The World in a Bottle in the World

25 Fig. 36. Bottles with the name Songtai and Song. Fig. 37. Snuff bottles by Li Yunting in the Bloch Collection. man called Li Junting in the Bloch catalogue. The “ Li Junting school ” postulated there centered around a distinctive group of glass-overlay wares, mostly snuff bottles, bearing variations on the name Junting 均亭 or Yunting 韵亭 ( fig. 37 ). In actuality, the names Junting and Yunting are the same name written differently and properly pronounced Yunting. To explain: As anyone who is even slightly literate in Chinese knows, certain characters have more than one reading, generally reflecting a difference in the words they represent. One encounters several of these every day, but in some cases even a highly educated person may never know that a given character has one or more rare alternate readings—and may never need to know, unless confronted with the kind of puzzle we find in this group of glass-overlay wares. The character normally read jun 均 presents just such a case. Pronounced jun , it is associated with meanings such as “ equal, ” but it was anciently used to write a word pronounced yun and meaning “ to tune a bell ” (one can imagine this as related to “ making equal ” ) or “ harmonize ” ; it is also considered an ancient form of the character yun 韵 (also written 韻 ), which represents a word with the root meaning of “ harmonious sound. ” The words were surely cognate. The philological work that so occupied scholars in the Qing dynasty (partly because it was politically safe) made the Chinese acutely aware of the kind of shifting relationships between words and their visual representation that are exemplified in this instance. Featuring truly obscure forms of characters in inscriptions was one way the snuff bottle owner made his little treasure a tool to separate those who were at his own lofty level of erudition from those who were not. Using a character normally pronounced jun to write the name Yunting certainly satisfied this ambition. The wares with “ Yunting ” on them often also bear the surname Li 李 ( fig. 37 , top left, middle row, bottom right); some in the same style have the beginning of the Tongzhi era (1861). He built the Yangzhi yuan 養 志園 (Garden for nourishing the will) there and was a close friend of Salt Distribution Commissioner Fang Huiyi 方濬頤 (1815–1889), whose epitaph for Yu and letters to Yu are good sources of information on him. 28 We have a possible late-Qing identification for Songtai 松苔 , a name that appears on two bottles in the Bloch Collection and probably as simply Song 松 on a third bottle depicting fish from the Meriem Collection ( fig. 36 ). The hao Songtai 松苔 was adopted by Wu Yanliu 伍延鎏 (1848–1919), a major collector of paintings and calligraphy in the Lingnan area (South China, roughly equivalent to modern-day Guangdong and Guangxi provinces). Wherever he had his bottles made, they are strongly suggestive of a Yangzhou origin in their type of glass, low relief, and overall feeling, yet they seem to represent a distinct style within that tradition. In contrast to Songtai, we now have far more information on the