Friday, February 16, 2018

Happy Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, which this year is also Dog Year. Last night I went as usual to my friends to have dinner, but today it struck me how much the celebration of New Year has changed in the relatively short time since I came to Taiwan.

The New Year is not celebrated with the intensity and traditions it once had even a few years ago. One reason might be the banning of firecrackers as too dangerous. Before, midnight was thunderous with the noise of firecrackers (to scare bad luck away), and during the entire new year’s day, and even for a week,  there was a constant barrage. Now all is still, except for a rare pop here and they from someone intent on keeping the old traditions, or with a few leftover firecrackers.

Also, for at least a week all shops were closed and the streets were virtually empty. It was like a ghost town, but now many shops are open even on New Year’s Day, and there were quite a few people walking about, instead of spending time with their families and playing mah-jongg.  Many of my friends used to go to some other part of Taiwan for a week or two to visit family, but now they only go for a few days, if they leave at all. By Monday (since this is a weekend) I am sure that everything will be back to usual.

Another oddity is in New Year’s Greetings. There used to be a dozen or two to choose from, some of which were mentioned in the post on the tin house bank. It has even been a couple of years since I have heard the classic “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (congratulations and prosperity, in Mandarin), which has become archaic. Now all you hear, even to natives speaking to each other, at least in Taipei, is “Xin Nian Kuai Le” the literal translation of Happy New Year.

It is not unusual even to hear “Happy New Year” spoken in English between natives. Most people in Taiwan like to sprinkle some English around, the way English speakers once liked to toss in French phrases, for added cachet and élan (see!).

My selection of New Year Animals has to be somewhat skimpy this year, owing to a paucity (no pun intended) of real dogs in Chinese antiques, at least the ones I have collected. As has been touched on in the past, foo dogs (or fu dogs) are not dogs at all, but are actually lions. I have once or twice tried to look this up, but the etymology of the phrase seems lost in time. Perhaps the ‘foo’ is the same as the Chinese word meaning wealth or luck, but even that is uncertain, and it still leaves the dog part unexplained.




This small black and white ceramic dog, a charming little fellow, is however an unequivocal example. The black stripes might look more at home on a zebra, but since there is no Zebra Year, I have no hesitation in letting him be the mascot for Dog Year. Looking at it, it seems as though it might have been influenced by some of the Staffordshire ceramics from England, although a quick internet check failed to find any close parallels.

One problem with small Chinese animals is that they are often not identifiable with any degree of certainty. Take a look at this small pendant wooden case, with brass hardware, intended to be worn at the waist and perhaps for tobacco or snuff. The small animal splayed on the lid seems like it could be a dog, but this is far from certain. Let me know in the comments whether you think this is a dog or some other animal—fox?? weasel?? etc. I know that I should go after that dust with a toothbrush, but my policy with cleaning or fixing antiques is to go slowly. I imagine that in the future I will spiff this up a bit.




I deliberately withheld this wooden vinaigrette with a dog finial from the vinaigrette post, although it was visible in the group photo, because I knew that Dog Year was coming up. Almost always, an animal on top of the vinaigrette is a lion, of which many examples were shown in the earlier article. In fact, I think that this is the only animal-topped example I have seen that does not feature a lion.

This vinaigrette does seem somewhat later than the other ones—perhaps 1940’s, but that is only a vague guess. Sporting a dragon on each side, it could well have been made to celebrate some earlier Dog Year, or as a gift for someone who was a Dog, that is, born in a Dog Year. At any rate, the dog is boldly modeled, and I love the way his tongue sticks out!


Remember, this is only about 2 inches tall.


The narrow side features a coin and a connected-dot pattern; perhaps this is supposed to depict a dog constellation.


There are seasonal stores in Taiwan that at this time sell New Year decorations and merchandise. Unlike my antiques, almost anything dog-related is available, done up in the traditional red and gold. I bought a red plush dog wearing traditional brocade clothing and hat, for the same child who got the chicken last year.



As in the West, in Chinese cultures dogs are valued for their friendliness, loyalty, and responsibility. These would all be welcome traits to come to the forefront in the coming year. I wish everyone a joyful, healthy and prosperous Year of the Dog.



All photos and original objects property of the author.




37 comments:

  1. I would much rather my personality be represented by a dog (loyal, energetic, very responsible, handsome) than say a snake (slithery, sneaky) or rat (diseased, sneaky).

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    1. Hello Hels, Sometimes the Chinese (or other culture's) view of animals might be different from Western ones, the best example being the bat, which, as has come up frequently in this blog, is considered lucky and is depicted everywhere.

      Each of the animal years has its positive attributes--a rat may be valued for its intelligence (as perhaps we do the owl), while a snake is noted for its flexibility, etc. --Jim

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  2. 旺旺!狗年大吉。祝你身体健康 工作顺利。
    I think the shape of the wooden case is pomegranate, so this animal would be a bat.

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    1. Hello rtc, Thank you for your kind New Year wishes!

      You make some very good observations about the wooden box. The overall shape is a pomegranate, and the lid section seems to include leaves and fruit which the animal is eating. The scene is very typical for a bat, but most Chinese bats I have seen emphasize the laciness of the wings, which this animal seems to lack. I also thought of a mouse, but the upper leg/arm seems kind of beefy for such a tiny animal. The dealer I bought it from, who was reasonably knowledgeable, thought it was a dog, but admitted doubt. Perhaps when I get the box cleaned off more will be revealed. --Jim

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  3. Hello Jim - friendliness, loyalty, and responsibility are good traits to have around during this coming Chinese year.
    I did wonder if you would have some Chinese representations for the Year of the Dog and you do not disappoint in that area. Could that little black and white dog be a Pekingese with his tail curling up over his back. Pekingese dogs do of course originate from ancient China. The snuff box lid is charming and resembles a little dog to me, or possibly even a fawn.

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    1. Hello Rosemary, I am sure that you are right about the ceramic dog--it looks just like a Pekingese. Apparently I have opened up a can of worms with the wooden-box animal--see the comment above. The whole piece has a folk-art quality which while attractive, is not photo-accurate. Add to this the fact that in Chinese art the elements of a composition are often out of scale with each other, adding more problems to identification. --Jim

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  4. Dearest Jim,
    First off, wishing you a Happy New Year, the Year of the Dog!
    It is always quite a puzzle when you write a post and there are so many questions that seem to remain unanswered.
    Did search for you and found these two interesting links about Foo Dogs: will email it to you as it is not accepted to build in a link here...
    Treasure your many things and may friendliness, loyalty, and responsibility be the motto for 2018!
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Hello Mariette, I looked at the sources you sent and they seem to agree that though in English they are called Foo Dogs, they are really Chinese lions. Of course, the auction catalogs will list them as Foo Dogs because that is what English-speaking people will be looking for. The word dog could be generic for any animal, such as prairie dogs, and similar to the way "apple" could mean any fruit, as in love-apples, apple-of-peru, pineapple, French pommes-de-terre, etc. Also, the figures could have looked like dogs to the earliest importers who had no idea what they really represented.
      You are quite right about the new questions raised with each object, and that is what makes them so interesting to me, and such great subjects for research. --Jim

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  5. WELL I GOT DOGS..................SO I will be in GOOD SHAPE!!!!!!!!
    AND A PIG!!!!!!!
    THANKS for sending to me!
    XX

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    1. Hello Contessa, Yes, you are all set for Dog Year, and since Pig Year is what follows, I anticipate a long streak of good luck for you! --Jim

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  6. Hi Jim. These objects are certainly charming and your expert knowledge only adds to their allure. I find the fact that they are not highly-defined especially attractive. Humans have been depicting animals in art for thirty thousand years. I suppose one could say we've got it down to perfection by now.....
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s tenebrific Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

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    1. Hello Bazza, Thank you for your kind words. There are so many mysteries in Chinese art--perhaps some of these carvings were made by country or folk-type artists with less than photographic accuracy. Although all over the world, as your recent post on David Bomberg illustrates, in the last 100 years we have been letting go of the purely representational in art. --Jim

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  7. Happy New Year to you, Jim. Woof!

    I found it interesting to read about the changing traditions. San Francisco holds a fabulously festive parade which also happens to be the largest outside of Asia, and one of the few illuminated night-time parades in the world. I've attended a handful of times with my daughter who seemed to enjoy the experience and I'm considering attending next Saturday's parade if I get the opportunity.

    Thanks for sharing your charming collection of dog-related collectibles. I liked the little ceramic dog and yes, it did remind me of the English nineteenth century Staffordshire figures.

    Enjoy the New Year festivities whatever you may be up to.

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    1. Hello CD, Yes, California is certainly the best place outside of Asia to experience Asian traditions--perhaps sometimes even better! I hope that you do get to go and help keep the traditions alive.

      The black and white dog, while resembling Staffordshire, is not as finely potted. It is solid, with a single hole punched in the bottom to prevent cracking. It is more like folk art, although many of even the old Staffordshire figures lean in that direction. --Jim

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  8. Hello, Jim, and happy new year — again. I agree with Rosemary that your first example is surely a Pekingese. I find it charming, though it is difficult to be in the company of actual Pekinese dogs; their heavy breathing and sniffling makes me want to yell, "Blow your nose!"

    As I look at the detail of your second example, I can see where the area on the right (that reads as negative space) could actually be the skin of a bat wing.

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    1. Hello Mark, I don't think I have ever experienced a Pekingese up close, so I will take your word as expert. I know that P.G. Wodehouse likes to have them as the pets of mischievous girls, so that the dogs can torment the heroes like Bertie Wooster.

      The bat contingent is gaining strength. I will really have to locate the piece and do an update after I clean it, but that upper wing or leg still looks pretty hefty for a bat, on the other hand most other animals would not splay their front legs like that. --Jim

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  9. I wonder why things changed in just a few years. Such a pleasure to see one of your collections again. I miss the slow world of blogging. If I consider blogging a slow world, that my explain why New Years changed so quickly. Time is not what it used to be.

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    1. Hello Jen, I agree with you about the way time seems to telescope. Since moving to Taiwan was such a big change for me, perhaps I am especially aware of how things were when I arrived versus how they have changed.

      Your unique and personal blog is sorely missed. I hope that everything is going well for you and your family. --Jim

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  10. The wooden pendant case reminds me of the Japanese netsuke and the animal might even be a fawn (long legs). However I do think it is a dog. My late father told me the same creatures that appear in the zodiac often appear on the roof corners of Chinese temples. The importance or sacredness of the building meant more creatures. Is this your understanding as well?
    Best,
    KL Gaylin

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    1. Hello K.L. Gaylin, You are right, the small hanging ornaments or objects that hang from Chinese belts or robes are akin to netsuke. The temples do have ceramic creatures lined up along the roof ridges and corners; certainly the larger buildings have more of these animals. I never noticed a particular association of certain animals with certain buildings; however, the ornaments are high up and sometimes difficult to distinguish clearly. --Jim

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  11. Dear Jim,
    A belated Happy New Year!
    I was traveling and missed the annual dim sum with my family this year. I didn't know that firecrackers were banned in Taiwan. (Probably not a bad idea as so many injuries result from them.)
    Love this wonderful collection of dogs. The first one reminds me of an English Staffordshire dog. It's quite graphic with the bold stripes.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. Hello Loi, Happy New Year to you too! Although some of the excitement is gone with the firecrackers, I agree with you about Safety First. I am reminded of the old cartoon showing a boy all bandaged up and titled "The Fifth of July."

      It probably was the boldness of the black stripes that led me to buy the dog--Chinese ceramics are such a specialized field that I only made a few acquisitions. --Jim

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  12. Happy Easter to you!
    但台灣沒有復活節休假。辛苦了。

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  13. Thanks rtc, I hope we both can have a pleasant holiday season or "middle of spring", whatever we celebrate. --Jim
    p.s. I do miss springtime in Ohio, the time of spring wildflowers, maple sugar making, and so forth!

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  14. A belated Happy Year of the Dog to you! I always thought Fu Temple Dogs were really lions too but then someone told me they were modelled after Chinese Chow Chow dogs? Chows are often called lion-dogs. What do you think?

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    1. Hello Debra, Thank you for the good wishes--we both still have most of Dog year left to enjoy! Somehow the word "dog" entered the English language to describe the Chinese lions, and it seems we need an official exorcism to get rid of it. In Chinese, these animals are simply called "lions," and never "dog" in any form, so lions it is! --Jim

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  15. That creature looks a bit like a sheep to me. But perhaps my eye is not attuned to the style. Anyway I don't think there is a Year of the Sheep is there?

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  16. Hello Jenny, There is indeed a Year of The Sheep. Since the Chinese language does not make a distinction between sheep and goats, it can be said to celebrate either or both animals, plus, as per usual, assorted mystery animals! My old post on Year of the Goat explores this:
    http://roadtoparnassus.blogspot.tw/2015/02/happy-goat-year.html
    --Jim

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  17. happy new chinese year my friend!


    i agree that some festivals are not being being celebrated with much enthusiasm which is surprising

    i loved the symbol of faithfulness specially the little red one :)

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    1. Hello Baili, It is too bad that some traditions are dying, especially if they are the ones that brought people together.

      Thank you for the New Year greetings. Today is Cambodian/Thai/Khmer New Year, so we all can have yet another chance at a clean slate and some new resolutions! --Jim

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  18. Very informative! A little late but better than never ! Happy New Year!

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    1. Hello Kelleyn Rothaermel, Thank you for your kind wishes, and it is never too late--New Year itself might be over, but it is Dog Year all year long! --Jim

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  19. Hi Jim. 感謝你的留言。Your comment always makes me happy. Last month my father visited Taipei and went to Palace museum, tea houses and Jiufen. He had a great fun.

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    1. Hello rtc, Your comment made me realize how I am neglecting my blog! I am glad your father enjoyed his visit to Taipei. Luckily, this spring had beautiful weather; last fall was very hot and rainy. --Jim

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  20. Ni hao! Now you are in Ohio. I hope you fully enjoy the great nature there. Please come back to Taipei in good health.

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    1. Hello rtc, Thank you for the good wishes. Yes, it is beautiful here--a different kind of green than in Taiwan. --Jim

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