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Interesting findings & case studies on commonly misunderstood and mystery images

A literati theme with the image of a scholar riding in a snowscape with branches of plum blossoms in the vicinity has been very popular in traditional Chinese visual culture and literature. But who is the scholar in the scene? Art historian Dr Yibin Ni hereby unveils the mystery for us.

Many museums and auction houses are often unaware of the pun rebuses hidden in traditional Chinese pictures and have treated them as mere naturalistic ones. Thus, the cultural and social significance contained in the motifs are unfortunately overlooked. Here is an example of a pun rebus design with four different fishes. What do they actually mean? Please read on…

When you mistake a motif in a traditional Chinese picture, you could have misinterpreted the meaning of the whole image intended by the ancient craftsman. Dr Yibin Ni has used the following example to illustrate the hidden meaning of a series of images in the context of Chinese pun rebus culture.

This blog is modified from Dr Yibin Ni’s research work first published on Antiques and Fine Art Magazine. The purpose is to appreciate how Chinese porcelain painters from ancient times passed on classical stories and illustrated traditional morals through their craftworks.

In Chinese porcelain painting, it can be tricky to interpret a round disc in the sky as a sun or a moon. Knowledge of Chinese culture and pun rebuses are the keys to explain the meanings of the motifs and scenes correctly. Here are some examples…

The story of the statesman Bing Ji (丙吉) inquiring about a panting buffalo in ancient China has been illustrated in various forms in traditional Chinese art. It is meant to praise high-ranking officials who can prioritise their duties for their country. However, such famous story on Chinese porcelains has often been misinterpreted. Dr Yibin Ni has found out those mistakes on a number of occasions during his art research. Here is what he has to say.

The traditional theme of ‘Chen Ping Dividing Meat’(陈平分肉) is often mistakenly referred to as Chen ‘Selling Meat’ or even ‘Picture of Selling Meat’ in Chinese art reference books, which reduces a historically significant theme to a mere genre painting. See how Dr Yibin Ni analyses this with examples.

Meng Haoran (孟浩然, c. 690-740) is one of the most renowned poets in Tang dynasty (618-906). He started off pursuing a civil service career and then abandoned it to concentrate on poetry. He was a major influence on other Tang and later poets because of his innovative focus on nature. There is a play attributed to the noted Yuan dynasty playwright and poet, Ma Zhiyuan (马致远, c.1250 – c.1324), entitled ‘(Meng Haoran) Looking for Plum Blossom on a Snowy Day’. In the play, Meng Haoran was characterised as a scholar with incredible integrity, symbolised by his love of plum blossom looking its best during the depths of winter. For hundreds of years, Chinese literati have lauded his life-long self-exile from material pursuits in officialdom and held up his deeds as good examples for scholars.

Read this blog for more interesting discussion on the identity of the scholar figure in similar scenes.

Reference:

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. 34-35.

The main figure in the scene is a dignitary, often gripping a hu (笏) tablet in his hands, which an official uses to take notes when he has audience with the emperor in court. He is usually sheltered by page boys erecting some fans or a parasol or guarded by a soldier holding a weapon with an iron melon on the top. Facing the dignitary is an attendant presenting a vase containing three miniature ji (戟) halberds to him. Sometimes there is a tray underneath the vase. The Chinese character for ‘vase’ is 瓶 ping, which is a pun on 平 ping for ‘unexpectedly’ or ‘surprisingly’. The character for the halberd is 戟 ji, which puns on 级 ji for ‘grade or rank’ and three halberds stand for ‘three ranks’. Put together, the design is used to express the message “May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly” (平升三级 ping sheng san ji).

Related Pun Pictures:

May you have three promotions continuously! 连升三级

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

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

The Chinese character for ‘monkey’ is 猴 hou and it puns on the word for ‘marquis’ in Chinese 侯 hou. The expression ‘mashang 马上’ in Chinese is ambiguous in that it can mean, literally, ‘on a/the horse’, or it can mean, idiomatically, ‘right away’. Therefore, an image of a monkey on the back of a horse can be used, auspiciously, to convey the message ‘May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently’.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

May you have an imminent promotion 封侯

The earliest pictograph of the character 鹿 lu for ‘deer’ is found on a tortoise plastron burnt to crack for divination. Though it is by no means anatomically accurate, the pictograph exhibits the most clearly recognisable characteristics of the animal. It vividly imitates the four legs, slender head, lean body, and prominent antlers. Different scripts of the same word show how the antlers and legs have been evolving to the modern-day character.

The Piya (埤雅), a Chinese dictionary compiled by the Song-Dynasty scholar Lu Dian (陆佃, 1042-1102) with a preface dated 1125 contains a quotation which says ‘The ancients regarded deer as divine animals’. They were reputed to be able to live for a very long time and, hence, like cranes and tortoises, they are symbols of longevity. Deer usually appears as a companion of the Star God of Longevity (寿星, shouxing), who is an old man with a long white beard and a bulging forehead. For this reason, their velvet antlers are a highly valued ingredient in many preparations of traditional Chinese medicine, and are reported to have the power to prolong life, aid virility and alleviate various ailments.

Deer came to represent wealth because the Chinese word 鹿 lu for ‘deer’ is a homophone of 禄 lu for ‘official income’ or ‘emolument’. A blue and white dish painted with a deer bears a four-character inscription which says ‘禄在其中 (Here is your official emoluments)’, explicitly link the deer to emoluments. A gift of an image showing a servant presenting a deer on a tray is a way of wishing the recipient advancement in officialdom and a rise in his pay.

Related Puns and Symbols:

May you have an ample official income 百禄

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

Gourd 葫芦

The story scene is originated from an anecdote dating back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). Cui Rong (崔戎, 780-835) is a statesman who is important enough to have a position in the ‘Biographies’ section in the official histories The Old Book of Tang (jiu tang shu 旧唐书), completed in 945, and the New Book of Tang (xin tang shu 新唐书), presented to the then emperor in 1060.

When Cui Rong served as the governor of Hua prefecture, his administrative skills and integrity impressed the locals, dignitaries and farmhands alike. One of his notable deeds was that, on his departure, he made sure that a large sum of money which had been allocated for the customary governor’s personal use was to be disseminated among ordinary soldiers of the local army. After hearing the news that Cui Rong had been assigned to a new post, a large number of people swarmed to the departure ceremony trying to prevent him from leaving. During the chaos, Cui Rong’s boots were accidentally removed by some overenthusiastic members of the crowd and they then kept them as a souvenir.

From then on, when a magistrate departed, a group of local dignitaries would come to him with a gift of a new pair of boots in exchange of the boots he had been wearing. They would display his old boots in a public place to show the locals’ appreciation of his legacy. The tradition endured over a millennium till the last days of the imperial China, as was vignetted in the American missionary Chester Holcombe’s (1842-1912) book The Real Chinaman (1895):

‘When a popular official is about to lay down the seal of office at the conclusion of his term of service, he is waited upon by a deputation of leading residents, who, with many flowery words of compliment and praise, gravely request him to donate to the city a pair of his official boots. The request is esteemed an honour, and is always granted. They are taken in solemn procession, with music and much parade, to the city gate and there suspended, where they remain until they decay and drop to pieces.’

The porcelain vessels adorned with this theme were popular in the early Qing period and were deemed to be an apt gift for departing officials to commemorate their highlights in life.

 

image identification and literature research by Dr Yibin Ni

Reference:

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. 98-99.

A gathering of four distinctively different fishes can be read as a pun rebus design expressing an admonishing message ‘qing bai lian jie 清白廉洁’, which literally means ‘pure, unblemished, incorruptible, and clean’.

The name of ‘qingyu 青鱼’, literally ‘blue fish’, puns on the Chinese character ‘qing 清’ for ‘pure’. ‘Baiyu 白鱼’ literally means ‘white fish’, having a white body and head. Its name is a homograph of ‘bai 白’ meaning ‘unblemished’. ‘Lianyu 鲢鱼’ means ‘chub’, whose name makes a pun on ‘lian 廉’ for ‘incorruptible’. The unmistakable ‘guiyu 鳜鱼 (mandarin fish)’ has a characteristic mottled appearance and undivided tail. The phonetic radical of the name of this fish is ‘jue 厥’, which puns on the character ‘jie 洁’ for ‘clean’.

The design may be served as a good wish for a promising official friend or a self-admonishing reminder as part of the interior decoration scheme in a conscientious official’s office or study. The actual design and the arrangement of the fishes may well vary since the design was a conventional one spread among manual labourers and folk artisans and everybody contributed their inspiration to the end product. However, a corpus of various versions of this theme reveals a clear pattern, prominently with the unmistakable mandarin fish and the white fish in it.

New research on the extant examples of this pun rebus design written by Dr Yibin Ni is published here.

Reference:

Jeffrey P. Stamen and Cynthia Volk with Yibin Ni, A Culture Revealed: Kangxi-Era Chinese Porcelain from the Jie Rui Tang Collection: Jieruitang Publishing. 2017, p. 200-201.

This pun rebus picture consists of four essential pictorial elements: bird, deer, bee, and monkey. The word ‘que 雀’ for ‘small bird’ in Chinese puns on the word ‘jue 爵’ for ‘high official rank’ or ‘peerage’. The word ‘lu 鹿’ for ‘deer’ shares the same sound with ‘lu 禄’ for ‘emolument’ or ‘salary’. The word ‘feng 蜂’ for ‘bee’, is a pun on ‘feng 封’ for the verb ‘to be granted’ and the word ‘hou 猴’ for ‘monkey’ is a pun on ‘hou 侯’ for ‘marquis’, which represents high ranks in the government in general. Thus, the juxtaposition of the four elements is used to convey the auspicious message of ‘May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income’.

Curios bearing such motifs have been used as treasured gifts passing among friends and colleagues to lubricate the social machinery.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you get promoted 加官

May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently 马上封侯

The ancient Chinese would employ a picture of a monkey reaching for a bee hive to wish their boss an imminent promotion. The word for bees in Chinese is ‘feng 蜂’ and the word for monkeys is ‘hou 猴’. When ‘feng’ and ‘hou’ are put together, they can form the phrase 封侯 which means ‘be bestowed a rank of nobility’ in Chinese. Thus, such a rustic image can adorn bric-à-brac as gifts to please the receiver and lubricate human relationship.

Related Pun Pictures:

May you be created a peer and earn a handsome official income 爵禄封侯

May you be bestowed the title of a marquis presently 马上封侯

Interesting Blog:

How do you tell a sun from a moon in porcelain painting

Fish is a basic composition motif in Chinese pictorial art. Its Chinese pronunciation of 鱼 ‘yu’ puns with the word 余 ‘yu’, meaning prosperity. It is an auspicious wish to one’s wealth.

Depending on the context, the actual type of fish or a combination of four distinctively different fishes can refer different pun rebuses. See the following examples.

Related Pun Rebuses:

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

May you couple live a harmonious life and enjoy prestige 并蒂双贵

Related Motif and Symbol:

Fish turning into dragon 鱼化龙

According to Confucian ethics, a man’s ambition and pride need to be balanced by humility.

General Lian Po (廉颇, active 298-236 BC) and Minister Lin Xiangru (蔺相如, active ca. 279 BC) were colleagues in the government of the state of Zhao. When Lin Xiangru received a higher appointment than Lian Po’s, Lian Po felt it was unjustified. He swore, ‘When I meet Lin, I shall humiliate him!’ Hearing this, Lin deliberately kept out of Lian Po’s way. His followers did not understand his response and thought he was a coward until Lin explained to them, ‘When two tigers fight, one will perish. I am behaving this way in order to put our country’s interests before private feuds so that we can have enough strength to survive threats from our enemies.’ When Lian Po heard this, he came to Lin’s residence and begged for forgiveness. The two then became friends for life.

In Fig 1 & 2, General Lian Po was apologising to Lin in front of the King of Zhao, while the other ministers present congratulate the king for his luck in being surrounded by such sensible courtiers.

image identification and story scene description by Dr Yibin Ni 

Qiuhu (秋胡), a native of the state of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE), was ordered to take up an official post in the state of Chen a scant five days after his marriage to Jiefu (洁妇), the ‘Loyal Wife’. Five years later, on his way back home, he encountered a woman by the roadside picking mulberry leaves, used as food for silkworms.

Qiuhu approached the woman and told her that toiling among mulberry leaves was certainly not as fun as yielding to a high-ranking minister’s offer who took a fancy to her. Qiuhu baited the woman with some gold ingots. The woman retorted, ‘I work hard to support my parents-in-law and the son left behind by my husband. I wish that you did not take fancy of women outside your family. I have no intention of fooling around. Take your gold back.’

On arriving home, Qiuhu sent for his wife and, to his great embarrassment, discovered that she was none other than the woman he had solicited.

There are two endings to this story. One version relates that after condemning Qiuhu for being lecherous and for not exercising virtues of filial piety to his parents, as was customary, the wife felt so disheartened that she threw herself into the river. The other ending, suggested by the Yuan dynasty literatus Zhao Mengfu (赵孟頫, 1254–1322), is a happy one. In his version, Qiuhu was merely testing his wife. Since she proved to be chaste and not materialistic, he reunited with her and they lived happily ever after.

Reference:

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. 28-29.

Also called ‘yi shu lian’ (一束莲). The motif is presented as ‘a ribbon-tied bouquet of lotus in bud, full bloom, and seed pods accompanied by leaves, with or without some other water plants such as arrowheads’. The earliest example of this design can be traced back to those found on Yaozhou ware potted in the Song dynasty (960 – 1279).

Related motif:

Lotus (Lian Hua) 莲花

Sima Xiangru Inscribing on the Bridge Gateway (相如题桥)’ was a popular theme in theatre from at least the Song (960 – 1279) through to the Qing (1644 – 1911) dynasty. Sima Xiangru (司马相如) was a Western Han (202 BCE – 8CE) scholar unsuccessful in making a career in civil services. However, Wang Ji, the magistrate of Linqiong county, was impressed by his dazzling talents and invited him to live in his house as a guest.

One day, a rich local businessman, Zhuo Wangsun (卓王孙), held a house party for Wang and Sima, at which Sima played the qin zither. Zhuo’s recently-widowed daughter, Wenjun (文君), heard the music and was fascinated by Sima’s performance as well as his genteel manner and bearing. The two fell in love and she eloped with him. Mortified, Zhuo Wangsun refused to support the couple and the poverty-stricken lovers had to earn their living by running a wine-shop by the roadside.

One autumn day, encouraged by his wife, Sima made up his mind to leave home to seek his fortune in the capital, Chang’an. Wenjun went to see him off at the Bridge of ‘Ascending to the Realm of Immortals’ (昇仙桥) on the outskirts. When he made farewell to his wife, Sima vowed that he would not cross the bridge again unless he did so riding in a grand carriage drawn by four horses.

Sure enough, his ambition was realised in a few years’ time and he enjoyed a triumphant home-coming ceremony given by the local officials. The anecdote has encouraged generations of young men leaving hometown to seek fortunes in the big world!

Read more on the story in this blog.

Ordinary fish in the pond was hoped by ancient Chinese people to turn into a vigorous and powerful dragon flying in the sky. It can be traced back to as early as Song dynasty in Chinese literature for children or young people who studied hard and had high expectations from their elder generations. In old days, passing examinations with flying marks is one of the very few ways to achieve high official positions thus receive high income.

Related Motif:

Goldfish 

Related Pun Picture:

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

Related blog:

The Importance of Deciphering Pictorial Scenes on Chinese Antiques

Lian Hua (lotus) is also called ‘he hua (荷花)’. It is different from ‘shui lian (睡莲, water lily)’ which is another kind of water plant.

The first character of lotus in Chinese, ‘lian (莲)’, has been used to pun for ‘lian (廉)’ which means being fair and uncorrupted in one’s official position.

Twin-headed lotus flower (‘bing di lian 并蒂莲’) refers ‘a loving relationship’. See ‘并蒂双贵’ (May you couple live a harmonious life and enjoy prestige).

 

Related Symbol:

Lotus bouquet (一把莲)

Related Pun Picture:

You are an honest and uncorrupted official in your entire career 一路清廉

 

Young Chen Ping (陈平, ?–178 BCE), later a minister of Western Han dynasty, as being an exemplar of fairness in his everyday work. According to Sima Qian’s (司马迁, 145BCE – ?) famous work Historical Records – Prime Minister Chen’s Family (史记 – 陈丞相世家 ), one day, Chen Ping’s village held a ceremony to offer sacrifice to the Earth God. He was entrusted as the arbitrator to divide the meat offerings among attending villagers after the ceremony. As he divided the meat offerings in very even quantities, a village elder remarked that Chen was very impartial, to which he replied ‘Should I one day take rule of the land, I would rule it as impartially as I split the meat offerings.’

The story scene depicted in the centre of the Kangxi plate in the collection of the British Museum was first unveiled by Dr Yibin Ni. His article with historical pictorial and literary evidence is published here.

The action of ‘pointing to the sun’ is termed in Chinese as ‘指日 zhi ri’, which sounds and looks exactly the same as (both homophone and homograph of) the phrase ‘指日 zhi ri’ meaning ‘in a few days’ time’. The state of ‘something rising high up’ is ‘高升 gao sheng’ in Chinese, which may be metaphorically used to mean ‘getting a promotion’. Thus, the image of a person pointing to the sun high up in the sky visually cues the congratulatory saying ‘zhi ri gao sheng 指日高升 – May your chance of promotion be just round the corner’.

Interesting reading:

How do you tell a sun from a moon in porcelain painting

Related Pun Pictures:

May you have repeated promotion 官上加官

May you have an imminent promotion 封侯

San gong 三公’ are the ‘Three Top Lords in the Imperial Court’. The ‘gong 公’ from the Chinese name ‘gong ji 公鸡’ for ‘rooster’ puns on the Chinese name for ‘lord’ and three roosters in the picture represent the three top lords, which are the three top positions in the imperial court. The Chinese name for ‘cypress’ is ‘bai 柏’, which puns on ‘bai 百’ for ‘one hundred’. Hence the whole image expresses the wish for highly respected person to have a very long life.

 

Related Blog:

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

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

Shuang 双’ is the Chinese word for ‘two’. ‘Xiong 雄’ in ‘Xiong ji 雄鸡’ in the Chinese name for ‘rooster’ makes a pun on ‘xiong 雄’ for ‘hero’. Thus, the image of two roosters in confrontation is meant to represent two competent officials competing with their intelligence for eminent government posts.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you rank among the three top civil servants 位列三公

May you do well in exams and enjoy wealth and prestige 功名富贵

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

San gong 三公’ are the ‘Three Top Lords in the Imperial Court’. The ‘gong 公’ from the Chinese name ‘gong ji 公鸡’ for ‘rooster’ puns on the Chinese name for ‘lord’ and three roosters in the picture represent the three top lords, which are the three top positions in the imperial court.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

Two heroes fighting with their intelligence 双雄斗智

May you couple live a harmonious life and enjoy prestige 并蒂双贵

 

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

The saying ‘jia guan 加官’ is an abbreviated form of the saying ‘guan shang jia guan 官上加官’:

Guan 冠’ in the Chinese name ‘ji guan hua 鸡冠花’ for ‘cockscomb’ is a pun on ‘guan 官’, which means ‘high-ranking official’. The crest on the head of a rooster is also called ‘guan 冠’ in Chinese. Thus, the appearance of both the cockscomb and rooster in a picture represents the auspicious saying ‘guan shang jia guan 官上加官’, which is literally “an official plus an official” and is used to wish an official to get promotion after promotion.

Related Pun Pictures:

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

May you couple live a harmonious life and enjoy prestige 并蒂双贵

May everything fare fabulously in your family 室上大吉

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

Guan 冠’ in the Chinese name ‘ji guan hua 鸡冠花’ for ‘cockscomb’ is a pun on ‘guan 官’, which means ‘high-ranking official’. The crest on the head of a rooster is also called ‘guan 冠’ in Chinese. Thus, the appearance of both the cockscomb and rooster in a picture represents the auspicious saying ‘guan shang jia guan 官上加官’, which is literally “an official plus an official” and is used to wish an official to get promotion after promotion.

As a variation, the popular auspicious good wish in the bureaucratic world can be expressed with a substitution of a grasshopper (guo guo’er 蝈蝈儿 in Beijing dialect) for the cockscomb plant. In Beijing dialect, the name of the grasshopper sounds similar to the word for ‘high official (guan’er 官儿)’. A further variation of the visual pun replaces the rooster with a jar. The jar, which is guan’er 罐儿 in Beijing dialect, puns on the word for ‘high official (guan’er 官儿)’.

This saying can be abbreviated as jia guan 加官’.

 

Related Pun Pictures:

May you do well in exams and enjoy wealth and prestige 功名富

May you enjoy imminent good fortune 大吉

Related motif:

Rooster 公鸡

Fu gui 富贵’ in ‘fu gui hua 富贵花’, literally, the ‘flower of wealth and prestige’,  which is a nickname in Chinese for ‘peony’, contributes to ‘wealth and privilege’ in the saying. ‘Ji 鸡’ is a pun on ‘qi 期’, which means ‘can be expected’.

The same design may be also referred to as ‘gong ming fu gui 功名富贵’.

 

Related motifs:

Rooster 公鸡

Peony 富贵花

The Chinese phrase ‘Gong ming 功名’ for ‘scholarly honour or official rank’ is a pun on two Chinese characters ‘gong 公’ and ‘ming 鸣’.

Gong 公’ from ‘gong ji 公鸡’, the Chinese name for ‘rooster’, makes pun on the Chinese word ‘gong 功’; and ‘ming 鸣’, which is the Chinese word for ‘cock’s crowing’, is a pun on ‘ming 名’.

Peony has a nickname in Chinese as ‘fu gui hua 富贵花’, literally, the ‘flower of wealth and prestige’.

Thus, the combination of roosters and peony flowers in one picture in Chinese people’s eyes sends the message of wishing someone do well in civil-service examinations, and go on to enjoy a rich and prestigious life.

The design may also be referred to as fu gui you qi 富贵有期’.

 

Related motifs:

Rooster 公鸡

Peony 富贵花

Bing di 并蒂’ from ‘bing di lian 并蒂莲’ (twin-headed lotus flower) contributes to the meaning of ‘a loving relationship’.  ‘Gui 鳜’ from ‘gui yu 鳜鱼’(mandarin fish) is a pun on ‘gui 贵’ prestige.

Hence this image is intended to wish a couple a harmonious life and much enjoyed prestige.

 

Related Pun Picture:

May you rank among the three top civil servants 位列三公

 

An egret and lotus flowers (莲花) are pictured in combination to infer ‘Yi Lu Qing Lian’, which means ‘You are an honest and uncorrupted official in your entire career’.

Yi lu 一鹭’ for ‘one egret’ puns on ‘yi lu 一路’ for ‘all the way’; ‘qing lian 青莲 for ‘green lotus’ makes pun on ‘qing lian 清廉 for ‘honest and fair in government matters’. Hence the whole image is intended to describe somebody who has the integrity and has never been corrupted during the official career.

The same picture may be referred to as ‘Yi Lu Lian Ke 一路连科.

 

Related Pun Picture: 

May you couple live a harmonious life and enjoy prestige 并蒂双贵

Recommended reading:

More than a naturalistic motif of fish pond: recognition of Chinese pun rebus pictures