The legend of “Yuchentang”

黄地粉彩勾莲开光“万寿无疆”碗

In history the Great Emperor Qianlong visited Southeast China six times. In the 45th year of reign of Emperor Qianlong ( 1780 A . D. ), the great Emperor decided to start his fifth trip to the Southeast China.

乾隆皇帝老年肖像

In early spring, Emperor Qianlong and his men including 3000 servants and 6000 cavaliers left Beijing. One month later, they arrived Yangzhou city. The civil and military officials were waiting quietly outside the city under the Sun to welcome their Great Emperor. Until noon Qianlong’s coach arrived, but the Great Emperor was not in it. Actually he already got to Jiang Chun’s mansion and was enjoying his dishes .

乾隆南巡图

Qianlong likes to travel incognito. He arrived Yangzhou with his minster Wenzhi Chao one day before they planned. After appreciating the beautiful night scene of Yangzhou city he lived at Mr. Jiang Chun’s mansion “Tianxingtang” and talked with him the whole night.

During his lunch next day, Qianlong asked “Jiang, do you have any arrangement for me today?”

“My Emperor, I will take you to visit a person” Jiang answered “You will definitely like to meet with him”.

“Really?” Qianlong looked at minister Chao and wanted to get his suggestion. Chao nodded to Qianlong because Jiang’s arrangement always win Qianlong’s heart.

After lunch, Mr. Jiang took Qianlong and Chao to a big house in a very quite district. There was a screen wall facing the gate which was scripted with Lantingji Xu , and behind the wall there is a traditional Suzhou style garden. It’s such a beautiful scene–Under a bridge fish swim between the lotus in the pond; Human, fish and sunshine formed a beautiful picture.

“It’s so beautiful”. Qianlong said.

“Great Emperor, please look at this.” Mr. Jiang pointed at the ten stone drums on the bridge.

These stone drums was made in Qin dynasty and found in Tang dynasty. Each stone drum was about 67cm in height and 100cm in diameter. Ten poems (seven hundred and eighteen characters) were scripted on the stone drum in “Da Zhuan” respectively, which described the hunting scene of the Xuan King of Zhou dynasty. So these poems also called “Lie jie” in the history.

石鼓文1

石鼓文3

石鼓文4

“It’s really great!” Qianlong smiled.

“There are more great staff inside” Jiang said. When they were talking Jiang’s friend– the owner of the mansion come to welcome them.

When the old gentleman saw Qianlong, he bowed deeply “I apologize for coming late.”

This gentleman came from the Chai’s family who are the descendant of the Emperor of the Later Zhou Dynasty. He was a professional antique collectors who expertise in lithograph, bronze vessels, Chinese ink paintings and so on. Especially he likes the ancient ceramics including those from Tang and Song Dynasty. However only a few close friends really know this great collectors Mr. Jiang was one of them. Jiang took Qianlong to Chai’s home because the Emperor was also famous for his ancient antiques collections and he would be definitely interested in the collectibles from private collectors.

“Do you want to appreciate the Chinese ink paintings or ancient ceramics?” Mr. Chai asked respectfully.

“Ancient ceramics.” Qianlong said.

“That will be great!” The old gentleman said “Which dynasty you prefer ? Tang or Song?”

“Tang and Song ceramics have their own special characters. Let us appreciate the Song’s ceramics today.” Qianlong said.

“Please bring the best thing you have.” Jiang told the gentleman.

A moment later, the old man brought a Ru kiln ceramic frog from Song dynasty. The frog is on a lotus leaf staring at the sky and looks like the frog is about to jumping. Qianlong held the frog for a very long time and finally he said “Great! Great! Great!”

北宋汝窑青蛙卧荷笔洗

“We want to know you opinion about the Chai kiln.” Qianlong asked. The royal “we” revealed Qianlong was the great Emperor. When the old gentleman found this, he kowtowed to Qianlong and said “I did not realize my great Emperor is here. I am really sorry.”

“Get up.” Qianlong said.

See this situation, Jiang and Cao also smiled. The old man thought for a while and said “I cannot display my superficial knowledge before a true expert, My Emperor.”

“Don’t worry, just tell us.”

“Thanks. Chai Kiln first was made by my ancestor. As they indicated the ware’s color should like the edge of the cloud after the rain. It should have sky blue or colors like rainbow.”

柴窑

“Great!” Qianlong said “You are right! We have four black Chai kiln bowls.” The Great Emperor looked excited and he told Mr. Chai “Your collections are as charitable as the best antiques we have in Yuanminyuan! Please prepare the pen and ink, I will give your mansion a name to praise your achievement.”

“My great Emperor, I appreciate it.” Mr. Chai Kowtowed to Qianlong. Emperor Qianlong thought for a while and wrote down “Yuchentang”.

Now, the name of “Yuchentang” has about 230 years’ history since Qianlong gave the name in 1780. It was said that Mr. Chai was invited by Qianlong to visit Yuanminyuan the next year. He was convinced by the top, charitable collectibles in Yuanminyuan. After he got home, he told his son “The Chinese top art works are at Yuanminyuan”. In 1860, Yuanminyuan was despoiled of their valuable collections. Chai’s descendants felt bitter about this tragedy. From then on the Chai’s family started to search theses antiques all of the world and tried their best to buy them back. In recent years, the global financial crisis made many private collectors sell their collectibles. One of Chai’s descendants “Bai Lu Shan Ren” had spent huge money to buy these treasure back. Sometimes the owners of the antiques don’t want to sell their collections, however “Bai Lu Shan Ren” waited for more than 10 years and visited them again and again as personal friends. Finally his endeavor got pay back—he got these art works. His art collections from Yuanminyuan are famous among Chinese private collectors like Shiqiao Ge – the owner of “Tianminlou”, Conyan Zhao – the owner of “Huaguangcaotang”, Zhantang Xu – the owner of “Jingguantang” and so on. These great collectors always study, discuss and communicate together which make “Yuchentang” stand for the top professional collector organization today.

Author: Xuanmin Cai

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