Zhang Yiqing’s Rosewood with Noble Character君紫檀 :

From Zhouzhou to Gu Yongqi



Unha Kim


Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, China Korea School of New Media

182# Nanhu Ave., East Lake High-tech Development Zone,

Wuhan, China







Anybody who remembers Zhang Yiqing张以庆’s past films will recognize the dramatic change from Zhouzhou’s World 舟舟的世界(1997) to Rosewood with Noble Character 君紫檀(2017. But there is not only dramatic change but consistence as well in his work Rosewood with Noble Character. This review will consider on what changes happened in the director’s works, and describe briefly the cause and the meaning of the changes through Zhang Yiqing’s new film Rosewood with Noble Character.


Keywords; Zhang Yiqing; dramatic change; consistence; Rosewood with Noble Character


1. Introduction


Rosewood with Noble Character 君紫檀 2017is director Zhang Yiqing张以庆’s new documentary film. You could wonder if this is the same director’s work who made Zhouzhou’s World舟舟的世界(1997). Anybody who remembers Zhang Yiqing’s past films will recognize the dramatic change from Zhouzhou’s World to Rosewood with Noble Character. But there is not only dramatic change but consistence as well in his work Rosewood with Noble Character. This review will consider on what changes happened in the director’s works, and describe briefly the cause and the meaning of the changes through Zhang Yiqing’s new film Rosewood with Noble Character.


2. From Zhouzhou舟舟 to Gu Yongqi顾永琦


First of all, there is a big difference in the subjects of his documentary films. Twenty years ago, director Zhang Yiqing focused on Zhouzhou who suffered from Down’s syndrome in Zhouzhou’s World.  Zhouzhou was a congenital feeble minded child who could not live happily together with common people. (At the age of nineteen, he has intelligence of an infant.) Even though he was physically handicapped, he was warm-hearted, had a talent in music, had special gift as a conductor.  If someone looks awkward and slow because he/she has low intelligence and handicapped body, people do not appreciate his/her true worth. Through this fim we can feel Zhang Yiqing’s concern and love for the alienated people. He is asking us our attitude and position about the people in a kind of roundabout way as well. As his care about so-called the marginal people continued from a short documentary film Director(1996)  to a full length documentary film Ying and Bai 英和白(1999) and The Kindergarten 幼儿园(2004), we can call it the typical character of his film. By contrasting and comparing the relationship between normal and abnormal, green and fresh director and professional director, animal and human, children and adults, at that time Zhang Yiqing’ humanism has been presented as a kind of equalitarianism.

However Rosewood with Noble Character portrays a heroic character Gu Yongqi顾永琦who had made a very great achievement in making furniture. Gu Yongqi is a joiner from Nantong南通 city, JiangSu江苏 province. He is proud of himself and said ‘Throughout history nobody can make furniture like me.’[1] He is not exaggerating at all because he himself settled thousands of years of dilemma. Gu Yongqi solved the insoluble problem since Song Dynasty, which was cracking, twisting, edge ripping of rosewood furniture. Because of the problem called ‘millennial curse’, it was necessary to leave some small space for expanding to rosewood furniture in case of changes of temperature[2].  Not only he solved the big problem, but his rosewood furniture has absolute softness, and already it joined the rank of world-wide masterpiece. One of his workers in the film told comparing Gu Yongqi’s rosewood furniture, even the furniture displayed in Gugong Museum 故宫博物馆is coarse and rough. Some of the world’s best known luxury brand companies, including Hermes, Steinway, are collaborating with him, and his rosewood furniture was chosen as the second luxury item next to Maotai by Chinese Luxury Society 中国奢侈品协会.  The change of director Zhang Yiqing’s concern from the marginal people to a hero of great achievement is very sudden and dramatic. It seems that Zhang Yiqing’s equalitarianism turned into thorough heroism. However, despite the dramatic change of subject matter and the characters in his documentary films, which looks so different and conflicting, still we can find there is great humanism in the deep structure of all his films.


3. Documentary dreaming to be a poem


Whenever Zhang Yiqing’s Documentary showed, a lot of attention was paid to its original character. Considering that he neither follow existing customs nor care about public’s taste, and he has always tried to create original works, he could be called one of typical auteurism directors. This can be affirmed through Zhang Yiqing’s documentary trilogy, Zhouzhou’s World, Ying and Bai and The Kindergarten.  He pursued his own world of art by merging lylic with epic, and realistic aesthetics with poetic aesthetics without taking much care of the existing customs. Culture critics say that it is not easy to define the relievo on the furniture made by Gu Yongqi, because there are some special qualities unlike any other existing arts and crafts. The same evaluation can be applied for Zhang Yiqing’s film Rosewood with Noble Character.  The wide ranging experiment about documentary form conducted in Rosewood with Noble Character which is hard to see in other films. Even though Zhang Yiqing has been always trying to do experiment about the forms, but in this film it appeared more extensive and various. The most outstanding point about Gu Yongqi’s furniture is lied on its distinguishing unreal tactile sensation. Though his rosewood furniture is famous for beautiful three dimentional artwork and its semipermanent durability, above all things, the softness of the furniture gives us a kind of surreal feeling when we touch it. Tactility is one of the most primitive and physical sense of human and could be referred to the most surreal and mental sense as well. Facing the challenge to express tactility on the screen in Rosewood with Noble Character, Zhang Yiqing must have grappled to solve the problem. To show the great artist who made furniture ranked in the global masterpiece, and to show the value of the master’s work of beautiful luxury furniture, Zhang Yiqing made the film Rosewood with Noble Character a poem, not only by traversing the various artistic genres, but using metaphors and symbols on the screen.  For master Gu Yongqi and his workers, making rosewood furniture is not just making a piece of furniture but a kind of writing a poem. Similarly, for director Zhang Yiqing, making the film Rosewood with Noble Character was a kind of writing a poem as well.  The only difference between the poem and their works is that the poem is personal creation and the furniture and the film by Gu Yongqi and Zhang Yiqing are the result of group work.

In the film, the softness of the furniture compared to water drops, a baby’s or a woman’s skin, the touch of silk and symbolized by smooth melody played by Guqin古琴 and songs and music harmonized with other eastern or western music instruments. The distinguishing quality of the furniture expressed through Shuochang 说唱and dancing of the supreme traditional artists who are the highest in artistic achievement: Guan Dongtian关栋天 and Wang Xiaoyan王晓燕, masters in Peking Opera京剧, Hu Xiaolu胡小路, master in Pinghua评话. Futhermore Zhang Yiqing also renewed his formal experiment about the style of film. The director himself appeared on the documentary film and asked questions and suggested interpretation of Gu Yongqi’s inner world. The top class culture critics dare to discuss and argue with Gu Yongqi about his character and the quality of his furniture. These techniques are very much different from those of customary documentary films, realistic re-creation about the subjects,  and it could make his film look a little awkward. However, if we remember the fact that a documentary film does not depend on its formality, the various experiments in form conducted by Zhang Yiqing need to be evaluated by the truthfulness which his film reached up to and the audiences’ impression of the film. Zhang Yiqing’s experiment about his film Rosewood with Noble Character looks quite successful: his direct intervention in the film, merging two incongruous factors together, like description with evaluation, metaphors with symbols, epic with lyric, realistic aesthetics with poetic aesthetics. His endeavor to overcome the limit of the former films and to get to the new land of truth made his film a poem as a result.


4. Dream for cultural powerhouse and the world best rosewood furniture


  As Luo Xiaoyan罗晓燕 referred correctly, the cultural confidence emphasized by premier Xi Jinping 习近平and Chinese government does not mean only the confidence of Chinese ancient culture. However, comparing the splendid Chinese ancient culture, the contribution of Chinese people to modern culture seems not so impressive. The four great invention , Compass, gunpowder, printing technique, paper, were accomplished by ancient Chinese people, but it is not easy to find out any important modern invention in China. If the revival of the culture and cultural confidence is confined only to its ancient culture, it could be a sign of cultural reactionism and historical regression. The real meaning of cultural revival and confidence is possible only on the basis of the new and modern cultural creativity. Zhang Yiqing found it in Gu Yongqi’s supreme rosewood furniture and this can be called the most concrete form of Chinese dream for the cultural powerhouse. Zhang Yiqing saw the power of cultural creativity in genius Gu Yongqi to create global luxury furniture and named it ‘thing in the body身内之物. It can be kept in only one man and can not be inherited or borrowed to anybody, therefore, if he died, the power of his creativity will be extinguished consequently. Gu Yongqi referred his works as ‘things outside the body身外之物’ and he said that he has the original creativity and he himself never need to own anything. From the master’s viewpoint, it could be logical: if he obsessed by ‘things outside the body’, it causes ‘thing in the body’ shrink and disturbs the creation of the other ‘things outside the body’. But we common people can make a rough guess about master’s ‘thing in the body’ only through his ‘things outside the body’, and it’s natural we want to own ‘things outside the body’ as many as possible.

  Until now Zhang Yiqing has been one of the most famous minority artistic documentary directors, but he came to us as a mainstream artist by the newest work Rosewood with Noble Character. Is this a sign of the change in his artistic view and artistic pursuit? Is he thinking Chinese society matured enough to put aside the concern for marginal people who are socially alienated? Not so many yet, but a few distinguishing people are appearing in China, and is he thinking it is necessary to pay attention to them? Whether Zhang Yiqing intended it or not, Rosewood with Noble Character has an air of social atmosphere which emphasizes the cultural revival and confidence. Nevertheless Zhang Yiqing himself explained his dramatic change from Zhouzhou’s World  to Rosewood with Noble Character like this: ‘I tried to find out the character like Gu Yongqi before and I never succeeded, so I only had to focus on the socially alienated people. Now I found Gu Yongqi and wanted to describe him.’

  Even if each played an active part in different areas, Zhang Yiqing found his second self from Gu Yongqi , and this could be the real inner motivation for him to film Rosewood with Noble Character. In other words, Gu Yongqi’s abnormal obsession and artisan spirit for the supreme masterpiece, never giving up pursuit for the road not taken, heroic spirit resulted in the solution of millennial dilemma, led Zhang Yiqing to make the film.  The assessment whether his film Rosewood with Noble Character got the same achievement as Gu Yongqi’s supreme rosewood furniture is left to the audiences.


5. Conclusion  


Rosewood with Noble Character is a kind of dedication presented to Gu Yongqi , the master of rosewood furniture, who verified the cultural revival and confidence of China with his talented creativity. Director Zhang Yiqing, like Gu Yongqi, chased the road not taken with abnormal obsession to create new and modern Chinese culture in the realm of documentary. It is meaningful that the film Rosewood with Noble Character finished with the last scene with Gu Yongqi’s these words:


                  I will say it again,

                  We are not making just a piece of furniture

                  But the backbone of Chinese people

                  And the result is not a tenon and a mortise

        But the knee joint


Finally Zhang Yiqing found out his second self in Gu Yongqi.





[1] Zhang Yiqing, Rosewood with Noble Character 君紫檀, 2017.

[2] Qin Qiong, “Record and expression of concept: the Poetic aesthetics of Zhang Yiqing’s documentaries,” Journal of Jianghan University(Social Science Edition). Wuhan, vol. 34, pp. 85-89, Oct. 2017.

[3] Liu Jie, “The other type of spiritual characteristic in documentary films: mentioning Zhang Yiqing’s new documentary Rosewood with Noble Character,” Modern Communication(Journal of communication University of China). Beijing, vol. 84, pp. 102-106, Dec. 2017.

[1] In Rosewood with Noble Character, Gu Yongqi said, 做家具超过历史上任何人, directed by Zhang Yiqing, 2017.

[2] In Rosewood with Noble Character ,顾解决了自宋以来,紫檀家具预留伸缩缝的千年劫, directed by Zhang Yiqing, 2017.