Jiangxi col­lec­tor helps un­lock an­cient wis­dom

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China -

There is al­most no space to stand in Xiong Wenyi’s store­room in Jiangxi prov­ince. It is filled with ev­ery kind of lock you could imag­ine, made from wood, brass and iron.

Xiong has been ob­sessed with col­lect­ing locks for more than 30 years. “I have over 10,000 items in more than 100 dif­fer­ent styles, with the old­est one dat­ing back to the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-220 AD),” he said.

The col­lec­tor, in his 50s, showed one of his prized pos­ses­sions: a pull lock, which has a small hook with which to pull the key. Xiong held up an­other de­vice that re­quires an ex­tra step to un­lock. “You have to turn the key and press the but­ton on the bot­tom to un­lock it,” he said.

His col­lec­tion also in­cludes a large wooden lock once used on a city gate in Shan­dong prov­ince that can be traced back to the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911). “This wooden lock is dif­fi­cult to pre­serve,” Xiong said.

One of the locks he is most proud of find­ing is a so-called maze lock from Ny­ingchi pre­fec­ture, the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion. “It’s called maze lock be­cause the in­ner struc­ture is a zigzag,” he said. “It’s easy to un­lock but very dif­fi­cult to copy the key, as it needs to fit the ex­act an­gle and length at each turn.”

The lock was made dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (13681644). Xiong paid a Ny­ingchi res­i­dent a daily stipend of hun­dreds of yuan to search for the rare lock in ru­ral ar­eas of the pre­fec­ture dur­ing the win­ter of 2015.

The vast lock col­lec­tion be­gan to take shape in Xiong’s child­hood, when he saved money to buy stamps, candy wrap­pers and small locks from his peers. “I see folk wis­dom in an­cient locks. It’s easy to see how smart our an­ces­tors were when look­ing at their locks,” he said.

The de­sign and crafts­man­ship of the locks has amazed vis­i­tors at var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions Xiong has at­tended.

But the value of the col­lec­tion far ex­ceeds the locks them­selves, ac­cord­ing to Hong Jun, a his­to­rian from Wuhan Univer­sity. He said the col­lec­tion al­lows the pub­lic to ob­serve the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese lock­mak­ing over thou­sands of years.

“They are im­por­tant in the study of China’s na­tional stor­age and guard sys­tems, pub­lic se­cu­rity and aes­thetic stan­dards,” Hong said.

Yet Xiong said the larger his col­lec­tion of locks be­came, the more pres­sure he felt.

“An­cient locks, es­pe­cially wooden ones, are eas­ily dam­aged or bro­ken. I must work quickly to pre­serve these ar­ti­facts for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

In 2012, he de­cided to set up a lock mu­seum, but his plan was put on hold when he was di­ag­nosed with can­cer. Fac­ing death, Xiong said his lock col­lec­tion gave him the strength to fight the dis­ease: “I told my­self to hold on be­cause more peo­ple need to see my locks.”

Af­ter mak­ing a re­cov­ery, Xiong in­creased his ef­forts to col­lect more locks. He hired more than 20 se­niors na­tion­wide to help search for spe­cific de­vices. He bought them smart­phones so that they could send him pic­tures of new dis­cov­er­ies.

“I want to ful­fill my dream of set­ting up a lock mu­seum to un­lock the folk wis­dom of our an­ces­tors,” Xiong said.


Hou Zhili kayaks on the Ir­tysh River in Xin­jiang.

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