Monthly Archives: March 2014

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mm coronet dragons

Yesterday we touched upon reasons Mahjong sets become objects of desire. For many collectors, these dragons made by the Coronet Company, are the selling points. Who can resist these smoke blowing creatures?

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These Dragons above, from an unknown manufacturer, have many of the features we have seen before, including horns and whiskers. Interestingly, the White Dragon is not a Dragon at all but  a snake, one of the five poisonous creatures, often embroidered on children's clothing to ward off venomous dangers! The White Dragon appears a bit like some of the very elongated dragons we have seen before. The two Dragons have four toes, so these dragons were allowed to be used by low ranking officials. (Welch)

MM lucite dragons 1

This Cardinal Company pair above has a red elongated Dragon as the Red, and the more squat Green one, very similar to that of the Royal Depth Control Dragon, seen below.

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But look at these last two Green Dragons, they aren't like any dragons we have seen before! Why? We have yet to see a dragon with wings!! This must have been an attempt to appeal to the Western market, and was a real departure from Chinese dragons.

lucas col dirasianart ints of austra

To refresh what Chinese dragons look like, we have a porcelain from the Lucas Collection ( as far as I can gather Lucas was the Director of the Asian Art Institute in Australia. ) Note the absence of wings on the dragon.

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To end this post, look carefully at this screenshot of a photograph of a Dragon in China. More information and leads will be forthcoming, in a few days.

Mahjong tiles courtesy of Mahjongmahjong.


In Mahjong, as in Chinese art, dragons are depicted in different positions. In this post we will see them upright, from the side.

Many Mahjong companies gave a lot of attention to the designs of their dragons. Sometimes the creatures are so wonderful they become the reasons sets are bought.

DSC_0718 dragons

The designs seen above certainly could have been why the above set, believed to be made of casein by the Waterbury Button Company,  would have been sought after. The Dragons have five toes, putting them in the category of dragons associated with the top ranks of officials in ranks one to three, and the royal family, according to Patricia Bjaaland Welch.

Pung Chow, which made sets of pyralin,  prided itself on its Dragons

DSC_0693 pung chow dragons

and billed itself as the set with the Real Dragons. I think it is impossible to tell how many claws these have.

A version of this type of dragon can be seen below, on a screen being offered for sale by Holly Auctions.


And below there's a closeup of the terrific dragon head



The platter below, auctioned off at Sothebys,  has another fabulous upright dragon.


This porcelain dates from the Kangxi period, which lated from 1654 until 1722. You'll notice the center dragon and the dragons around the side too. The rounded images surrounding him are clouds.

Upright dragons also appeared on wood tiles.


Don't forget this one by the Murok Company in Canada!

We have touched upon the importance of the dragon in Chinese mythology and art before on this website, but here we will go into greater detail.

Met Western Jin Dyn 265-316

The dragon has long been important to the Chinese. According to Patricia Bjaaland Welch in Chinese Art A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, the dragon is the highest ranking animal in the animal hierarchy, and it has been loved throughout Chinese history. The dragon in the photograph above, in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an example of an early dragon. It's a vessel with a dragon's head, dating from the Western Jin Dynasty which ran from 265 until 316.

The Dragon is typically shown in profile, but as we saw on some photographs which appeared on this website, it often is facing the viewer. This is especially the case on Imperial robes; given that this creature was long associated with the Imperial family, it is no surprise its image appears on many objects associated with the life of the royal family.

MET Museum Drag robe

The above robe is from the Metropolitan Museum's collection. It dates from the Qing Dynasty which lasted from 1644 until 1911.


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Does this look familiar? Here the Imperial Dragon is the inside of a Mah Jongg box.



And here it is the rule book for the set.


Another dragon, auctioned off by Sothebys, this time is the top of a container. Its body is wrapped around the neck. He bears a certain resemblance to the bone and bamboo tile which follows it.

photo-41 sothebys head of dragon vase


This wonderful mahjong dragon is almost facing us. You can only see some of its body because the rest is obscured by clouds.

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Don't you love the claws sticking out of the clouds?

But more often we see the dragon in profile, or in a partial side view. Following are two such dragons.

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These White Dragons were carved by Dee Gallo. You can notice the whiskers, and long body; the red feet are the best!

According to Welch, the traditional Chinese dragon has body parts from nine different animals "the head of a camel, horns of a deer, eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow, neck of a snake, belly of a frog, scales of a carp, claws of a hawk, and palm of a tiger." It may be hard to see all of those aspects of the dragon's body, especially on small Mahjong tiles, but it is easy to see the camel head, the horns of a deer, and the scales of a carp on the tiles above.

And of course you remember these wonderful dragons, from an earlier post:




These dragons are showing four toes, which is significant in Chinese art. (Of course every detail is significant in Chinese art!)

The bone and bamboo tiles are from the Katherine Hartman collection.

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The peony is important in Chinese art and symbolism. It is the king of flowers, and symbolizes "rank, wealth, and honor" according to Patricia Bjaaland Welch in her book Chinese Art A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. Welch goes on to write that the pairing of the peony with the phoenix, the king of birds, is very auspicious indeed. Because the phoenix is associated with a swift rise in career or position, and the peony with rank and wealth, when they are together they represent "prosperity and righteousness."


Occasionally you may be lucky enough to find a mahjong set with not only a phoenix, rare enough by itself, but a phoenix and peony. Above we have one such tile, a One Bam Phoenix, with the bird depicted mid-flight. She has a peony in her mouth. (You can see the details of the two tail feathers, the red details, indicating she's a female.)


Above, in the collection of R M Chait, seen during Asia Week, is a beautiful porcelain with phoenix and peony; the phoenix has the peony in his mouth, seen above and behind the bird's head. Here too the bird is in flight.

john Nicholson

And from John Nicholson Auctioneers, another phoenix with peony; you can see the head of the flower on one side and the stem on the other, once again held in the mouth of the flying phoenix.


And we end the post with another fabulous One Bam Phoenix and Peony.

The two tiles seen today are from the collection of Katherine Hartman.


The phoenix, which only appears in times of fair and just rulers, is associated with peaceful and happy times. Patricia Bjaaland Welch's book: Chinese Art A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery is the source for the art information in this post. She  writes the phoenix is known in China as the king of the birds, but its origins are complex. Today the phoenix is considered to be a combination of several creatures: the head of a pheasant, the body of a duck, the legs of a crane, the tail feathers of a peacock, the mouth of a parrot and the wings of a sparrow.  The female phoenix has a tail with two feathers, and the male has one with five feathers. When a phoenix is paired with another mythological creature,  a dragon, the phoenix automatically becomes the female partner.

Most of you are familiar with this symbol that appears on the early sets made by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America,  that was discussed earlier on this blog. It was simply the Chinese Character for the male phoenix.


Nowadays we call it the Green Dragon, and many of today's players are unaware of this different character that served as the Green at the beginning of the Mahjong craze.

In the earliest days of Chinese art, the phoenix was shown as a striding creature with outstretched wings, up until close to 600 AD, perhaps a bit of a version of this One Bam, though of course this one does not have outstretched wings:

DSC_0633 phoenix

The jaunty attitude of this bird is enchanting.

The next Chinese Bakelite One Bam features another phoenix, posing with leg raised in a similar way to what we often see with peacock One Bams.


The two feathers reveals it to be a female. (It is from the personal collection of mahjongmahjong.)

Later on in time, during the Tang Dynasty the phoenix was depicted in flight, and by the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126) it was shown rising in flight with legs tucked up.

met museum song dynasty

On the above lovely hanging dating from the Song Dynasty in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we see the phoenix  on the left; the two feathers indicate a female. Interestingly, the tail does not have the peacock-like look to them we normally see.

Met museum ming dynasty

A bit later in time we see the above panel dating from the Ming Dynasty in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The phoenix now looks a lot different, and its tail has the more ornate feathers we expect. Look carefully and you will see four phoenixes.

In yesterday's blog we discussed Five Bats which are symbolic of the Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, love of virtue and a natural death, an image that frequently appears in Chinese art. The rare dish below was auctioned off at Sothebys. Five bats surround a stylized Shou in the center, and although hard to see the "cavetto," the part of the plate surrounding the center flat part, has three phoenixes. Note they only have two tail feathers, and thus are females.


Below is a version of a flying phoenix on a Mahjong tile

DSC_0746 phoenix

It is a female, and she looks it, doesn't she?

Below is the accompanying bird from the same set:

DSC_0746 luan

You can see the similarities to the phoenix, but it really is  a pheasant, indicated by the feathers  that don't resemble those of peacocks.

My book, written with Ann Israel, is coming out! To see about the book: 

to order the book:


Five Bats are considered to be very lucky in Chinese art. They symbolize the five blessings: health, wealth, longevity, virtue, and dying a natural death.

The five bats theme occurs over and over in Chinese art, on some beautiful vases and porcelains, on royal robes, screens, and, of course, mahjong sets!

Here are images of some fivesomes.

This work of art was auctioned off during Asia Week in NYC at Sotheby's.


The center of the above dish is a design with three stylized lotus blooms surrounding a central lotus, encircled by five bats and scrolls.



Above is a snuff bottle recently seen at Asia Week. Notice the five bats encircling the neck of the bottle.

The dish below was also auctioned off at Sothebys. It is very rare, with five bats surrounding  the stylized Shou in the center. Although hard to see on the "cavetto"   (the part of the plate surrounding the center flat part)  has three phoenixes.



These five bats also appear on mahjong sets. Following is a closeup of one of the drawer pulls, and a photograph of all the drawers. Are the facts that there are five drawers with five bats a coincidence? I think not! The five bats symbolize five blessings for the owner.

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Above is a close-up of one bat pull, and below the five pulls on the box:


Below is a blurry photo of a simpler type of bat pull, also on five drawers.

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The top of the above ebonized box has five stylized bats surrounding the top piece, what may be another bat.


And here they surround the central Shou on the front panel of the box.

This is a story of some very lucky and oblivious owners of a bat vase; although it is not about five bats, it is worth a read. 


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We thought this part was over, but one of our readers sent us two photographs of fabulous bats from the outside of boxes. We have to include them, of course, and you will see why. So we scoured the internet (mostly ebay) for more photos of bats, different yet from what we have seen to date, and they will be seen first.


The top panel has four bats in the corners. It is believed the two holding the medallion are too.



Another central medallion, this time held down by four bats.



On one writeup the vendor mentioned a stylized lucky bat handle. This box has one of them, and it looks like a bat in midflight, wings down.



This one has that kind of handle too. And you will see the brass has bats along the outside of the center medallion, maybe two or possibly four, etched into the brass. There has also been discussion as to whether the brass corners are bats too. If we go with the lack of antennae theory, they too would be bats. Ray Heaton added the following:

"This image on your blog shows the "double happiness" symbol on the box which is closely associated to wedding celebrations."



Notice the tiny little bats with their eyes etched into the brass, holding down the medallions.



This is a Chinese bat hat box. Don't you love the bats encircling the top cone?

And now for the reasons this extra bat post was added:

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This fabulous bat is on a panel of a beautiful red lacquer box.



And this is the front panel, with two bats. Isn't the detail on the bodies and wings of the bats delightful? They are flying around a Shou symbol.


This little chart is taken from

It shows a round form of shou, very similar to those on the box.

As always, if you have any photos of sets you'd like to include for this site, please send an email to

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In addition to their presence on tiles, bats can be found on Mahjong boxes. Sometimes bats are very easy to recognize, but often it is a bit harder because they are very stylized.

They can add ornamentation to the outside of the boxes.

photo-4 bat

This bat is fairly easy to recognize. It's on the front of a red lacquer box.

From the same red box, here is another one


Yes, it does look like a butterfly, but it seems that butterflies and bats often resemble each other in Chinese art. The lack of antennae make it more likely that it is a bat.

And bats like these are found around the top of the box:


wrapping around the edge from the top to the sides.


photo-2 bat

This bat is the drawer pull for a front panel; pulling the panel upward ( by holding the bat's body)  reveals the drawers inside the box.

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This ornate brass bat is on the side of a very special box.

Boxes like this are used for holding counters and dice. Here are some photos pulled from ebay:


You can see the four bats around the edge of the box



and along the sides. The bats on this box are completely endearing.


If a player was using this beautiful mother-of-pearl as a counter, she was very lucky indeed! Look up to the top and bottom middle of the counter. You will see a bat with outspread wings and striped body.

As always, if you have some photos you would like to add, please email me at

Here is a story that is a must read; it is not about boxes, but it is about bats and a Chinese vase. It just had to be included somewhere on the site, so it is here.

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Bats are well loved by the Chinese, and frequently appear in art. This exquisite porcelain, up for auction at Christies, NY, is expected to bring in over $800,000. You can see bats soaring every which way, including toward the viewer.

Here is a screen shot of the vase:

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If you would like to hear an audio description of this vase, click here

In Mahjong, sometimes bats are quite easy to see, as we saw yesterday. But sometimes, as in life, the viewer needs to work a bit harder to find them.

They can be found on White Dragons.

The following are from the Mahjongmahjong collection. All of these are Chinese Bakelite, but they might be found on bakelite White Dragons too.

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Look at the eyes on the top and bottom of the tile above

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You can see two here pretty easily

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and here too

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The above tile may well be a bat.


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We don't know, but these shapes at the corner of this hybrid bamboo set might be bats, or coins as Michael Stanwick speculated, or perhaps even both!

The next two bone and bamboo tiles are from Katherine Hartman's collection. This time they are on One Dots.

feb 12, 2014 bat set 2a 006-1


You can see the bats, with their pointy ears and triangular faces, at the top and bottom of the tile,  spreading out their wings. They surround two peaches and a Lu symbol. According to Ray Heaton, who translated and interpreted the characters and their meanings

"This tile shows three things, the Bats, Fu, the Peach for longevity, Shou, and the Chinese character 祿, Lu, for Prosperity. So this one tile has all it needs to provide the interpretation of Fu Lu Shou.

Blessings, prosperity, and longevity"

And for another One Dot tile Ray has helped again:

feb 12, 2014 bat set 2a 005-1
"The bats (fu) surround two peaches and a fu symbol. The sound Fu means prosperity, so we have double prosperity and longevity symbols."
Please email us if you have any bats on mahjong tiles in your collection

The Chinese consider bats to be good luck, and they are symbols of a long life and happiness. In Chinese, the word for "bat" is the same sound as the one for "good fortune." Bats were thought to live for a thousand years.

You will often see a bat on a tile, sometimes readily identifiable and sometimes so stylized it is hard to see. Today we will see a few easily recognizable ones. Many have ears and even whiskers, making them quite endearing.

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The tile above from a Shanghai Luck Set has two bats, one on each side of the Wan. Paired with the peaches on the top and bottom of the tile, the tile augers well for longevity.

DSC_0397 bat

This bat is a bit more stylized, though recognizable. Note the rounded shapes to the left in front of the bat, and to the right behind it, symbolizing clouds.

DSC_0737 bat

The bat on the above tile is one of four flying creature tile Flowers in a set; the other three are birds.

bat K

Above is a similar one from Katherine Hartman's collection. You will notice that each bat is cropped by the tree. The tree, a pine, is another symbol for longevity.

Bats appear in many forms of Chinese art, and they were deemed important from very early days. Here are some captured on robes made for royalty.

sothebys robe

This robe, auctioned off at Sothebys during Asia Week 2014, is an Imperial robe from the 19th Century. You can see a bat flying toward the upper left.

The beautiful robe below was shown by Alan Kennedy in his Asia Week Exhibition : Qing Dynasty Women Concubines & Meiren.


The bat is flying just above the dragon.

There are some other fabulous robes in the Metropolitan Museum collection.

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The garment above uses peacock feathers twisted into silk thread for the embroidery, a technique dating from the fifth Century. The bat is just over the dragon's head.

A better view of the greens:

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Bats remain important to Chinese culture. Here's a different kind of robe done by the artist Wang Jin in Dreams of China. The pvc robe is embroidered with fishing line to create the patterns.

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Don't forget the bats!

Please email us if you have any recognizable bats in your mahjong collection.