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Wang Shixiang, the Capital's Most Professional Connoisseur of Traditional Arts
    2009-12-11 17:53:11     CRIENGLISH.com
Proving wrong the Chinese saying "people lost in play will lose their aim," Wang Shixiang was reputed as a player who made a lot from what he played with. As a renowned scholar, connoisseur and collector of a wide range of cultural relics and artifacts, his death on November 28 was considered a loss in the cultural circle. Tingting has more.

On December 3, 2003, Prince Claus of the Netherlands granted Wang Shixiang the Prince Claus Award in recognition of his expertise and innovative research into the crafts of China. The prize from the Dutch royal family is given every year to prominent individuals who have made distinguished cultural achievements. Wang was the first Chinese to win the award.

Wang Shixiang was born into a rich and well-known family. His forefathers served in the court of the Qing Dynasty for three generations. His father was a diplomat and his mother had a fine classical Chinese upbringing and studied abroad. This family background not only cultivated Wang Shixiang's refined taste and a skilled eye for classical Chinese culture, but also made him into a dandy. Instead of going to school, he indulged in games traditionally played by street people, like cricket fighting, raising pigeons and training eagles. Gradually, he lost his will and purpose in life, until he changed himself at the age of 25. 

"My mother's death struck a heavy blow to me and became a turning point in my life. From then on, I didn't play around anymore but concentrated on doing research and writing a thesis on what I've played with."

Wang Shixiang's talents and interests cover a broad spectrum of traditional Chinese culture, from raising pigeons, crickets and goldfish to collecting and researching old furniture, lacquer ware, music, bamboo carvings, and pigeon whistles. For him, each skill, such as growing gourds, could be developed into a certain discipline.

"Since the Ming Dynasty, some people put gourds into a mold and made gourds grow into a certain shape with patterns and characters on them."

Wang Shixiang published more than 40 books on those skills, including one focusing on gourds. His books, such as Pigeon Whistles of Beijing, Bamboo Carvings of China, and Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, are recognized as very important in their fields. Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties covers furniture construction methods, types of precious hardwoods used, stylistic variations, and the ingenious techniques of Ming and Early Qing Dynasties. Famous collector Ma Weidu comments:

"Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties is the most influential book by Wang Shixiang. It's conscientious and precise and includes all the studies he did about furniture."

Wang Shixiang took the job of retrieving precious Chinese artifacts from Japan after the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. He then worked in the Palace Museum and later became a member of the prestigious Central Research Institute of Culture and History. In 1985, he won a Ministry of Culture award as one of the most distinguished individuals in the fields of culture, history and museum studies. Wang Shixiang was also a passionate fan of pigeons his entire life. As a child, he wrote about his beloved pigeons in English compositions, and when he was old, he was still interested in promoting pigeon culture.

"Nowadays, young people are ignorant of pet pigeons, knowing only the carrier pigeons. Carrier pigeons, actually a foreign breed, are seen in many places in China. People don't know how to rear pet pigeons or even play with them. China boasts a large variety of pigeons and has a rich pigeon culture. I hope in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, pet pigeons can be displayed to the world."

Though it was carrier pigeons, considered to be a symbol of peace that flew in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, Wang Shixiang's devotion to preserving China's C and especially Beijing's - old traditions was highly praised by experts. Here is Ma Weidu again. 

"He made a great contribution to the development of Peking culture. Now, in wintertime, people sell crickets at Tianqiao market in the east part of the capital. Wang did research on it and wrote books discussing the custom."

Wang Shixiang passed away at the age of 95. Reputed as Beijing's most professional connoisseur of traditional artifacts and hobbies, he is to be remembered by experts and ordinary people alike.

For China Now, I'm Tingting.


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