100 sons and children at play: Chinese Traditional Symbols and Motifs

The “Children at play” or “Children playing” motif  (婴戏图婴戏)  is a metaphor which alludes to continuing the family line, marital blessings and lots of kids.
chinese motifs - children at play
It also implies fun, happiness, carefree and innocence and is seen on porcelain, folk arts, in paintings and embroideries  quite a lot, though not exclusively. “Children at play” never depicts  girls – this is an exclusively male only club. There are many many many variations on this auspicious theme from region to region and period to period.

A close-up of a round red lacquered box from Shanxi, shows the “children at play with balls” motif  depicted on it’s side.

Most depictions are of children’s games, including:


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Red star over China – These temple carvings from the cultural revolution era sport politically correct themes

chinese wooden carving

Stowe Sprague was kind enough to send me these interesting photos on her blog from her visit to the Tulou region of Nanjing county, Fujian province.  During her visit to a temple in the town of Taxialou, she noticed the temple’s architectural wood carvings had been replaced with “politically correct themes” rather then the traditional Chinese motifs. Apparently in order to evade destruction during the height of the cultural revolution, its care takers replaced them with more “patriotic ones.”

The ultimate comprehensive english/Chinese dictionary of chinese furniture vocabulary and terms

I have seen this list floating around on the internet (though I have no idea where it originally came from). Though some terms are region-specific, its nevertheless very comprehensive with over 450 different terms.

Chinese Pinyin English
朵云双螭纹 duǒ yún shuāng chī wén Cloud surrounded by confronting dragons motif.

In order to make it a bit more user friendly I have a) added Hanyu pinyin pronunciations and b) reorganized the list itself according to specific categories. Trust me when I say this was no easy task! There are also links to pronunciation via the MDBG Chinese-English dictionary wordpress plugin. Though far from perfect, I hope this is a useful guide to anyone working with Chinese antique furniture. The list is broken down as follows:

Decorative Beading and Molding Names

Chinese Pinyin English
冰盘沿 bīng pán yán Ice-plate edge. General term for allinward-sloping mouldings.
打洼 dǎ Concave moulding; also called aomian or wamian.
灯草线 dēng cǎo xiàn Beading, a rounded moulding.Dengcao
瓜棱线 guā léng xiàn Melon-shaped moulding, a ridge-shaped moulding used on legs. (When the leg is seen in section, it resembles the section of a fluted melon.) It is often found on waistless square tables and round-corner cabinets. Also called
剑脊棱 jiàn jǐ léng Sword-ridge moulding. Moulding which slopes downwards from a central ridge. Lu Ban jing (Lu Ban’s Classic) calls it jianjixian.
拦水线 lán shuǐ xiàn Water-stopping moulding. High moulding around the edge of a table to prevent spilt water or wine from soiling the user’s clothes.
两柱香 liǎng zhù xiāng Two-incense-stick beading. Double row of beading down the centre of the leg of a recessed-leg table.
劈料 pī liào Split moulding. Convex moulding made from a single piece of wood which is usually divided evenly into two (also three or four in late Qing times) segments.
皮条线 pí tiáo xiàn Leather-strip moulding. Moulding which is rather flat and broad.
皮条线加洼儿 pí tiáo xiàn jiā wā ér Leather-strip moulding and beaded moulding with concave centre.
起边线 qǐ biān xiàn Edge beading.
双混面压边线 shuāng hún miàn yā biānxiàn Double convex moulding with flat edges.
甜瓜棱: tián guā léng Melon-shaped moulding. See瓜棱线.
洼面 wā miàn Concave moulding; also aomian or dawa.
委角线 wěi jiǎo xiàn Indented corner moulding.
线脚 xiàn jiǎo Moulding. General term for all types of moulding.
(xian) xián (xian)wén String moulding, on round stools.
一炷香 yī zhù xiāng One-incense-stick beading. Single row of beading down the centre of the leg of a recessed-leg table.
凹面 āo miàn Concave moulding
亚边线 yà biān xiàn Flat edges of a moulding.
拧麻花 níng má huā Twisted rope pattern. Form of moulding resembling a fried dough twist; also called shengwen.
托腮 tuō sāi Stepped apron moulding. Term used in the Qing Regulations and by craftsmen for a moulding between the waist and the apron, which may be in one with the apron or made from a separate piece of wood.

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So just what is “chinoiserie” anyways?


While trolling around on the net, I came across this very nice blog post from Posh Living which does a wonderful job of explaining what chinoiserie is which is.  A main staple amoung designers, chinoiserie design elements in a room are timeless and sophisticated.  Since we have talked in the past about how chinoiserie screens are made, their post is a nice addition providing some historical background and is well worth the read.

“What most people don’t realize about Chinoiserie is that the style doesn’t come from China at all. As trade spread around the globe and Europe’s economy matured, more people could afford decorative goods. To keep up with demand for more ornate works, artisans created designs that were pure fantasy. Reading descriptions of Chinese scenes, European designers created their own versions. Often they are whimsical and even silly, and that makes them even more appealing.

“CHINOISERIE is a French word that means “in the Chinese taste”. It describes a European style of decorative ornament that was wildly popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and still looks great today.”

Why Chinoiserie at all? Europeans’ fascination with the Far East began in Marco Polo’s day, in the thirteenth century. At a time when few people traveled the world, exotic goods such as silk fabrics, carpets and porcelain reached Europe via a trading route known as the Silk Road, which carried goods by cart and camel across the entire continent of Asia.

For wealthy Europeans, owning artifacts from the Far East was a status symbol. With these artifacts came stories from the traders of the amazing temples and pagodas they had seen and the strange costumes and appearance of the Oriental people. Cultures from Persia all the way to China were called “Oriental” by the Europeans. They made little effort to distinguish one people from another, and the fanciful designs of Chinoiserie often blend Chinese, Japanese and Persian or Indian elements.”

Have a read of the full post here to learn more:


and when finished, the wikipedia page on chinoiserie provides some additional background:


Glossary of Chinese Symbolism and meanings

Chinese Symbols - The Eight ImmortalsHere is a nice article I came across on Chinese Symbols on antique-marks.com which is worth posting here. Thanks to them for compiling such a comprehensive list. The original can be found here under “Glossary of Chinese Symbols.”

Glossary of Chinese Symbols – and images found on antique Chinese furniture and other artifacts.

The Chinese Symbols list is not exhaustive but we will add to it as time goes by. The descriptions detailed are only intended to be relevant to how the word or term relates to decoration on Chinese furniture and other Chinese antiques.

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Chinese New Year & Spring Festival 2008

Year of the Pig ends and year of the Rat begins on febraury 7th 2008 till January 26th 2009

Year of the Rat, Zodiac sign

Springfestival” or “Chinese Newyear” is nowadays well known in the West as well, though only experiencing it yourself will show you how important it is for the Chinese. The impact is huge, surely with the role China is playing in world trade nowadays. During 3 to 4 weeks 80% of the country is on holiday, so the buyers in the West prepare/plan ahead! Read the rest of this entry »