Stories carved in stone

10:10, April 20, 2010      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 


A carved brick depicts details of military life in the Han Dynasty. (China Daily Photos / Ju Chuanjiang)

A collector of Han Dynasty bricks engraved with ancient scenes reconstructs a picture of the past.

In the early 1980s, a PLA officer was helping lay a road in Henan province when he noticed beautiful carvings on bricks that the farmers were smashing up and mixing with pebbles to pave it.

Fascinated by the patterns, he urged the farmers to spare them and exchanged two truckloads of pebbles for 18 intact bricks. Later, he found several more in the villagers' pigsties, kitchens and courtyards.

That was the start of Zhang Xinkuan's collection of more than 5,000 bricks dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), offering a rare peek into life in China more than 2,000 years ago.

Zhang's bricks are now housed in a private museum at the foot of the Laoshan Mountain in Qingdao, Shandong province.

Over the past 30 years, Zhang, 60, has spent his entire savings collecting these relics, investing 1 million yuan ($146,500) to build the museum in 2007.

According to Gu Sen, an expert on Han Dynasty paintings with the Chinese Academy of Arts, these carved bricks are found mainly in Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces. They once decorated imperial palaces, ancestral halls and tombs, and are like an encyclopedia of ancient Chinese society. The images they depict range from mythical dragons and phoenixes, to animals and plants and scenes of everyday life.

Zhang had no idea of the bricks' value until an artist friend, Hao Benxing, sent him a gift - rubbings of Han Dynasty carved bricks. Hao told him that when former president Jiang Zemin visited Russia, he took a set of such rubbings as a gift.

Zhang then began devoting all of his spare time and money to collecting these bricks.

Standing in front of his museum, which features more than 10 exhibition rooms, Zhang proudly says: "It has only a third of my collection. Displaying all 5,000 bricks would require at least 20,000 sq m."

His wife, Yang Min, who quit a well-paying job in a joint venture to be the museum's curator, says: "He will hesitate to pay 200 yuan for a coat, but when it comes to these bricks, he is prepared to borrow, if necessary."

She adds that not all the patterns on these bricks depict Han Dynasty life. Many are rather mysterious.
【1】 【2】

(Editor:王寒露)

  • Do you have anything to say?

双语词典
dictionary

  
Special Coverage
  • Premier Wen Jiabao visits Hungary, Britain, Germany
  • From drought to floods
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • On Sept. 26, a resident passes by a flower terrace decorated for the coming National Day. (Xinhua/Hang Xingwei)
  • The photo, taken on Sept. 26, shows the SWAT team ready for the joint exercise. (Xinhua/Wangkai)
  • Two metro trains in Shanghai collided Tuesday afternoon, and an identified number of passengers were injured in the accident, the Shanghai-based eastday.com reported. Equipment failures were believed to have caused the crash on the Line 10 subway, Xinhua quoted local subway operator as saying.
  • An employee at a gold store in Yiwu, located in east China's Zhejiang province, shows gold jewelry on Monday.(Xinhua/Zhang Jiancheng)
  • Tourists ride camels near China's largest desert lake Hongjiannao in Yulin, north China's Shaanx Province, Sept. 24, 2011. Hongjiannao is shrinking as a result of climate change and human activities, and may vanish in a few decades. Its lake area, which measured more than 6,700 hectares in 1996, has shrunk to 4,180 hectares. Its water level is declining by 20-30 centimeters annually and its water PH value has risen to 9.0-9.42 from 7.4-7.8. (Xinhua/Liu Yu)
  • Actors perform royal dance at the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, Sept. 27, 2011. A ceremony commemorating the 38th South Korea Sightseeing Day was held in Gyeongbok Palace on Tuesday. (Xinhua/He Lulu)
Hot Forum Discussion