CARP: Chinese Art - Research into Provenance

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Ton-Ying & Co.

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The Tonying (Tongyun) Company was established in Paris in 1902 by Zhang Renjie 張人傑 (1877-1950), also known as Zhang Jingjiang 張靜江, millionaire financier, Nationalist Government official and patron of both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Westerners dubbed him “Curio” Zhang.

Ceramic vessel
Ceramic vessel

Son of a wealthy family from Zhejiang Province, Zhang gained an official appointment in 1902 as an attaché on the staff of the Qing government’s Minister to France, Sun Baoqi. It was while in Paris that he established the Tonying Company for the import and sale of works of art, tea and silk, with the financial assistance of $300,000 Chinese dollars from his father, Zhang Dingfu.

Ceramic model
Ceramic model

Zhang’s business brought him into contact with a number of revolutionaries, including Sun Yat-sen in 1906, whose activities Zhang agreed to fund, largely from the profits of the Tonying Company. From then on, Zhang became a supporter of the Guomintang, becoming one of the “Four Elder Statesmen of the Guomintang”, following Sun’s death in 1925 and a staunch supporter of Chiang Kai-shek, whose rise to power in 1926 Zhang masterminded. In 1928, he became Chairman of the National Reconstruction Commission, established by the Nationalist Government and later the same year, Governor of Zhejiang Province, a post he held until January 1930. Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, Zhang left China for good in 1938, traveling first to Europe and then after the outbreak of the Second World War, to New York, where he died on 3rd September 1950.

 Ton-Ying & Co
Ton-Ying & Co

The Tonying Company remained a family business branching out to New York from its original base in Paris and its source in Shanghai. As well as dealing in its own right, the Company supplied a number of British dealers, including John Sparks and Bluetts. Because of Zhang’s position in China, the Company was able to source high quality works of art directly, including items from the old Imperial Collection. A long-standing friend from his Paris days was Li Shizeng, who became chairman of the newly created Palace Museum in 1925 and was responsible for the inventory of the Imperial Collections. Zhang also oversaw the beginning of the removal of more than half of the Imperial Collections to Shanghai in 1933 following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. It was during this period that many imperial works of art found their way into Western collections, through dealers such as Zhang. His unfortunate appearance (he suffered from a crippling foot disease which gave him a Richard III lurching gait) and his associations with members of China’s underworld narcotics trade (known as the Green Gang) all contributed to his reputation. Although Zhang dealt extensively on the Shanghai stock exchange, a great deal of his wealth and therefore the financing of the Nationalist cause, came from the profits created by the Tonying Company.

Literature: Howard L. Boorman (ed), Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Vol.1, New York 1979, pp.73-77.

Harold R. Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, Stanford 1961.

Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty, London 1985.

Harold Z. Schiffrin, Sun Yat-sen and the Origins of the Chinese Revolution, Berkeley 1968.

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