Antique Lamps - Kung Hei Fat Choi

Published: 16th November 2011
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"Kung Hei Fat Choi!" or "Happy New Year!" - the great festival of the Chinese speaking world. It is unknown exactly when and how this event began, except to say that with China's 5000 years of history, not being able to recall the beginnings of such celebrations can be well understood.

In contemporary China, the New Year celebration is known as the Spring Festival and is considered one of the most important events in China. This important occasion carries with it certain obligations for people preparing for the New Year. All disputes must be resolved, so that the New Year can begin with a clean slate. Spring cleaning is done, so that the house can greet the New Year clean and tidy & all clothes have to be cleaned and pressed.

The date of the Chinese New Year is established by the lunar calendar, so the first day of the lunar year marks the date of the Chinese New Year. This places the date of the New Year between late January and early February. Finally at midnight, on New Years Eve, the fun begins!

At the stroke of twelve the New Year is greeted by the explosion of fireworks, bells, drums and gongs. In traditional China, or, Imperial China, the midnight cannonade was designed to drive away evil spirits and so cleanse the infant New Year.

It is at this time, that every city witnesses one of China's most ancient cultural events, the dragon and lion dance. Through the streets of every town and village the dragon, to the sound of fireworks, drums and gongs, snakes his way across China.

The dragon is the most ancient of Chinese cultural symbols and is highly revered and honored by the Chinese people. Unlike in the West, the Chinese dragon is a totally benign creature, the deity of water, rivers and streams and offering assurance from the threat of drought. The lion, the symbol of power and courage, protects and wards off mischievous spirits.

With the tradition of New Years celebration so deeply embedded in the Chinese psyche, no effort is spared in traveling vast distances to bring gifts and spend this important holiday with the family. Known in China as the "Spring Movement", it is, in fact, the largest mass migration on the planet!

The week long holiday is filled with entertainments and special New Year dishes. House window frames and doors are freshly painted and the houses brightly decorated with lights and red lanterns, red being the symbolic colour for wealth and good fortune. Children receive the traditional red envelope, containing money, quickly spent on treats and sweets!

With a major tradition being the exchanging of gifts, the focus of this article is the traditional gift of "New Year" or "Cracked Ice" blue and white Chinese porcelain.

Oriental porcelain was introduced to the West as early as the mid 15th century, when precious examples appearing in Lisbon, Portugal being the first to acquire trading rights from Imperial China.

Prior to this, porcelain, both Chinese and Japanese, was seen in Europe as a mystical substance with almost magical properties, from a place that very few knew of, let alone, had been to. Most information was still based on the visit made by Marco Polo in 1275.

The "secret" of blue and white porcelain is cobalt, a natural mineral ore which gives the blue. Cobalt was then confined to Persia, today's modern Iran. This trade between China and Persia undoubtedly propelled the Chinese decoration of ceramics into a new direction, with the first truly blue and white porcelain made around 1290 AD.

The production of porcelain in China has had a history of thousands of years and is the very reason we call porcelain "China" because that's where it came from!

Not only porcelain, but all traditional Chinese art is filled with symbolic meaning and has always played a highly important role, as with gifts offered for auspicious occasions, like birthdays, births and weddings, with good wishes offered for long life and a comfortable old age.

If we randomly choose just four symbols and their meanings, symbols frequently found in Chinese art, these could be -:

Dragons - a symbol derived from ancient traditions. This celebrated symbol ranks first among all. The five-clawed dragon was reserved for the Emperor from ancient times until the end of the last dynasty. The four-clawed dragon associates with royalty and the three-clawed dragon with the Chinese people.

Bamboo - standing for longevity and courage in adversity. As bamboo is evergreen and because it grows straight, it was a popular symbol for an honest mandarin official.

Bats - the homonym "fu" stands for both "bat" and "happiness", hence the bat is a popular symbol. Five bats shown together signify the Five Blessings: longevity, health, wealth, virtue and a natural death.

Crane - the crane is another longevity symbol as the bird was thought to live for two thousand years. A bird flying or looking towards the sun represents a desire to rise high in the government hierarchy.

In traditional China, New Year, or, cracked ice decorated porcelain was a popular gift with its message of spring and new beginnings. The decoration consists of a rich blue ground to simulate ice, or, frozen water. This effect is produced, sometimes with heavy brush strokes, or fine white lines produced by exposing the underlying white porcelain. This frozen ice ground is broken up by branches of plum blossom flowering on old wood, again, the decoration achieved by exposing the underlying white porcelain. The symbolism here speaks of the winter's ice giving way to the welcome arrival of spring, with budding plum blossom about to break through.

Chinese traditional art is filled with symbolic meaning and has always played a highly important role as with gifts offered for auspicious occasions. The gift is one thing, the message is something else!


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