Wei jun nan

Good things always come wrapped in silk brocade.

In this case, it is a chop -- and its vermilion ink pad:

The chop is made from veined resin in a kind of dark ceremonial red. On the side is inscribed a suitable classical quotation:

And on top, a crouching dragon:

And here is the impression in a kind of seal script:

It says... taoyen gongzuo -- "bung work".

The chop carver took a double-take when I presented to her my order. "You want it to say what?" she asked, her eyes as big as frying pans. "How can one possibly want to make such a seal!?" Chops are either utilitarian -- they serve his in place of our signatures -- for signing bank and legal documents -- or else suitably morally edifying or propitious, or both.

So, I told her about this seal:

It belonged to Yongzheng, Kangxi's son and successor, father of Qianlong; one of China's best and most effective administrators and one of the most interesting, complex characters ever to sit on her throne. He had been a low ranking son and, never expected to succeed to the crown, he'd been left to enjoy life of cultured and cultivated leisure until, suddenly, an unforeseeable sequence of events elevated him to the throne in middle age. Once crowned, he dedicated himself wholly to the duties of his office out of the Confucian sense of moral duty -- to his ancestors and his subjects -- but without any sense of pleasure. I guess it was with a sense of longing that he continued to sponsor, throughout his reign, paintings which portrayed him in his former life: enjoying hunting, literary gatherings, palace games with his concubines, his large collection of art. He used this seal for his private purposes: to seal private letters and as an ex-libris mark on his favorite art objects. It reads: wei jun nan: "it is hard to be emperor".


Post a Comment