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Really getting the whole rub
2019-03-21 
Jia Wenzhong works on a whole-shape rubbing of a bronze wine vessel from the Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC). [Photo provided to China Daily]

To demonstrate the charm of traditional whole-shape rubbings, Jia Wenzhong, a 57-year-old expert on ancient-bronzeware identification and relic repair, has brought his latest rubbings and calligraphy works to be displayed at the Dehe Garden in the Summer Palace, a heritage site in Beijing.

The exhibition, co-sponsored by the Summer Palace Administration Office and the China Agricultural Museum, opened on Dec 18 and will run for three months through the end of the Spring Festival holiday.

Unlike regular rubbings that only represent the surface of relics from one side, Jia's works are whole-shape rubbings. The technique developed nearly 200 years ago creates a three-dimensional effect to show an item's shape as well as the details on its surface.

The technique was widely used in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, before photography was introduced in China.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

"Ink rubbing is an important invention of ancient Chinese people, and its popularity played a crucial role in the development of epigraphy," Jia explains.

"Whole-shape rubbing is the most advanced version of the technique and used to be the only method that allowed people to see the complete shell and details of the object."

After the emergence of modern technologies, most notably photography, ink rubbing has become less popular. But it's still applied in archaeological work, especially in the recording and research of bronzeware, oracle bones and stone carvings.

This exhibition includes more than 50 pieces of Jia's whole-shape rubbings and calligraphy works, which are based on a diverse range of relics, from bronze utensils and mirrors to ancient tiles and bricks.

Most of them bear auspicious subjects, such as a "pig delivering good luck" to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Pig and Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) tiles with lucky patterns.

Many of the works are recently created, including rubbings of six pieces of bronzeware selected from the Summer Palace's collection.

According to Li Guoding, head of the Summer Palace Administration Office, the organization has a rich collection of ancient bronze relics, most of which were acquired by members of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) royal family. Of the aforementioned six bronze pieces, two are national first-grade and four are second-grade cultural relics. All are representative of the entire collection.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

Two of the relics, a round-mouthed food vessel and a square caldron-both dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c.16th century-11th century BC)-are exhibited alongside Jia's rubbings.

The six rubbings will be donated to the Summer Palace as permanent-collection items.

"The exhibition can enrich the content of the cultural tour we designed for the Summer Palace and provides visitors with good cultural-tourism options during the New Year and Spring Festival," says Li.

Jia's art, which belongs to the category of intangible cultural heritage but combines painting or inscriptions by other artists, can fully show the richness of traditional culture, Li says.

Jia, a native of Beijing, was born into a family that has a long tradition in relic repair. He has been involved in restoration since the late 1970s, working at organizations including the Beijing Bureau of Cultural Heritage, the Capital Museum and the China Agricultural Museum.

Jia's whole-shape rubbings have evolved thanks to his rich experience in bronzeware restoration. He absorbed the experience of his predecessors and explored new techniques to form his own unique methods, which allow him to present accurate shapes, clear details and realistic effects.

A piece of Jia Wenzhong's whole-shape rubbing that features a "pig delivering good luck" to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Pig.

His rubbing of the Boju Ge, which is regarded as one of Jia's representative works, was given to former French president Jacques Chirac as a present by China in 2011.

Boju Ge is an ancient three-legged bronze vessel used for sacrifices that was unearthed in Beijing in 1974 that dates to the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 BC).

In recent years, Jia has also been devoted to the inheritance and promotion of whole-shape rubbing, including training younger generations to perform the almost-lost technique.

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