Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, March 7 – You can see vendors selling quite a variety of things in China. Today we passed this man selling baskets and gourds. The gourds you see hanging from the trunk are considered to be good luck symbols; I’ve often seen them hanging on rearview mirrors. They are bottle or calabash gourds, and their Chinese name sounds similar to words for “protect” and “happiness and rank,” as well as looking like a number “8” which is considered lucky. There’s a lot more to their significance, here is an article with a lot more information if you are interested http://www.thechairmansbao.com/history-gourds-china/ . I was excited when I saw that he also had backscratchers because my husband had just asked for one ;-0 So, we bought a backscratcher for 5rmb or about 75 cents in USD.
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, January 26 – This pair of children are called 金童玉女, Jīn tóng yù nǚ, “Golden Boy and Jade Girl (or maiden),” or “The Golden Children.” Although not as common as other Spring Festival decorations, they are still common to see. In reading about them, it seems that they are originally from the Taoist/Daoist religion, and were assistants of the goddess Guan Yin, also called Kwan Yin. The legend is that when they were born, many treasures accompanied their births, so they were named “Golden Boy” and “Jade Girl,” and they then became immortals by serving Guan Yin. In modern day China, especially as Spring Festival decorations, they are seen dressed in traditional Chinese clothing, and are portrayed as round-faced, chubby children. This makes them symbolic of well-fed children, indicating wealth and prosperity. They are displayed as a pair, usually facing each other. Figuratively, they represent lovely young children and are believed to bring happiness and good fortune to a family.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 30 – I posted a picture back on July 28th of Zoomorphic Animals used on the eaves of Chinese architecture, and told how the number used indicated rank in ancient China. Door Studs were another way that rank was indicated in ancient Chinese architecture. The pictured door was on a temple in Guilin. Being a temple, It has the highest number of studs found, which is 81 (9 rows of 9 studs). In modern times, door studs continue to be used as decoration, but originally they held on iron plates to strengthen the doors. Doors also often had, and many times still have, decorative knocker bases. The more important the building, the more elaborate the “pushou” or knocker base. They are usually found in the shape of one of the animals with special meaning in Chinese culture. These date back over 2000 years. As well as being decorative, they were functional as a knocker, and when the doors were closed, a lock could be fastened around the two rings. These two knockers were from the temple area in Ngong Ping, where we visited in Hong Kong last week.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, November 2 – When we were at the zoo on Monday, they had a display of Chinese paper-cut monkey designs; Remember, this is the year of the monkey in the Chinese zodiac. Chinese paper cutting is a folk art that can be traced back at least 1500 years, and is still very popular today. Paper-cuts are used as decorations and given as gifts for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, etc. During Chinese New Year celebrations, the “Fu” symbol, which I wrote about with the bat post a few days ago, is a really popular decoration. Paper-cuts are usually made from red paper, but there are also ones in many colors. Sometimes they are made by folding the paper and cutting it with scissors to get a repetitive design, and sometimes a pattern is laid flat over one or more pieces of paper and they are cut with s small knife. Paper-cuts can be extremely detailed! In China, you can often see various items decorated in ways to represent paper-cuts. In my picture, the upper left and lower right monkey designs are some from the zoo display, the upper right is a sale display from back in February at the Spring Festival Flower Market, and the lower left is a large paper-cut we have hanging in our picture window. Ours has “Fu” in the center (although it is backwards here because we hung it to be read correctly from outside), and the four characters at the top basically say “Peace and safety in the four seasons.”
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 29 – Since it is time for Halloween, and bats are associated with Halloween in the Western world, I thought I’d write about bats in China. Unlike how bats are traditionally considered “scary” for Halloween, they are a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture. The Chinese characters for bat, 蝠 fú (pronounced “foo”), and good fortune 福 fú, are pronounced the same. Quoting from online: “Often the bat is shown flying upside down because the character (dao 倒) for "upside-down" and the character (dao 到) meaning "to have arrived" are both pronounced dao (like “dow” rhyming with cow). Therefore, if a person were to say "the bat is flying upside down" a listener could just as easily hear this as "happiness has arrived" which, of course, has a very auspicious connotation.” According to Feng Shui, two bats bring double happiness, and five bats represent the five blessings in Chinese culture: longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue and a natural death. My pictures show bats on a tea cup and also on a complete tea set. The character written on the upper part of the cup is the “good fortune” 福 fú. Can you recognize it? Quote from http://primaltrek.com/impliedmeaning.html
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 24 – China, although thy have a large number of animal lovers and animal rights activists, still has many practices that can be considered as animal cruelty. Tattooing goldfish is one of these. Goldfish themselves are considered to bring good luck to their owners, and people worldwide have gotten tattoos of goldfish for a long time. Then, about 10 years ago, someone got the idea to start tattooing the goldfish to make them even more appealing to people. The idea became popular 5 or 6 years ago, unfortunately, it’s not so lucky for the goldfish. The Chinese characters or patterns that are tattooed on the goldfish are done by either injection or with a laser; either way damages the fish’s scales and it usually dies prematurely. These fish are sold pretty much anywhere you can buy live fish to keep as pets, although I’m sure there are some independent shops who look down on the practice. So, if you live in China, please don’t buy these fish!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 23 – I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far into the year without posting specifically about dragons! Dragons, called龙 long, are HUGE in China and there is no way I’ll cover everything there is to learn about them in this paragraph! Most importantly, dragons in China are GOOD, unlike dragons in Western lore that are/were mean, ferocious enemies. Chinese dragons are mainly symbols of power and good luck. They have a very different look than most Western dragons. They have NO wings (although they can fly) and they don’t breathe fire; They have scales like a fish, the mane of a lion, the claws of a hawk, a long tail like a snake, the antlers of a deer, the mouth of a bull, the beard of a catfish, the nose of a dog, and eyes like a shrimp! Legend says that the emperor was a direct descendant of the dragon. Legend also says that the Imperial dragon had 9 dragon sons; today, you can still recognize nine different specific dragons, used in different ways. The dragon is also one of the Chinese Zodiac animals, the only mythological one of the group. Long ago, the dragon symbol was only allowed to be used by the emperor, but, today dragon symbols are widely used as a decorative symbol. This large ornamental pillar with a dragon wrapped around it is located in the Dalingshan Town Square, in Dongguan.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 9 – Today was the Chongyang or Double Ninth Festival in China. It is the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar. The common word for nine is “jiu”, which also is the way the word for “long” is pronounced, and “jiu jiu” means “forever.” Because of this, the day was always a time for worshiping ancestors. Today, because of its symbolism for longevity, it is Seniors Day. Younger generations are supposed to show respect to the elderly and make it a special day for them. A very old tradition on this day is to climb mountains. 1500 years ago in China, during the Tang Dynasty, poets often wrote about climbing mountains and it was/is believed that by doing so, disease could be prevented. I remember when we were in Guilin a few years ago and had two elderly women accompany us up Moon Hill, they were in far better physical shape than I was! They said they climbed the mountain a couple times a week. Today’s picture was taken by my friend, Nancy Liang, when she and her daughter climbed Nanshan Mountain in Shenzhen this morning. Since chrysanthemums are blooming at this time of year, they are always admired during the festival, and Chrysanthemum wine is usually enjoyed. The festival can also be called the Height Ascending Festival or the Chrysanthemum Festival.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, September 26 – Jade has been a highly sought after gemstone in China for thousands of years. It actually was first used for its hardness as tools before being used for its beauty. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “You can put a price on gold, but jade is priceless.” I never knew much about jade (I still don’t really!) and when I came to China, I was surprised at all the colors of jade! I always associated it with green, but it can naturally be red, yellow, lavender, white, black, or green. There is a lot of jade jewelry in China, many ornaments and decorations, and even special jade markets. An interesting jade piece you see often is the jade cabbage. Chinese cabbage is called “bai cai,” which has the same sound (but different characters) as “bai cai” the words for “numerous wealth.” Thus, the jade cabbage is another good luck charm, put in your home or your business to bring in wealth. There is a famous jadeite cabbage statue in a museum in Taiwan, which also has a cricket and a katydid carved in it. There is an old poem where supposedly these insects represent having many children and grandchildren, so I’ve been told that there are often insects hidden in the carved cabbages (but I’ve never been able to find one!) The pictures are from various places around us where we’ve seen jade cabbages, and also an art print of the cabbage and insects. jade, cabbage,
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 4 – Even if you haven’t been to China you may know about Chinese guardian lions or “shi,” also called stone lions “shi shi” (shrrr shrrr), “Imperial guardian lions,” and in English “foo (fu) dogs or foo (fu) lions.” What most people don’t realize unless they come to China is how common these lions really are! Most large banks and many other places like temples, hotels, businesses, etc. have them at their entrances, whether walk-in doors or drive-in gates. These lions are used because they symbolize power, have traditionally been used to provide protection, and are for decoration. Historically, they have been used for over 2000 years, and were only allowed to be used in official places and homes of high officials. The number of bumps on their heads, representing their hair, indicated rank. As you can see, there are different styles of lions, ranging from more realistic looking to the mythical look. They have their eyes wide open “watching” and their mouths are open as if roaring. Lions are always displayed in pairs and usually there is a male and a female. The male is on the left and has a ball under its paw, which represented the globe and the emperors rulership. The female, on the right, has a cub under her paw. Sometimes, guardian lions are made of other materials like bronze or marble, and in the lower left picture, you can see a modern day inflatable guardian lion! I always thought the common occurrence of lions in Chinese culture was interesting considering lions are not native to China. The use of stone lions supposedly arrived with the introduction of Buddhism.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 2 – Every time I go to the Songshan Lake Library, I take a picture of this statue, it’s in need of a new paint job, but, I still like it :-) I’ve never seen a live water buffalo in Songshan Lake, but when we’ve gone outside of the city a ways I’ve seen them. I’ve heard about a beach in Hong Kong where there are water buffalo, and I hope to get to see them some day. I couldn’t find any specific information about this statue, but I’ll quote some information I did find: “Popular in many media, representations of young boys with water buffaloes often have Buddhist overtones. The motif of a youth herding a water buffalo alludes to a famous eleventh- to twelfth-century cycle of parables known as the Ten Ox herding Songs. In this cycle, actions such as looking for an ox and herding it represent some of the steps in the quest for enlightenment.” http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51230 Also, from Wikipedia, “Ox herd boys riding oxen have been used as a motif in painting and graphic arts to symbolize the ability of the mind to control the body. That is, philosophically, symbolizing the ability of intellectual will to rule bodily strength and its physical urges.”
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 28 – Yesterday, while in Guangzhou, we happened to walk past the Sun Yat-sen Children’s Library. I like looking at old Chinese architecture so we went inside of the gates to get a better look. One of the features it had were the “wenshou,” or “zoomorphic ornaments.” These ridge animals have been used in Chinese architecture for over 2000 years! They are considered to be a good luck symbol as it was traditionally believed that they were capable of putting out fires. The number of animals was indicative of the status of the owner of the building. The Throne Hall at the Forbidden City in Beijing has eleven animals, which is the largest known amount. This library, built in 1933, has six animals on each sloping ridge point, arranged in the standard order: first comes a god riding a phoenix, then a dragon, a phoenix, a lion, a “heavenly” horse, and a “sea” horse. The ferocious looking creature at the back of the line of animals is “chiwen” also known as the “ridge devouring beast” when used like this.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 19 – I’ve seen charging bull statues in a number of cities in China. Shanghai supposedly has one on the Bund that is similar to the New York City Wall Street Bull. Shenzhen has one in front of their government building as well as a giant one in Sihai Park near where we used to live, and this one pictured is in Dongguan. I don’t think it’s “famous” like the others, but it’s the closest to where we live now and definitely the most colorful! In China, the bull, especially the charging bull, symbolizes determination, diligence, perseverance, and hard work. This makes it a popular decorative statue for offices and desks. The bull, or ox, is one of the twelve lunar zodiac signs, it’s most recent year was 2009 and the next will be 2021. If you are an ox (bull) the previous traits are supposedly part of your personality.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 8 – This is a clock shop from the wholesale market we went to in Guangzhou last week. LOTS of clocks to choose from…. BUT, you should buy one for yourself NOT to give as a gift! Do you remember from back in May that you shouldn’t give an umbrella as a gift in China? The same with clocks! I’ll just quote this from online “In Chinese, saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) sounds exactly like the Chinese words for 'attending a funeral ritual' (送终 sòng zhōng) and thus it is bad luck to gift clocks or watches.” Clocks also can symbolize that time is running out, so giving a clock as a gift, especially to an older person, can be seen as you wishing death upon them! In a wholesale market like this one, the shops have samples of what they sell on display, and you can buy just one of something, or you can buy large quantities. I had purchased four picture frames from a shop and had to wait 30 minutes while they got them from somewhere nearby.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 4 – Today we decided to test the new scooter and go to the shopping plaza to see if there were any signs at all of the American Independence Day celebration, but there was nothing (Yes, I know, we do live in China !) . However, there was an inflatable dragon archway that is often used to celebrate a new store opening or a special event taking place. In Chinese culture, dragons are symbolic of success, achievement, and more. The top picture is the main entrance to the Spar Supermarket near where we live and they just opened a small optician “kiosk” inside the store. The sign reads something like “Offering Congratulations to the Opening of the Eyeglass Shop”. The bottom picture was from yesterday in the next town, Dalingshan, in front of a jewelry store. These inflatables aren’t very expensive, a 10 meter or 32 foot wide one like in the top picture costs about 50usd. A small cost to advertise your new business and bring it good luck :-)
A few nights ago, Leah and I went toad hunting and it made me think of the symbolism of toads in China :-) “Jin Chan” or “Chan Chu,” usually called “Money frog” or “Money toad” in English, is a figurine used in Feng Shui to attract money. It has three legs, usually red eyes (which makes it kind of evil looking!), always holds an ancient Chinese coin in its mouth, and usually sits on a pile of coins. Although you can only see six beads on its back, there are seven, and they represent the Big Dipper. You can have up to nine lucky toads in your home, and as with most things in Feng Shui, the placement of where you put them is VERY important! Placed just inside your main door is good, but… facing inwards, so the money comes “in,” never facing the door as the money will go out! And it should not be placed in a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen or dining room. The legend behind Chan Chu is that a wife of one of the Chinese eight immortals was caught stealing the immortal elixir, and as punishment was turned into a toad by the gods. The picture shows a live toad we saw the other night and also a Chan Chu from a tea shop just outside the Walmart entrance.
The cat of many names!: Originally from Japan, and called Maneki-neko, which means “Beckoning Cat,” in English most commonly known as “Lucky Cat,” and in Chinese “Zhao cai mao 招财猫 ” or “Welcoming Wealth Cat.” Westerners often think the cat is waving, but it represents the Japanese way of beckoning. The lucky cat dates back to the 1800’s in Japan, is known around the world, and is extremely popular in modern China. It is often found in businesses as it is believed it will bring good luck and wealth. Having right, left, or both paws raised, and also what it is wearing or holding, can all have special meanings. The most common is to have the left paw raised (often battery powered to move up and down) and wearing a red collar with a gold bell. There are many folktales about the cat, as well as numerous modern day characters depicted from Maneki-neko. Traditionally, the coloring represented a tri-color calico Japanese bobtail cat, but today it can be found in many colors, especially white, gold, red and black. There are entire stores for selling them, and they show up in all kinds of places! These pictures show the Lucky Cat at a local restaurant we like to eat at, some meat floss snack cakes at the local grocery store, a lucky cat shop from the Spring Festival flower market, and a mug with a lid for sale at a local store.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 12 - Today is the 5th day of the Chinese New Year and the day considered to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. In many places, the day is welcomed in with abundant fireworks to honor and please this God. He is seen frequently in Chinese New Year decorations, often with coins or yuanbao. Many people will also eat dumplings called jiaozi today because they are shaped like yuanbao. (check picture from Jan. 21)
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 9 - If you’ve read what I’ve previously shared about gold and fish… I’m sure you'll understand why goldfish are considered to be “lucky fish!” What better activity for kids (and adults!) at a New Year’s celebration than fishing for goldfish! There is a food fair, with some carnival type games, at our nearby shopping plaza and this “fish pond” is set up there. I’ve seen fishing like this at quite a few other places throughout the year, but in much smaller pools!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 7 - One of the most popular sayings for Chinese New Year is “Nian nian you yu 年年有余” The basic meaning of this is “May you have abundance through every year.” The word for abundance, surplus, or plenty, is “yu余.” This sounds the same as the word “yu魚 ” which means fish, so, you can see why fish are such popular decorations during Spring Festival! Today is New Year’s Eve in China and families will gather for their “reunion dinners.” A very important dish to serve is fish, usually served whole as a symbol of prosperity, with the head and tail representing the beginning and ending of the year. A portion of the fish is saved for finishing in the new year, indicating that there is “surplus” for the New Year!