(Posted on 29/05/14)
Unlike most other rug-making countries, China mainly draws its design repertoire from other artistic disciplines (painting, etc.), as well as from ancient Buddhist and Taoist symbolism, and other religious and cultural sources. Chinese design is also unusual in that its motifs often have very specific meanings which can be literally translated into philosophical sayings, desirable personal qualities or magic charms aimed at promoting health, wealth, happiness or long life. Meaning may be expressed by specific Chinese characters (Shou, for example, indicates long life or good luck), or by the particular animals, bird or plant most closely associated with each quality or fate. Sometimes the associated qualities clearly to attributes which the animals undoubtedly possess - an elephant is an obvious symbol of strength and power in any culture - but it is by no means obvious why a bat should be associated with happiness or a deer with affluence. The explanation lies in the fact that the Chinese see a definite social and religious connection between qualities and things. Dear, which were hunted by the rich therefore came to be associated with affluence; and the peony, which was cultivated in the gardens of the nobility, was thus seen to symbolize the rank, wealth and well-being that accompanied this station in life. Even more peculiarly Chinese are the phonetic associations between qualities and things. Western languages may use puns or play on similar-sounding words, but there are few, if any, direct equivalents to the Chinese tendency to give the same symbolic meaning to an object and a quality whose names sound the same. For example, the Chinese character for happiness (fu) is pronounced exactly like the character for bat; the characters for 'stag' and 'emolument' (or profit from employment), although totally different in their written form, sound the same when spoken aloud, whether this unity of symbolic meaning is derived from an accidental similarity in the way the words are pronounced, or whether the common pronunciation came about because of an existing symbolic link, is open to debate. But there is no doubt that this phonetic association is a fundamental and fascinating aspect of Chinese symbolism.
(Chinese Dragon Rug)