(March, 2011, Art&Culture magazine, Auroville)
Recently, in Beijing, China, a one thousand years old Gu-qin [古琴] ―Seven stringed Chinese harp― titled ”Song-Shi-Jian-Yi (The Consciousness Between the Pine and Stone)” was knocked down at an auction for 136,000,000 Chinese Yuan (approx Rs.941,000,000). It thus became the highest priced musical instrument in the world. This musical instrument was one of the personal treasures of a Chinese emperor in the Song dynasty (960-1279).
Shortly before, there was another auction held in a smaller city, Hangzhou, for another old Gu-qin called “Yu-Shu-Tang (The Writer’s Room)”. This younger, six hundred-year old instrument was knocked down by a private collector for 58,000,000 Chinese Yuan (approx Rs.399,000,000). At that time, it was officially recorded as the world’s most expensive Gu-qin. However, only a few weeks later from the historical event, the world record was swiftly renewed.
Until now, the famous violin named “The Hammer (after a previous owner)” made by the famous 17th century Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivarius, received a successful bid of $3,544,000 (approx. Rs.160.000,000) as the highest priced instrument in the official record of Christie’s in the USA. Another violin made by another famous Italian violinmaker, Joseph Guarneri “del Gesù” (18th century) sold for 10 million US dollars (approx. 453,000,000 Rs.). It was bought by a Russian billionaire from an American violinist in 2009. Not having been bought at auction, this story was not been widely spread.
There are almost 20 Gu-qin over one thousand years old in the world today. We can see a few in Japan and some pieces in Taiwan. Only a few survived through the Cultural Revolution in mainland China. Indeed, the loss of cultural treasures perpetrated by the Red army was horrendous.
The origin of Gu-qin has started from the mythical time of the human history. People consider that the first Gu-qin was made more than 5,000 years ago by the first emperor of China. In the ancient society, Gu-qin was used for oracles and it was not played for an audience like the lyre in the ancient Egypt and Greece.
From the medieval period, playing Gu-qin was considered as one of the refined hobby for the literati, poets, court nobles, artists, tea masters and even for the imperial throne. It is considered as a mystical musical instrument which resonates to the spirit of the owner player. It was further believed that the spirit of the owner lives in Gu-qin even after the owner has passed away.
Modern musicians and art collectors consider that the price of the antique Gu-qin will rise much more because the number of Gu-qin players is rapidly increasing in the East Asian countries.
This is just the tip of the iceberg about the revival movement of the traditional culture in the East. While the Youth in the East are crazy about the iPhone, Facebook and all the modern gadgets, on the other hand, many of the Youth are eager to learn their traditional culture and spiritual tradition. Presently, there is an interesting contrast in the East these days.
Nowadays, many Chinese art collectors are visiting Japan to buy back Chinese works of art for two specific reasons, the restored condition is good, and fakes are hardly to be found in the Japanese market. It seems the antique markets and auction halls are being filled by new, rich Chinese travelers.
This unique phenomenon indicates the present cultural and economical current of the world of today.
Well, whatever the price is, the spirit in the old Gu-qin will call for the player with a noble spirit. Hopefully, each will find an appropriate owner ― maybe the reincarnation of the previous owner?
Jyoti Naoki Eri
The Gu-qin master’s visit in Auroville see: