Bright prospects

by Jason Lee on February 18, 2014

Bright prospects

Yao Yulin shows an oil lamp dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 24)in his apartment stacked with ancient lamps and candleholders of different dynasties and from different countries. Photos by Huang Zhiling / China Daily

A lamp collector hopes his museum will illuminate how humans have harnessed light over millennia. Huang Zhiling reports in Chengdu.

Nearly a decade after Yao Yulin had to build a pavilion atop his apartment building because his lamp collection had outgrown his home in 2004, a light bulb went off in his head – he’d open a museum. That idea is set to become a reality in April when the Chengdu Yuyao Ancient Lamp Culture Museum will open in – appropriately – Chengdu’s Jinfu Lamp and Lantern Town.

For the love of the language
Life made full by saving lives

Yao has struck a deal with Southwest China’s largest lamp dealer to open a roughly 500-square-meter museum.

“It will be the first museum of its kind in Sichuan,” Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture museum division chief Li Pei says.

Yao is excited to display the more than 3,000 lamps from myriad dynasties and countries he has collected since 1980.

“I find them very interesting because the materials, sizes, workmanship and styles are different.”

Yao’s lamps span from the New Stone Age to present day.

Some of his best specimens include a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) stone Buddha-shaped lamp that weighs more than 200 kilograms and a 15-cm-high mosquito-killing lamp from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The Buddha has 38 troughs on its head, chest, back, feet and toes to hold oil lamps. Ancient people would visit such a Buddha at temples, light a lamp and place a lamp on the part of the Buddha’s body corresponding to that which afflicted them.

A lamp collector hopes his museum will illuminate how humans have harnessed light over millennia. Huang Zhiling reports in Chengdu.

Nearly a decade after Yao Yulin had to build a pavilion atop his apartment building because his lamp collection had outgrown his home in 2004, a light bulb went off in his head – he’d open a museum. That idea is set to become a reality in April when the Chengdu Yuyao Ancient Lamp Culture Museum will open in – appropriately – Chengdu’s Jinfu Lamp and Lantern Town.

For the love of the language
Life made full by saving lives

Yao has struck a deal with Southwest China’s largest lamp dealer to open a roughly 500-square-meter museum.

“It will be the first museum of its kind in Sichuan,” Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture museum division chief Li Pei says.

Yao is excited to display the more than 3,000 lamps from myriad dynasties and countries he has collected since 1980.

“I find them very interesting because the materials, sizes, workmanship and styles are different.”

Yao’s lamps span from the New Stone Age to present day.

Some of his best specimens include a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) stone Buddha-shaped lamp that weighs more than 200 kilograms and a 15-cm-high mosquito-killing lamp from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The Buddha has 38 troughs on its head, chest, back, feet and toes to hold oil lamps. Ancient people would visit such a Buddha at temples, light a lamp and place a lamp on the part of the Buddha’s body corresponding to that which afflicted them.
Yao regretted not being able to buy the rarest lamp he’s seen. But he had another business trip to Hohhot three months later.

“I was excited and nervous because I didn’t know if it was still there.”

For the love of the language
Life made full by saving lives

It was.

He told the storeowner that he’d returned because he’d been obsessed with lamps for more than two decades.

The merchant was moved by Yao’s story and sold it to him for 600 yuan, its purchasing price.

“I felt like I was reunited with a long lost comrade when I held the lamp in my hands,” Yao says.

Yao says memories of his mother inspired his love of lamps.

He recalls finding an old oil lamp when he returned to his home in Henan province’s Zhumadian after serving eight years in the People’s Liberation Army following his 1972 high school graduation.

“My mother used to sit by the lamp to cut paper to make notebooks for my homework,” he recalls.

“It’s a memory of childhood and of mom. I took the lamp back to Chengdu and put it on my desk.”

A collection was born – but one that has cost Yao, who earns less than 5,000 yuan a month, nearly all his money.

By Huang Zhiling

 

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