Chinese Symbols On Porcelain

The first to be noticed are the peculiar figures which have been termed symbols, and which are more usually found on Chinese than on Japanese porcelain. These symbols are generally eight in number, although the individual forms are apt to vary. The number eight is somewhat of a favorite among the Chinese, perhaps on account of the Pa-kwa or eight mystical trigrams, to be described hereafter ; but it is also a number which admits of being symmetrically arranged.

1.. The Pa-gan-sien, or emblems of the eight immortals, which do not very frequently occur on porcelain as symbols, and will be described under the head of the eight immortals. These are especially Taoist.

2. The Pa-chi-Siang, or “eight lucky emblems” of the Buddhists, represented in Plate B. These are carved in wood or made in clay, and offered on the altar of every Chinese Buddhist temple, as well as repeated ad infinitum in architectural decoration : they are derived from India, and are of course used principally by the Buddhists.

3. The ordinary Pa-pao, or “eight precious things,” some of which are represented. in Plate A, are very variable, and do not seem to be connected with any special religion.


Plate A, fig. 1. An oblate spherical object, represented sometimes white and sometimes yellow, with a ribbon entwined around it. This represents a pearl; and is frequently seen floating in the air with dragons, who appear to be emitting it from their mouths; occasionally rays of effulgence issue from it, In a Japanese legend connected with the conquest of Corea by Zingu, widow of the Mikado (A. D. 200), a curious incident is mentioned, She convokes the kami or genii, and one of them, Isora, is charged to seek the dragon’s castle at the bottom of the ocean, and obtain the magic pearls of the flux and reflux, by means of which she gains the victory.

Plate A, fig. 2. A circular object, apparently hollow and enclosing a square.. This is described by M. Jacque-mart as a Kouei, or a stone of honor for magistrates. It does not, however, appear to agree with the description of this stone or sceptre as given in Williams’ Dictionary under Kwei, where it is described as a “tablet with rounded top and square base, and made nine, seven, or five inches long according to the bearer’s rank.” This object is probably a coin, a symbol of riches.

Plate A, fig. 3. A lozenge-shaped object, apparently an open frame, as the fillets show through it. This is also termed a Kouei by M. Jacquemart. Two lozenges with the ends overlapping are used to represent the dual symbol (Fang shang).

Plate A, fig. 4. A lozenge-shaped object, with a compartment in the upper side, perhaps a variant of that last described. A somewhat similar object is designated by M. Jacquemart as a sounding stone, for which, however, the next specimen seems better suited.

Plate A, fig. 5. An object somewhat. like a mason’s square. This is no doubt what is described by Williams as a sonorous stone or bronze plate, used instead of a bell in China, and termed Khing. He states that figures of this instrument are seen carved on the ends of rafters, etc., as an emblem of the different character with the same sound, which signifies “goodness,”” happiness,” or “luck.”

Plate A, fig. 6. Two oblong objects placed close together, exactly alike, and probably representing books.

Plate A, fig. 7. A pair of curved objects intended to represent rhinoceros horns.

Plate A, fig. 8. A leaf of variable form, probably a leaf of the artemisia, an emblem of good augury.

Instead of these symbols are sometimes to be found the shell, a flower, and two fishes, which will be described in the series given in the next plate, as well as a branch of coral, a silver ingot, a cake of ink, etc. These symbols are also sometimes seen carried in a procession of fantastic figures, possibly tribute-bearers from the tribes of the Man or southern barbarians.