Saturday, 9 August 2014

Little monk

I have recently spotted a wood carving made of a type of yellow rosewood known as the Huang Huali. I have written story about this wood in my other blog. This wood is known for its characteristic wood pattern, a unique scent and smoothness. It is a valuable wood due to its scarcity.

The carved figure is that of a little monk. With its big belly, it is able to contain whatever injustice there is in the world, so they said of monks with a big heart.

Huang Huali is actually a wood commonly used to make furniture in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Ming emperors started using Huang Huali furniture some 600 years ago. With the relentless felling of the trees, Huang Huali wood was almost exhausted during the Qing dynasty. Fortunately, the Qing emperors preferred the other type of wood called Zitan (from India) more than the Huang Huali. There are still some old Huang Huali furniture form the Ming dynasty on display in museums all over the world.

As the price of Ming and Qing antique furniture escalated over a few hundred times in the last decades, people begin to take note of this wood. It was long considered that this wood, Huang Huali, has already depleted due to massive tree cutting during the Ming and Qing dynasties by the Imperial court for building palaces and furniture.

In the 90s, it was reported that the trees that produced the wood were sighted in Hainan, a small island in the south of the mainland. Ever since the report was published, people began to hunt for this wood there causing a flood of dealings in the wood. Many villagers became rich overnight and businessmen reaped even greater profits form these dealings. Eventually the price of this wood reaches 20000 RMB per kg.
The story on Huang Huali
Huang Huali wood is a highly sought after wood due to its characteristic wood pattern and attractive appearance. The texture is smooth, dense and very stable. A light fragrance will emit from the wood.
A branch of Huang Huali being cut

Good wood seen after the cut

Good quality Huang Huali appears in the centre and is surrounded by a layer of white wood. Just imagine, large pieces of wood is required to make furniture. The trees have to be at least 400 years old before the trunks reach the size required for large furniture like beds and table. Hence Huang Huali furniture is very costly.
Huang Huali chests

Furniture made from Huang Huali

Scientific name of Huang Huali
Huang Huali pot auctioned for 16000 RMB

A brush container made of Huang Huali, 180000 RMB

Beams and columns sold for millions
There was even one businessman who went to Hainan in the early 90s to amass 400 kg of Huang Huali products (mainly farming equipment) from villagers. He even went to the extreme to remove the beams were made from Huang Huali from villagers' houses, of course he paid the owners handsomely. In this way, he was able to collect a large quantity of raw material for his furniture shop in Beijing. The most expensive price he ever paid for this wood was when he paid 1.38 million RMB for 6 beams removed from a villager's house. You may think he was mad to have paid so much for this wood. But he used these beams and columns and turned them into exquisite fine antique furniture in his factory. He ever sold a set of newly made Huang Huali furniture for more than ten millions RMB during an exhibition. Today the businessman becomes only a very wealthy man, he is also a celebrity among wood experts in China and often appears in TV programs. In a video upload he was showing his clients a beautiful Huang Huali Ming-style chair that had a price tag of 5 millions RMB.

I am glad to own at least a small carving of Huang Huali. Although the Hainan state has began a tree planting program, it will take at least another 100 years to have the trees to grow to a reasonable size for wood carvings and another 500 years to make into useful furniture. I can't that long.
Huang Huali trees for sale.

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