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Thread: What are those?
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Old May 1st, 2012, 07:46 PM   #60
Pierre Galafassi
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 87

Hi Jeff,

Fair points about Bidder. He himself complained about the lack of local rug informants.

Given the Turco-Mongol origin of the Yuan elite, and in particular the important presence of Uyghurs in the bureaucracy of the first Yuan rulers it is indeed quite likely that there has been at least an attempt at starting a local production of rugs, using for example weavers captured by the Mongol in Kharezm or Persia, of which there was surely no shortage.

However, you are right, the first question to answer is «what is a Chinese Rug?»
I suppose that Bidder limited «citizenship» to the Han Empire, even when a foreign dynasty ruled it. 
If we deliver the Chinese citizenship to rugs woven in peripheral areas, in the past mostly inhabited by non-Han, (Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hui, Tangut, etc...), which all greatly enjoyed Chinese garrisons and governors in the early 1400s, then indeed the probability of Chinese Imperial workshops grows a lot.

If we accept Bidder’s quite reasonable hypothesis that emperors with a marked interest for foreign countries were the most likely to create imperial rug-workshops or to keep them in business, then, from the fourteenth century onward, in addition to the Qing Emperor Gaozong, only another one seems to have the right profile: The third Ming Emperor, Yongle, alias Zhu Di, (1360-1424) who among other things commissioned admiral Zheng He’s famous treasury fleets, strongly favored export activities, as well as navy-backed (1) «diplomacy» in British style.
The Ming successors of Yongle quickly returned to the traditional Chinese policy of splendid isolation and nomad-bashing, at least until European countries (Portugal first, then Netherlands and Spain) obtained, during the last third of the sixteenth century the right to do some business with China.
The candidacy of Yongle as possible creator of an imperial rug workshop in Beijing (or at least in Han China) is not discussed by Bidder, who thus, probably, dismissed it as unlikely, but the bloke still makes a reasonable candidate too as «First Ruggie».

There aren’t many extant rugs older than the seventeenth century which could be safely labelled «made in Han-China» and I am not aware whether for these few rugs, one has already been able to prove the claimed age, or to dismiss the option of Uighur-, Mongol- or Tibetan made-on-order production.

IMHO, the following pieces are among the oldest rugs with a possible made-in (Han-) China tag.

FIG 1. Beijing ?, fragment of palace carpet. XV ? «Glanz der Himmelssöhne». M.O.K. Köln.

The motif calls to mind Mongol appliqué felt, don't you agree?

Fig 2. Beijing?, palace carpet. XVI? 625X297. «Glanz der Himmelssöhne». M.O.K. Köln.

Certainly the motif is as Chinese as can be and there is hardly any doubt that it was made for the imperial Palace. But where was it woven?

Your points 1,3, 4 are well taken. I do agree. On point 2, I’ll have to take your word. Besides, cushions were just about as important for nomads than felt- or pile rugs and even in the highly unlikely hypothesis that an arthritic Chinese would not have invented them long before, the nomad conquerors would have imported this great idea.

Your complains, Jeff, are quite justified: there is no oversupply of recent books about Chinese rugs. The only one I know is «Glanz der Himmelsöhne. Kaiserliche Teppiche aus China 1400-1750» edited by the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Köln. Superbly illustrated, and interesting text, but it does not bring any conclusive information about our specific «where and when» question. According to the authors, Emperor Yongle had the famous stone ramps of the Beijing Palace copied from rugs. Possible.

(1) So called «Junk diplomacy» of which we have better, closer and shipless examples.

Best regards

Last edited by Pierre Galafassi; May 1st, 2012 at 09:32 PM.
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