'While the mythical birds 'luan' hover and phoenixes soar aloft, celestial beings descend;
Perfectly matched pearls on a string, and pieces of jade forming a beautiful whole, together shed a double light.'
Inscription and signature: For the pure appreciation of Mr Yunpo, [composed by] Prince Cheng.
Couplets in China served various purposes. It was common practice to present a couplet on occasions such as birthdays and weddings, or as condolences after a death. Wedding couplets always included the customary auspicious images. In this example, the first line was taken from a poem composed by the renowned Tang dynasty poet Han Yu. The second line was from a poem by the Northern Zhou poet Yu Xin (1). Perfectly matched pearls are on a string; jade rings are mutually enhanced by association with each other; these images, together with auspicious birds and celestial beings, create a suitable metaphor for an excellent match.
Yongxing (alias Jingquan, style name Shaochang), better known as Cheng Qingwang or Prince Cheng, was the eleventh son of the emperor Qianlong. From a young age, he excelled in calligraphy, even arousing the admiration of the emperor himself. During his father’s reign, he was appointed one of the chiefs in charge of editing the ‘Collectanea of imperial books’. He led an enjoyable artistic life dedicated to the study of calligraphy and poetry, except for a year or so, during his brother Jiaqing’s reign in 1799, when he temporarily undertook two positions as acting minister for the Board of Revenue and as minister of the Board of Civil Office (2). His noble status allowed him a life of luxury and learning, and allowed him access to many ancient masterpieces in the imperial collection. In his early years of calligraphic training Yongxing followed the style of Ouyang Xun (557–641) of the Tang and later Zhao Mengfu, as was the fashion, especially within the royal family circle. The result was a calligraphic style known as ‘foundation of Ou, surface of Zhao’, meaning a combination of the two styles, vigorous yet elegant. As reflected in many of Yongxing’s extant works, Zhao Mengfu played a key role in the formation of his mature style. The couplet is written in an informal regular script: it contains elements of running script.
1 Han Yu (768–824), ‘Song of stone drum (shi gu ge)’; Yu Xin (513–581), ‘Song of heavenly altar (Zhou si yuan qiu ge: zhao xia)’
2 For a brief introduction of Yongxing’s life, see Ke, Shaoming, et al. 1977, ‘Biography 8’ in ‘Qing shigao (History of the Qing dynasty), Zhonghua Press, Beijing.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.52
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales
Place where the work was made
Qing dynasty 1644 - 1911 → China
pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
a - right scroll; 161.2 x 33.3 cm
b - left scroll; 161.2 x 33.3 cm
Signature & date
Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "... ‘Chengqin Wang’ (Prince Cheng)". Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “‘Chengqin Wang’ (Prince Cheng) [artist's seal]". Not dated.
Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2009
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
One hundred flowers (2011), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 01 Sep 2011–15 Jan 2012