“Emperor Meeting a Wise Man” Screen
A Gift to Joseph Stalin from the Chinese
Youth Delegation, 1947
A fine piece of ancient Chinese art. In this exquisite interior decoration
piece, the carver depicted a scene from an ancient legend about the emperor meeting a
wise man. The delegation presented this fine gift to the “leader of the nations,” as
Stalin was commonly called, to commemorate the liberation of the Chinese from Japanese
occupying forces, with the help of Soviet armed forces, in 1945.
To decipher the message of the scene depicted on the gift, one can
use the traditional symbols of the Celestial Empire. The bat is a
symbol of favour. This translates as a wish for happiness and good
luck, because the Chinese word for “bat” and “happiness” is the
same: “foo.” In fact this is more than just happiness and long life:
two bats make it double.
There is another pictorial puzzle in this scene. Its main
character is seen in the bottom left corner. This is the image of a
philosopher, who is the unshaken symbol of the wise Celestial
Empire. In the centre of this composition is the Emperor,
who, wrapped in a palatine, is carried by the wise man.
The Emperor says to the old man, “What are you doing, fishing here in poverty? Come to live at my
palace and be my wise counsel. You will be rich and will eat out of a gold platter.” The wise man
replies, “Do you see that turtle out there – which is swimming in the water, in dirt and shadow? If
you wrap it in silk, place it in a precious chest and then put that chest in your elders' temple,
the turtle will die. What do you think would the turtle prefer: to be dead, so that people would bow
to its remains, or to be alive even if it had to make its way through the mud? Similarly, I would
prefer to be alive and would say no to stately burdens, even if I have to remain poor...
What was the message that the Chinese delegation wanted to pass,
presenting the “leader of the nations” with such a gift hinting at
the old man's refusal to accept the burden of stately affairs?
...There was no adverse intention behind it – the gift was just a
traditional wish reflecting higher wisdom!
Collection custodian:
“This piece is crafted using a unique technique combing chiselled, embossed
and relief carving. The three-dimensional, nearly sculpture-like groups of
people are surrounded by a meticulous landscape. This exquisite item actually
dazzles the viewer: you can keep looking at the external details of
decorative carving for hours, each moment finding more and more interesting
Chiselled carving
Embossed carving
This delicate, artistic decoration piece is a sign of gratitude from the Chinese people to
Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Army for ridding them of Japanese occupation.
Although World War II ended with the Japanese defeat, at the time the gift was made, a destructive
civil war was underway in China. The Chinese Communist Party's victory over the National Kuomintang
Party was still to come. It was not until 1949, “with the decisive support of the USSR,” that the
People's Republic of China was established in Beijing. And the very next day the USSR would be the
first country to recognize PRC and to sign an “Agreement of Friendship, Union and Mutual Assistance”
with it. But for the time being, “Chinese comrades” would pay friendly business visits to the
Soviet Union.