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Preface

The earliest historical record of red sandalwood appeared on “Comments on Ancient and Modern Items” by Cui Bao of Jin Dynasty as a rare and precious wood. “Record Paintings Along Past Dynasties” by Zhang, Yanyuan of Tang Dynasty ,described the fact that the ends of painted scroll was made of Zitan in the internal mansion because noted paintings would be incomparable if not.  According to “Notes on Foreign Countries” by Zhao, Rushi of Song Dynasty, Zitan was mentioned thereunder, and grew in Southeast Asian instead of China native soil. Imperial couches made of Zitan were found in the Vitality Prolonging Chamber in Dadu Municipality of Yuan Dynasty recorded in “Corpus on Cultivation” by Tao, Zongyi.  “Ultra Principles of Ancient Format” by Wang Zuo of Ming Dynasty ranked Zitan as “rare and treasured wood”. The record and comments show that special importance has been attached to Zitan at all times and its rank maintains the first place of various rare woods.

Zitan is costly and rare not only because of its graceful inherence and unsurpassed features of nature and texture, but also because its producing area is remote where this rare wood can grow into timber by inches. This is one of the major reasons as well. Of those Zitan utensils before Song and Yuan dynasties was hard to find few except few pieces as checkerboards and mini-shelves still surviving in Japan’s Seisouin Dome due to the transportation to Japan in Tang Dynasty. After middle period of Ming Dynasty China’s southern territory was expanded and the ban on sea trade was lifted which results in a production of Zitan furniture in a small way. Pieces of zitan handed down from that time already become rare treasures.

The production of Zitan furniture became greater and greater in Qing Dynasty and is measured by scale till the time of Emperor Qianlong. Because Emperor Hongli, indulged himself with utensils and relevant displays, more and more skillful craftsmen exhausted brains in search of bright idea to produce Zitan furniture, which lasted over dozens of years and prepared a considerable number of artworks, or “tribute make” Zitan pieces. Such furniture played a special role in the history. What a pity it is that we have only one dynasty like this! With the declining of National fate in Qing Dynasty the furniture industry went from bad to worse.

Zitan furniture is the pride of Chinese Nation. Dr. Chan, Laiwa has deep understanding and sincere passion for Zitan culture in this aspect, which compelled her to inherit and develop the traditional craftsmanship of Zitan culture. She spent huge sum to purchase outstanding timber to employ well-known artisans, and to work at refined sculpture techniques with hearty care according to the specifications from the Palace Museum, she is so persevering that she even forgets herself thoroughly. For over years, she has pooled several hundreds of artisans and built dozens of workshops, which led to more than one thousand pieces of artworks. The scale and achievement, beside Emperor Qianlong’s Internal Mansion, can be described beyond the peak of perfection. In order to preserve such utensils appropriately and let them be viewed and admired by people, and even for further reference and research, she built this magnificent and gorgeous museum on theme of furniture and architecture. Her action is exclusive historically and all the visitors could see how great contributions Dr. Chan, Laiwa has made to her motherland China, how she loves the civilization of her motherland China, and how she develops and promotes the Chinese furniture art.

                                                                                                                                            By Mr. Wang Shixiang

 

Wang Shixiang (Beijing, May 25, 1914-November 28, 2009) was a Chinese researcher of traditional Chinese culture, leading art collector, poet, and Hanzi calligrapher.

Wang was born into a wealthy family, who were at the Qing Dynasty court for three generations. His father was a diplomat. The rich family background contributed to Wang's talent and sensitivity towards classic Chinese culture. From puberty to about age 25, Wang led the life of a Dandy. He did not go to school. He loved playing cricket as well as breeding and training pigeons and eagles. His life changed dramatically at the age of 25 when his mother died. He dropped the reveler’s life and devoted himself to study and writing.

His art collection was an inspiration for craftsmen and scientists worldwide. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), his collection was seized by the Chinese authorities, though after the revolution the collection was returned to him. In 2003 it became part of the Chinese national heritage.

Throughout his life, he remained an avid fan of pigeons. English works, such as Beijing Pigeon Whistleswritten in 1999, exuded this passion. When he won the Prince Claus Award in 2003 in Beijing, pigeons were released as a gesture to the winner.

Wang began his career after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). During this time, he worked at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing and later became a member of the prestigious Central Research Institute of Culture & History.

Later, he became a researcher for the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. During the 1980s, he made regular contributions to the newspaper China Daily. Through other channels, he published much about the investigation he conducted, as is found in the dozens of books he left behind. His publications are in some cases the only available information on specific topics.

Wang was internationally known for his extensive study of a wide range of cultural relics, artifacts, and manifestations, including: furniture, Chinese lacquer art, bamboo carvings, pigeon whistles, a large number of traditional crafts and music. His knowledge ranges from trivial matters to esoteric, from Chinese manuscripts and objects to intangible cultural affairs.

Altogether, he published over forty books. The book Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties are considered his most influential work. It is a meticulous, precise work that includes all of his studies he made of Chinese furniture.

In 1985, Wang won an award from the Chinese Ministry of Culture where he was described as one of the most distinguished individuals in the fields of culture, tradition and history, and museum studies.

As well as his 1985 award, Wang received the 2003 Prince Claus Award in recognition for his meticulous research into popular culture and decorative arts of the People's Republic of China. With his knowledge of traditions and skills, he contributed to the recovery from the dislocation caused by the Cultural Revolution by preserving and transferring the Chinese cultural heritage to current and future generations. Usually, the main prizes of the Prince Claus Prize are awarded in the Netherlands. In 2003, with Wang at 89 years of age, the awards were organized by the embassy in Beijing.

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