Chinese lattice: The best book on traditional Chinese window lattice patterns

books-about-Chinese-Screens-997x550 Chinese lattice: The best book on traditional Chinese window lattice patterns

I have owned the book Chinese Lattice Designs along with A Grammar of Chinese Lattice for quite a few years now although I rarely see discussion of it online, so I was surprised to stumble across this post on Chinese Lattice on the Deco Works Blog:

For centuries the Chinese used paper covered wooden lattice grilles in their windows. The lattice was often painted in black or dark red lacquer and decorated with gilt flowers and ornament. As the paper was translucent it was the shadow of the lattice design that was the window feature instead of actual views of the outside world. The paper was replaced on the Chinese New Year with fresh paper and damaged lattice bars repaired. Plain white paper was used but often that with printed decoration or calligraphy was also used.

Chinese lattice is visually appealing from an artistic point of view and are intellectually intriguing from the mathematical. They can be found in many countries in the Far East, e.g. in Korea, Japan or Vietnam although the lattices from China itself are stylistically slightly different to those from Japan or Korea. Many designs contain arcane symbolism whose meaning has been lost over time however their inate beauty still hints at their deeper meaning.

Very few books concerning Chinese lattice exist. The oldest printed reference to Chinese lattice was compiled around 1631AD by Chi Ch’eng of Sung-ling near Soochow which contained 232 wood cut illustrations with limited commentary. The master carpenters who designed the lattice made their own pattern books but these are rare. The Chinese were generally uninterested in the work of artisans particularly those that concerned themselves with something as ubiquitous and ephemeral as wooden window grilles.

It looks like the first book he is referring to is 長源密办 (essentially a carpenters manual) and the other one is called 園冶 by 計成 Yuanye (loosely translated as Garden Seductions) which is a late Ming dynasty book about gardening theory. You can actually buy copies of it on Amazon. Both are referenced in Chinese Lattice. Pretty much impossible to buy the carpenters manual though.

Daniel Sheets Dye and Chinese Lattice

The first comprehensive effort to document the variety of Chinese lattice styles was made by Daniel Sheets Dye, an American professor working in West China Union University in Chengtu, Szechwan China. Dye first started collecting and documenting lattice in 1916. Over the following years he travelled widely throughout China documenting and categorising the varieties of lattice patterns he found. Mr Yang Chi-shang, a draughtman-artist in Chengtu city, assisted Dye by preparing lattice drawings from the sketches and rubbings he had made on his travels. He did all this in his spare time up until his death in 1936. Dye’s book, “A Grammer Of Chinese Lattice”, was first published in 1937 and has remained in print ever since. It is the definitive reference of Chinese lattice made from 1700AD-1900AD that was extant in the 1920’s. Much of the original lattice documented by Dye has disappeared over the years as glass became the material of choice for windows. Many of the enigmatic designs in his book, meticulously drawn by Teacher Yang, still provide an inspiration for modern interpretation and application in the modern home.

daniel_sheets_dye-713x1024 Chinese lattice: The best book on traditional Chinese window lattice patterns
Daniel Sheets Dye
yang_chi-shang-721x1024 Chinese lattice: The best book on traditional Chinese window lattice patterns
Yang Chi-shang

“I collected the designs on the road, for I had more sedan-chair travel than the reader can imagine a full-time teacher could have between 1908 and 1949. I would get out of my “chair”, measure and sketch a window that caught my eye, and catch up with the caravan at the next stop.”

from “The New Book of Chinese Lattice Designs”, Daniel Sheets Dye, 1981, Dover publications

What’s not mentioned here is the backstory of Daniel and his wife:

Daniel Sheets Dye taught academic courses at West China Union University in Chengdu, Sichuan (Chengtu, Szechuan Province), from 1910 to 1949, serving under the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. His wife, Jane Balderston went to West China in 1915, serving under the Friends Foreign Mission Association of Great Britain and Ireland. After her marriage to Daniel Dye in 1910, she taught mathematics and education courses at Woman’s Normal School in Chengdu (Chengtu) and West China Union University Normal School.

Daniel-and-Jane-Dye-with-General-and-Madame-Chiang-Kai-shek-Chengdu-Sichuan-China-1935 Chinese lattice: The best book on traditional Chinese window lattice patterns
Daniel and Jane Dye with General and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, 1935

His and his wife’s correspondences, notes and other writings are stored today at the Yale University -Divinity School Library. This includes many of the drawings and sketches used to create the drawings shown in his book (below).

Unfortunately scans of not all of these these original records are available online and many only only accessible through offline means. What is available can be seen here. I have selected a few interesting ones to show here.

Its quite easy to buy this book on Amazon as well. Its been around for quite a while and unless you choose to buy an antique/original copy, the reprint version is inexpensive. Note there is two versions although one is merely an updated version of the other. And its amazing how much work went into the illustrations!

Amazon links below if you want to add it to your collection.

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