Ming dynasty or earlier
The figure is wearing long robes and a belt around his waist, his head resting below his shoulders and his hear tied in a knot. The hands are folded underneath the robes below his head and the face is rendered with a serious expression. A six-character inscription is incised on the figure’s back.
13 cm high, wood stand
古之香沁人心 Gu zhi xiang qin ren xin
The six-character inscription may be translated as:
“The Fragrance of Antiquity Penetrates a Man’s Heart”
Formerly in the collection of Carl D. Barkman
Carl D. Barkman (1919-2006) was a Dutch sinologist and author. He was stationed as a diplomat in China when? and later became ambassador in Korea and Japan.
Hunchback figures are known from ancient history in China.
This unusual bronze example with the appearance of a scholar may represent the hunchback discussed by the famous Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi (369-286 BC)
In one of his stories he describes seven abnormal-looking men who appeared before Duke Huan of Qi. Among them are a cripple, a blind man, a madman and a hunchback, each given strange and bizarre names like Mr Lame-Hunchback-No-Lips. Zhuangzi believes that people with disabilities might suffer deformity but are capable of maintaining ‘virtue’ in their heart. The Duke Huan was so impressed by the man that he began to think other people should look more like Lame-Hunchback-No-Lips.
The story of these men both support Zhuangzi’s theme that virtue is being yourself. These unfortunately-shaped men can still be perceived as virtuous and be respected by their Duke(1)
(1) Dusan Vavra, Skilful Practice in the Zhuangzi: Putting the Narratives in Context,
Paul Kjellberg and Philip J. Ivanhoe,Ed., Essays on Skepticism, Relatism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi, State University of New York Press, p. 141
Robert Elliott Allinson, The Unity of Heaven and Earth in the Zhuangzi, Chinese University of Hong Kong, p. 375-391