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Osmanthus blossoms in autumn and is conventionally regarded as the flower of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Its sweet scent is discreet, distinctive, and unforgettable, and has a legendary position in Chinese poetry and art. It is associated with the moon because ancient Chinese wanted to explain the temporal change of the shadow on its surface and it was recorded in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty that a Daoist disciple named Wu Gang (吴刚) did not obey his master’s order and, as a punishment, was sent to the moon to chop the huge osmanthus tree grown there. As the tree had self-healing ability, Wu Gang’s was a Sisyphean task. Also, via a third-century literary allusion of the Jin dynasty, ‘plucking a branch of osmanthus blossom (折桂)’ became a metaphor for ‘being a top contestant in examinations’.


Fig 1: bell-shaped bowl, ‘Wanli’ mark (大明萬曆年製), courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Holland

Fig 2: famille verte porcelain cup, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Fig 3: famille verte porcelain cup, Kangxi period (1662–1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the British Museum, London

Fig 4-6: enamelled porcelain dish, Yongzheng period (1723–35), Qing dynasty, courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei

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