A Glow-in-the-Dark Jade

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In class we learned about a certain kind of jade that is so translucent in material that it appears to glows in the dark. This famous jade first appeared in history during the Zhou Dynasty when the Emperor Zhou Mu Wang was given this gift from a neighboring kingdom. The luminous jade came in the form of a cup, called the 夜光杯。

I have encountered this luminous cup in one of my favorite novels when the title character, an alcohol connoisseur, was taught by an alcohol expert how to match the right alcohol to the right cup. When they spoke of wine, the alcohol expert referred to a poem written by Wang Han, a famous Tang Dynasty poet. This poem in Chinese as follows:

葡萄美酒夜光杯,欲饮琵琶马上催。
醉卧沙场君莫笑,古来征战几人回?

In the poem, the speaker has just brought a cup of red wine held in the luminous jade cup to his lips when he was reported to fight for his country. In the last couplet, he compares the aimless feeling on the battlefield to drunkenness, wondering how long he will have to fight. The poem describes the speaker’s sadness from being far from home and luxuries like a small cup of wine. In the novel that I read, drinking red wine juxtaposed against the green glow of the luminous jade cup was a classy thing to do – the act comes from this poet.

Jade has been a long-time precious treasure of China. With such stories that appear in history, it makes sense that people are fascinated by jade and the beautiful qualities of it, giving way to romance and poetry. I, for one, wanted a luminous jade cup the minute I read about it.

Professor Shao, then, told us how he has one.

“It doesn’t work,” he told us.

Ah, if only history wasn’t dotted with all these myths.

 

Website:

http://www.hjenglish.com/new/p116247/

http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/夜光杯

Bai Di Cheng: White Emperor City: Li Bai and Inscriptions on Chinese Paintings

After visiting the pandas in Chengdu, Davidson in China sailed down the Yangtze River in Chong Qing. The second day, we arrived at White Emperor’s City, 白帝城, a city that I grudgingly got up for at six in the morning but then realized it was extremely close to heart. As I heard the tour guides say the name “白帝” repeatedly, a familiar poem by the famous Tang poet Li Bai appeared in my head and I asked Dr. Shao if this was the same city that the poet was describing.

“Yes, actually Li Bai was sent to this city, away from home because he was thought to be causing a disturbance in the capital,” Dr. Shao explained to me. “He was sent here but then when he was able to go back, he wrote this poem. He was so happy that he felt that the boat was going very fast. Was the boat going fast? Who knows.”

Regardless of the authenticity of the boat’s impressive speed, Li Bai’s poem was esteemed as high art for centuries. His poem describes not only the beautiful scenery of the clouds weighing heavily in the skies against the river, but also the loud clamor of the monkey on both ends and his own excited feeling for going home that mirrors the swiftly moving boat taking him home.

This poem was so renowned that other famous people, including Mao Zedong, who visited White Emperor’s City, wrote this poem on a stone slab, now which hangs next to other historical celebrities’ calligraphy writing. Each writer’s style has a different feel to it – some is written in loopy, cursive-like writing that exhibits loftiness and eliteness; other’s are more modern and direct that has a straight-forward feel. These series of poems, written in different styles by different people show how they have their personal interpretation of the poem.

Next to the stone tablets of Li Bai’s poem were tablets of other poems and pictures. There was one that stood out: a picture of bamboo leaves but each leaf was actually a Chinese character that together, constitutes a poem. The poem lauds the friendship of three historical figures and compares their friendship to the year-long leaves of a bamboo tree, showing the powerful and resilient nature of their relationship.

It is uncommon for Chinese paintings to have inscriptions, written by either the artist of the painting or an admirer of the artwork. The first inscriptions appeared in paintings during the Warring States Period (403 – 221 B.C.), “popularised in the Han Dyansty, 206 B.C. to 219 A.D., when four-character compositions were written on portraits in praise of the persons concerned” (“Inscription”, 72). By the Song Dynasty, poetic inscriptions had literary value and was made famous by poet Su Shi who believed that poetry and painting were the same thing; they were both “product of natural gift and freshness of vision” (“Inscription”, 72). Thenceforth, poetry is seen as the spoken form of paintings and paintings became the unspoken form of literature.

The carved picture of the bamboo leaves that constitutes a poem took a step further by turning words into art and the art is also the subject of the poem. Observing the middle ground where art and literature intersect, this ground blurs the line even further to invoke the reader and viewer’s admiration.

Because many famous poets have graced White Emperor’s City with their presence, the city is also known as “诗城“ or “Poetry City.” Inspired by the same beautiful landscape as the talents of China have, I took upon this moment to write a poem of my own, highlighting my sleepy classmates watching over the river that Li Bai sailed, how we no longer hear the sounds of the monkeys because the natural climate has been replaced by tourist and man-made architects. After saying it out aloud to Dr. Shao, I got a chuckle from our tour guide – I suppose every artist was made fun of before they became famous.

Bibliography

“Inscription on Chinese Painting.” pg. 70 -113.

白帝城。http://baike.baidu.com/subview/24298/7161922.htm

The Trip to Chengdu

The cultural show that we watched in Chengdu was not simply a show for tourists, but a show put together by performing artists who had real talent and hard-work to show off. The show was held in a large outdoor theatre that revived the ancient designs of theaters, with its dark wood seats and tables, lanterns hung high above from the ceiling and the half-wall, half-canopy featured older Chinese architectural design. Sitting in my seat, I strained my neck to observe the waiters pour hot tea into the customers’ cub with their long-spout kettles. They made even serving hot water artistic! In fact, the first dance was of two girls dressed in Ming Dynasty outfits, dancing with the long-spout kettles and showing different ways that they can hold the kettles to pour water. Their movements were slow and graceful, but beyond the grace, the twists and turn and exact aim shows exactitude in their performance that mirrors the nuance nature of Chinese culture. Following that act, there were opera singers who sang parts in the local opera, 川剧,in which all plot line went over my head because they were sung in the local dialect. However, the story about 佘太君, the head woman of the famous Yang family who fought bravely and died for their country was a familiar story to me. The elaborate makeup and outfit of opera was always interesting to observe; however, due to my little background knowledge in the local opera, I was able to apply little meaning to the entirety of the decorations. Next, two actors played the “jokester” play, a form of comedy that often features a story about common folks rather than nation heroes and royalty. The story was about a wife punishing her husband for playing mahjong with various difficult tasks, such as dancing with a candle on his head or going underneath two stools with the candle still burning. This act provoked laughter from the crowd, especially the children who thought the punishment for such a goofy character was incredibly funny. However, beyond the comedic aspects, this particular act impressed me in two ways. First, because it was a local opera, the strong and impressive female role portrayed the value of women in the local area. As a character, the wife was intuitive (her husband would not get away with lying to her) and down-to-earth (she knew exactly how to make her husband feel bad). In addition, her husband respects her judgement and takes on the punishments, knowing that he made a mistake. Second, the actor who played the husband was a brave and talented one despite his silly and foolish persona. He crawled underneath two low stools with the candle burning on his head and his exaggerated facial expressions that match the music in the background show the hours and hours he spent practicing in front of the mirror. The best part of the entire show, however, were changing faces. Changing faces, an extremely famous and popular local art form that has gained international recognition, was my most anticipated act and it did not disappoint. I have seen such performances on television when I was younger but it was even more exciting to watch in-person. The performers changed the color and design of the faces so quickly that the naked eye would not see beyond the trick. They created a lot of built-up with the low drums before they exposed the different faces – the crowd exclaimed in surprise (even though they knew it would be a different face) and awe. The history of changing faces may have originated from the Qing Dynasty during Emperor Qian Long who enjoyed watching changing faces whenever he visited Sichuan. Since the emperor liked it, the form of art spread across the nation and became a popular spectacle across the nation. The central idea behind changing faces is to portray a character’s thousands of emotions and thoughts that change by the second. To this day, no one quite knows the exact trick behind to their millisecond of transformation because it is considered the nation’s greatest treasure. Bibliography: 川剧变脸。http://baike.baidu.com/subview/86159/9577930.htm

Jade History and Modern Significance

Jade in China has a significant meaning, valued for its beauty, purity and rarity. In ancient China, jade was only purchased by the royals and highest ranks of the imperial court who can afford such treasure. In literature and culture, jade symbolizes beautiful women who are held at highest esteem and many families name their child – female or male – with the word “jade” in it to show how much they loved their child. The highest quality of jade,the jadeite, is a rich and beautiful shade of green. It has appeared frequently in history, appearing as gifts for women, especially for women who are getting married as part of their dowry. Nowadays, jadeite resources have been so depleted that we can no longer see jadeite in our nearest markets. Even nephrite, which was not desired highly, costs exponentially more than it used to because there are so few left. Jadeite and nephrite are made into necklaces, jade bangles, and earrings. However, jade was not only used as jewelry, but also served as symbolism of royalty in court. The gui is an object held as early as Tang Dynasty officials in their hands at court to indicate their station. Prior, court officials held bamboo forms of the same shape in order to jot down notes while they speak to the emperor; however this was replaced to jade in the name of formalities. The highest esteemed form of jade was the yu xi seals, the mark of the emperor. Once a document is marked with the xi seal, the document becomes the official document of the emperor. A jade suit was also common among the nobility. After a noble died, they are honored with the jade suit to wear for burial, a privilege given only to the imperial family. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of what we see in the market is fake jade that can be made by painting a special kind of paint onto hard stones. When I was little, my family often gave me jade necklaces which were in the form of a dog (my year of birth). These presents symbolized how much they loved and cared for me, which was all great until I lost three jades in my lifetime. Back then, those jade pieces were real and very expensive so my last jade present now sits at home on a bookshelf so that I would never lose such a precious gift.

China and china

My hometown,Jingdezhen is the capital of china. Of course, not China which denotes a country in Asia, but china, the porcelain form of “earthenware of a five semitransparent texture originally manufactured in China and first brought to European in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, who named it porcelain.” The porcelain form of china has become so popularly known to have “physically originated in China” that its name becomes associated with its geographical birthplace.

China serving as decoration in homes have been prevalent as early as this country can remember. Auctions throughout the world have gained interest from both Chinese and non-Chinese people’s interests. Though china have many different decorations and forms, the most famous is the 青花瓷 (qing hua ci) which uses only white and blue colors to exhibit the most elaborate designs. Originated in the Yuan Dynasty, qing hua ci reached its peak during the Ming and Qing dynasties and since have been considered as the nation’s greatest treasure. Even famous pop artist, Jay Chou has sang about the beauty and illusive quality that qing hua ci represents for China.

I can proudly say that Jingdezhen is not only the capital of china, but also the creator of qing hua ci. In fact, when one says “qing hua ci,” one precedes the art with “Jingdezhen.” In my hometown, I have seen streets that sell china, featuring primarily the white and blue form. Some stores sell little trinkets that make cheap but valued gifts for friends; others sell expensive art in porcelain shape that I could only admire and not buy.

Jingdezhen also has three large kilns and china artists’ quarters, each of which have been recognized at one point in history by a famous emperor. Coincidentally, I have a relative who works in this quarter and who was a recognized artist and won a competition that brought him to an artists’ conference in New York. He was my father’s childhood playmate so when he heard that my father and I came back for a visit, he personally took us to his work place so that I could see his art. Interestingly, he was not only producing traditional art forms, but also exploring the intersection of modern art, Western art and Chinese traditional art in his creations. My father thought the modern art looked silly and cheap, to which his playmate laughed and told him those were his most expensive works.

“I could never understand modern art,” my dad shook his head.

I, for one, could understand modern art, but the beauty of Chinese ancient works continuously draws me with its intricate designs, powerful displays and artist representation of historical stories that I almost always prefer them over cracked pots and crude design of the statement-filled modern art.

Bibliography

Rujivacharakul, Vimalin. “China and china: An Introduction to Materiality And A History of Collecting.”

景德镇青花瓷. http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=tbqZN9I_QmQ7XMtM_xSvqwG0BCpiA2_BnHPxwEOa6YsJwYIpBmxgs-4ZCYg8_lOF

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