Xiezhu seal mark, Jingdezhen, 18001840 6.29cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1261
The Master of Wind Instruments
Iron-red, gold, and pale emerald-green enamel on darker green pigment, on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and concave foot surrounded by a convex footrim; painted on each main side with an inscription in iron-red regular script, each followed by two seals, Ya and wan (together, 'For elegant enjoyment'), the panels surrounded by a formalized design of bats and clouds, all painted in darker green pigment beneath a crackled, transparent green enamel; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script Xiezhu zhi ('Made by [order of the Master of] Wind Music'); the lip painted with gold enamel; the interior glazed Jingdezhen, 18001840 Height: 6.29 cm Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.49 cm Stopper: carnelian; vinyl collar
Condition: miniscule chip beneath the gold enamel on the outer lip, presumably from time of manufacture; some wear to gold on lip and footrim and around the panels, none of it obtrusive; five small enamel flakes in a cluster on one narrow side, the largest 0.3 cm across; the panels remarkably unworn
Provenance: John Ault (2002) Robert Kleiner (2002)
Commentary: Xiezhu (literally: 'Xie bamboo') derives from the legend that the Yellow Emperor ordered his minister, Ling Lun, to make musical instruments with bamboo from the Xie Valley, and gradually the term 'xie bamboo' came to refer to wind instruments such as the flute and the pipe (see Wilson 1998). There is a well-known group of porcelain wares other than snuff bottles that bear this name, usually in the form Xiezhu zhuren zao ('Made by [order of] the Master of Wind Music'), but a rarer variant omits the zhuren ('Master') and reads simply Xiezhu zao. This, as far as we know, is the only known example with both the shorter form and the character zhi in place of zao (both meaning 'made').
In the Taoya ('Pottery Refinements') of 1906, by Chen Liu (18631929; sobriquet Jiyuan sou, 'Old man of the Garden of Silence'), this mark is given as appearing on wares made 'during the Jiaqing and Daoguang'. This must be the source of all subsequent statements that this is a Daoguang mark or, in once case, that it is a hall name from before the Daoguang emperor's accession to the throne, but no one we have seen gives a reason for these conclusions.
This bottle is the finest piece we have encountered bearing the name. Not only is the bottle of perfect formal integrity and of an elegantly compressed ovoid form, but the inscription is extraordinarily well written in beautifully controlled regular script. The surrounding design is also unique, as far as we know. It is in drawn in some pigment that appears darker green beneath the transparent green enamel; perhaps it is underglaze cobalt-blue turned green by the enamel above it. Because the colouring agent has diffused into the covering enamel, the design is a little unclear, making it hard to distinguish bats from clouds in some cases, but there are certainly two bats where standard mask handles would otherwise be set on the narrow sides, and two more near the foot. Bats (fu) and clouds (yun) constitute a visual pun for the term fuyun, which conveys the hope for good fortune. Although we have been unable to trace their source, the inscriptions read, on one main side
Xizi, have your forgotten that all things are emptiness? Have you forgotten the many sufferings of the Five Defilements? Have you forgotten that life is no longer than the instant between breathing in and breathing out? Have you forgotten that your store of essential virtues for the Pure Land is incomplete? Response: No, I do not venture to forget.
Xizi, can you guarantee that your heart will not turn topsy-turvy at your final moments? Can you guarantee that [your soul] will not be assigned to enter one of the three evil paths? Can you guarantee that if you are reborn as a human being you will not create evil karma? Can you guarantee that if you are reborn as a human being you will follow the Buddha's Law? Response: Alas, I do not venture to guarantee these things.
And on the other side
If she is not reborn in the Pure Land, in what land will she be born? If she does not go towards it in this life, in what life can she go towards it? If she can neither forget nor guarantee, and yet she still commits herself earnestly to it, is that acceptable? Following Fucha's example of being reminded [of his revengeful mission whenever] he left and returned [home], I wrote this down for self-admonition.
Xizi was another name for Xishi, a beauty of the state of Yue who lived during the last years of the Spring and Autumn period. After her country was defeated by the state of Wu, the deposed king of Yue, Gouqian (r. BCE 497465), tried every means of regaining his sovereignty. He appointed able men and adopted new administrative policies. In addition, he offered Xishi to the king of Wu, Fucha (r. 495473), to lure him away from attending to state affairs. Xishi became Fucha's favourite concubine and achieved the mission entrusted to her. The state of Wu was eventually vanquished by the state of Yue. After the demise of the state of Wu, Fucha committed suicide, while Xishi is reputed to have escaped with a Yue minister, Fan Li, to lead a happily ever after away from court.