Blogs

Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

The following article is a discussion of the substitution of a mythical beast for a horse as Grand Duke Jiang’s mount on three classic porcelain vases adorned with the same story scene of ‘Bo Yi and Shu Qi Trying to Stop the Mighty Zhou Army’. It focuses on the origin and evolution of the two disparate but homophonic expressions ‘Sibuxiang’ in late imperial China and clarifies the terminological confusion in the contemporary world.

Xiahou Dun, a heroic soldier in ancient China, was famous for his one-eyed appearance. Let’s appreciate how Dr Yibin Ni analyses the artistic presentation of this character on Chinese antique porcelain, woodblock print and other art forms, in association with comparable figures in Western culture.

When Prefect Mao Bao 毛宝 was stationed in the city of Wuchang 武昌, Hebei province, during the Jin dynasty (晋 265-420), there was a story about a white tortoise who repays its benefactor by saving his life.

One day, one of Mao Bao’s soldiers went to market for groceries and returned to the camp with an extra white tortoise. The tortoise was about four or five inches long and still young and vulnerable. So the soldier took the responsibility to feed it. When the tortoise grew to be too large to be living in a tub, the soldier set it free to the Yangtze River. Later, the army that the soldier belonged to was defeated in a battle. In despair, the soldier put on his full armour and threw himself into the river with his cleaver in the hand. Curiously, he found himself landed on a rock unhurt. To his amazement, it was none other than the very white-backed tortoise he had raised! Now it turned out to be a giant fellow, 6 to 7 feet long. The tortoise carried the solider to the east shore and he survived the enemy’s slaughter.

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Another story relating to ‘Repaying Gratitude’:

The dream by the Qiantang river

Xiahou Dun (夏侯惇, died 13 June 220) was one of Cao Cao’s (曹操, 155-220) most valued generals in the late Eastern Han dynasty (东汉, 25-220) of China. Xiahou showed his strong temperament even when he was in his early teens. Once his mentor was insulted, and he went straight to the insulter and killed him. During the 190s in a military campaign against the famous fighter Lv Bu (Lü Bu 吕布, died 199), an arrow hit one of Xiahou’s eyeballs. He showed his valour by yanking the arrow out of his eye socket and ate his own eyeball as an act of filial piety because of the cherished belief that any part of the body was a gift from parents and should not be thrown away. From then on, Xiahou was known as ‘One-eyed Xiahou’.

Read Dr Yibin Ni’s blog for more analysis of the artistic presentations of Xiahou Dun on Chinese antique porcelain, woodblock print and other art forms, in association with comparable figures in Western culture.