Do you know what ancient lamps look like?

By Chu Mengqi, Chen Mingwen / HICN / Updated: 23:07,02-January-2022

Named one of the past year's "Ten Most Inspirational People" for Hainan, Wang Fuhe—a lineman for the power grid—has an interesting, yet appropriate hobby. Influenced by a family of collectors, Mr. Wang has spent the past 50 years acquiring oil lamps. With nearly a thousand lamps in his collection, the oldest dates back to the Warring States period (475 - 225 BCE). According to Wang Fuhe, history is the root of the nation. Only when the roots are protected can the branches flourish. Wang Fuhe feels that he should be the one who "protects the roots".

In addition to collecting lamps, Wang Fuhe is also interested in studying lamp culture. As a young man, he often asked Qiongtai Normal School professor Chen Guanzhong for advice about objects in his collection. Professor Chen Guanzhong is one of the organizers of Hainan University and once served as the vice president of Qiongtai Normal School. The professor greatly admired his diligence. Later on, that professor even became his father-in-law. Now Wang Fuhe is writing books on ancient lamps and studying the historical value of these collections.

The Smallest Lamp

The smallest lamp in Wang Fuhe's collection is an oil lamp made of silver, measuring 5 cm. tall and 2 cm. wide. The lamp is in the shape of a fisherman wearing a straw coat and holding a fish basket in his arms. The fish basket can be removed to add oil to the lamp. "The reason for making it so small was to make it easy to carry. Fishermen could carry it on them and use it when making offerings." Wang Fuhe said.

The Lamp with the Most Stories

Another lamp in Wang Fuhe's collection comes from a vanished country, the Lanfang Republic. The Lanfang Republic was founded in 1777 in South Borneo (today's Kalimantan Island) by the overseas Chinese Chen Lanbo and Luo Fangbo, hence the name "Lanfang". After battling colonialists time and again, the Lanfang Republic finally disappeared in 1886. However, the history of their struggle still lives on in this oil lamp from the Lanfang Republic.

The Most Precious Lamp

Wang Fuhe's most beloved piece is an ingot-shaped windproof oil lamp from the Song Dynasty. "Many people don't understand how lamps could be kept lit when there were a lot of wind and waves on the sea during the Maritime Silk Road period. You'll understand when you see this lamp." The lamp’s wick is placed in the center of the clay pot, and the lamp is open on only one side. "It's like a flashlight, shining only in the direction it is pointed."

Even though he’s been offered a high price to sell the lamp, Wang Fuhe refused. "It’s priceless. Hainan was once an important supply station on the Maritime Silk Road, and this lamp is the proof."

The Most Popular Hainan Lamps

There are also many frog-shaped lamps in Wang Fuhe's collection, as well as Hainan's traditional begonia lamps. Since frogs lay many eggs, these lamps express good wishes for a family to have many children. In addition, because Hainan is an immigrant province, Hainan people praise the frog's ability to adapt to the local environment.

Wang Fuhe comes from a family of collectors, and his father and father-in-law both enjoy collecting. Due to her family’s influence, Wang Fuhe's daughter also developed the hobby of collecting pens, so Wang Fuhe understands the significance of passing on traditions. In 2018, Wang Fuhe donated more than a thousand lamps from his collection to the Haikou City Electricity Supply Bureau. "I hope the next generation will love Hainan more by understanding these lamps and the stories behind them," said Wang.

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