The Art of Chinese Porcelain of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Author: Yulin Wang (with Albert Y. Wong)
Publisher: Nanjing Normal University Press, 2013.
Size: 7.25” x 9.7” – 199 pages.
Cost: 148.00 元 ($30.00 USD)
One of the great pleasures of being an ethnomusicologist is the associated travel: fieldwork, conferences, performances, lectures and so on. And while travelling, one can seek out and enjoy particular cultural experiences exclusive to the country being visited. One such experience of mine was learning of and seeking out a particular set of yuhuchun vases in Beijing, China, vases said to be held in the Imperial collection somewhere within the Forbidden City. Though I had no idea if the vases were held in storage or in display, I ventured into the sprawling complex and began methodically working my way through every street, corridor, and courtyard, searching for any sign of Imperial art or public access to it. Finally, after about an hour of wandering I happened to stroll into the Chu Xiu Gong, the inner ‘Palace of Gathering Excellence’ (儲秀宮), former home of Empress Dowager Ci Xi, who had used her amassed fortune to collect numerous antiques and jewels, held within her residence. I strolled up to the Palace and peered through the front window, expecting to see mostly furniture and a few paintings, and found myself staring directly at the vases a mere couple of feet away from me through the glass!
The feeling of elation, the thrilling discovery of the unexpected, was immediate and joyful. I let out a small gasp and exclaimed aloud that I had found them. A few Chinese tourists within earshot asked me why I was so excited and I told them of my little quest. They immediately took interest in the vases and we all walked away that day elated and existentially richer for having discovered an artistic wonder that brought us joyfully together. Great works uplift and themselves “collect” enthusiasts from all over the world. Such is the joy of discovering Yulin Ming’s book The Art of Chinese Porcelains of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
In 1994, as a professional artist and then amateur porcelain collector, Wang set out on a course of focused research into Chinese kiln ware after discovering some Republic stamps and Qing porcelain in Dallas which eventually led him to an antique shop in Tacoma, Washington in 2008 where he found the items featured in the book. By Wang’s own admission, he feels that he was meant to have discovered and documented the pieces he has collected as if “guided by an invisible hand.” However Wang happens to see his role in disseminating his findings, it truly is a blessing of almost supernatural will that we all get to share in his joy, as his collection could have been bought and remained un-investigated by a lesser collector, leaving us all forever ignorant of these beautiful pieces.
Wang’s discussion of a particular Wanli blue and white square vase (Ming Dynasty 1573-1619, pg. 41), for example, is concise and enlightening, revealing the piece to have been influenced by bronze vessel design and is decidedly raw, with an unevenly trimmed foot. This insight is greatly appreciated, as less professional collectors usually succumb to belles-lettrism; fascinated musings pregnant with florid language, i.e. greatly lacking in insight and relevance.
Wang’s writing, however, is to the point and perfect for both expert and beginner (such as myself). Also, Wang’s multi-angle portraits of the works in question provide a unique opportunity to see the work thoroughly, and truly get to know the work as a whole, rather than the usual single angle photographs in other publications such as art gallery catalogues, and academic works on art.
It is very exciting to see that while books of this kind get published often, few are designed as efficiently, and written as beautifully as Wang’s, and I applaud the Nanjing Normal University Press for publishing a truly refreshing, excellent book in both Mandarin and English, thus providing both Chinese and Western scholars the chance to learn of this unique collection and share it with their students and friends. It is a truly excellent work, and should be required reading in any and all college or university art classes.
© 2013 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com