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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 11 

Lot 11

Lot 11
(‘Wanya Xuan Quartz Pebble’)

Translucent variegated beige and whitish quartz with areas of chalcedony and of crystalline quartz, and silver; with a wide mouth and concave lip; of irregular, pebble form set with a silver neck and shoulder mantel in the form of a calyx suggesting the shape was interpreted as a fruit of some kind; the surface engraved on one main side in draft script with a fourteen-character poetic inscription followed by two seals in seal script, Qingxiang 清香 (‘Pure Fragrance’), and Runshi 閏[潤]石 (‘Glossy Stone’), both read from left to right, and on the other main side with the seal Wanya xuan 玩雅軒 (‘Studio of Refined Amusement’), the engraving filled with red pigment.
Height: 8.5 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.82/1.15 cm
Stopper: turquoise matrix; silver collar; possibly original

Gerry P. Mack Collection
Gary Mack
Robert Kleiner, August 2000

The Wanya xuan (‘Studio of Refined Amusement’) may have been a princely studio of the first half of the eighteenth century. It only appears otherwise on a fairly broad series of mostly plain glass snuff bottles (see Treasury 5, 編號 751-753, where others are cited).

The couplet on the bottle is both obscure and famous.

The stream flows out near the stones, cold;
The breeze blows hither amid the blossoms, fragrant.

The couplet is obscure because its authorship is unknown. It may be an independent couplet, not part of a poem; in the Yinjing xi 蟫精雋by the fifteenth-century scholar Xu Boling 徐伯齡, it is mentioned as coming from an ‘ancient poem’ (gushi 古詩), but Xu presents it as an example of lines that are extraordinary even though the poem from which they putatively come does not exist. (In Xu’s version, li 裏, ‘amid’, is di 底, ‘beneath’, but we assign no significance to the variant.) Indeed, any poems we have found in which these two lines are incorporated are twentieth-century compositions; no pre-modern source treats them as anything more than a freestanding couplet.

Some sources ascribe the couplet to Su Xun 蘇詢 (1006 – 1066; the father of Su Shi), but the anecdote in which it figures is probably apocryphal. More credible is the Nan Han shu 南漢書, a history of a tenth-century kingdom centred on modern Guangzhou, by Liang Tingnan 梁廷柟 (1796 – 1861), which states that this couplet was inscribed on a stone table in the study of Hu Binwang 胡賓王 (jinshi of 999 or 1000); presumably, Liang had some kind of documentary source for this detail.

The couplet was also inscribed in the hand of the Qianlong emperor on the Yunqi Temple 雲棲寺 on Five-Cloud Mountain southwest of Hangzhou’s West Lake. This fact may account for its coming to the attention of the carver or designer of this bottle.

The first line of the couplet is famous because it is used in a riddle in Dream of the Red Chamber: the clue is ‘the name of an ancient’, and the prompt is ‘The stream flows out near the stones, cold’. The answer to the riddle is Shan Tao 山濤, a third-century figure; the characters that spell out his name mean ‘mountain breakers’. However, the second line is not mentioned in the novel, so the carver of this bottle took his inscription from some other source.


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


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