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One important reason why Ming and early Qing furniture is of such high quality is that it was fashioned from hard, dense woods of good color and beautiful grain. Here we discussed a few main furniture woods: huanghuali, zitan, jichi, ju, tieli.
During Ming and early Qing dynasties, most of the best furniture was made from huanghuali wood. The term Huanghuali is not found in early texts, only huali was mentioned. Later the prefix Huang was affixed to huali to distinguish it from the socalled xinhuali (new huali), the wood that became popular and which is still used in large quantities for making furniture today.
Huali is found in Guangdong and southern lands such as Hainan Island. It is purplish red and has a fragrance very much resembling that of truth-bringing incense. Huali with a devil’s-face grain is very valuable, while that with a coarse grain and light color is inferior. Huanghuali was given the scientific name Dalbergia hainanensis (Hainantan, or huali wood from Hainan Island) as recently as in 1956. In 1980, this name was changed to Dalbergia odorifera (jiangxiang huangtan) because the reason that this kind of Dalbergia is the only one yet known in China in which the colors of the pith and the outer wood are quite distinct. The unevenly colored pith is dark red, even purplish, and often has a black grain, and the outer wood is a grayish-yellow or light yellow. This variation of color is evident on some furniture made from huanghuali wood.
Many ancient books mentioned about zitan wood. In these books, zitan wood is said to come from various places that are mostly in Indochina, as well as from the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong and Guangxi.
Zitan wood belongs to the Pterocarpus genus, which itself is a member of the Leguminosae family. Within this genus there are about fifteen species, most of which grow in the tropics. Zitan wood used in cabinetmaking is rarely found in large pieces and is in fact much closer to rosewood (Pterocarpus indicus). From very ancient times, the Chinese have considered zitan the most precious wood therefore fewer furniture pieces were made from it than other woods including huanghuali. Zitan wood is the hardest and heaviest of all hardwoods. Most examples are purplish-black, but some pieces are as black as lacquer, so that the grain is virtually invisible.
Jichi wood is also known as chicken-wing wood or qizimu. There are two kinds of jichi wood, an old one and a new one. New jichi wood is coarse and purplish-black in color, some of the grain lines being purple, other black. The grain is not very clear, and because it is rigid, straight and coarse, the wood has a tendency to split. Old jichi wood is denser and of a purplish-brown color. The grain, especially in straight cuts, forms very good patterns suggesting the feathers near the neck and wings of a bird. After the middle of Qing dynasty few pieces were made from old jichi wood while the new jichi wood is still being used today.
Jichi is one of the genera of wood belonging to the Ormosia family. There are over forty species under the genus, over twenty of which are found in China. The seeds of the jichi tree are called red beans or love beans, and can be made into jewellery. Thus the wood is also called love wood.
Ju wood furniture can be found in towns and villages all over China. Ju wood is known in north China as southern elm. It is harder than most woods although it is not exactly a hardwood. It plays an important role in Ming and early Qing furniture. Some pieces were made identical to huanghuali wood pieces in form, style and craftsmanship. It is evident therefore that cabinetmakers and true connoisseurs of Chinese furniture greatly valued them, believing that their aesthetic and historical merits should not be downgraded simply because they were made from somewhat inferior wood.
The scientific name of the ju genus is Zelkova. The species found in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces is a large-leaf elm. Its wood is hard and dense, with a beautiful color and grain suggesting mountains piled upon mountains, called pagoda pattern by Suzhou cabinetmakers.
Tieli is the largest of all hardwood trees and the timber is the least expensive. In the tropics, tieli is used for beams, pillars and screens. In areas such as Guangdong, many very large pieces of furniture are made from it. It is frequently used for the backs of furniture, shelves, and interiors of drawers. The grain of tieli wood is similar to that of jichi wood, only coarser, and furniture merchants would sometimes pass off tieli pieces as being made of jichi wood.
The scientific name for tieli wood is Mesua ferrea. It is a large evergreen with a straight trunk that can be more than 100 feet high, with a diameter of 10 feet. It originally came from the East Indies. The wood is very hard and durable with a dark red center and a fine, beautiful grain.
Chinese Antique Market Is UpThe Chinese antique market is up, and the rise in prices is likely to continue. “What is particularly interesting about the Asian market is the cycle of buying, holding and selling,” Mr. Du said. “We’ve noticed that Chinese antique pieces purchased five to fifteen years ago in Hong Kong or New York auctions are now resurfacing. It has been an ongoing practice for some Chinese art collectors to buy an object, put it in their collection, then 10 or 20 years later, put it up for sale at the same venue and buy something else they like.” But what is changing, Mr. Du said, is that nowadays there are so many private museums establishing or adding to their Asian collections that many rare pieces are being removed from the cycle. “They’re going into institutional collections and staying there. This is one factor that is driving auction prices upward,” Mr. Du said.
5月13日，中国嘉德2012春季拍卖会继续进行，晚8点开始的“胜日芳华—明清古典家具集珍”专场藏家云集、竞投热烈，最终以一亿七千万元圆满收槌，成交比率高达94%。其中，重量级家具藏品、目前所知最大型的、独板案面的条案之一――由香港藏家王家琪(Mimi Wong)及洪建生(Rimond Hong)收藏的“明末清初黄花梨独板大翘头案”以3220万元人民币摘得头筹。中国嘉德负责古典家具拍卖业务的高级经理乔皓告诉记者：“这场拍卖会受到业界的广泛关注，场上名人收藏拍品受到买家追捧，多件拍品过千万高价成交，说明古典家具市场仍然具有相当的吸纳能力，市场会在不断调整的过程中稳健理性发展。” 本专场第2869号拍品“明末清初 黄花梨独板大翘头案”长达三米二，极为少见，是传世明式黄花梨家具宽长大案仅存数例之一，极具收藏价值。其造型宏伟典雅，两端翘头向上扬，带起沉重的案面，使之雄伟而不失灵动。为明式家具中，奢华地使用黄花梨大料的范例。该拍品起价为2000万，随后竞价不断攀升，最终以3220万夺魁。 此外“清早期 紫檀三屏风攒接围子罗汉床”，与上海博物馆王世襄先生旧藏的一张紫檀罗汉床非常类似。此罗汉床以名贵紫檀木制，尺寸硕大，用料厚重，制作繁复。床面较一般罗汉床宽大，乘坐舒适。三面床围子，攒接曲尺式棂格，空灵秀丽，观赏性极高。牙板与床腿圆角相接，大料整挖的内翻马蹄足，兜转有力，弧度夸张，线条流畅，给人以敦实牢固之感。此床造型上未有过多修饰，承袭明式家俱的隽秀之风，体现出其独特之处，可谓承上启下，具有极高的收藏与研究价值。最终以2070万元人民币易主。
The booming Chinese economy has launched a global treasure hunt by Chinese antique collectors eager to reclaim cultural assets lost over the centuries and the search is leading many searching for the best preserved artifacts and most lucrative deals to Japan.
At a time when cash-strapped Japanese collectors are cutting down on big antique buys, Chinese groups are snatching up long-lost treasures, once presented as gifts to Japanese nobles. Meanwhile, Japanese tour guides are cashing in on the booming trade by organizing antique auction tours for Chinese eager to buy.
On a recent Monday night, the Antique Mall in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza district looked like the site of a scavenger hunt hours before a Chinese auction was set to begin. Dozens of collectors filed into the smoke-filled room armed with magnifying glasses in one hand, a flash light in the other. Each trolled through display cases, carefully examining vases, statues, and scrolls before taking a seat in anticipation of bidding.
"Our expanding economy has helped drive the antique market," said Chang, an antique dealer from Shanghai who refused to give his full name, saying full disclosure would affect the prices his antiques sold for. "Artwork is really starting to become lucrative in China again."
Japan has proven to be an attractive market for artwork collectors, in part because of its proximity to China, and the sheer number of antiques available here. Many of the relics lost through centuries of war, natural disasters, and the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-76) ended up in the hands of the Japanese. Miyuki Nakamura, the head of Antique Mall Ginza, says wealthy Chinese brought over some valuable artifacts from the Qing and Ming dynasty as thank you gifts, especially during the Meiji-era.
"The Chinese who came to Japan during the Meiji-era were quite wealthy and brought expensive gifts," Nakamura said. "Also, there were a lot of counterfeit goods that popped up in the years that followed. So there's a sense among the Chinese that antiques found in Japan are authentic."
Nakamura also says artwork she sells is much more "accessible." Her most expensive antique find is a ceramic cosmetics box from the Five Dynasties Period, valued at around $300,000. Compare that with a Qing dynasty vase that sold for $68 million at a London auction last year.
Antique collecting has become a lucrative business in China, expanding along with the country's growing economy. Ceramics from the Qing and Ming dynasty, along with Tang dynasty statues are among the most valued finds, according to Nakamura. National pride is a driving force behind this booming business to buy back China's prized cultural heritage. The growing interest in antiques has given rise to specialist dealers, shops, even private museums.
But that demand for artwork has also paved the way for counterfeiters, looking to cash in a national obsession.
"So much of the artwork back home was destroyed during the cultural revolution, so there's a limited supply," Chang said. "A lot of what's left is in poor shape. The Japanese have preserved the antiques nicely. Plus, it's cheaper here."
For the Japanese, the antique boom in China is a bittersweet reminder of better times. Throngs of Japanese traveled abroad to buy back Japanese artwork at the height of their economic bubble. The domestic market has declined since, with buyers cutting back as the country's economy sags.
Chinese Antique Hunters Prowling Japan
The increase in Chinese tourists is a welcome change for Nakamura, and good for business. While Chinese buyers account for less than 10 percent of her customers, she says they account for most of the sales.
"The fact that the Chinese have taken an interest, that national pride is driving this push to bring the antiques home, I think is a very good thing," she said.Antique Dealers
Jade is a stone ingrained in Chinese art, culture and history, stretching 9,000 years back into the ancient and enormous Chinese empire. Jade has always been a special stone, used not just for fine objects but also as material for grave goods for the imperial family. It is believed to be a link between both the physical and the spiritual worlds, and is the only material that completely encapsulates both the yin and yang qualities of Heaven and Earth, earning it the moniker The Stone of Heaven.
History of Jade
Jade mines in China have long been depleted, but the association and love for this stone endures with the Chinese. Jade is also found in Burma, Central America, Brazil, Canada and India. Although prized by other civilisations as well as the Chinese, no other culture can rival China for the richness and intricacy of the jade rings, bracelets, beads and pendants found there.
The Chinese have been working jade since the Neolithic period, to the present. Discs and tubes made of jade found in Neolithic Chinese graves are the earliest indication of this stone's association with the otherworldly. By 200 B.C., when the Book of Songs was written during the Zhou dynasty, the stone was established as an aid to immortality. It would continue to be used in burial rituals well into the Han Dynasty.
During the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. to 1050 B.C), jade was used for personal adornment by kings, as well as for utilitarian and ceremonial objects. Jade knives, daggers and objects imbued with royal meanings like sceptres and jade burial suits have been found in tombs most likely used for ritual or military ceremonies. A record from a 200 A.D Chinese dictionary defines jade as the fairest of stones, endowed with five virtues charity, rectitude, wisdom, courage and equity. Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty however, funerary practises changed and by the time the modern Ming and Qing dynasties rolled around in the 16th century, the stone had become more referential and was primarily used as material for objets d'art of the imperial court.
The Qualities of Jade
This milky green stone is seen as a metaphor for human virtues because of its hardness, durability and beauty. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, famously said the good virtue of man is like jade. It represents dignity, blessing, fortune and longevity. White jade is the most highly valued, but the stone comes in a variety of translucent shades of green, brown and black. In China
the term jade is actually used to encompass several different minerals which include serpentine and aventurine which are not true types of jade. There are only two distinct stones that are true jades nephrite and jadeite. Both these tones share many qualities, but jadeite has a greater range of colours. The hardness and brittleness of jade requires great skill to craft, but great intricacy can be accomplished with this stone.
Coupled with its high lustre and translucency, jade is a gemstone that is much sought after. A Chinese proverb attributes greater attachment to jade than to gold, as gold has value, but jade is invaluable.
Jade and Superstition
This imperial gem of both Heaven and Earth has always been empowered with magical properties, at least in the minds of the Chinese. Taoist alchemist believed it to be the Philosopher's Stone, and drank elixirs of powdered jade. Jade was also considered a guardian against illness and evil spirits, which is why even babies in China are given a tiny jade bangle to wear to ward off bad luck. In the Han dynasty, emperors were buried in jade gowns and jade cicadas were placed on dead kings' tongues to prevent decomposition and safeguard chi or energy.
Culturally, jade stands for beauty, grace and purity. It is often referred to as a live stone due to its propensity to change colour. Many Chinese believe that if the stone likes the wearer, it will grow a deeper, darker shade of green. Many pieces of jade jewellery do change colour over time, and believers who wear it for protection and good luck attribute this to the absorption of bad chi that would otherwise have affected the wearer. Jade is also supposed to improve blood circulation and calm the mind.
Traditionally, many Chinese family heirlooms have at least one piece of jade in their trove, often a jade bangle passed down from mother to daughter. Jade is still worn as a deterrent of bad luck but it is also finding its place as a relevant gem in the fashion and jewellery industries. Popular in Hong Kong as well as China, modern designs of jade combine both cutting edge design and cultural reference to an ancient heritage.