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“Ming and Qing Dynasty Paintings and Calligraphic Works from the Masaji Ikebe Collection” Exhibition

Kim Jiho
Assistant at the Aizu Museum, Waseda University

Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics graduate Yukio Ikebe (1911-2013, graduated 1935), on hearing of the establishment of the Aizu Museum at Waseda University, donated a collection of paintings and calligraphic works from the Ming and Qing dynasties in March 1998, immediately prior to the opening of the museum. It is a massive collection totaling 270 works including books, paintings, rubbings, and Ming and Qing dynasty historical materials. This collection was accumulated in China by Yukio’s father, Masaji Ikebe (1877-1925), and includes not only paintings and calligraphic works by Chinese literati, but also those from Japan and Korea, with many works by writers active in the late Qing and early Republic of China.

Masaji Ikebe and wife, Mitsuko, around 1906 (when head of the Nanking branch)

Masaji was born in Kikuchi, Kumamoto Prefecture, and from the description; “Ministry of Foreign Affairs exchange student Masaji Ikebe”, in the “Japanese Nationals in Fuzhou, China” report sent from the Taiwanese Naval Chief Tatewaki Kurooka to then Chief of the Naval General Staff Sukeyuki Ito in March 1899, it is known that he had gone to Fuzhou, China as a Ministry of Foreign Affairs exchange student in the late 19th century. Since end of the 1894 Sino-Japanese War, the Meiji Government set up an exchange program and were sending Japanese exchange students to China in order to secure human resources able to use the Chinese language. Because the main aim of this exchange program was to raise government officials for diplomatic relations with the Chinese, Masaji, after his exchange, was active in a wide area as a foreign diplomat living in China. With searches through Ministry of Foreign Affairs records for clues on Masaji’s history, we can confirm that he was active as head of the Shanghai Consulate General Nanking Branch around 1906, acting-consul at the Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province) Consulate in 1909, acting-consul at the Changsha (Hunan Province) Consulate in 1914, consul at the Zhengjiatun (Jilin Province) in 1919, and third secretary of the Japanese legation in Peking in 1922.

The political uprising that occurred in China in 1924 cannot talk about without mentioning Masaji, who was working as a Japanese foreign diplomat. I will describe this incident below. In November of that year, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, known as Aisin Gioro Pu Yi (1906-1967, Xuantong Emperor 1908-1912) was expelled from the Forbidden City in a coup d’etat by Feng Yuxiang. At the time, Pu Yi, who had abdicated the throne in the 1912 Xinhai Revolution, retained his imperial title and received favourable treatment, was still living in the Forbidden City. However, Feng Yuxiang demanded a revision of the favourable treatment extended to the imperial court and expelled Pu Yi from the Forbidden City. Starting with Reginald Fleming Johnston (1874-1938), who worked as Pu Yi’s private tutor, and later authored “Twilight in the Forbidden City”, supporters of Pu Yi, such as Luo Zhenyu (1866-1940), Zheng Xiaoxu (1860-1938), and Chen Baochen (1848-1935), began to frantically search for a safe place to live. For the time being, Pu Yi fled to his birthplace and house of his father, Prince Chun, but he was also under close watch of the Feng Yuxiang, and was under virtual house arrest. In order to break free of this situation, Pu Yi’s supporters requested the aid of foreign legations, and although every effort was made to put pressure on Feng Yuxiang, there was no change to the difficult situation. Pu Yi’s supporters then devised a plan to seek asylum in a foreign legation, and after that, through the efforts of Zheng Xiaoxu, he evacuated to the Japanese legation in Peking. Masaji, third secretary at the Japanese legation at the time, endeavored to ensure a safe stay for Pu Yi and his supporters from the day they evacuated to the Japanese legation. Masaji used his Chinese at the legation, which was outstanding, and forged a deep friendship with Pu Yi and his supporters. Especially through his comments expressing hope for the continuation of the imperial court in his exchanges with Luo Zhenyu and Zheng Xiaoxu, and that Chen Baochen, who fled to the legation with them as Pu Yi’s guardian and tutor, was Msaji’s former teacher during his exchange student days in Fuzhou, he was held in extremely strong trust by court aristocrats and surviving retainers. You can probably conjure up an image of Masaji’s intimate relations with the imperial court from the many paintings and calligraphic works presented by Pu Yi and his supporters that are included in this collection.

Land■(sun+purpose)_Picture of twin pines

Document written in Manchurian

After living safely in the Japanese legation for about three months, Pu Yi and his supporters, in order to look for an even safer place, decided to leave Peking for Tianjin. However, to the new government, which was wary of Pu Yi’s political influence, Pu Yi’s actions were undesirable, so he could not move freely. There, Masaji obtained information that a British envoy would be at the Peking railway station, and with intricate timing, put Pu Yi on the express from Peking to Tianjin, and safely escorted him to Tianjin. Also, on the following day, Pu Yi’s wives, Wanrong and Wenxiu, were accompanied by Masaji’s wife, Mitsuko, and moved to Tianjin. Afterwards, Pu Yi became ruler and emperor of Manchukuo, and then lived life as a prisoner-of-war, war criminal, and normal citizen after the end of the Second World War. It goes without saying that Masaji played an active role in Pu Yi’s stormy life.

Rubbing of an Egyptian wall painting

Masaji used his holidays to go out himself and take rubbings of inscriptions from stone monuments etc., and many of these pieces, which appear to be his own works, can be seen in the Masaji Ikebe Collection. Also, as part of his duties at the legation, he was also involved in the Japan and China Coalition Painting Exhibition, where he fostered friendships with artists and politicians from both countries. Testimony to that are the many works in the collection thought to have been presented by politicians, soldiers, and literati of the time from both countries.

We are fortunate that this collection, which Masaji valued, and was carefully looked after by his wife Mitsuko and Yukio, will be displayed to the public for the first time in this exhibition. I paid a visit to Yukio in July this year to notify him of the Masaji Ikebe Collection exhibition, but was unfortunately told that he had passed away in May. Now there is no one who can speak firsthand of the personal exchanges Masaji built up in China and the collection, but by passing on what we have learnt from Masaji to the next generation, they can get an idea of the complicated world affairs of the time. This is also a part of the significance of showing the Masaji Ikebe Collection to the public.

Kim Jiho
Assistant at the Aizu Museum, Waseda University

Born in Seoul, South Korea in 1977. Graduated with doctorate from the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. Ph.D (literature). Majors in Oriental art history. Published articles include Sacred Images around the Foundation of Taimadera in Temple Pilgrimage―Katsuaki Ohashi’s 70th Birthday Memorial Art History Collection― (Chuokouronbijyutsu, 2013).