Ca.1860; chestnut wood frame, pear wood inlay; Kang Wha Island, Korea. One hundred Chinese characters inlaid instead of painted on.
This chest was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kangwha Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years. It was recovered after the war by an American missionary doctor who went to the prison colony to treat the sick and the dying.
The chest was likely used by a member of the elite scholar class who found himself in disfavor with the Court and was sent into exile. Scholars of yore had to be proficient in the Chinese language to be able to hold high office in the palace. The chest has inlaid on its front panel the Chinese character “fortune” in 100 different style writing, all with same meaning. The sides and top are covered with a diamond design signifying “prosperity and wellness”. The metal fixtures are simple and made of iron, preferred by Confucian scholars for its quiet strength. The chest survived in excellent condition and is certified rare by a Professor of Korean History and Antiquity, one of only thirteen certifiers approved by the government in the 1900s.