Dryden Phelps and the Omei Illustrated Guide Book (峨山圖志)

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Mount Emei – or “Omei” as the locals say it – rises three thousand metres above the edge of the Chengdu plain in China’s Sichuan province, its southern face a dramatic, sheer cliff. Covered from its subtropical foothills to chilly summit in dense green forest and tangled undergrowth, full of rare plants and dripping with moisture, it’s also a holy …

Medicinal Moon Hare

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Here’s a print from Beijing of the white Moon Hare pounding herbs in a mortar to make the elixir of immortality. It was probably meant to be put up in the home during the Mid-Autumn Festival – associated with the full moon – and dates from the 1930s. Behind the hare is the icy Guanghan Palace, residence of the beautiful …

The God of Wine

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The Venerable Wine-Making Immortal, inventor and patron of brewing and distilling (most Chinese “wines” are spirits), shown stroking his beard, surrounded by wine jars. According to some accounts the immortal was a legendary character named Du Kang (杜康), while others identify him as Shao Kang (少康), one of the kings of the Xia era (2070–1600 BC). The couplets either side …

The Immortal Archer Zhang Yuanxiao

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Here’s a woodblock print from Yangliuqing village west of Tianjin, one of nineteenth century China’s most prolific folk-craft centres. It shows the Daoist immortal Zhang Yuanxiao (張遠霄) from Meishan in Sichuan province, driving off the malignant black Heavenly Hound, shown flying away top right on red wings. The hound was believed to cause eclipses by eating the sun, and could …

Miss Fosbery’s Passport

David Leffman Woodblock print 1 Comment

Here’s a Qing-dynasty passport for travel within China issued in 1889 to Miss Emily Fosbery (俌美禮, Fu Meili), a missionary with the London-based China Inland Mission (CIM). The CIM was founded in 1872 by Hudson Taylor, to recruit missionaries from working class backgrounds and send them to parts of China as yet uncovered by the protestant church. Unlike many other …

Continuous Alcoholic Merriment

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This rubbing, measuring 36cm x 46cm, is taken from an Eastern Han (25–220 AD) tomb brick, unearthed in the early twentieth century from Xinjin county in Sichuan province. Used for mausoleum walls, these bricks were moulded in relief with scenes from the lives of an intelligent, fun-loving, articulate people: farmers gathering crops, salt miners at work, the upper classes hunting, …

Fires Exploding Pearls!

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Here’s a print of Zhao Gongming (趙公明) on his tiger, holding a gold ingot and his magical sword breaker, which fires out explosive “sea-smoothing” pearls. In the sixteenth-century novel Creation of the Gods, Zhao is a general from Mount Emei in Sichuan province, who fights for the corrupt and crumbling Shang dynasty. After being killed by the Daoist Jiang Ziya, …

Bishop White’s Falcon

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I’ve known this stone rubbing of a falcon forever. My Dad bought it in the 1950s from a gallery in Zürich “because I liked it”, the best reason to buy anything. The shop was near Dad’s business at Pelikanstrasse 6; he thinks it was Orell Füssli at number 10, though they are booksellers and printers, rather than art dealers. (There …