Think Again Be­fore You An­swer


Special Focus - - Contents - Tang Baomin 唐宝民

Mr. Tang De­gang, a Chi­nese Amer­i­can his­to­rian, once stud­ied at Columbia Univer­sity, where stu­dents were re­quired to sit for an oral exam ev­ery year. The exam was con­ducted by se­nior pro­fes­sors who mainly ex­am­ined stu­dents’ re­spon­siv­ity and flex­i­bil­ity. When the pro­fes­sors posed their ques­tions, what­ever an­swers they got, they would negate them with rea­soned ar­gu­ments. As a re­sult, the stu­dents of­ten failed this exam no mat­ter how hard they racked their brains to re­ply.

This day, it was Tang De­gang’s turn to take the exam. The pro­fes­sors asked him a ques­tion, “Is Abra­ham Lin­coln the lib­er­a­tor of slaves?” On the sur­face the ques­tion seemed sim­ple enough, but there was more to it than met the eye. If Tang De­gang an­swered “yes,” the pro­fes­sors would quote au­thor­i­ta­tive sources to prove oth­er­wise em­pir­i­cally; but if Tang De gang an­swered“no ,” the pro­fes­sors would just do the same. If things un­folded in this man­ner, the only re­sult would be fail­ure.

Tang De­gang didn’t fall for the trap. In­stead, he re­torted, “In your view, is there a so-called ‘slave lib­er­a­tor’ in Amer­i­can his­tory?” The pro­fes­sors were a bit taken aback and an­swered hastily “Yes.” Hav­ing got­ten the an­swer he wanted, Tang De­gang an­swered again, “If there is, then who would be more de­serv­ing of that ti­tle than Abra­ham Lin­coln?” The Pro­fes­sors tried to hide their sheep­ish smile and gave Tang De­gang a pass­ing score.

Tang De­gang’s bril­liance lied in the quick-wit­ted way that he kicked the ball back into the pro­fes­sors’ court and let them show where they stood first, which put him in an ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion and helped him pass the trap-laden oral exam smoothly.

(From Think­ing and Wis­dom, July 2017. Trans­la­tion: Lu Qiongyao)

or re­fined by im­mer­sion in the artistry and en­light­en­ment of the an­tiques, nor is it in­tended that we in­stantly be­come art afi­ciona­dos. The art gallery is more like a dream space, a place where we can jour­ney through time.

In an era of mech­a­nized, fast food cul­ture, it is rare in­deed to glimpse such his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance; these col­lec­tions as ce­ram­ics, gold and bronze stat­ues, wood uten­sils, snuff bot­tles, and bronze wares boast hun­dreds of years of crafts­man­ship. When you en­ter the gallery, you will be­come fully im­mersed in the tran­quil and lan­guid rhythms. You will en­vi­sion your­self be­ing ush­ered into an an­cient land with the sun sink­ing into the twi­light, ac­com­pa­nied by soft breezes that waft through the sculpted cor­ri­dors.

The pri­vately owned Hangu Art Gallery has been open to the pub­lic for more than two months and all the col­lec­tions were do­nated by cu­ra­tor Xie Xiao­qing, who in­vested over 2 billion yuan. The ex­hi­bi­tion hall, oc­cu­py­ing an area of 30,000 square me­ters, con­sists of six floors and con­tains over 2,500 items.

There are four floors in­tended for pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tions, namely, the Hengzhen Pav­il­ion, the Yizhen Pav­il­ion, the Hangu Pav­il­ion and the Shiyi Pav­il­ion.

“The Hangu Pav­il­ion,” lo­cated on the sec­ond floor, has a rare col­lec­tion of more than 500 pieces, among which the Xuande Bronze Four Heav­enly Kings, the Qing-Dy­nasty Wood­carv­ing Town Draw­ings, the Ming-Dy­nasty Stone- carving Wa­ter and Moon Guanyin ( Kwan- Yin) a nd the Giuseppe Castiglione Porce­lain Paint­ings are all the rarest.

The col­lec­tion is the heart of the art gallery, and my fa­vorite is the thou­sand-worker bed.

Padauk Eight Trea­sures Al­cove Bed Carved with Aus­pi­cious An­i­mals, Qing Dy­nasty

This “thou­sand-worker” bed was carved and dec­o­rated by an­cient ar­chi­tects, an­i­mal pat­terns, flower and plant pat­terns adorn all four sides, de­not­ing good for­tune. It is very sturdy, made up of more than 500 mor­tise and ten on joints with­out a sin­gle nail. It was mainly used as a wed­ding bed. The door is pri­mar­ily dec­o­rated with mixed pat­terns of twist­ing and turn­ing vines. The twist­ing pat­tern was con­sid­ered lucky by the an­cient Chi­nese, ow­ing to its char­ac­ter­is­tic eter­nal and un­end­ing qual­ity. The vine melon and the myr­iad melon are ho­mophonous in Chi­nese,

and de­note pro­duc­tiv­ity and plenty. The melon vines are used fig­u­ra­tively to sug­gest the idea, more mel­ons means more seeds to mul­ti­ply and re­plen­ish the earth, thus sym­bol­iz­ing more and con­tin­u­ous birth from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. The folk rhyme, “Thou­sand- worker bed, ten- thou­sand- worker sedan and ten- mile bright red dowry” best mir­rors the mar­riage cer­e­mony at that time.

In the old times, the thou­sand­worker bed was a ne­ces­sity in the fam­i­lies of no­bles and of­fi­cials. Its name was in­spired by the sheer la­bor in­ten­sive­ness it took to cre­ate the piece. Thou­sands of work­ers were com­mis­sioned to craft such a costly and op­u­lent bed. Un­like its modern coun­ter­part, the an­cient bed in­cluded dressers, desks, hang­ers and other tools, such as square stools and flower racks, mak­ing it look like a small room. When I was a kid, I saw this type of bed at my grand­mother’s house, where I liked to close the door and drape a quilt around my shoul­ders, pre­tend­ing that I was an an­cient beauty.

Padauk Dragon Throne, Qing Dy­nasty

The padauk Dragon Throne is char­ac­ter­ized by its dragon de­signs. It is made of padauk, and filled from top to bot­tom with carv­ings pri­mar­ily of open­work. There is lit­tle use of neg­a­tive space, and the main carv­ings fea­ture dragons.

The screen in the chair back is di­vided into seven parts. The frame is dec­o­rated with a sin­gle dragon car­ry­ing beads in its mouth, and the screen cen­ter is em­broi­dered with dou­ble dragons play­ing with beads, the piece is both el­e­gant and lux­u­ri­ous.

The lantern lamp fan was hol­lowed out to carve the dragon pat­tern, the char­ac­ter for “longevity” ( called “shou” in Chi­nese) is carved into the cen­ter and the images of bats along with the char­ac­ter for longevity are em­bossed on the lamp posts. These hand-made carv­ings are even more el­e­gant than the prod­ucts made by modern ma­chines.

Cam­phor Wood Plaque with Mar­ket Place Draw­ing, Qing Dy­nasty

In the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties, there were more cab­i­nets made of cam­phor wood, but to­day it is very hard to find an em­bossed plaque made en­tirely from a piece of cam­phor wood, which is 3.3 me­ters long and 0.66 me­ter wide.

The plaque vividly por­trays small- town life in the early- to mid-Qing Dy­nasty. One can see a snap­shot of peo­ple’s daily life in

the Qing Dy­nasty, “Golden Age un­der the Kangxi and Qian­long Em­per­ors,” em­bod­ied in the images of pavil­ions, ter­races and tow­ers, ar­chi­tec­ture and scenes of peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing.

Em­peror Yongzheng’s 12 Joy­ful Months in the Yuan­mingyuan Im­pe­rial Gar­den

Giuseppe Castiglione, an Ital­ian mis­sion­ary, was deeply ap­pre­ci­ated by Em­peror Qian­long and was hon­ored as the “Court Painter.” This set of “Em­peror Yongzheng’s 12 Joy­ful Months” be­longs to the porce­lain por­trait. It is a flat, hand- made ce­ramic painted and glazed with spe­cial pig­ments on the plain porce­lain plate, which was then fired at high tem­per­a­ture. This porce­lain art flour­ished in the Qing Dy­nasty. This art form, which trans­ferred Chi­nese paint­ings on pa­per and silk to porce­lain, was very pop­u­lar at that time.

Dur­ing Em­peror Yongzheng’s reign, he of­ten resided and han­dled of­fi­cial du­ties in the newly con­structed Yuan­mingyuan Gar­den. These 12 pic­tures named, “Watch­ing the Lanterns in Jan­uary,” “An Out­ing in Fe­bru­ary,” “Ad­mir­ing Peach Blos­soms in March,” “Feast­ing on the Water­front in April,” “Rac­ing Boats in May,” “En­joy­ing the Cool in June,” “Cel­e­brat­ing the Dou­ble- Seventh Fes­ti­val in July,” “View­ing the Full Moon in Au­gust,” “Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the Chrysan­the­mums in Septem­ber,” “Paint­ing the Pic­tures in Oc­to­ber,” “Med­i­tat­ing in Novem­ber” and “Sa­vor­ing the Snow in De­cem­ber” best de­scribe the true char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Yuan­mingyuan Gar­den.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the Hangu Pav­il­ion, you can walk around the other floors. The most prom­i­nent part of the hall on the first floor is a set of pal­isander dragon thrones. The throne, screen, palace lantern and plat­form form a set of fur­nish­ings, which are dig­ni­fied and el­e­gant. On the third floor and on the base­ment there is also hun­dreds of fas­ci­nat­ing art trea­sures, in­clud­ing a full range of bou­tiques such as porce­lains, jade wares, lac­quer­wares, bam­booand-wood wares and snuff bot­tles.

In the pres­ence of an­tiques like these, time it­self seems to stand still. Walk­ing out of the art gallery, I feel daz­zled by the sud­den heavy flow of traf­fic on the streets. The con­struc­tion site in front of me where a new su­per­tall is be­ing thrown up at full speed and the crowd queu­ing up in the bank op­po­site seem steeped in heavy anx­i­ety. The mass- pro­duced pop­corn in the cinema and the sug­ary milk tea at the cor­ner street store are sell­ing like hot­cakes as usual, but the art mu­seum of­fers us the rare priv­i­lege of step­ping into in a to­tally dif­fer­ent world. For Wuhan, the in­spi­ra­tion the gallery brings to the hus­tling, bustling city and its po­ten­tial to pro­vide cul­tural abun­dance is a point of pride.

( From WeChat Plat­form: bet­ter. Trans­la­tion: Qing Run. Photo: Santa and the Hangu Art Gallery)

Em­peror Yongzheng’s 12 Joy­ful Months in the Yuan­mingyuan Im­pe­rial Gar­den

Gilt Cop­per Cloi­sonné Vase with In­laid Multi-Jew­els, Qing Dy­nasty

Padauk Eight Trea­sures Al­cove Bed Carved with Aus­pi­cious An­i­mals, Qing Dy­nasty

Gilt Stone Wa­ter- Moon Aval­okitesh­vara Sta­tus, Ming Dy­nasty

Cloi­sonné Chi­nese Zo­diac (Twelve), Qian­long Reign, Qing Dy­nasty

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