The Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang

The Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang is made of greenish white jade from Hetian, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The jade goblet consists of two parts, the body and the lid. It is quite similar to the cup we use today. Its body is carving with designs of phoenix and rolling clouds. The lid features with a round knot in the center, around which there are three convexly carved lions turning their heads and looking into far distance. The jade goblet stands on three legs carved into the shapes of beast heads. On the external surface, three is a ring handle, on which there is carved with a knob in the shape of an elephant. The trunk is incurved naturally into a ring. The Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang created in Ming Dynasty was unearthed from a tomb during Kangxi Period of Qing Dynasty in Xiaoxitian, Beijing in 1962. According to the epigraph, the person buried in the tomb was a seven-year-old girl whose family name was Heisheli. She was the granddaughter of Suo Ni, an assisting minister in Kangxi Period. She died of illness when she was only seven years old. Her families were painfully sad, so they buried her with piles of precious articles, among which there was the Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang. Experts say the Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang was probably a treasure for playing and appreciation of royal family of Ming Dynasty. After the downfall of Ming Dynasty, almost all of these treasures were collected by palace of Qing Dynasty. Later, they were stored up by Suo family, the relative of the Emperors of Qing Dynasty as awards or for other reasons.

Expert tell us that this Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang has been confirmed to be a jade article produced in Ming Dynasty. Besides the shape and the material of the jade article, whats more important is the inscription of the two characters "Zi Gang" in seal script under the handle.

Who is Zigang? Why did he carve his name in such hidden place? According to experts, Zigang was a jade carving craftsman named Lu Zigang in Ming Dynasty who was the maker of Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang. In Ming Dynasty, unlike masters of painting and calligraphy, many excellent craftsmen were not thought highly of by people, much less to make history.  But Lu Zigang was an exception, because he possessed unique skills. 

When he was alive, Lu Zigang had already gained good fame. The jade articles created by him were changeable in shape and elegant with classical beauty. Therefore, they were popular among relatives of the Emperor and refined scholars. The price of the jade articles by Ly Zigang was usually several times higher than that of others. According to "Records of Taicang", a jade hairpin made by Lu Zigang valued fifty-six ingots in the later period of Ming Dynasty. Lu Zigang was picky in the selection of jade. He mainly adopted jade from Hetian, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and abided by a strict criteria of selection jade. Generally speaking, better jade always had higher rigidity, so it would be more difficult to carve. It still remains a mystery what tools Lu Zigang used to create such exquisite jade articles. In ancient times of China, corundum of high rigidity was commonly used for jade carving. But it was said in the folk that Lu Zigang carved jade with Kunwu knife instead of corundum. It was said that Kunwu Knife instead of corundum. It was said that Kunwu knife. Kunwu knife can carve jade articles into various shapes. But it is a pity that Kunwu knife and the craftsmanship of Lu were lost after Lu Zigang's death. Lu Zigang had a habit to leave an inscription of his name on the bottom, the reverse side, the lid or under the handle of every his jade work upon completion.

It is said that one day, Wanli Emperor ordered Lu Zigang to carve a jade teapot and strictly prohibited him from carving his name in the teapot. After pondering for several days, Li Zigang finally handed in his works at the deadline. Seeing the crystal clear white jade teapot, Wanli Emperor fondled it admiringly. After careful examination, he did not find the name of Lu Zigang on the teapot, he was very happy. But after a period of time,  the Emperor ordered to arrest Lu Zigang unexpectedly. It turned out that after being used for some time, tea stain gradually ate into the inner wall of the teapot. As the jade of the teapot was almost transparent, the inscription "Zi Gang" appeared faintly on the spout of the teapot. Lu Zigang originally carved his name skillfully in the spout of teapot with inner carving skill.

On the bottom of the handle of the Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain, there are two characters "Ӹ" carved in seal script which is compactly arranged. The script is delicate are pretty and neat. It is a difficult task to carve very small characters on tough jade even with modern jade carving tools.

This Jade Pot with Children Playing Grain is now collected in Beijing Palace Museum. There are children playing design carved on the body of rectangle shape of the pot. The lid handle is a piercing lion. Open the lid, you will find the inner wall of the lid is carved with two characters "Zi Gang" in seal script. Another works of Lu Zigang collected in Beijing Palace Museum is a nuptial cup. There is a handle of phoenix shape carved on one side of the cup, and the design of two dragon lying on the wall of the two cups on the other side. On the upper part of the cup, there is a inscription of three characters "Made by Zigang" in seal script. The different inscriptions seem to indicate that Lu Zigang was a craftsman who paid attention to brand. According to the experts, when Lu Zigang was alive, some people had begun to imitate his works. After his death, there were more and more people to imitate his works and wanted to make a fortune by carving his name on their works. There was few genuine works of Lu Zigang.

The Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang thought it was unearthed from the tomb of Qing Dynasty; it has high value for the research in jade carving of Lu Zigang. According to experts, this jade works was buried in the early years of Kangxi Period, which was close to the end of Ming Dynasty. From the craftsmanship, the material and the style of the inscription, we can judge that the carving style of this Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain is very close to that of Lu Zigang's. Moreover, it was collected by relatives of the Emperor at that time. So experts infer that this Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang should be a genuine work by Lu Zigang. It is very precious.

The Jade Goblet of Phoenix Grain with Inscription of Zigang collected in Capital Museum enable us to see the classic works of the master. It is an important historical material for the later generations to research on the jade craftsmanship in Ming Dynasty and the creation experience of Lu Zigang.

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