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“Behold the censer and the agilawood in fire, two wreaths of smoke combine and rise higher and higher.”

In the poem, A Love Song, the great Chinese poet Li Bai wrote that censer is a must-have for refined scholars in ancient times. The elegant and unique incense burner is placed beside the table, and the aroma spreads, creating a hazy fairyland.

In the exhibition hall of Chongqing Jiulong Agilawood Museum, several glaze Boshan Censers of different colors are clear and transparent. The censer cover is hollowed out and chiseled into overlapping mountain shapes, with chiseled rare birds and lifelike animals, shining with a warm and restrained luster. The colored glaze Boshan Censer has been selected as 2021 “Chongqing Gifts for Foreign Affairs”.

The colored glaze Boshan Censer. (Photo provided to Chongqing)

Reproducing Antique with technology 

As early as the Han and Jin dynasties in China, the Boshan Censer became a common incense burner in the court and noble life, and its artistic attainments and casting technology represented the peak of that time.

In order to reproduce the craftsmanship and charm of the Boshan Censer, Ling Kun, curator of the Jiulong Agilawood Museum, referred to a large number of ancient books and materials, tested with a lot of materials, and used 3D scanning, printing prototypes, and the ancient method of glazed dewaxing and finally replicated the artifacts.

“The colored glaze originates from foreign countries. It is crystal clear and radiant and is more charming when integrating with Chinese culture.” Ling Kun said that each colored glaze Boshan Censer must be cast one by one, and the yield rate is only 70%, which cannot be recycled for remaking. Every bubble and every line in the glaze are unique and cannot be duplicated.

The treasure of Chongqing Kowloon Agarwood Museum - "Angel's Eye", produced in the primitive tropical rain forest of Nha Trang, Vietnam, weighs 13780 grams. (Photo provided to Chongqing)

A long history of making incense

The incense burners are created to go with incense.

People living in ancient times were experts in discovering the taste of nature. With the thriving “Silk Road” trade route, spices gradually became the “protagonist” of international trade. In the middle and late Song Dynasty, the three items, namely the incense burner, incense box, and tool bottle, gradually became a set for incense burning. In the Ming Dynasty, Zheng He made seven voyages to the West, and spices together with silk, tea, and porcelain, became important commodities and mediums for cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries. Chinese people love and admire incense, and incense has gradually merged with Chinese traditional culture, creating many wonderful stories. Since the Tang and Song dynasties, burning incense, hanging paintings, making tea, and enjoying music are called the “four arts for literati”. Among them, incense embodies the wonderful taste of incense culture. In the smell, there are elements that are connected with the lifeblood of classical culture.

Collection of Qi Nan agarwood. (Photo provided to iChongqing).

Today, Chongqing Jiulong Agilawood Museum uses agilawood as a medium to tell the story of China to the world. “At present, the museum houses more than 500 groups of agilawood collections from incense-producing regions of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as hundreds of incense burners from the Han, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties in China.” Ling Kun said that the museum has 9 parts. Systematic introduction and stories behind agilawood will be told through several chapters such as the evolutionary history of incense burners in the past dynasties, the systematic classification of agilawood, the display of the core production areas of agilawood, the art of agilawood statues, the identification of true and false, the display of ancient methods of blending incense and incense materials, and contemporary agilawood cultural and creative works.

Ling Kun is not only a senior collector of agarwood, but also a well-known incense maker in the industry. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

“People at that time pursue spiritual things that go beyond the realities and are elegant. We can reconstruct another perspective of the material and cultural history of ancient China from the ‘dimension of smell’. This is the very significance of classical blending incense.”

Promote incense culture

Stepping into the museum, you will find the “preparation room” of incense. It is more like a showroom of “nature”, with a dazzling array of spices like works of art.

Ling Kun is not only a collector of agilawood for many years but also a well-known incense maker in the industry. He first proposed the classification standard of modern agilawood and the norm of “nine essentials of incense”. With both theoretical knowledge and know-how, he is an expert in incense aesthetics and collection.

The process of making incense may seem simple, but it contains profound knowledge. With the same raw materials, different proportions and grinding processes can bring about different qualities of incense. “The unique blending incense in Chinese incense culture is about concocting and blending different spices.

According to their own aesthetic ideas, different settings require different blending incense, such as poetry, calligraphy, painting, dancing, music, and tea, promoting the progress of Chinese incense culture.” Ling Kun’s reputation in the industry comes from his proficiency in blending incense materials and their proportions. “Making traditional blending incense requires not only natural spices as raw materials, but also formula, strict processing method, and production process. The process of making incense must follow the ancient method and integrate the nature of mind into it.”

In June 2019, the traditional incense-making of Chongqing Jiulong Agilawood Museum was included in the 6th Chongqing Municipal Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

This “preparation room” is also often turned into a “recording room”. The Chongqing Jiulong Agilawood Museum shows netizens the history, culture, production techniques, and incensing methods of various spices through the “Xiaohongshu” platform. In less than a year, it has more than 180,000 likes.


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