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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1058 

Lot 1058
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Lot 1058
Treasury 7, no. 1622 (‘Destiny and Stolen Longevity’)

White copper; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; engraved on one main side with Dongfang Shuo, a leafy branch with two peaches growing on it held over his left shoulder as he hurries along on formalized clouds, inscribed in regular script Dongfang Shuo toutao 東方朔偷桃 (Dongfang Shuo stealing peaches), and on the other with an illustration from Tiegong yuan 鐵弓緣 (Karmic affinity of the iron bow) showing Chen Xiuying 陳秀英 and Guan Fengying 關鳳英 on a grassy bank with bamboo beyond, each holding a spear, with the title of the workinscribed in regular script (erroneously) as Tiegong lü 鐵弓綠 (Iron bow green)
Height: 6.46 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75/1.14 cm
Stopper: coral; silver collar engraved with radiating lines

Robert Hall (1984)

Treasury 7, no. 1622

Without a date or signature, it is difficult to date this bottle precisely, but it is likely to have been made during the second half of the Qing dynasty, after snuffing had spread throughout the empire during the mid- Qing. It might have been made anywhere in China.

Like so many metal snuff bottles, it is constructed in segments. The two main-side panels are soldered to the oval frame of the body. Two further segments are added as the neck and foot, the former obviously made from a flat strip of metal bent around upon itself, the foot apparently a single piece.

The subject on one side is taken from a popular story that became a Beijing opera. Chen Xiuying, daughter of the late commandant of Taiyuan, runs a teahouse with her mother. Before her father passed away, he had decreed that the first man who could draw the iron bow, a family heirloom, would be the husband for Xiuiying. Shi Wen 石文, son of the regional commander, flirts with Xiuying but is thrashed by her mother. A soldier under the regional commander’s command named Kuang Zhong 匡忠 comes to smooth things over and impresses Xiuying’s mother with his upright character. He is able to draw the iron bow, so she promises Xiuying to him. Enraged, Shi Wen has some brigands seize provisions that Kuang Zhong has been assigned to protect, leading his father to demote Kuang to a distant frontier post. Shi Wen then presses Xiuying so mercilessly that she is forced to kill him.

Xiuying dresses herself up as Kuang Zhong’s friend Wang Fugang 王富剛 and escapes. She meets Guan Fengying, the female commander of an outlaw mountain fortress. The two women and the troops under Guan’s command lay siege to Taiyuan and kill Shi Wen’s father. Xiuying has revealed neither her gender nor her identity, so when the governor-general orders the real Wang Fugang to respond, he and the woman who has adopted his identify face off in battle. They are evenly matched, fighting to a stalemate. The governor-general thereupon calls Kuang Zhong back to join the fight. He and Xiuqying don’t recognize each other on the battlefield until she pulls out the iron bow. That, of course, puts an end to the siege. Wang Fugang and Guan Fengying also pair off and everyone lives happily ever after.

Different theatrical traditions perform different versions of this plot; in some versions, Guan Fengying is betrothed to Wang Fufang and thinks Chen Xiuying is he when the two women first meet—but it is enough for our purposes to recognize the figures flourishing their spears on this bottle as Chen Xiuying and Guan Fengying preparing to attack Taiyuan.

The other side illustrates the story of Dongfang Shuo, a light-fingered mythologized hero who stole the peaches of longevity from the garden of Xiwangmu 西王母, Queen Mother of the West. The fact that he is set on clouds confirms his deification in the mind of the Qing artist who decorated this bottle, and the title clearly identifies him and his crime. Clearly, what we are looking at here is the equivalent of a Qing security camera catching the villain in the act. He was, however, a slippery character and knew how to deal with criminal charges. When he stole an imperial elixir of immortality and was arrested and brought up before the Han emperor, he talked his way out of a death sentence with the clever explanation that if the elixir worked, it would be impossible to kill him, and if it did not, then he had not taken anything of any value.


This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1875&exhibition=13&ee_lang=eng


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