Carving, Carving, Carving… and We Have a Teeny-Weeny Boat (Photos)

    Doors closed. (Image: National Palace Museum)One door open. (Image: National Palace Museum)Looking through the doors. (Image: National Palace Museum)Four of the eight carved figures are visible from this angle. (Image: National Palace Museum)

    This tiny artwork has several incredible features that make it simply unique.

    It was carved in the year 1737 by Ch’en Tsu-chang during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The sculpture is now on display at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

    1. This is actually an olive pit!
    2. It is 1.34 inches long and 0.63 inches high.
    3. The boat has doors that can be opened and closed.
    4. On the boat are eight figures, each of which is carved with its own animated expression.
    5. And last but not least, there are over 300 characters engraved on the bottom of the boat.

    The engraving is the poem “Former Ode to the Red Cliff,” which was written by the Song Dynasty poet-official Su Shi, and is a rare masterpiece in literary and artistic circles.

    The ode depicts Su and his friends traveling on a small boat to visit the Red Nose Cliff just outside Huangzhou on July 16 in the 5th Year of Yuan Feng (1082).

    He recalled the “Battle of Red Cliffs” when Emperor Sun Quan defeated the Cao army during the time of the Three Kingdoms.

    Through this ode, Su expressed his views about the universe, and life in general.

    He wrote about the heroes, while also facing the realities of life’s brevity and people’s hypocritical nature.

    Here is an excerpt from the poem. You can read the rest of the translation on the museum’s website.

    Cassia oars and orchid paddles
    Beat the illusory moon,
    Rowing against the flow of streaming light.
    From a great distance my heart
    Yearns for my beloved at one end of the sky.
    Detail from Su Shi’s “Former Ode on the Red Cliff,” c. 1083; handscroll; ink on paper. (Image: National Palace Museum)

    Detail from Su Shi’s “Former Ode on the Red Cliff,” c. 1083; handscroll; ink on paper. (Image: National Palace Museum)

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