Thursday, December 30, 2010
Chen Clan Academy 陈家祠– Guangzhou, China
Not only functioning as a business and industrial center, Guangzhou also plays an important role in the development and preservation of Lingnan culture and folk handicrafts. One of the cultural sites in Guangzhou you must visit is Chen Clan Academy. My friends and I visited this ancient building because we wanted to find another recreation place besides shopping in Beijing Lu.
Chen Clan Academy or Chen Jia Ci in Chinese is renowned for its typically beautiful Lingnan (Southern China) architecture and is located in Zhongshan Qi Lu that is accessible by taxi, bus or MRT. If you take MRT, stop at Chen Clan Academy (Chen Jia Ci) station and take C exit.
Covering the area of 2.3 hectares, Chen Clan Academy is named after Chen family since it was built on donation by Chen descendants from 72 counties in Guangdong province during the Emperor Guangxu's reigning period of the Qing Dynasty (1894). Some important Chen offspring who supported the construction were Chen Xianglin, Chen Ruinan and Chen Yaonan, who at that time just returned from abroad. The original idea of the construction came from the pride of the Chen family when one of their family members successfully obtained the third rank in the highest imperial examination in the late of the Qing dynasty and acquired a distinguished title. For this reason, the Chen family decided to build an ancestral hall to encourage their children to study hard like their predecessors. In the ancient time, students who passed the imperial exam with a Jin Shi title would be bestowed a flag in front of their ancestral house by the emperor. In front of the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, there used to be three flagpoles possibly symbolizing three Chen family members had satisfying academic achievements in three imperial examinations.
This ancestral house used to be the temporary residence for Chen family members who came to Guangdong to study and prepare for imperial examination in Beijing, for which the place retained its current name. However, since 1905, the exams were abolished and the academy was turned into a conventional school for girls and boys of the Chen family, which then became a public school like Guangdong Public School and Juxian Middle School. It was also used for ancestral worship where the Chen family paid tribute to their ancestors. The ancient academy has been managed to escape from a dozen disasters including the bomb attack during the anti-Japanese war. The bomb dropped in the shrine failed to explode. When the government made the building as a garrison, some reckless soldiers almost damaged the relief, decorations and even the building. Some of them even ruthlessly cut off the head of a carved figure and sold it. Due to its poor condition, the building was used to house the collection of folk handicrafts which later became a state-protected historical monument and a national museum preserving Lingnan culture, completed in 1999.
Chen Clan Academy that has symmetrical complex consisting of six courtyards, nine main halls, and nineteen buildings is claimed to be the largest, best preserved and most beautifully decorated traditional building in Guangdong province, thus hailed to be the culture preservation resort of Guangzhou municipality.
The building consists of three major sections, the port entrance, the basin square and the small tourist park. The perfect combination of ancient and modern architecture produces unique design of the building reflected in the relief wall, the modern-tasted flower bell, piled-stone and strip flower terraces. In the past, the site was surrounded by low-stoned buildings with serious environmental problems. Fortunately, the government initiated the reconstruction of the building that did not only improve the environment but also benefited the local community.
At the entrance port, there are several bronze human statues depicting a story of the old Guangzhou. You could take as many photographs as you like. The whole story tells the first emperor of the Han dynasty, Liu Bang, assigned Lu Jia, a court official to the south to persuade Zhao Tuo, the King of the Nanyue Kingdom to return to the Han court. Negotiations and discussions soon took place ending joyously with the Nanyue king's agreement to reunite with the Han kingdom.
A couple of stone lion statues stands sentinel ushering visitors at the entrance gate. According to local belief, the statues protect the whole building from bad fortune and are considered sacred.
Not only well known as a place for study, Chen Clan Academy is also renowned for its beautiful artistic decorations. Comprehensively featuring the decorative arts of Lingnan folk architecture, the academy has various decorations encompassing wood carving, brick carving, stone carving, ivory sculpture, lime sculpture, ceramic sculpture, iron casting and colored drawing, etc. that have various models and lively colors.
The roofs of the building have unique characteristics for they are vividly carved out of wood, stone and brick, beautifully lavished with mural, and connectedly display different folk stories and scenery.
After enjoying the architecture from the outside and taking pictures at the courtyard, curiously I stepped into the building and found out that it was just actually a museum exhibiting various wonderful folk handicrafts ranging from sculpture, stitch work, painting, paper cuts and many others. Inside the museum are numerous handicrafts on display that I could not document them all. Observing the artworks at a glimpse made me wonder how the Chinese people could produce such grandeur masterpieces by only using simple and unsophisticated tools. There are also special rooms where people sat and watched a documentary video narrating the history of Lingnan folk handicrafts. For those who are not into architecture and historical arts, this site might be a boring place, but for those whose keen interest is in studying handicrafts, it is a paradise of ancient treasures through which you could expand your knowledge.
Established in 1959, Guangdong Folk Arts Museum is securely located inside the Chen Clan Academy, preserved by the government for the sake of the preservation of Lingnan folk architecture and traditional decorations. This museum mainly concerns in the collection, study and exhibition of folk handicrafts from Guangdong and other areas in China. The museum has a collection over ten thousand pieces of cultural relics with more than 100 types, including ceramics, pottery, paper-cuts, sculptures, lacquer ware, carving, embroidery and many other article handicrafts, mostly presented in exhibitions.
Guangdong embroidery is one of the four major embroideries in China besides Suzhou, Hunan and Sichuan. The uniqueness of Guangdong embroidery lies in its soft nap, embroidered threads, various colors and strong characteristics of Lingnan folk handicrafts.
One of Guangdong folk crafts with long history is horn carving, which is dated back to Tang and Song dynasties. The carving of horns became popular since rhinoceros-horned goblet was used as a treasure article in the royal palace. Originally came from Gaozhou, Guangdong, the artisans often made use of buffalo’s horn or sometimes goat or antelope’s horn. The most prominent objects are shrimps or angelfish.
Guangzhou Jade Carving
Dated back to Ming and Qing dynasties, Guangdong’s jade carving was a prominent export commodity. To make a beautiful jade product, the artisans skillfully carved out the pieces out of crystal-clear hard jade, crimson jade and green jade. The jade carvings are divided into the jewelry jade carving such as rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc. requiring delicate workmanship and up to date design, and the ornamental jade carvings such as animals, birds, pagodas, etc.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the folk artisans designed an ornamental pattern on bricks and used chisel, saw, grinding, wooden mallet, drilling and other tools to produce a brick decoration in the form of birds, animals, etc. The brick carving products were extensively used in ancestral hall, temple, walls, eaves, door head, guildhall and other bald parts of the house.
Coconut carving originally came from Hainan island in the Tang dynasty. At first, the carving was rough and simple, however, towards the Ming and Qing dynasties, the craftsmanship developed vastly to applying more stylish design and diversified techniques.
Shan Pahudia Carving
A retired courtier named Li Bang Zhi received two kernels of Shan Pahudia tree he brought home to be planted. The tree grew into a towering tree producing soft, round and dark nut. The good nature of the nut made it a perfect material for carving. In the Ming dynasty, the Shan Pahudia carving developed with craftsmen producing delicate animals, pavilions, figures and other important ornaments or seals.
Olive Stone Carving
Rich in olives, Guangdong has become the place for olive stone carving to develop. During the Qing dynasty, craftsmen carved out olive stones and engraved vivid figures derived from historical or legendary stories such as yachts and boats with inscriptions on their body.
The Stone-Carved Architectural Ornament of Qing Dynasty
Stone carving in Guangdong province enjoys a long history with the main function as an architectural ornament especially in Chaozhou and Shantou area. The artisans carved the whole granite and decorated it on the roof beam to produce beautiful folk handicrafts.
As the earliest handicraft in the society with thousand years of history, stone carving was best known in the area of Chaoshan, Zhaoqing, Xiqiao and Panyu. The earliest stone carving was simple and unsophisticated, which later was greatly improved in the Qing dynasty when craftsmen created various art figures in the form of flowers, animals, birds and other images using more diversified techniques. The artisans carved out of smooth hard stones and created vivid images containing laid-back local charm. The products of stone carving were used for ornamental and artistic purposes. The skills of stone carving were inherited through generations and became one of China’s most splendid cultural and artistic heritages.
China’s three most famous schools of woodcarvings originally came from Guangzhou, Beijing and Suzhou. Woodcarving falls into two categories; architectural decoration and furniture carving. Guangzhou woodcarving is uniquely known for its half-stereo open carving, all screens sculpturing and multi-level engraving. Woodcarving for architectural decoration can be found in halls, shrines, doors, windows, etc, while furniture carving or usually called red furniture carving is a master artwork that perfectly combined traditional artistic carving methods and wood structure technology producing durable, firm, smooth furniture with idyllic design and perfect engraving.
Chaozhou wood carving dated back in Tang dynasty uses camphor wood and is well known for its complex composition, delicate sculpture, and strong decorativeness. The artwork had significant improvements during the Ming and Qing dynasty depicting the narration of folk legends, historical stories, and other images such as flowers, birds, and fish. Towards the end of Ming and Qing dynasties, the carving expanded into another new stream called golden woodcarving or golden lacquer woodcarving used for ceremonial utensils and architectural decoration.
In 1991, a senior handicraft engineer, Liu Yanliang together with Li Zubin and other five artisans carved out a natural stone and created a very beautiful 1500 kg-inkstone with 217cm long, 110 cm wide, and 23 cm thick. The inkstone has green-dotted slab at the bottom and brown-veined stone at its edge.
Inkstone carving is one of the most ancient traditional handicrafts in the Chinese history, which production centralized in Duanzhou or current Zhaoqing city. Among the four most famous inkstones in China, Duan inkstone, Xi inkstone, Tao inkstone, and Cheng inkstone, Duan inkstone was the best one, highly appreciated in the Tang dynasty, and gained even higher reputation in the Song dynasty. What made the Duan inkstone special from the others is its soft texture and fine quality with innate stone eyes. Because of this reason, the artisans could create various shapes like egg, axe, or zither-shaped inkstones. Simple and unsophisticated yet elegant in style, Chinese inkstones are excellent instruments for grinding Chinese ink without voices, making the brushwork and ink more lustrous on paper, keeping the water in the ink longer and making the brushwork more delicate. The inkstones are made of natural stones from pits and crags with the best one taken from the Lao Pit, which has green and black colors with many stone eyes and jade-like surface.
Guangdong Traditional Sculpture Arts
After the late Neolithic age, Guangdong traditional sculpture arts have developed progressively. Due to abundant natural resources and flourishing marine trade, the materials for this form of art were also various including wood, stone, brick, jade, ivory, bone, horn, bamboo, shell, coconut, eggplant, olive-nut, etc. Different materials with different textures resulted in diversified artistic designs varying among regions. People marvel at the handicrafts for the consummate skills of the artisans, various forms, abundant themes, and so on.
Ivory Sculptural Artistic Works in Guangzhou
Guangzhou ivory sculpture enjoys a long history and applies special technology and style. The products of this art are various including ivory ball, ivory boat, microscopic ivory, etc. However, the carving once faced a dilemma after CITES prohibited ivory hunting and trade in 1989. Hearing upon this, the society paid special concern to this artwork and it was finally listed as the national Intangible Cultural Heritage on May 2006.
The shrine for ancestral tables was used as a place to put joss or ancestral tablets, made in Chaozhou and Shantou in Guangdong province, and placed in the family ancestral hall or the back part of the house. During the annual important festivals, family members usually gathered before the shrine to pay tribute to their ancestors and pray for blessings.
Made in 1912 – 1949, the shrine consists of three floors and seven seats inside to hold joss or ancestral tablets. Its walls are decorated with lacquer paintings and its cover and lintel are lavished with woodcarving component with the vivid images of flowers, birds, beasts, while the upper part is decorated with lacquer paintings derived from traditional opera stories. The shrine is 191 cm long, 111.5 cm wide and 282.5 cm tall.
Woodcarving Sacred Gloriette (Qing Dynasty)
In the Qing dynasty, many religious ceremonies worshipping gods took place in Guangdong province. Gloriette was used as an instrument in those ceremonies as a place to put joss. The folks paraded along the street carrying the gloriette while asking for blessings and prosperity from gods. Up to the present time, the gloriette has been well preserved as a precious cultural relic reflecting the folk traditions.
The pictures of handicrafts I have shown you are just some small parts of the artworks displayed in the museum. If you would like to observe and study all of them meticulously, I think it’s gonna take a lifetime. hehe...
Nearby Chen Clan Academy is a famous small food stall selling specialty white noodle eaten with dried salty fish skin from Guangdong area. This kind of food can hardly be found in other areas outside Guangzhou. The small shop is quite packed with people slurping the noodle while chatting with friends. This is one of the reasons why people call Guangzhou the paradise of delicious foods.
Personal experience and additional information from other online articles