When visiting an antique market in any city in China, you might glimpse a plain paperweight made from bronze or wood in a rectangular bar shape, known as Zhenzhi 镇纸 in ancient China. With an increasing interest in outlandish ancient stationery, most Chinese collectors merely foray into such hackneyed objects as pen holders, water pots and ink-slabs, overlooking the unassuming Zhenzhi.
Thousands of years ago in China, small-sized bronze or jade artworks were feverishly pursued by scholars and men of letters. They often put these exquisite artworks on their desks, adding a whiff of bookishness to their study. Given the weight of these objects, the literati also use them to hold paper or books, thus the name Zhenzhi, or paperweight.
A wide assortment of materials can be made into Zhenzhi, such as gold, bronze, jade, wood, bamboo, and stone. And to make it more artistically precious, it is often carved with elaborate paintings and poems written by famous scholars. The style of the sculpture on the Zhenzhi is required to mesh with the manner of the writing. Therefore, only a perfect co-operation between the writer and the sculptor could produce Zhenzhi of the highest calibre.
Zhenzhi, though modest in appearance, is strikingly valuable, especially ones with long a history and of high quality. As one of the most prominent examples, a Beijing Auction House received a stunning 1,050,000 yuan from the sale of a Zhenzhi from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in 2004; another Zhenchi from the late Ming Dynasty was sold at the price of 120,000 yuan in the same year. And in 2006, a wooden Zhenzhi from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was valued at 30,000 yuan.
Successive high-profile auctions in recent years have sparked a stampede to collect the once negligible Chinese Zhenzhi. In comparison with other high-brow antiques, Zhenzhi is relatively easy to collect and reserve, paving the way for its further popularity.