Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

Through analysing a famous theme that depicts Bo Yi and Shu Qi Stopping the Zhou Army, Dr Yibin Ni has compared a number of porcelain vessels from Ming and Qing dynasties, and demonstrated his unique insight which can facilitate the correct dating of Chinese antiques.

Wang Xiang (王祥 185-269) served as the Grand Protector (taibao 太保) in the Western Jin court (西晋 265-316 CE) and, as a significant politician, has his biography in the Book of Jin (jinshu 晋书), an official historical text covering the dynasty’s history. When Wang Xiang was a boy, his mother passed away. His stepmother was not kind to him, often speaking ill of him before his father. One bitterly cold wintry day, his stepmother had a craving for the carp. Wang Xiang went to the frozen lake, took his clothes off, and lay on the icy surface trying to melt the ice in order to catch some fish. Suddenly, the ice cracked and out jumped two carp, which Wang Xiang could take back to please his parents. It was Wang’s devout filial piety that moved the dragon king residing in the lake, who sent him the carp as a reward.

Research on this story scene:

Is this man really dancing with carp: a revelation of a traditional Chinese story on filial piety

Related Pun Rebus:

May you remain pure, clean, and incorruptible 清白廉洁

Bo Yi (or Boyi, 伯夷) and Shu Qi (or Shuqi, 叔齐) were sons of the ruler of Guzhu (孤竹), a vassal state of the Shang dynasty (商朝, 16th-11th cent. BCE). As the king was getting old, he wanted Shu Qi, his youngest son, to inherit his throne. However, when the father died, Shu Qi asked Bo Yi to take over the throne because he thought Bo Yi was the eldest brother and rightly deserved the position. Bo Yi declined the offer, saying that their father’s wishes should not be altered and then he left the country. Shu Qi followed and left the country, too. With their absence, another brother of theirs was enthroned.

While wandering along the coast of the North Sea, the two brothers heard that another vassal of Shang, the Zhou state, was an ideal place for a peaceful and quiet retired life and they set off to go there. When they arrived, the old ruler, Count of the Zhou had just passed away and his son enthroned himself as King Wu (武王) and posthumously gave his father the title of King Wen (文王). King Wu believed that he was the next person to have the mandate from Heaven to rule the Shang territories, instead of just being the Count of Zhou under the Shang.

With the veteran strategist the Grand Duke Jiang Ziya (姜子牙, or Jiang Taigong 姜太公), King Wu was launching a military campaign to overthrow the Shang house, when the two brothers appeared in the middle of the road. They tried to stop King Wu’s army and admonished him, ‘Can it be called observing filial piety when one launches a military campaign before one has properly buried one’s diseased father? Can it be called a gentleman’s proper behaviour when a subject is to assassinate his lord?’ King Wu’s entourage then tried to kill the two but Grand Duke Jiang stopped them, saying, ‘They are righteous people.’ Then Mr Jiang helped the two move out of the way and the army marched on.

The story scene depicted on the famille verte Kangxi vase in the previous Jie Rui Tang Collection was first unveiled by Dr Yibin Ni. He has since published two more articles discussing the figural composition in such theme and Jiang Ziya’s riding painted on the antique porcelain vases.


  1. 倪亦斌:《武王子牙举旗伐商 伯夷叔齐叩马阻兵》,《读者欣赏》,兰州:读者出版传媒股份有限公司,2016-07,60-65 页
  2. Jeffrey P. Stamen and Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni (2017), A Culture Revealed: Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection 文采卓然:潔蕊堂藏康熙盛世瓷, Jieruitang Publishing, Bruges, pp. 22-25.

The Chinese deeply respect the elderly and consider a long existence – ideally accompanied by health and happiness – to be one of the five most important blessings (wufu 五福) in a person’s life, which were believed by the ancients and recorded in the Book of Documents 书经 in the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 – 256 BCE) more than two millennia ago. The other four are fu 富 (wealth), kangning 康寧 (wellbeing and peace), yuhaode 攸好德 (love of virtue), and kaozhongming 考終命 (natural death). The character shou 寿 for ‘longevity’, therefore, often appears on gifts and domestic decoration as an artistic design.

The earliest form of the character shou 寿 for ‘longevity’ is found on bronze vessels, which combines two main elements: a meaning radical and a phonetic radical. On the top and right-hand side is a form that resembles an old man with long hair leaning on a walking stick. Beneath that is a phonetic element sounding somewhat like ‘chou (畴)’, which is a character by itself that means ‘ploughed fields with ridge’.

As one of the five blessings, the ideal of ‘longevity’ permeates the whole realm of Chinese artistic creation. One format favoured by artists is to present numerous versions of the shou character on one piece of artwork, usually up to one hundred. People believe the repetition of the presentation of the concept would greatly increase its efficacy. The readers are welcome to explore the related fascinating symbols and designs with the help of our comprehensive search functions.

literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Related motifs:

Recommended blog:

Why does peach symbolise longevity and immortality in traditional Chinese culture?

According to the Account of Wu (吴志) in The Records of the Three Kingdoms (三国志), Lu Ji (陆绩), was a native of Wu. At the age of six, he had an opportunity to meet Yuan Shu (袁术), who at the time controlled the region of Jiujiang. Yuan Shu put out some tangerines for him to eat. Lu Ji surreptitiously stuffed three of them into the breast of his robe, but when he was making his parting bows, they rolled out to the ground. ‘Master Lu,’ said Yuan Shu, ‘is it proper for a guest to be hiding tangerines in the breast of his robe?’ Lu Ji knelt down and said, ‘I only wanted to take them home to give to my mother!’ Yuan Shu was much struck by his action. This anecdote was later included in The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety (二十四孝), compiled during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) by Guo Jujing (郭居敬).

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni 

Pun Design: Two + Quails

Punning Details: The word ‘an 鹌’ in ‘an chun 鹌鹑’ for ‘quail’ makes a pun on ‘an 安’ for ‘peace’. The Chinese word for ‘double’ is ‘shuang 双’. When there is a gathering of two quails, i.e.‘shuang an 双鹌’, a pictorial pun can be formed to mean ‘shuang an 双安’ for ‘both living a peaceful life’ or ‘double peace’.

画面要素:   二 + 鹌鹑;

谐音详情:  以‘两只鹌鹑’的形象表‘双安’


Related topic:

Heavenly immortals and fairies are celebrating your birthday 天仙拱寿

‘Dié 蝶’ from hú dié 蝴蝶, the Chinese character for ‘butterfly’, can be used to pun on ‘dié 耋’, meaning ‘octogenarian’ in the phrase ‘May mother live up to a ripe old age 萱耋’, or ‘dié 瓞’ for ‘small melons’ in the phrase ‘May the male line in your family clan continue and flourish 瓜瓞绵绵’.


Related Pun Picture:

May the male line in your family clan continue and flourish 瓜瓞绵绵 






Lily flowers and butterflies form a pun rebus picture known as ‘Xuān Dié Tú 萱耋图’, meaning ‘May mother live up to a ripe old age’. ‘Xuan 萱’ in the picture title comes from ‘xuan cao 萱草’, the Chinese name for lily’, and ‘dié 耋’, the Chinese character for ‘octogenarian’, is a pun on ‘dié 蝶’ for butterfly’, the image rendered together with lily flowers in the picture. It is obviously an apt theme for birthday present to mothers with a heartfelt wish.

Related blogs:






Cultural Differences in the Symbolic Meaning of Lily  萱草百合中西辨






The Birthday Party of the Queen Mother of the West  西王母祝寿