100 sons and children at play: Chinese Traditional Symbols, Motifs & Auspicious Patterns

Children-at-play-riding-a-bamboo-horse 100 sons and children at play: Chinese Traditional Symbols, Motifs & Auspicious Patterns
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.
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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.
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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:
  • “Playing dolls” (耍娃娃)
  • Children playing with balls (婴戏球)
  • Children playing with ducks (婴戏鸭) or with deer (婴戏鹿)
  • Children riding a bamboo horse (骑竹马)
  • Boating, fishing (钓鱼), firecrackers (放爆竹)
Black-lacquer-wardrobe-with-children-at-play-painting 100 sons and children at play: Chinese Traditional Symbols, Motifs & Auspicious Patterns
A late ming/early Qing black lacquered wardrobe with children at play motifs

The motif goes back to the tang dynasty and this  motif has changed over time through subtle changes in the imagery, reflecting the social conditions and stability of each of the various periods.  During periods of declining prosperity bodies, clothing and particularly heads changed to reflect the times. Children depicted in prosperous times are more plump and carefree; scenes are livelier. In times of social unrest and/or less prosperity the imagery become more abstract and even distorted to some degree. With research and closer scrutiny it can  be a useful tool in dating.

“100 children” known in Chinese as “100 suns & 1000 grandsons” (百子千孫) is another similar but a different motif and is in particular is often associated with weddings. This one peaked in popularity during the Ming and Qing Dynasties and the number of children in each scene increased significantly.  Supposedly this motif refers to Zhou Wen Wang, the founder of the  Zhou Dynasty who had 99 sons and adopted 1 more for an even 100!

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Children-at-play-riding-a-bamboo-horse-300x172 100 sons and children at play: Chinese Traditional Symbols, Motifs & Auspicious Patterns
Children riding a bamboo horse
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A Ming dynasty compound cabinet sometimes called a “wedding cabinet” with the children at play motif 100 suns & 1000 grandsons.

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Children at play on a porcelain ginger jar

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Children at play fishing as depicted on this cinnabar lacquer snuff bottle.

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