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Object in Focus: No. 27

Chinese porcelain from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen

January marks Chinese New Year. This month we are delving into our collections across Museums Northumberland’s sites to highlight some of our beautiful Chinese ceramics.

Chinese potters exported porcelain around the world on an unprecedented scale from the 16th century onwards.  As well as producing porcelain for domestic use, the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen became the main production centre for large-scale porcelain exports to Europe; so much so that the wares became known in the west as “china”.

ERMG 256 dragon & carp plate

BERMG 256 dragon & carp plate

Kang Xi period (1662-1722) from Jingdezhen, China

Porcelain, with cobalt underglaze

There is a Chinese proverb – “The carp has leaped through the dragon’s gate.”  ( Liyu Tiao Long Men/ 鲤鱼跳龙门 )

The image of a carp jumping over Dragon’s Gate is a common Chinese scene representative of perseverance and accomplishment.   According to Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is located at the top of a waterfall cascading from a legendary mountain.   Although many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, only very few manage to make the final leap over the waterfall. Those that do are transformed into a powerful dragon.

The dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck, which is why the Emperor of China used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

The expression, Liyu Tiao Long Men, was originally used as a metaphor for a person’s success in passing the extremely difficult imperial examinations, required for entry into the Emperor’s administrative service.   These exams were open to all, and whoever passed the exams and became a government official ensured wealth and prestige for his family.  These days the expression is used  to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved.

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