2788

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Chinese Belt Buckle with Wu Zhu coins

China
17th-18th century

length: 9.6cm

Available - Enquire

Provenance

UK art market

This fine Chinese belt hook of two segments that join together has a superb patina. The set comprises two wuzhu coins set in gilded metal mounts, with two bats on either side.

The combination of the coins and the bats is a visual pun much liked by Chinese artists and can be read as ‘happiness is before your eyes’.

The Chinese word for coin is ‘qian’ (钱) which is a homonym for the Chinese word that means before (前). And the square at the centre of each coin is referred to as a ‘yan’ (眼) or ‘eye’.

So, ‘the bat is before the coin’s eye’. In Chinese this would be ‘the bat (fu 蝠) lies (zai 在) before the eye (yan 眼) of the coin (qian 钱)’ or fu zai yan qian. But the word for ‘bat’ is a homonym for the word for ‘happiness’ . This means that the saying ‘the bat is before the coin’s eye’ (fu zai yan qian) sounds similar to ‘happiness is before your eyes’ (happiness (fu 福) is (zai 在) eyes (yan 眼) before (qian 眼). Wuzhu coins have additional special meaning as well. First introduced during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD), they continued being used until the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). As such, the coins had a remarkably long period of being in circulation, and so became associated with longevity.

The inscription on a wuzhu coin reads ‘wu’ on one side of the square hole, and ‘zhu’ on the other. Wuzhu means ‘five grains’, and refers to the weight of the coin (1 wuzhu = 5 grains which is approximately 4 grams).

The buckle set is in excellent condition with the expected rubbing to the gilding and has a fine, warm patina.

References

Ma, B. (ed.), Liaoning Museum, London Editions, 2008.

Williams, J., (ed.),  Money: A History, The British Museum Press, 1997.

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