Alexandre Gilbert

Cecilia, grandniece of Last Emperor of China

Cecilia Aisin-Gioro, descendant of the Qing Dynasty royal family in China, grandniece of the last Chinese Emperor Pu Yi Aisin-Gioro. She studied painting and had access to the court tradition of training in royal meticulous and water color painting.

Tell us about your memories of Changchun ?
Cecilia: I left Changchun before I went to high school. In my memory, there are many unique buildings from the Manchukuo period (the Japan-dominated regime of the emperor Puyi). These buildings are very strong and beautiful, and have had continued use by later governments. Of course, some were also ruthlessly demolished for new urban construction. I remember that there was a tramline in Changchun that had been constructed by the Manchukuo government. These trams, on their tracks, were particularly beautiful in the autumn streets. The trams were green, and the ground was covered with golden leaves, which was a beautiful sight in Changchun. In my memory, Changchun was the city with the most urban green coverage among the capitals of the three northeastern provinces. It also has many parks and lakes. Changchun also had the first Chinese car factory. The first film production company was founded during the Manchukuo period. There are also many colleges and universities. These were my favorite places to visit. I must admit that the uniqueness of Changchun comes from the fact that it was the capital of Manchukuo. Without that special history, there would be nothing special today in Changchun.

Of course, I had one particularly sad memory from Changchun. I went to the Pseudo Palace on a history education visit organized by the school. I remember there were some very strange smells, possibly the unventilated or musty smell permeating the air inside the Pseudo Palace. That gave me a big headache. There were also huge horrific photos of Japanese soldiers killing Chinese people on the walls, with black headlines and character posters. I was dragged along by the teacher, to look up at the exhibits along the way. I was assigned to write afterthoughts and read them aloud to classes of the different grades in the school. Of course, I couldn’t write what I really felt. I wrote the report to match the results the teachers wanted, in order not to be discriminated against.

Also, I remember there was a very messy and dirty market outside the Pseudo Palace. The busy people and noises made me irritable. I was crying, when I came out of the Pseudo Palace. I don’t know if I was wronged or scared. I vomited at front of the gate of the Pseudo Palace anyway. It was the only time I went to the Pseudo Palace, the most unforgettable and unbearably painful memory in my life.

How are you related to Henri Puyi, the last emperor ?
Cecilia: Puyi was my grandfather’s cousin. We were third generation blood relations. I never met him, but I did meet his brother Pujie, who I called ‘granduncle’.

Why are there art exhibitions in the Forbidden City (Palace Museum) ?
Cecilia: In my opinion, the usual patrons of contemporary art museums are people who already have a certain level of art appreciation. However, the default audience for mainstream museums seems to be mostly people just getting away from their busy worldly lives. They are prudently and religiously prepared to receive an assigned general knowledge, art education, or culture in a particular field. The museum was originally and still is a good space of enlightenment. Then, possibly (I guess) some kind of supreme power and order that may be implanted in the Palace Museum in China . This is one of the most important functions of the Palace Museum – to educate the public. It must connect traditions with contemporary society as an educational and propaganda tool for the Chinese government. The Forbidden City not only preserves the history of China, but also houses the works of contemporary artists. Of course, these modern artists must have strong support, or political background, and most importantly, they must love the Chinese Communist Party.

How important is the ritual of the tea ?
Cecilia: Since ancient times, tea has been a drink in daily life, as a healthy beverage. It has served Chinese people’s physical and thirst-quenching needs, and also has extended spiritual meanings at more levels. Modern Chinese people will start by smelling incense and washing their hands before sitting down to the “gongfu” tea banquet, which shows sincere respect for the thousand-year-old tea culture.

Meditating, waking up the tea, washing tea, boiling water, brewing tea, smelling and tasting tea… The movements, as smooth as running water, brings an extraordinary sense of ritual beauty, which fascinates people. This sense of ritual has made the tea ceremony popular since the Tang Dynasty in China and it has flourished to this day. The ritual sense of tea seems to be fixed, but in fact, the doorway needs to be controlled according to the changes in each person’s heart. For those who love life, the ceremony of tasting tea is reflects an appreciation of the zest and quality of life.

How many times did you participate to Art Vancouver ?
Cecilia: I only attended Art Vancouver twice in 2015 and 2016. It was convenient for me, as a local artist, to support this event.

Who is Yifei Chen?
Yifei Chen was my mentor in oil painting. He was one of the most famous Chinese painters in the world. He had set the international auction price record many times.

Is the year of the Tiger a good year ?
Cecilia: According to the traditional Chinese zodiac calendar, 2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger. Just a quick explanation: Water is good for all greens, so all green-related businesses will be smooth or successful this year. According to the relationship between the five elements and the zodiac: Chinese people believe in the year of the tiger, the people born in ox, horse and dog of the year will be healthy and smooth in the Year of the Water Tiger.

Then, to explain a little more, this is a very complex topic. It involves the relationship between the five elements which has a thousands-of-years history in China. The five elements are: water, wood, fire, earth/soil, and metal/gold . They are all related to each other. The water produces wood, the wood produces fire, the fire produces earth/soil, the earth /soil produces metal, and the metal produces water. They are also against to each other. As the fire can burns wood, the burned wood turn to soil. The soil can destroy fire. Fire can melt metal. Metal can cut wood. 2022 is the year of the water tiger . Aquatic wood, wood can make fire, (fire means the war). Fire can melt metal, Chinese medicine believes that the one of the attributes of the lung is gold, (this means lung disease will subside because of fire). Metal melts into liquid (referring to war and oil). Then, one of the attributes of liquid is water. 2022 is the year of the water tiger. The tiger is powerful. We only can pray the powerful water tiger can manage his year better than the past year.

Did you go to the movies or listen to music in 2021 ?
Cecilia: During the pandemic, I chose to watch movies online, and I would definitely listen to music every day.

Could you tell us your favorite French artists, writers and movies?
Cecilia: France has so many great artists and writers, that it is very difficult for me to choose. If I had to choose my favorites, the painter would be Eugène Delacroix, the writer, Claude Simon, and the film, L’Élégance du hérisson.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.