When folded back the hinges form the character wang (king).
When opened out it serves as a ruler.
The base may be used to compare lengths and the precisely fitting workmanship is exquisite.
How could Yang Huo have been able to be so oppressive [had he been thus guided]?
Pei Yuan would not have lived up to this measure.
To measure one’s materials is to institute the Golden Rule,
To select the superior is no mean thing.
Qianlong Imperially Inscribed.
An erudite scholar and avid collector, the Qianlong Emperor passionately advocated the advancement of civilization through the study of history and antiquities, a concept eagerly manifested in the works of art that he commissioned. According to imperial records, the Emperor proposed to ‘restore ancient ways’, and urged craftsmen in the imperial workshops to follow the styles and specifications recorded in ancient catalogues. The inspiration for this piece probably derives from the line drawing of a Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) bronze fitting recorded in the Xiqing gujian [Catalogue of Xiqing antiquities], which was compiled in the mid-18th century (see Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades, London, 2004, pp. 106-107, pl. 105).
While the original function of the metal prototype was unknown to the Qianlong Emperor, and the piece recorded in the Xiqing gujian is merely described as a ‘Han dynasty ornament’, in the poem the Emperor infers that he believed it to be a ‘measuring square’, like those mentioned in the Daxue [The Great Learning] chapter of the Li ji [Book of Rites]. One of the five classics in Confucian literature, originally composed between the late Warring States period (475-221 BC) and the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220), the Liji advocates that ‘when the sovereign behaves to his aged, as the aged should be behaved to, the people become filial; when the sovereign behaves to his elders, as the elders should be behaved to, the people learn brotherly submission; when the sovereign treats compassionately the young and helpless, the people do the same. Thus the ruler has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct’. This piece was thus conceived as a measuring instrument that could also provide moral guidance to a benevolent ruler by virtue of its material and association to China’s past. The inscribed poem, composed by the Qianlong Emperor, laments the misdemeanors of previous rulers, including Yang Huo, a rebellious nobleman of the State of Lu in the late 6th century BC, who was notorious for murder, manipulation and thievery.
Jade ornaments of this type, with its movable parts, are exceedingly complicated to design and carve, and accordingly extremely rare, although another very similar example, carved from spinach-green jade, also from the collection of Florence and Herbert Irving and later in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is offered in this sale, lot 86. Another object of this form and carved from white jade, also with a Qianlong fanggu (‘in imitation of antiquity’) mark, in the Tianjin Museum, is included in Bai Wenyuan ed., Tianjin Bowuguan cangyu [Jade collection of the Tianjin Museum], Beijing, 2012, pl. 177; another lacking the poem, in the Palace Museum, Beijing is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 54; a third was sold at Bonhams London, 15th May 2014, lot 182; and a spinach-green example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is illustrated in Ming Wilson, op. cit., pl. 104.
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