BEIJING -- A workshop commemorating the 120th anniversary of the birth of Zhang Boju, one of the most influential Chinese art connoisseurs of the 20th century, was hosted in Beijing Monday.
Out of support for the newly established government, Zhang started donating his collections to the country in 1956. His generosity enabled many invaluable national treasures to be preserved and shared with the public.
Zhang, born into an aristocratic family in 1898, started collecting Chinese calligraphy and paintings at the age of 30, and dedicated the rest of his life to preserving China's cultural heritage. During the 1930s and 1940s, a lot of China's artistic treasures were damaged or ended up overseas due to war. Deeply grieved, Zhang spent most of his personal wealth and even went into debt to rescue China's national treasures.
"We should learn from Mr. Zhang's patriotic feelings on national development and China's future, as well as his industrious and tireless pursuit of the arts," said Luo Shugang, minister of culture and tourism.
Luo also spoke highly of Zhang's indifference to fame and wealth at the workshop, held at the Great Hall of the People and hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Central Research Institute of Culture and History, and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
One outstanding example was "Pingfu tie (A Consoling Letter)" by western Jin Dynasty (265-316) calligrapher Lu Ji. Zhang raised 40,000 silver dollars to purchase it from a descendant of the Qing royal family to prevent its sale to foreigners.
Zhang sold his house and his wife sold her jewelry to purchase "Youchun tu (Spring Excursion)" by Sui Dynasty (581-618) painter Zhan Ziqian, which is China's oldest existing landscape scroll painting.
Other notable pieces collected by Zhang included "Shang yangtai tie (Ascent to Yangtai Temple)," the only extant calligraphy work by legendary Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Bai, as well as "Xuejiang guizhao tu (Homeward Bound on a Snowy River)" by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
"My collections do not need to belong to me forever, but they need to stay eternally in our motherland, handed down for generations," Zhang once said.
Most of Zhang's collections are now housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing and in northeast China's Jilin Provincial Museum.
A special exhibition commemorating Zhang ended at the Palace Museum on Sunday.
"We still cherish the memory of Mr. Zhang, whom we recognize as a role model," said Shan Jixiang, the museum director. "He represented not only the erudition and open-mindedness of the Chinese literati, but also a sense of mission to promote Chinese culture, a spirit of selflessness, and a lofty sentiment of patriotism."