OBJECTS FOR THE SCHOLAR'S DESK, Hong Kong 2017
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Scholar's Implements

A BAMBOO ROOT SEAL

QING DYNASTY (1644-1911)

HEIGHT: 5.3CM

The seal is fashioned from a flattened tapered section of bamboo root decorated with some of the root nodes hollowed out, attached to another cylindrical section of bamboo to form the handle of the seal. The seal face is carved intaglio with the characters Qinshu zhi yinang 琴書只一囊 ‘Just zither and enough books to fill one bag.’ The line is taken from the introductory poem at the beginning of the twelfth tale, Wenguo lou 聞過樓 ‘Corrigibility House’, in the collection of short stories, Shier lou 十二樓 ‘Twelve Storied Houses’, by Li Yu 李漁 (1611-1680), Li Yu quanji 李漁全集 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang guji chubanshe, 1991), 9:271:

市城戎馬地 As our market town is now a place for war horses
決策早居鄉 I resolved before long to dwell in the country,
妻子無多口 With wife and children, only a few mouths,
琴書只一囊 And just zither and enough books to fill one bag,
桃花秦國遠 Far from the state of Qin, amidst peach blossoms,
流水武陵香 Where at Wuling flowing waters carry their perfume.
去去休留滯 Go, go, I shan’t linger here any longer—
回頭是戰場 Let me look back to see the battlefield behind me!

Peach blossoms at Wuling and the warlike state of Qin allude to the Taohua yuanji 桃花源記 (Record of Peach Blossom Spring) by Tao Qian 陶潛 (365-427) in which a fisherman happens on a utopian community that had been isolated from the rest of the unhappy world for centuries. Li Yu lived through the Ming-Qing transition; this story is supposed to be the most autobiographical of all his stories, so warfare must have been a heart-felt theme for him here.
The handle of the seal has a dated inscription which reads:

丁卯初夏 First Month of Summer in the year dingmao
香巖篆 Seal of Xiangyan [Fragrant Cliff]

The name Xianyan 香巖 is possibly attributed to Li Hongyi 李鴻裔 (1831-1885), and the 丁卯dingmao date corresponds to 1867. He was a Jiangnan grain intendant, literatus, and calligrapher, native of the Zhongjiang 中江 district in Sichuan. Jiangnan, ‘The South’, the place of his government service, was ravaged by the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). The implied references to war in the seal face suggest a time just after the end of the Taiping Rebellion.

清代 竹根印章
   「琴書只一囊」印款