One of the many pleasures being around traditional Chinese furniture is discovering the stories they have to tell.
Some people say Chinese furniture is too ornate. However, if they realised that the designs were more than simply decorative they could appreciate the history and culture behind the furniture.
This unusual four section cabinet has a lot to tell but here I’m going to focus on one element. One chest has carving of a magpie on a plum blossom branch. In Chinese you would literally say xi shang mei shao which means the magpie (xi) is on the top (shang) of the plum blossom (mei shao).
But here’s the fun part.
The Chinese language has lots of words with the same pronunciation but are written differently and have different meaning (think gait and gate in English). In fact Chinese has so many of these words that there’s a genre of comedy based around linguistic puns.
Chinese art takes advantage of this to produce a beautiful scene that carries additional meaning. The technical term for this is a rebus which means pictures or objects to represent words. I like to think of it as a picture is worth a thousand words.
Back to our magpie and plum. Changing the words produces an idiomatic expression may your happiness (xi) reach (shang) the top of your eyebrows (mei shao). Magpie and plum blossom is therefore a wish for great happiness.
With this cabinet you’ll have a smile on your face every day!