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Asian Art Museum

18th-Century "Chinese Plate"

18th-Century "Chinese Plate"

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From: Asian Art Museum
Limited Edition: 33
Exhibition: Hidden Meanings: Symbolism in Chinese Art
Material: Printed vinyl
Dimensions: 35" x 72" (88cm x 182cm)

Hanging Hardware Included


If someone gives you a lovely piece of Chinese porcelain as a wedding gift, be sure it features ducks and bats rather than ravens or flames. Symbols hidden in the decorative adornment might be wishing you well, or cursing your union. These fascinating layers of meaning were unveiled in the Asian Art Museum's  exhibition "Hidden Meanings: Symbolism in Chinese Art".


In a language where symbols are language, it should come as no surprise that the layers of imagery and meaning that are part of the written word are also part of the language of art. Symbolism has long been prevalent in the Chinese decorative arts, giving rich meaning even to everyday objects.

During the Qing Dynasty (c. 1736-1795), many visual puns, or rebuses were incorporated in the decoration of clothing, ceramics, and other housewares. These conveyed messages and well-wishes for everything from wealth to longevity to happy marriages. Such symbolism was the topic of the Asian Art Museum's exhibition Hidden Meanings: Symbolism in Chinese Art. An 18th century plate from the exhibition is featured on these banners.

The plate is pictured against a pale, mint-green background. Featuring a scene of peaches and bats, the plate is both beautiful and functional. But to those versed in these auspicious symbols, the plate conveys a deeper message. Bats are a prominent motif, as the pronunciation of the word "bat" (fu) is the same as that for "blessings" (fu) and "riches" (fu). Peaches are a symbol for longevity, thus, this beautiful decoration acts as a symbol conveying the sentiment "May you have both blessings and longevity".

On the front of the banner, beside the image of the plate, are four dark green Chinese characters. A maroon band at the bottom contains white lettering that reads, "Asian Art". The other side of the banner continues the mint green background, with the exhibition title in dark green text, "Hidden Meanings/Symbolism in Chinese Art", and dates, "Oct 7 - Dec 31". In the maroon band at the bottom, the museum's name is completed from the other side with white letters that read, "Museum".


These banners were displayed around San Francisco from October 7 through December 31, 2006 to promote the exhibition, Hidden Meanings: Symbolism in Chinese Art at the Asian Art Museum.

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