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Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

Sima Guang (司马光, 1019-1086) is an eminent scholar and politician during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) in China. His greatest achievement in life is compiling a chronicle of 1,362 years’ history of China from 403 BCE to 959 CE. The book is entitled Zizhi Tongjian (资治通鉴), or ‘Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance’. In his biography in the official History of the Song (dynasty) (宋史), there is an anecdote which exemplifies young Sima Guang’s courageous spirit and quick wit of lateral thinking.

One day, Sima Guang was playing with a group of children in the garden, when one of his playmates climbed up a rock formation and slipped into a gigantic water vat. Shocked by the horrendous sight of a boy disappearing under the water, the group fled in fright. Only Sima Guang remained on the spot and managed to break a hole on the vat with a piece of rock. The water rushed out and the boy survived. Soon afterwards, his heroic deed became inspiration for artists who created corresponding paintings around the capital city (Chapter 336, The History of Song). This scene is known as ‘Shiba-Onko’ in Japan and, as ‘Hob-in-the-Well’ in Europe after it was copied by kilns in Chelsea, England and Meissen, Germany.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

A variation of 平升三级 ping sheng san ji (May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly) is 连升三级 lian sheng san ji. The design has kept the old element of three ji halberds but added a new motif, the lotus flower. The character for the halberd is 戟 ji, which puns on 级 ji for ‘official grade or rank’ and three halberds stand for ‘three official ranks’. The character for the lotus is 莲 lian, which sounds the same as the word 连 lian for ‘continuously’. Thus, this combination of objects is used to express the good wish ‘May you have three promotions continuously!’

Related Pun Picture:

May you have an imminent promotion 封侯

May you have repeated promotions 官上加官

May your chance of promotion be just round the corner 指日高升

This is a story of a righteous woman. As the army of the state of Qi (齐国) launched an invasion against the state of Lu (鲁国), soldiers approaching a Lu suburb saw a woman struggling along the road with two children. When the army got closer, she abandoned one of the children and grabbed the other, moving toward the mountains. When the general caught up with her and asked her why she had abandoned one child and run away with the other, the woman explained, ‘I was too weak to protect two children in this calamity. I parted with my own son in order to save my brother’s son; in line with the moral ideal of keeping others’ interests before one’s own.’ On hearing this, the general halted the advance and sent a messenger back to persuade his king not to continue fighting against the Lu, feeling that one could never beat a country in which even an illiterate woman had such high moral values.

The story scene depicted on the porcelain ware displayed in this listing was first deciphered by Dr Yibin Ni.

More story scenes on Morality:

Qiuhu Trying to Seduce His Own Wife 秋胡戏妻 (鲁洁妇)

Lu Ji Hiding Tangerines for His Mother 陆绩怀橘遗亲