Thursday, January 26, 2017

Happy Year of the Chicken, Rooster or Phoenix!

One value of multiculturalism is that instead of just a single New Year, we can now select from a variety of New Years in order to get multiple chances at a fresh start and a clean slate, each celebrated with its own rituals and customs.

Today (Friday) is Chinese New Year’s Eve for the year of the Chicken or  Rooster.  The shops are full of merchandise, mostly red and gold, to help celebrate the occasion. Every variety of good luck charm can be found in abundance, many of them with the current year’s animal worked in.

My souvenir purchases for Chicken Year year were rather modest, a stuffed chicken for a very young friend,  and some tiny chicken bells strung as cell phone charms to hand out with the traditional Red Envelopes, given out to the younger people.






Sometime chickens are replaced as a New Year’s animal by the mythical bird, the Chinese phoenix, and I would like to concentrate on that association, as phoenixes are so often represented in Chinese art. Chinese phoenixes symbolize peace, luck and marital harmony. They are often paired with dragons as yin-yang pairs, the phoenixes representing the feminine yin as opposed to the masculine yang of the dragons.

An enameled phoenix, most likely from a hat pin. While not old, I like the luminous quality of the glass beads.


A pair of phoenixes graces the front of this altar stand. While not overly elaborate, the design fills the cartouche-shaped space gracefully.

The inside of the box, showing the compartments for the various offerings that can be placed on the altar.

The back features a peony and bird design. The lid fits so that either side can face front.


Here are some lucky silver phoenix badges from the baby carriers that were illustrated in an earlier post. These balance the dragons on the same pieces, while imparting their own type of luck and symbolism.




Temples and other traditional Chinese buildings often include phoenixes among the elaborate woodwork. On this quite large and very old pair, holding peonies in their beaks, you can see where they were dovetailed to the beams.




Finally, here is the top of an inscribed plaque that would have been placed in a base on an altar. There are also two dragons going down the side, further framing the text.

 


This year seems a particularly needy one for the phoenix to practice its charms of peace and harmony. I wish you all a happy and prosperous  Year of the Phoenix, Rooster or Chicken.


Note: All photos and original items property of the author.

26 comments:

  1. Enough monkeying around right? Time for the rhythmic pecking of the rooster. Wishing you a fruitful 2017 Jim!

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    1. Hello CSW, Monkeys are known for playing tricks, but the 2016 Monkey seemed to be overdoing it at times. Happy New Year to you also! --Jim

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  2. Hello Jim,

    I hope you are planning something special to celebrate the start of the Chicken New Year. Whatever it is, let's hope you send lots of peace and harmony out to the entire world.

    The altar stand is beautiful. Is it an old one?

    Happy New Year to you.

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    1. Hello CD, I am going to have dinner with my friends tonight, then plan simply to get work done for most of the holiday. No special travel plans, etc.

      The stand is old but not ancient, probably late Ching Dynasty.

      Thank you for your good wishes. Happy New Year to you and your family! --Jim

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  3. Hello Jim - I am pleased that you concentrated more on both telling and showing us the legendary Chinese phoenix and have shared some of your lovely pieces with us again. I always think that it is interesting that the same mythological creatures i.e dragons and phoenixes exist in both Eastern and Western cultures.
    Your altar stand is very attractive - I wondered what kind of offerings would have been placed in the box? The two wooden carvings are special and very finely wrought.
    Hope that your young friend enjoys the stuffed chicken and that the year of the Rooster works it's charms and brings us all peace and harmony.

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    1. Hello Rosemary, The Classical and Chinese phoenixes are somewhat different. The classical phoenix is born from flames, and represents rebirth, while the Chinese one is the king of the birds and in some stories only appears in peaceful or auspicious times, and thus perhaps is more like the Halcyon.

      This altar stand is simple in comparison with many of them. Some are so complex that they veer away from the box-type shape, but I prefer the simpler, rectilinear ones, which also go well with a collection of Chinese boxes. The architectural phoenixes are boldly carved because they would have to be seen from a distance.

      Wishing you the best in the Year of the Chicken, Jim

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  4. Happy Chinese New Year!
    祝你身體健康 工作順利
    I hope you fully enjoy this special period.

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    1. Hello Roughterrain Crane, Thank you for your kind wishes, and I hope that Phoenix Year will be equally auspicious for you. Does Chinese New Year have any significance in Japan? --Jim

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  5. Hope your new year is healthy and peaceful.

    I think the great joy of multi-culturalism is that we are exposed to a wider range of skills, tastes and successes than if we lived in a community of just one dominant culture. Your altar stand is just one tiny example of what being exposed to multiple New Years might offer. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing; it encourages the viewer to ask what phoenixes stand for in the Chinese tradition(s).

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    1. Hello Hels, Thank you, I hope your new year is equally prosperous.

      You have put your finger on exactly what appeals to me about collecting. Not only do we learn much from the form and function of strange objects, but then we go on to try to interpret the symbolism present in the very decorations. --Jim

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  6. Hello Jim, lovely and informative post. I am particularly taken by the carved wooden phoenixes - would they have been painted at one time? Wishing you a New Year of health and happiness.

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    1. Hello Barbara, Happy New Year! The architectural phoenixes would most likely have been brightly colored, even to the point of gaudiness. After all, they were high above the ground, so subtle effects would not show. I have some other pieces that I got at the same time, but I am not sure if they are from the same building--they look older. --Jim

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  7. Dearest Jim,
    Happy New Year of the Phoenix, Rooster or Chicken to you and yours!
    What a cute stuffed chicken for your young friend and also the charms are very unique.
    The altar box is very beautiful, aso the coloring!
    Also the Indonesian Garuda made me think of the Phoenix and I always loved that national symbol, especially when hand carved in many forms and artfully painted.
    Always admired Asian art work, we all could learn so much from their skill and ability to 'tell' a story to its viewer!
    Sending you hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Hello Mariette, Happy Chinese New Year to you and Pieter!

      It is fun shopping in Taiwan for special gifts, because there is so much here that is different from in America. But it still takes effort to find the perfect thing. For example, most of the stuffed chickens were covered with brocade, which is not the cuddliest of materials. I had to look in many places to find the soft one.

      You are right in that Asian art is based on a set of known symbols and stories, so that almost all of it is sure to contain familiar scenes or objects. This feature also makes it good for collectors, who can gather variations on a theme, such as these phoenixes, yet see how each is unique and individually interpreted. --Jim

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  8. Dear Jim,
    Happy Chinese New Year! How fun it must be to shop and eat in Taiwan during this most festive period. Do you like moon cake with egg yolk? I love them (minus the egg yolks). Those carved phoenixes with peonies are exquisite and wonderfully carved.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. Hello Loi, Happy Rooster Year to you and Tom! Although many people still get a lot of time off, there is not as much celebration as before. Firecrackers are illegal now, so there are very few, and 90% of businesses were open on New Year Day, whereas a few years ago the first week was like a ghost town with everything shut down. Still, there are lots of special New Year foods and customs.

      One day I will figure out what to do with the larger architectural fragments--probably the easiest solution is to treat them as individual sculptures. You would know far better than I their most effective use. --Jim

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  9. Hi Jim,
    So nice to see you! You have a marvelous collection of phoenixes. I do like the stuffed chicken too, and have never heard of cell phone charms, but they look like fun. Happy New Year!
    Jennifer

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    1. Hello Jennifer, Happy New Year to you, too! Cell phone charms are any little charms strung on a loop that can in turn be attached to the loop on your cell phone. There are millions of them! (Or you can just by the little loops and make your own.)

      I do have some more phoenixes, but I am saving them for future posts because they are double-category items.
      --Jim

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  10. Hi Jim, It's Yuanxiao Jie today. Please enjoy sweet tuanyuan balls!

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    1. Hello RTC, Thank you. 我也祝你元宵節快樂! I was going to see the lanterns, but they have them in a weird spread-out fashion this year, and besides it suddenly got very cold! --Jim

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    2. Thanks for leaving a comment on my post. When you go to the National Palace Museum, please see 郭熙「早春圖」instead of me.

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    3. Hello RTC, 你很有眼光! Usually the Palace Museum only displays paintings for a short time because of light damage, but I have seen that great painting a couple of times. Once the museum had a blockbuster of all their most famous paintings. Later, they had a special display of the Song Dynasty, and Kuo Hsi's (or Guo Xi's) arresting Early Spring Scene was heavily featured, and also had two pages in the catalog. --Jim

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  11. Hello Jim, I am so surprised at your wide and deep knowledge of Chinese art. I am interested in Song Dynasty, too. As for painting 郭熙、馬遠、夏桂, and beautiful 官窯磁器 such as 定窯、汝窯。Now some of 水仙盆 have been brought out to Osaka for special exhibition.

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    1. Hi RTC, The Palace Museum is a treasure trove for the artists and ceramics you mention. The special display of Narcissus Planters sounds like a real gem--I hope it includes the most special Ru-yao example from the Taiwan Palace Museum, which in my opinion is the greatest ceramic object in the world --Jim

      p.s. Did you see my small Ru-ware post? http://roadtoparnassus.blogspot.tw/2012/04/chinese-ru-brush-washer-at-sothebys.html

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    2. Thanks for your post of a brush washer. 眼福、眼福! Seeing Song ceramics, I always think about craftmen's artistic sensitivity. 雨過天青、周末快樂.

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