A TWELVE-PANEL BLACK LACQUER COROMANDEL 'MANSION OF PREFECT FENYANG' SCREEN QING DYNASTY, KANGXI PERIOD INSCRIBED WITH A CYCLICAL DATE, RENXU, CORRESPONDING TO 1682
- each panel: 106 x 18 3/4 in., 269.2 x 47.6 cm
Private Florida Collection.
The Chinese Porcelain Company, New York (2002).
The subject of the present work belongs to a rich tradition of Kangxi period coromandel screens. The dignitary depicted, Guo Ziyi (697-781) quelled an uprising in his youth and in his later years was considered a symbol of a good civil servant.
This screen is related to the twelve-panel screen attributed to the 18th century, formerly in The C. Ruxton and Audrey B. Love Collection, sold at Christie's New York, 20th October 2004, lot 357. Although the Love screen is a larger example, the two were clearly from the same workshop, as demonstrated in the rendering of the apron and feet construction, the scrolling lotus and qilong borders, the Buddhist lion statues, the lingering scrolling clouds, and the graphically linear architectural perspective of the palace quarters. See also a screen, possibly from the same workshop and with a lengthy inscription on the reverse with a date corresponding to 1680, sold in these rooms, 13th October 1984, lot 408.
The inscription on the back of the screen can be translated as:
A preface composed respectfully to congratulate the great military leader and the senior officer of national security Commander Rong on the occasion of his birthday.
The year is in Renxu, according to the cyclical calendar. In the first lunar month, we are overjoyed with anticipation of the celebration of the Commander's birthday. His fellow officials and magistrates, members of the gentry, other army staff members from various divisions, as well as local town folks of the three counties have all traveled from far and near to attend the event. Everyone raises their toast to wish His Excellency Rong a happy birthday. All cheer for the occasion, dancing jovially and commending his remarkable virtues and lustrous life achievements.
It is said that for the civil servants and army personnel serving in the government, the biggest challenge is for them to work harmoniously together as a team with one sole sense of mission. This bond, if it is ever possible, would mirror the friendship formed between General Lian Po and his peer at the court Lin Xiangru, the noted politician in the Zhao state during the Warring States period; this spirit of cooperation is what the people always yearn to encounter. His Excellency has a kind and easy-going nature, is loyal to the friends, and is always respectful and accommodating with his colleagues and associates. His every innate capacity has greatly benefited his administrative work in the region. He also never refrains from helping others and is ever generous with his aid. During his ministry, people no longer bother to lock their doors at night and they can afford to enjoy their living, which is truly His Excellency's contribution. He no doubt deserves a life with longevity.
It has been said since ancient times that the renowned military leaders who treat their soldiers well are usually haughty towards and have difficulty getting along with the literati-officials, while others who admire the gentry class tend to neglect their sergeants.[i] Contrary to this, His Excellency carries himself in a modest and pleasant manner. When receiving the magistrates and local squires, he sets up an elegant feast, entertaining them with elegant singing and music; when it comes to managing his own military officers and the aides, he often dresses himself in casual and graceful raiment. Such a demeanor is indeed dignified and honorable, awe-inspiring yet never harsh. Such is another sign of his being destined to enjoy a fulfilling and harmonious life. He no doubt deserves a life with longevity.
It is said that oftentimes the government administrator either falls short of sharing hardship with his army peers and the people he protects or fails to attend to the conditions of want his people suffer due to corruption and exploitation. It is even more challenging for the one in charge to maintain the harmonious relationship between the army garrisons and the people they're meant to defend in one's jurisdictional district. Yet, His Excellency applies both leniency and strictness in his administration. He not only cares for his army so that they can safeguard the common people's needs but at the same time also give favors to the people, thereby allowing the troops to be relieved of their duty at times. He sees this as a necessary deed and tactic, executing these policies out of his kindness and deep care for others. He no doubt deserves a life with longevity.
Although His Excellency is to lead a life with longevity in his own right, there are other accomplishments beside the aforementioned remarks I've made here.
Looking back to his life, His Excellency was born in the year when our founding father (Nurhaci, r. 1616-1626) had just taken over the kingdom for five years. It was a time of prosperity, flourishing with great hope and aspiration, which is why he could so thrive and in so doing advance in his career. He became a man who stood out among others, with uniquely strong and graceful qualities resembling the lofty Mount Song. Later on, the great Zhangdi Shizu (Shunzhi, r. 1643-1661) established the imperial capital city in Beijing when the task to unite the whole country was complete. His Excellency took on critical posts[iiin these times in which the talented qualified to aid the emperor to manage the kingdom were great in number, and the distinctive court grandees remained active and engaging. Every cabinet member at the court, young and old, was assigned various offices of civil and military services. His Excellency's arduously diligent work caught the then emperor's attention, and later he received a special imperial decree to administer the three counties. The intention was to take advantage of his abilities and virtues to assist with the suppression of the still ongoing upheavals in the area. Such a mandate to defend the state and its territories could only have been done and done well by His Excellency.
Before His Excellency's arrival at the post, the army was mostly dispersed and sparse in its formation. Once he set to work, the alarmed troops rush to their posts, and in no time order was restored. The sight could rival the historical incident immortalized by the general Li Guangbi in the Early Tang dynasty. At the time before His Excellency's arrival at his post, the local ethnic tribes had to stay alert in order to protect themselves. Once he set to work, gangs of malicious overlords and villains all became subdued. What ensued recalls the people in Chinese Central Asia who all abided by the mighty general Li Guangli's disciplines and rules. [iii] During his tenure, His Excellency would hold routine tests as well as major reviews of the troops and repeat these training exercises in many conditions. This work ethics made clear to his garrison troops his goals as well as personal principles; his great leadership stood out and topped that of his military counterparts. Moreover, The Excellency had the troops engage in hunting and drills, never relaxing in these tasks, a vigorous discipline in managing his soldiers and also an effective method to maintain the readiness and capability of his army.
As for his way of honoring the literati-official tradition, every first and the fifteenth days of the lunar month he would make certain to pay a visit to the Confucius Temple. He closely observed his behavior to protect his personal integrity, never allowed it to be tarnished by mundane affairs. Furthermore, he set up a rite praying for rain at Shimen, and a spring suddenly welled up at the site; he also caught the [beast, possibly/Chinese character undecipherable] in the Conch River to rid the town of the harm running rampant there once and for all. So many other virtuous deeds like these have been done, yet cannot be completely reported.
It is commonly understood that he who possesses great virtues receives great longevity. The reason is quite self-explanatory. His Excellency's longevity is not just due to what he has accomplished that is being celebrated by his fellow officials and magistrates, members of the gentry, and other army staff members who have gathered from the three towns. It also results from his whole life, which has had the tremendous foundation established earlier on, the time period when the most capable men all met up at such a momentous juncture. The outstanding officials in our lifetime are also witnessing a reign of a ruler who is brilliant and righteous. It is truly high time to build upon these monumental accomplishments in this era of unprecedented prosperity. In this sense, the longevity His Excellency has enjoyed during his administration of the three townships is the same as if he ruled over the whole state.
Today, I dare to be among the fellow staff members who have come together to wish him well and pray for the continuation of his joyful life. Having had the honor to gain His Excellency's affection, I therefore have gotten to know him well over time. With my unrefined intellect and without further declination, I hereby take a bow and present my writing. Alas, allow me to raise a toast.
At the time of the 21st year of the Kangxi reign (1682), Renxu year of the lunar calendar, on the auspicious first day of the first month of spring.
I humbly bowed and composed [this piece], [your] young associate and relative in Heyang county and the County Magistrate Wenlinlang Zhao Jinmei. [With over 400 names of the fellow officials and magistrates, members of the gentry, other army staff members from various divisions, and local town folks of the three counties.]
[i] In this sentence, 嚴一笠者and 飭二卯者cannot be clearly defined due to lack of reference materials, therefore are omitted from the translation.
[ii] Both三韓喬木and龍南指姬are not decipherable even though they are indicative of geographical locations in the country.
[iii] Li Guangli was given the official title "General Ershi" by then emperor Han Wudi during the two military campaigns to the Central Asia region.