholar Liang Qichao (1873‒1929) as “a masterpiece throughout the ages” and by Lu Xun (1881‒1936), a leading figure of Chinese modern literature, as “poetic perfection, like Li Sao (Encountering the Sorrow, by Qu Yuan) without rhymes.” Prior to the Song dynasty (960‒1279), this work was passed on by handwritten copies and published with annotations by various people. Presented here is an edition dated the seventh year (1171) of the Qiandao reign of Southern Song, printed by Cai Mengbi at his printing house Dongshu. Juan 43 is a facsimile of a Song handwritten copy, printed by book collector Yang Baoyi in the first year (1875) of the reign of Emperor Guangxu of Qing. The work also contains the joint commentaries, Ji jie (Commentary on Shi ji) by Pei Yin of Song (420‒79) of the Southern Dynasties, and Suo yin (Index to Shi ji) of Sima Zhen of Tang dynasty. The commentaries are scattered within the text of Shi ji. This is the earliest edition of these two authors’ commentaries. Cai Mengbi was a famous publisher of Jianyang during the Southern Song. The writing style is powerful and elegant. Scholar and book collector Fu Zengxiang named it “the gem of Jianyang editions of early Southern Song.” Since the Ming and Qing dynasties, the work has found its place in the collections of numerous renowned bibliophiles, including Zhu Chengjue, Qian Xingzu, Ji Zhenyi, Wang Shizhong, Yang Yizeng, and Chen Qinghua. It also includes an inscription by Ji Zhenyi. During the 1950s, under the auspices of Premier Zhou Enlai, the work was purchased from Chen Qinghua in Hong Kong and brought back to Beijing where it is preserved at the National Library of China.

A Record of Buddhist Monasteries in Luoyang: Five Juan

The Luoyang qielan ji (A record of Buddhist monasteries in Luoyang), written by Yang Xuanzhi during Northern Wei (386‒534), is a gazetteer of Buddhist monasteries. The word qielan is derived from the Sanskrit word saṃgha-ārāma, which means Buddhist temple. In the mid-sixth century, Yang Xuanzhi (the dates and places of his birth and death are unknown) was an adjunct of the Pacification Army. In the 17th year (493) of the Taihe reign of Northern Wei, Emperor Xiaowen moved the capital to Luoyang. A devotee of Buddhism, he began construction of temples, but in the midst of the turbulence of the Yongxi reign (534) of Emperor Xiaowu, which resulted in the ending of Northern Wei, the city was totally destroyed. In 547, the fifth year of the Wuding reign, Yang Xuanzhi, who was passing through the city of Luoyang, reflected on its flourishing and lamented its declining years. To preserve its memory, he began to collect old legends and stories about the ancient ruins and compiled this work. Based on the locations of the Buddhist temples of Luoyang, he grouped the material into inner city, and east, south, west, and north sides, which provided a clear layout. Si ku quan shu zong mu ti yao (Annotated bibliography of the complete imperial library) mentions that “the language of the work is magnificent and elegant. It is long but not boring. It can stand side by side with Shui jing zhu (Commentary on the water classic) by Li Daoyuan, also of Northern Wei. Yang also described in this book, in great detail, the turmoil caused by Erzhu Rong (493‒530), a general of Northern Wei of Xiongnu ancestry, who overthrew one emperor and put another on the throne and slaughtered many imperial officials, thus providing a useful historical reference. The text contains rich information on citations of ancient ruins and local customs, providing a rich supply of strange stories.” There are no surviving Song and Yuan editions. Presented here is a Ming edition, printed by Ruyintang, which is the earliest edition extant. It is printed on white cotton paper, and the print is of good quality. According to Zhongguo ban ke tu lu (Illustrated catalog of block-printed editions), this copy may have been published by Ming playwright Lu Cai (1497‒1537), a native of Wu Xian, during the Jiajing period (1522‒66).

Travel Diaries of Xu Xiake: Not Divided in Juan

Xu Xiake you ji (Travel diaries of Xu Xiake) by Xu Hongzu (1586‒1641) was the first travel record in China, with detailed geographical descriptions of the places visited by the author. The book contains the earliest descriptions of karst rocks in China along with detailed research on the causes of this rock formation. Xu Hongzu, courtesy name Xiake, was a native of Jiangyin (present-day Jiangyin, Jiangsu). Already in his youth he was known as a special and uniquely talented individual. He began to travel in his twenties. Within 30 years, he had crossed the Min Jiang River in Fujian in the east, climbed Hua Shan Mountain in the west, reached Yan and Jin in the north, and gone all the way to Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong, and Guangxi in the south, thus covering most of China. He wrote about every place that he visited. Si ku quan shu zong mu ti yao (Annotated bibliography of the complete imperial library) states that Xu “recorded what he saw and heard with his own eyes and ears, with more accurate descriptions. As Guizhou and Yunnan are barren and far away, there has not been much local history written. This work provides a clear and detailed analysis of the arteries and veins of mountains and rivers, with research based on evidence.” After Xu’s death, his manuscripts were scattered; what was passed on was compiled and edited by later generations. Presented here is a Qing manuscript edition from the Zhibuzu Zhai Collection of Bao Tingbo (1728‒1814), which is among the earliest existing copies. The handwriting is elegant and exquisite. The work was edited and corrected by Bao Tingbo and has inscriptions by Qing book collectors Wu Qian and Tang Hanti. At the front is a hand-copied Xu Xiake zhuan (Biography of Xu Xiake), written by Qing official and scholar Qian Qianyi (1582‒1664).

Complete Geographical Map of the Great Qing Dynasty

Da Qing wan nian yi tong di li yuan tu (Complete geographical map of the great Qing dynasty) is a map of China during the Qing dynasty. A typical map of the administrative divisions of China in this period, it is a revised edition, issued between 1796 and 1820, of the map originally drawn by Huang Qianren (1694‒1771) in the 32nd year (1767) of the Qianlong reign. The new material is shown in blue and green. Information has been added relating to all the newly established prefectures, sub-prefectures, departments, and districts from the end of the Kangxi reign in 1722 to the beginning of Jiaqing in 1796. The annotations on the map mention the usefulness of marking every 100 square li (a Chinese unit of distance; one li equals about 0.5 kilometer), but such a scale is not shown on the map. The mapmaker’s original intention was to create eight vertical scrolls that could be seen hanging on a wall, allowing the viewer to see a representation of the rivers and mountains of China. However, in order to make the map easier to fold and store, during the mounting of the scrolls the map was cut into 24 sheets, which then were combined into a single map.

King Chai Pushes a Cart

Presented here is a pair of New Year pictures, both of which depict King Chai pushing a cart. This excellent work was created at Hecheng Laodian (Old Shop of Hecheng) in Zhuxian Zhen, Henan, during the Qing dynasty. The prints were made by the woodblock color-printing process, with the engraving clearly cut by an expert, and the composition full of life. The colors are fresh and beautiful and the color process precise. The colors used are the ancient green and mallow purple often seen in the New Year pictures made in Zhuxian Zhen, Henan. King Chai was Chai Rong (921‒59), also known by his temple name Shizong, the second emperor of Later Zhou (951‒60) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907‒960). The legend—that he had pushed a cart in the streets, selling umbrellas before his success in becoming a rich man—became a folk anecdote among the people. He was called “Wealth Star” and “Living Immortal” and was immortalized as “God of Wealth.” There is a popular saying among the people that “When King Chai pushes the cart fast, silver money rolls in the house.” The figures depicted in the two pictures are almost identical. King Chai is depicted wearing a hat, with a smile on his face. He is in short clothes intended for labor. The figure in the right picture wears red pants and a green shirt, pushing a cart with a banner with characters that read: “returning home fully loaded,” while the figure in the left picture wears green pants and a red shirt, pushing a cart with a banner that reads: “earning bushels of gold each day.” The carts are full of gold and silver. The two figures are pushing their carts straight towards each other, presenting an amusing scene. New Year pictures with the theme of Chai Rong pushing a cart were mainly seen in Henan. Those made in Zhuxian Zhen are especially exquisite pieces. One such picture, held at Kaifeng Museum, has the title “Returning home fully loaded,” and was selected in 2008 as one of the stamp designs in the series of “Woodblock New Year Pictures of Zhuxian Zhen.”

The Winemaking Deity

The New Year picture Zao jiu xian weng (The Winemaking Deity) in the collection of the National Library of China belongs to the category of images relating to worship of the Horse God. This picture, however, is for the sacrificial ceremony of worshipping the Wine God. The piece was created in Beijing and reflects the continuation of the folk tradition in Northern China of worshipping the Wine God. In this image, the Wine God is sitting upright in the middle of the picture, holding a ritual wine vessel called a jue. On both sides of him stand the fairy boys, each holding a different-shaped wine pot, with the name of the wine on the body of the pot. In the foreground is an altar table, on which stand an incense burner, a candle holder, and sacrificial objects at the sides. Behind the deity is a horizontal scroll, with a four-character inscription: Zao jiu xian weng (The Winemaking Deity). The space on the two sides of the scroll is decorated with banners. A number of famous wine varieties are engraved on the picture, such as Sanbai (three whites wine), Huiquan (Huiquan wine), Jujiu (chrysanthemum wine), Yaojiu (medicinal wine), and more. The figure is the deified patron of winemakers. There were a number of legendary patrons of winemakers in various areas of China, the most popular of which were Yidi and Du Kang.

Immortal Official of Market Profits

Li shi xian guan (Immortal Official of Market Profits), a popular deity among Chinese people, was the God of Wealth of the North, one of the four generals under Zhao Gongming, the Military God of Wealth. His name was Yao Shaosi. Li shi is an auspicious term and conveys the sense of luck and fortune, as well as profits from sales. The Immortal Official of Market Profits is in charge of luck. He symbolizes good luck and happiness; through him money will pour in from all sides. He is especially appreciated by merchants. In New Year pictures, he is always depicted either at the side of the main God of Wealth or appears alone. The figure in this picture wears an official’s black gauze cap and court clothing and holds a tablet in both of his hands. He is dressed as a court official and his expression is kind and benevolent. The servant on his left side holds in both hands a precious vase, and behind him is a horse, which implies that money is being gathered in the precious vase and money will pour in “as soon as the horse is mounted,” a Chinese saying that means “right away.” The servant on the god’s right, with his bare upper body, holds a treasure basin filled with copper coins and gold ingots on top of his head, symbolizing the Immortal Official of Market Profits who brings money and treasure. Worship of and sacrifices to gods of wealth reflect the common people’s aspirations for wealth and treasures and their yearning for, and pursuit of, riches and bliss in their lives.