Cranes in Chinese Art and Mahjong Part 2

Our last post was about swooping cranes, those often found on One Bam tiles. Now we'll explore standing cranes, more often found in Chinese art and Mahjong.

The crane is both a symbol of longevity and of high rank. As such it is a valued bird in China, and it frequently appears in art.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 8.01.41 AM

Above we see a magnificent hanging panel, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The crane is posed on a rock, standing on one foot, looking toward the ruyi shaped (wish granting) clouds. The swirled forms below the rock are waves. When a crane is seen facing the incoming tide, as here, it means

"May you become an official of the first rank and preside at the court. The crane symbolizes the first civil rank. The tide is a pun for court."  Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art by Terese Tse Bartholomew.


DSC_0786 crane

This one above, a Flower tile from the collection of Michael Stanwick , features a crane in a position quite similar to the one we just saw above from the Museum. Once again it is posed on a rock, perhaps with very stylized waves below the rock, looking quite a bit like the following photo of a panel dating from the Ming or Qing Dynasty, in the same Boston museum.


Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 7.29.53 PM

On this panel too we have a crane standing on a rock, surrounded by water and flowers.


DSC_0785 new

From another set of tiles we have what probably is a crane, this time near what may be a rock outcropping, enjoying a nice dip in the water. A lotus is seen growing above, right out of the stone. According to Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art by  Terese Tse Bartholomew, a crane paired with a lotus means "may you continuously be promoted to the first rank. The crane symbolizes the first rank. Another name for the lotus is lianhua, a pun for "continuous."

How easy it would have been to overlook that symbolic pairing, those two details on that tiny tile. And that's why it is fun to learn more about these symbols, so that we can better understand all the meanings on these tiles we love.