An important Chinese silver goblet with engravings, presented to the Dutch legation in Beijing by Zhang Xun (1884-1916), General to the last Manchu Emperor
Workshop’s mark ‘bao cheng(?)’, mark for pure silver ‘zhuwen’, and name of the silversmith ‘bin’
H. 34.5 cm
Weight: 766 grams
The engraving of the beaker depicts a scene from the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ with the central figure being Guanyu, a famous general at the end of the Han Dynasty period (206 BCE-220 CE), a highly-skilled military man but particularly praised for his loyalty. Guanyu’s story was romanticized in the novel written by Luo Guanzhong at the end of the Yuan Dynasty period (1279-1368). Guanyu’s loyalty and righteousness, which conform to traditional Chinese cultural ideals, were of course appreciated by Emperors who valued loyalty very much and propagated Guanyu’s obedience and respect for
his superiors. As a consequence, Guanyu’s status gradually increased from general to revered god, Guan Gong, Lord Guan. Thousands of Guan Gong temples have been constructed in China over the years. Xun would certainly have wanted to be similarly remembered for his loyalty to the Manchu Dynasty.
Zhang Xun, born September 16, 1854, in Chitian village, Jiangxi province, served as a military escort for Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) during the Boxer Uprising from 1899 till 1901, an anti-foreign and anti-Christian uprising, eventually supported by Cixi. After initial successes, the Boxers were defeated by the Eight-Nation Alliance of American, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Russian forces, which looted the Forbidden City in Beijing and further weakened the position of the Qing dynasty. Cixi tried to regain control by reforms, the ‘Cixi’s New Policy'.
In the late 19th century the Qing Dynasty had established the ‘Beiyang Army’, a European-style Imperial Army under the command of general Yuan Shikai (1859-1916). General Zhang Xun fought in the Beiyang Army under Yuan Shikai at Nanjing in 1911. This battle ended in compromise and in the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the abdication of the last Emperor, the six-year-old Puyi (1906-1967), and the establishment of the First Republic of China. On February 12, 1912, Yuan Shikai was sworn in as president of the republic, but he was unable to consolidate a legitimate central government before he died in 1916. In the hectic period that followed Zhang Xun, an ardent supporter of the Qing Dynasty, never cutting his long tail, attempted to restore the Qing Dynasty and restore the last Emperor Puyi to the throne. But his attempt in 1917 failed, Puyi was forced to abdicate once more and Zhang Xun took refuge in the Dutch legation, where he stayed for almost a year and a half before he was pardoned and returned to his home. He never participated in politics again. As a token of his gratitude Zhang presented the present goblet in 1918 to the Dutch legation in Beijing.
The inscription on the other side of the beaker:
‘In the 5th month of dingsi-year (July 1917) I took refuge in the Dutch Embassy because of the failure of the ‘Manchu Restoration’. I was well-received. For this, I am everlastingly grateful. Now it is time for farewell. I have nothing (to return for
the hospitality), hence I commissioned this beaker as a souvenir to express my gratitude. To the Vice Commander-in-chief Zhou Jingshan (the Dutch envoy Jhr. F. Beelaerts van Blokland or more likely to Haro van Hemert tot Dingshof, commander of the marines in the Dutch legation in Bejing from 1913 to 1923). Presented by Zhang Xun in the 11th month of wuwu-year (December 1918).’