Ling Yaqian is a selfconfessed antique addict who loves the old ways. For him, joy is doing his ink painting and collecting all manner of antiques including ancient furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties and vases.(Photo: Shanghai Daily)
BEIJING, May 24 -- At first glimpse Ling Yaqian may look a little scruffy, but in fact, the avid tea-drinking smoker is rather quite special in the antique collecting world, writes Tan Weiyun
Ling Yaqian jokes that if you put a walking stick in his hand he could easily be mistaken for a beggar. But on the contrary, the soft-spoken 46-year-old Jinshan native - known for his rough old clothes, long hair, thick beard and the cigarette always in his hand - is something of a celebrity in the antique collecting field.
Venturing into Ling's ancient brick three-story house in Zhujing Town is like taking a stroll back to the old days of China.
"Antique collecting needs passion and persistence," Ling says as he opens bronze locks on the doors of his collecting rooms. They are full of ancient wooden chairs, skillfully carved beds, beautifully painted window frames, ancient agricultural tools, countless jade wares, jewelry and porcelain vases he has collected over the past 20 years.
The somewhat shabby-looking calligrapher, artist and collector has stubbornly stuck to a "traditional" way of life.
Each night he sleeps on a century-old bed he collected, spends hours practicing ink calligraphy on the ground or on a beloved stone dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) and each afternoon drinks green tea from an ancient tea cup.
In Ling's study, everything is more than 100 years old, from his ink brush to the desk, clock and many other adornments.
In his spacious courtyard, there are rows of Zhenmushi - animal-shaped stones usually placed beside a tomb to guard the deceased host in ancient China - while an osmanthus tree, more than 100 years old, stands in the center of the courtyard.
Ling seldom watches television or uses a computer and only recently installed a bathroom and kitchen in his house which he thinks makes it "too modern."
With a cup of tea in hand, Ling tells of being born into a scholarly family and how he was greatly influenced by his grandfather Ling Yinnong, an artist in the town. "Since my grandfather's grandfather, my family has lived on this old street," he says.
The street is Guangfu Road, the root and cradle from which the Jinshan District developed hundreds of years ago. "It was once the financial and cultural hub of the district and the Wan'an River," he says pointing to the broad river that passes just behind his house. "It flows into the Huangpu River and was once the lifeline of Jinshan."
His grandfather at that time ran an art gallery on the street called Lingyun Pavilion which literally means "on the clouds." "Beautiful name, isn't it?" Ling says with a smile.
The road of antique collecting is hard, he says. No one taught him how to appreciate, evaluate and assess antiques when he started collecting two decades ago.
"The admiration for my grandfather and my born passion for old stuff drives me," Ling says.
Obsessed with Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, Ling attended an art school in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, not far from Shanghai in early 1980s. There he threw himself in the world of ancient Chinese art, a world of black and white.
"I dreamed of becoming a person like my grandfather when I graduated from the school, even better than him. He was my icon," Ling says.
But shortly after graduation, Ling was assigned to become an electrical welder in a factory in the town.
Ling picked up the bulky machine tools but he didn't put down his paint brush and after a tiring day on the construction site, he would go home and practice his calligraphy and painting for hours.
Four years in the factory failed to strangle his art dream. "I thought I couldn't do this any more. It would kill me," Ling says.
In 1986, he quit his job, refurnished his grandfather's house and reopened the Lingyun Pavilion. He then earned a living selling his paintings and writing letters, invitations and shop signs.
Over the past 20 years, Ling has invested everything he has into antiques collecting coins, gravestones, vases, ancient furniture from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1616-1911) dynasties, agricultural tools and old paintings.
For Ling, the biggest joy in life to have "a cigarette to smoke, a cup of green tea to drink, two hours to practice calligraphy each day and some antiques to appreciate."
These days, he is busy preparing a 2,000-square-meter antique museum in his house, originally an old farming workshop he bought several years ago.
He designed the house himself, planted trees and flowers, built a pond in the courtyard and paved the pathways with old stones. Even the bricks in the wall are a century old. He has only one principle: traditional and ancient both inside and outside.
"Each old piece has its story to tell, like a man who has his own experiences. We should learn to appreciate it, not thinking about how much I could earn from it," Ling says.
The museum is set to be finished and open, free to the public, early next year and will display all of Ling's precious collection.
"Few people today pay attention to the country's old culture and traditions. Some antique traders only want to make money from the pieces they invest in. They know nothing about art and the history," he says, a bit angrily.
"As a collector, I feel the responsibility to do something for future generations."
(Source: Shanghai Daily)