A Fat and a Thin Arhat
A Fat and a Thin Arhat
National Treasure Intro
Ye Wang’s "A Fat and a Thin Arhat "Koji pottery is part of a set of auspicious figures.
In 1860, during the renovation of Tzu-chi Temple, Xuejia, Tainan, Ye Wang was hired to make more than 200 pieces of Koji pottery to decorate the roofs and exterior walls of the temple and the petroglyph behind. It took Ye Wang more than two years to complete the work.
This set of Koji pottery figures were originally placed on the two sides of the back of the Sanchuan Hall. The bodies of the two pottery figures are uncovered, forming a strong contrast with the appearance of the He-jing, Ping-an set of pottery figures placed in the same place. This is to reflect the true appearance of the human world. After the theft that took place in 1980, after more than 20 years, the objects were luckily returned to the Tzu-chi Temple, Xuejia, Tainan. However, to avoid any objects being stolen again, and to better preserve the pottery figures that had already become severely weathered after 100 years, the temple decided to display the Koji pottery figures in the Ye Wang Koji Pottery Exhibition Room.
Ye Wang (1826-1887) was born in Chiayi, Taiwan during the Daoguang period of the Qing dynasty. He studied with potters in Guangdong, the theme of his works included traditional opera figures, birds, insects, fish, and animals. Therefore, his works were mostly used as decorative objects for temples. Ye Wang crafted his works with exquisite pinching and kiln firing techniques, which make the figures have vivid and stately expressions. This is especially true with A Fat and a Thin Arhat; every aspect of them is vivid and delicate, including their expressions, physique, and the folds in their clothes. They were designated as a national treasure in 2015.
National Treasure Appreciation
It is said that Ye Wang’s inspiration for the A Fat and a Thin Arhat Koji pottery figures came from a fat villager and a thin villager who often visited the temple to watch Ye Wang work when he was firing the pottery at Tzu-chi Temple, Xuejia, Tainan and became close friends. Therefore, Ye Wang used the shape of the two villagers to create these pottery figures.
The expression on the two Arhats’ faces is vivid. One has an emaciated skeleton, and the other a fat and plump belly and chest, making the pottery figures come alive at once.
The Thin Arhat Koji pottery figure has a sunken face, prominent skull, large nose, sunken eyes, shrunken lips, and a wrinkled face.
His whole body is emaciated and boney, especially his upper body, where he has a sunken clavicle, exposed ribs, and slim arms. He is literally “skin and bones,” which shows that Ye Wang observed in detail the structure of the human body and understood it like the back of his hand.
The Fat Arhat Koji pottery figure has a simple, bulbous face, and yawns leisurely. Like the Thin Arhat, the Fat Arhat has an exposed upper body, and the chest is round and plump, expressing his abundant figure. This pottery figure exudes a relaxed atmosphere, making people smile and laugh.
As the Fat Arhat opens his mouth to yawn, his nostrils are enlarged, and the muscles on the bridge of his nose are pulled together and become wrinkled. By depicting in detail how the wrinkles change when the nose is scrunched up, Ye Wang shows his extremely close observation of subtle changes in the muscles. From his realistic skill in shaping the figures, we can see an image of how Taiwanese people looked in the late Qing dynasty.
- Wang Xiaoling, “’The Gods Love Farming’: Who is Yawning on the Roof of the Temple?” Agri, 2021:7, pp. 54-55.
- Chien Jung-ts’ung and Cheng Chao-i, Colorful Sculptures: A Collection of Taiwan’s Koji Pottery. Nantou City: Taiwan Historica Society, 2001.
- Cheng Wen-hsien, Ye Wang’s ‘The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea’. Tainan: Tainan Municipal Government, 2014.
The Tzu-chi Temple, Xuejia, in Tainan enshrines Baosheng Dadi. At the end of the Ming dynasty, Chen Yigui, a grain transport officer in Koxinga’s army, crossed the sea and came to Taiwan, and with him he brought the Baosheng Erdi statue from the Baijiao Ciji Temple in Fujian to worship. He settled in Tainan and built a small hut as a temple to worship Baosheng Erdi next to the Jiangjun River, where there were also many immigrants living. The Tzu-chi Temple was built in 1701. Later, when it was renovated in 1860, the temple hired Ye Wang to decorate the walls, exterior walls, and roof of the temple with Koji pottery; Ye Wang crafted more than 200 pieces of pottery. However, between 1980 and 2003, 56 pieces of Koji pottery were stolen from the temple. In 2003, after buying some of the stolen pieces at auction, the Aurora Group was able to return 36 of the stolen pieces.
To prevent further theft, the Tzu-chi Temple set up the Ye Wang Koji Pottery Exhibition Room to preserve and display Ye Wang’s works, and asked Lin Kuang-I, a Koji pottery artisan, to recreate them and place them in the same place as the original Ye Wang Koji pottery.
objects can be better understood by linking them to similar objects in global collections.