Cranes in Chinese Art and Mahjong

Cranes are very important symbols in Chinese art. They are said to represent longevity, a theme near and dear to the Chinese (and many other peoples in the world!). According to Patricia Bjaaland Welch, the phoenix is the king of the birds, but the crane is the #1 bird, symbolizing both status and longevity.  Interestingly, in Chinese art, unlike what we see on our Mahjong tiles, cranes are normally seen standing or flying upwards. When two cranes are seen together, one standing and one flying upward, the one flying up symbolizes the wish for a good position (job).

In hours of searching through books and on the internet, it was almost impossible to find any images of cranes flying downward, other than on Mahjong tiles!  But let's go ahead and enjoy these swooping crane One Bam tile images.

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We are starting off with one of the most beautiful cranes in Mahjong, made of mother-of-pearl,  part of a set belonging to Bill Price. The small thin wafer is mounted to the back of the tile, believed to be horn, by two small gold nails seen diagonally across from each other, top right and bottom left.


DSC_0692 crane

Quite close in design to the one above is this pyralin version made by Pung Chow.


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A bone and bamboo version, seen above, is from another set.

There are few images of swooping cranes in Chinese art, and we are grateful reader Ray found one


This lovely plate being auctioned off at Christies shows a swooping crane and a deer, with cranes around the edge of the plate.

Next is another crane that is not actually flying toward the sky:



This plate is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, and dates from the Ming Dynasty. Given the presence of two cranes, one on the ground and one in the air, the pairing probably represents good wishes for a good job position. To be truthful, the flying crane is not swooping, but since he does not really look as if he is flying upward, we will count it as another example of a swooping crane in art!!

So we will end this post with two cranes we have seen before:

DSC_0784 crane

the above one (note he has gold "just" like the one we started off with)


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and this one by the Fulton Company.

We have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in this post, and don't we love them all?