mahjong accessories

Who doesn't love Dragons? In Mahjong Dragons are Honors tiles, sometimes helping to increase point totals (in certain ways of play). On tiles they can be figural images of that creature (the MOST fun!) or Chinese written words (characters), or sometimes the letters C, F, P or B. The term "Dragon" was not the original one for these special tiles, rather these Honors began as references to the game of archery, as described in the link below.

http://www.mahjongg.com/dragons.htm

We all grew up hearing stories about these fantastic creatures, although the tales were different depending on where you grew up. If you lived in the U.S. or Europe, you were sure to hear stories of fierce Dragons burning up the countryside with their breaths of fire,  terrifying the countryfolk. But in Asia, Dragons were kind and benevolent.

 

Below is an image of St George killing a Dragon, clearly one of the European kinds.

St George killing a Dragon by Martorell in 1435 from Wikipedia

 

No one in China would ever kill a Dragon.

The flag of the Qing Dynasty, 1889-1912

Above is the flag of the last Dynasty in China. Chinese Dragons only appear when times are good, so perhaps this Dragon represents a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the government, given what was going on then! (Read Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi, if you have not already done so, to find out the terrible situation that existed in China during those years.)

People in China have always loved Dragons, and they are everywhere. Dragons decorate everything, including Imperial building walls, as seen below.

 

Chinese wall dragons from Wikipedia

 

The great marketers of the Mahjong companies took advantage of the world's fascination with Chinese culture, bringing bits of it into the lives of Americans and Europeans in the 1920s. Some companies went so far as to link the game to Confucius, who marketers claimed invented Mah-Jongg. Trouble was, Confucius had already been dead for over 2,000 years by the time the game came about!  But there actually might be a tie to Confucius, other than the inspired thinking of the Mah-Jongg Sales Company:  the three different colors of the dragon tiles represent the cardinal virtues taught by Confucius:  red is benevolence; green sincerity; and white filial piety.

In the early 1920s, people really got into the game. (Some of us still do!)  When gathered around the MJ table, people dressed in Chinese-themed clothing, and ate Chinese food.

 

Mahjong was everywhere, and MJ themes often appeared on magazine covers. On this copy of Judge, a young lady wearing Chinese-themed garb is sharing the cover with a Dragon, a somewhat subtle reference to MJ. You can see that the Dragon is Chinese, because he's lacking the wings we'd see on a European one. And the young lady doesn't look scared either, adding to the Asian origin of the fabulous creature. (But what's going on with her left foot? )

These next Dragons are from my book: Mah Jongg The Art of the Game. Photos by Michel Arnaud

Waterbury Button Company

Aren't these fun, skinny little Dragons? And look at the dive-bombing crane!! Interestingly, we don't know much about this set. Even the Waterbury Button Company doesn't have any information about it. But given that a button company made a set of mahjong tiles, I'd venture to say that there must have been a reason. The Dots look like buttons. And those Bams: toggles you'd see on coats. Subtle advertising, right?

Below we see a Phoenix on the top row, nothing like our Phoenix either, and a Dragon on the bottom. Chinese Dragons like to fly in the clouds, so you can only see part of this one's body. He's also playing with a pearl, seen in red on tile 3, as Chinese Dragons do,, although the meaning of the pearl is not clear.

Exquisite Phoenix and Dragon, from the mahjongmahjong.com collection

And next is one of my favorite game accessories, a delicately carved ivory wind indicator, about 2" across, in three pieces. The top nub, holding the three pieces together, is the pearl the dragon plays with. BTW: this photograph clearly shows the cross-hatching only seen in ivory.

 

This is a beautifully colored set with wonderful designs, featuring fabulous Dragons:

Chinese Game Company

These Dragons are really different. Want to guess why? The set was made by the Chinese Game Company out of Montreal!! Montreal has emotional and cultural ties to France, so we have European winged dragons here, looking like they are ready to be placed on shields carried  into battle.

Dragons have long held a place in our thoughts.  A man in Pennsylvania was intrigued enough by Dragons to make a bellows into this charming piece, recently sold by American Primitive Gallery. Although there are no wings here, the artist, a blacksmith working with fire every day, must have been thinking about Dragons breathing fire right? Clearly this would have been the European version of the creature.

19th Century Dragon made by a blacksmith in Pennsylvania.
Dragon with mouth open

There are theories as to how the idea of Dragons came about, and Smithsonian Magazine covers some:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/where-did-dragons-come-from-23969126/

I love the idea that dinosaur fossils were identified as Dragons. "Speaking" of dinosaurs, here's up-to-the-minute news about T-Rex, now an essential part of another game many of us love.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-monopoly-token-pieces_us_58cad9a3e4b0ec9d29d9eca0?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009

 

I have given around 100 talks about mahjong art in the last year and a half, and I always mention the craftsmen who designed,  carved and painted those tiles we all love. The other day I was asked about some of my favorite sets, and my thoughts immediately went to a wonderful one designed by Dee Gallo, a craftswoman! So here is a celebration of Dee and the beautiful sets she has designed. I am lucky enough to own one, featured today, but please visit her website to see some of the others.

Some of you know that when mahjong was ruled illegal in China, during the Cultural Revolution, all mahjong sets were ordered destroyed, as were all company records. Craftsmen were no longer allowed to practice the techniques that had been handed down for generations. Methods of carving, restoring, and painting Mahjong tiles were lost forever. Thank goodness Dee Gallo was determined to figure out how to bring tiles back to life, and I know many of us are indebted to her for her help restoring or replacing our lost tiles. But while learning how to go about restoring old tiles and carving replacement tiles, Dee was able to start thinking about creating new designs for sets. And this is her latest limited edition enrobed (!) set:

 

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Dee Gallo's Limited Edition Money Set. Be sure to note the often unique Bam placement and Bamboo stalk design.

 

Dee's deep rooted knowledge of Chinese culture and history is evident in every new series she creates. Here you can see The Money Set, released in 2014. This is Dee's 8th set, dedicated to her parents. It pays homage to her grandfather and his two brothers who worked at the Bank of Shanghai. All three were sent to different parts of China to open bank branches, and they met their wives while working for the bank. Eventually they all decided to move to the United States and open their own banking business and fur import business. The banking world in China inspired Dee's latest set. (More about that later.)  I know we all could not be more delighted that Dee is free to work on her creative designs on our shores.

I am going to use Dee's own words (in green) to describe what the images represent. But please visit Dee's site to really get to see the beauty of the tiles. My photos were taken with my cell phone, and don't begin to show the wonderful work she has done.

We'll start with the suits.

 

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This is the 22nd set she made in this edition.

 

Dots:

"Each of the Dots in this set is a coin, with the #1 Dot sporting a signature and an edition number. The Chinese character for Lee, which is my family name, is rotated four times around the square hole, representing the four Cardinal points (E,S,W,N). Inside the square is the number representing its place in the series. Chinese cash is a symbol of prosperity, both as an amulet and an ornament. In 11th Century China, the name "round coin" was applied to copper coins (hence "Red Coin") (Ed, the name of Dee's business) described as "square within and round without." This represents the internal integrity of the government issuing the coin, and their external attitude of cooperation (no sharp corners to annoy anyone.) I hope to promote these qualities. Because this set celebrates the Chinese cash (coin) I have used copper as a color for the first time on many of the designs. (Ed: my husband Woody, an art director and font aficionado, noted that the typeface that Dee uses is Copper Plate, a lovely tie-in.)

 

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Dee uses banking numbers instead of the normally seen Chinese numbers.

 

The Wan or Crak Suit

This is a unique suit designed with the special characters (ED: look at the Chinese numbers, very different from what we are used to seeing on our tiles) used in China and Taiwan for writing checks. The usual characters are too easy to alter so these characters were developed to make checks more secure. You can see the "normal" characters hidden in most of these special characters. These unusual characters are perfect for this Money Set, don't you think?

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The Bamboo suit

The #1 Bamboo is my Rooster, perched on a pile of copper coins and crowing his joy at a prosperous day beginning. The Rooster has special meaning for me, as my father and sister were born in the Year of the Rooster and my husband's surname, Gallo, means rooster in Italian. So it is in their honor that I drew the Rooster as the #1 Bam, a distinctive tile in all Mah Jong sets. In addition, most of the rural villages in China had living bamboo fences surrounding the compound of houses, and plenty of chickens and roosters...these served as a security and early warning system against pirates and thieves.

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(Ed: Be sure to look at the arrangement of the other Bams on this photo: some unique approaches to the designs!)

 

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The Dragons

Coins decorate the Dragon suit as well. The Red (Jung) (Ed: sometimes written Chung) means "center" as in Jung Guo (China: central country). The Green (Fa) is half of the phrase "Fa Tsai,"  meaning (I hope you) become rich. The Blue character (Bai) means "white" or blank.

Ed: Don't you love the coin in each of the Dragons?

The Winds

Money bags represent the winds, with the neck of the bag facing in the direction of the tile. Each money bag is sitting on a pile of copper coins, representing abundant wealth and prosperity.

Ed: The money bags almost have personalities, don't they? They remind me of the first short made by Pixar: Luxo Jr. (If you are not familiar with this short, you will have to go to youtube to see that delightful film: search for Luxo Jr. I was not allowed to post the link here.)

The Flowers

 

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One set of Flowers sports a large coin and as flower representing the season. The large coins are indicative of the traditional shapes used for coins in early dynasties. The characters tell you the name of the plant, 1 Plum, 2 Orchid, 3 Mom (Ed: chrysanthemum) 4 Bamboo. th other set of Flowers depicts children playing with coins in each season (1 Spring, 2 Summer, 3 Autumn, 4 Winter), representing a wish for prosperity and luck.

Ed: In the top row I believe Dee is paying homage to 100 children, a theme often seen in Chinese art, where children are seen being children in paintings. Children are also seen on mahjong tiles and boxes

 

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Direction Coins

(Ed: Dee made these specifically for this set. As many of you know, we often find mings with direction coins in our old boxes, or sometimes a bakelite wheel indicating directions on it. Dee designed her own, also seen on the top row of the Flower tiles.)

 

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Jokers

(Ed: sadly I only have eight Jokers, but I will tell you about all of them, and you just will have to go to Dee's website to see them all)

Each joker shows a design which will bring you luck and prosperity!

2 Facing Bats and coin: Blessings before your eyes

3 Coins tied together: the Trinity of luck-Heaven, Earth and Mankind

Double Fish & Stone Chime: May you have a superabundance of auspicious happiness

Ruyi: Wish-granting Wand, Ruyi means "As you wish"

Ingot: Yuanbao is a large ingot of gold representing the phrase "all will be as you wish" in addition to prosperity

3 legged Toad: Belongs to Liu Hai, God of Wealth & always finds gold

Shou Medallion: the longevity symbol, when used in a circular shape mens fulfillment or completion. Mah Jong!

Lozenge and Endless Knot: may you have everlasting victory for 10 Thousand generations

I am missing ( 🙁  )

Yin-Yang: Remember there is a balance in life, you win some, you lose some! This symbol is actually called Tai-ji, meaning The Original One, from which the duality of Yin (dark)/Yang (light) developed.

5 Ears of Grain on One Stalk: may you enjoy a bumper harvest and reap a big reward!

Now, wasn't this a wonderful treat? Here's to Dee!!

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Dee at work on the Money Set, hand-painting each tile.

 

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The Dragon Set, designed by Dee Gallo and Crisloid.

You have a chance to buy one of Dee's other sets, designed by Dee and the people at Crisloid. (Click here.)The Dragon Set takes many of Crisloid's unique designs and combines them with Dee's images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This darling monkey is one of the 12 signs found on a set of charming Mahjong racks made in Asia. The small pieces of bone are inserted into the wood rack and the wood is painted black.

 

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And above are tiles sitting on that rack with the year 2016, led off by a Flower with an image of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, a beloved character in Chinese stories. He is a major player in the novel Journey to the West. The Monkey King often appears on Chinese Bakelite tiles; this is the only set I have seen (that I can remember, anyway!) with this character on bone and bamboo tiles.

Sun Wukong frequently appears in Chinese operas, as you can see below, in a photo taken from Wikipedia.

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I went to a Chinese New Year luncheon the other day, and I was just the lucky winner of Neil Somerville's Your Chinese Horoscope 2016, subtitled: What the Year of the Monkey holds in store for you.

Here is some of what he has to say:

..."throughout the year world leaders will frequently confer and in some cases put past animosities behind them and forge new alliances. ..The United States celebrated the start of its nationhood in 1776, a previous year of the Fire Monkey, and in this one, much attention will be focused on the Presidential election. There will be great debate over the direction of domestic and foreign policy as well as increasing focus on American identity, and the campaign will be passionately fought, with some issues proving divisive and sometimes even causing rifts between party supporters."

Well, I won't do any more excerpts, but he certainly has a lot of this right, at least as far as the current political situation in the States is concerned.

I thought it fun to add this photo of monkeys from the 1920s, I believe, at the mahjong table. I highly doubt they played the game, but they probably enjoyed the tiles. In this Year of the Monkey, let's hope for some good times around the mahjong table, playing a game rich with possibilities, strategy and luck, intersperced with great merriment and camaraderie.

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Fox Sunshine Comedies produced a short showing chimpanzees playing the game, with a photo featured in Photoplay magazine.

Thought you might laugh about the background I picked for the "photoshoot." I found something red, a good luck color. And yes, the book was upside down, but doesn't this look like a monkey?

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And if any of you want to read about the Monkey King, here is the article in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Wukong

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Scan 5

These three photographs are beautiful sides of a Mahjong box that was in the collection of the Japanese Mahjong Museum, and scanned from their catalog. (If you ever can get one of the catalogs of their collection, do so. The sets are magnificent, as are the photographs.)

The children are enjoying their time together, with the groupings beautifully framed by the outside vines winding their way around the sides of the box. The children and vines are made of mother-of-pearl, inlaid into the box, and you can clearly see how the box was carved out for the inlays in the above photograph, which has a few pieces missing. You might notice the one boy with a firecracker in his hand, in the lower left box. The details on the children's faces are just delightful-it's amazing how the smallest etch in the mother-of-pearl could bring these little faces to life.

In Chinese art children were treated as beings who, just by being themselves, could bring great joy to the viewer. And their images carried with them the hopes that the viewers would have many children.

 

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Several of you noticed in the earlier post that the Chinese artists portrayed children the way they actually were, as opposed to the way in which European and American artists handled the subject. The following work was painted in 1760, and is in the Colonial Williamsburg collection. Interesting how serious the children look, even when holding a pet squirrel.

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Above is the Sleigh Ride by James Goodwyn Clonney done about 1845, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. At least here there is a bit of  smile on the faces of both children.

 

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And from the Metropolitan Museum we have The Golden Age by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater (French, Valenciennes 1695–1736 Paris). Although children were portrayed in a bit more realistic way by this French artist, they lack the rambunctiousness of the Chinese ones. It is almost as if the Chinese artists delighted in the naughtiness of children!

We started this post with the beautiful almost one hundred year old mother-of-pearl mahjong box from the Japanese Mahjong Museum, and we will end the post with a very new set, carved by one of the few people who is carrying on the tradition of designing and creating Mahjong sets, Dee Gallo from Red Coin Mahjong. Dee's newest set's theme is based on money, a reference to the original basis for the three suits of the game: coins, (dots) strings of coins (bams) , and lots of coins (craks). On one bouquet of Flowers she features children, very much like the ones we saw on the box, holding oversized coins. You can see the details she included: each child is an individual, with unique clothing and expressions. The coin on tile 2 shows bats flying around the center of the coin. The font of the numbers she uses on the tiles add to the theme of the set: copper plate. Her artistic talent and creativity harken back to the days of old, when master craftsmen created mahjong works of art on tiny tiles, with sets referencing different aspects of Chinese lore and culture.

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To see more of Dee's work, click here

 

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The Brooklyn Museum, which featured a lacquer show in the 1980s, writes this in their catalog:

"The art of lacquering dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1500-1027 B.C.) in China when it was used chiefly to enhance the durability of utilitarian objects. It is characterized by a hard, smooth, highly polished finish it gives to numerous materials, even such impermanent ones as vegetable fiber, textiles and paper. Lacquer workshops with master craftsmen were a part of the artistic culture of ancient China, Japan and South to Southeast Asia and Persia, with each region developing its own technique of lacquering. Over the centuries contact between cultures brought a cross-fertilization of techniques as well as methods of manufacture."

And from Wikipedia:

"In Ming China processes included up to a hundred layers. Each layer requires drying and polishing. When all layers are applied the artist polishes different parts of the painting until the preferred colours show. Fine sandpaper and a mix of charcoal powder and human hair is used to carefully reach the correct layer of each specific colour. Consequently "lacquer painting" is in part a misnomer, since the bringing out of the colours is not done in the preparatory painting but in the burnishing of the lacquer layers to reveal the desired image beneath."

Clearly lacquer artists were incredibly skilled and patient. We often see lacquer on Mahjong racks such as these:

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The dragon, his body greatly hidden by clouds, and the flaming "pearl" are seen above. This rack was probably made in the 1920s. Now that we know it might have taken 100 layers to create, we can truly admire the skill of the artist who made it. The black compartments were used to store counters.

 

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Another one of the racks from this set, this time with two dragons surrounding the flaming "pearl." It is possible the lacquer here might have had real gold in it.

 

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And here is the front panel of a red lacquer box, with another red dragon and flaming "pearl."

 

la clars republic pd phoenix and peony This lovely porcelain (from Clars Auction House dating from the Republic period) ) shows us a phoenix (actually there are a couple you can see, one is hidden on the far right) standing near a peony, a common theme on porcelains.

 

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Another standing phoenix with peony, this time from Christies.

But here we have a lovely French Ivory standing phoenix, with peony, sent to us by reader Laurie!

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It's a lot of detail to fit on one small tile.

 

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This fabulous Mahjong box is inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Isn't it magnificent? You will notice the two phoenixes up at the top, surrounding an irregular round shaped object. I would venture to guess that the brass is a stylized peony. Peony brass hardware similar to that is still made today, so it may not be as wild a guess as it would seem! On top of the brass, of course, is a bat. The bat also appears on the bottom of the cabinet, probably between two plum blossoms. Plum blossoms can be recognized by their five petals.

The other day we had the good fortune to study photographs of a set sent to us by Bill Price. You will remember the tiles in that set are quite special: the One Bam is a phoenix and the One Dot a dragon.  If any of you missed it, click here for a real treat.

The dragon and phoenix are a lucky pairing in Chinese art. When seen together, the dragon becomes male, and the phoenix female, and thus they represent good wishes for a happy marriage.

 

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The above platter from the Lucas Collection in Australia shows the two of them, interestingly surrounding a flaming "pearl." The dragon has five toes, putting him in the category of an object that could be owned or worn by a member of the royal family; his whiskers, horns and chops are easily seen; his scales and serpentine body complete the look. The phoenix has a colorful tail and body, and the colors used make her most feminine indeed. They both have flames around them, those orange spiky squiggles. The platter is surrounded by meanders.

 

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You will remember one of the first mahjong sets that was mass produced was made by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America. The Green (Dragon) actually is the symbol for phoenix but

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the Red (Dragon) is the Chinese word for dragon. So even at the dawn of the game its designers felt it was beneficial to have the good omens of this pairing.

 

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The above coin (from Baldwin's Auction House in Hong Kong) was issued in 1923, the very same year that the Mah-Jongg Sales Company really took the world by storm when it started exporting sets in big numbers to the States and elsewhere. Notice that  pairing of the dragon and phoenix. The MJSA, when it used that pairing on its "Dragons"  was probably hoping to create a happy marriage between the Mah-Jongg Sales Company and the players using its sets, rules and scoring system.

 

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The good fortune of the pairing continues today. Here are two sides of the same coin, of recent minting. You see the pairing of the dragon and phoenix on the left and that other, all important symbol of China, the Great Wall. Given that the dragon is associated with power and the ruler of China, and the Great Wall certainly represents strength, it is not surprising to find these two symbols on the same coin.  Don't forget the phoenix only appears in times of a just ruler, so we have a lot of important symbolism on one coin.

 

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Our reader Katherine Hartman has found the ornate boxes seen above that she uses to house Mahjong sets. You will note the phoenix on the top of the box, and dragons surrounding the sides. As many of you already know, very few boxes were made expressly for Mahjong tiles in the early days of the game; rather other boxes had to be adapted. Some of you probably have to do that these days yourselves, when faced with the sad deterioration of some vintage and antique boxes, so the tradition of adapting boxes for new uses exists today. And should you find boxes that have the wonderful dragon and phoenix pairing, the tiles will have a happy home indeed.

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This fabulous dragon box was auctioned off at the China Arts Auction. Look at the magnificent handle. The dragon's face is at one end, and his scaly body is the handle. and the other end has his tail curled back upon his body.

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Here you can clearly see the sculptural quality of the handle which was attached to the top of the box, and not carved as one piece as we saw yesterday, and the rest of the deeply carved box.

 

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Here's another view of the dragon box we saw the other day, sent to us by a reader. This dragon is fabulous: look at his head with its horns, whiskers, bulging eyes, and open mouth with teeth; his long scaly body with dorsal fin, and his hawklike feet with at least one prominent foot on the left with its claws. It is frolicking in the clouds, as can be seen by curlicued cloud-like shapes surrounding him, but look carefully at the smoke he is breathing, and what do you see? A fish!

"A frequently seen image is of a carp swimming and leaping against the current of a river to reach the spawning grounds.  This refers to the legend (liyutiaolongmen 鲤鱼跳龙门) that a carp which is able to leap over the mythical "Dragon Gate" will become a dragon.  This is an allegory for the persistent effort needed to overcome obstacles."  From Primaltrek

http://primaltrek.com/impliedmeaning.html

 

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This very sculptural looking dragon looks like he could be on a Mahjong box. This photograph is an indication of the interest the Chinese still have in the dragon as a beloved and important part of their culture. Above is a screen shot somewhat cropped version of a photograph taken by Andy Wong. It's a 3D trompe l'oeil dragon painting or chalk drawing.

Andy Wong's website:

http://www.commercialappeal.com/photos/2013/aug/11/455548/

And we can't leave without one more photograph of Liu Bolin, who is posed in front of the 9 Dragon Wall in Beihai Park in Beijing. From Wikipedia:

"The Nine-Dragon Wall lies north of the Five-Dragon Pavilion. It was built in 1402 and is one of three walls of its kind in China. It is made of glazed bricks of seven-colors. Nine complete dragons playing in the clouds decorate both sides of the wall."

To read more about the park:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beihai_Park

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The very sculptural dragon is very reminiscent of all the deeply carved dragons we have been seeing on Mahjong boxes this week.

Liu Bolin is represented by Klein Sun Gallery, and we thank them for allowing us to share these photographs with you.

http://www.kleinsungallery.com/artist/Liu_Bolin/works/ 

As always, if you have any comments  please email

kuanyinart@gmail.com

 

3 Comments

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I think many of us will have to agree this is one of the most delightful dragon Mahjong boxes we have ever seen. * Instead of having just a deeply carved dragon on the lid, or a beautiful handle, the beautiful handle has become a three dimensional dragon, a piece of sculpture posed on top of the box. Look at the attention paid to him, the mouth with its teeth (tho not too big to be intimidating!), his nose and whiskers, his backward facing horns, his "chops" along the side of his face, five toed detailed claws, and curled tail encircling the back of his body. How fabulous is he? Surrounding him, on the border of the box, are flower petals and bats.

Interestingly on this Mahjong box, it really is all about dragons, unlike some of the other carved boxes we have seen where they simply put in an appearance and go away.

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Here's the inside of the box where we see two dragons. If the dragon on the lid looks somewhat friendly, these guys are almost smiling! They are surrounding a circle (the sun?), and the shou symbol, right below it,  representing longevity. In Patricia Bjaaland Welch's book Chinese Art A Guide to Visual Motifs and Visual Imagery, the round version of the shou that we see above may mean a wish that a person live his full life span and die a natural death. We also see the four bats above and below the disk, and an endless knot, a Buddhist symbol, just behind each dragon's tail. Each knot represents a long life, uninterrupted by set-backs. (Wolfram Eberhard A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols)

 

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On the above photograph of the box and its Mahjong tiles, if you look carefully you can see there are dragons along the side of the box. The box is the home of a much-sought after Chinese Bakelite set. The tiles have green wafer backs which you can see in the photo.  What is so exciting about this particular set, especially in terms of this post, is the One Bam and the One Dot.

 

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This is no ordinary Mahjong One Dot. Instead of being a version of  flower or circles, we have a dragon! You can clearly see the dragon's head, his nostrils and backward facing horns. Other parts of his body are seen in the top of the tile, where they resemble mountains, and right below where it resembles a wave, and  the rest of his body is hidden either by clouds or water.

And here is the One Bam:

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A phoenix! How divine is that! We have a real, fully dragon box housing a Mahjong set with both dragon and phoenix tiles! And the pairing of these two creatures is what we will be covering soon.

We thank Bill Price for sending these photos of his fabulous set to us, allowing us all to enjoy it.

* As many of you know, oftentimes boxes were not made for mahjong sets; rather boxes were appropriated from those often used for jewelry (some of the five drawer versions, or ones with two large opening doors) or in this case a small fully carved box.

The book I wrote with Ann Israel is being published by Tuttle. To see more about it:

www.mahjonggtheartof thegame.com

To order it click here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mah-jongg-ann-israel/1118759459?ean=9784805313237

or here from Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Mah-Jongg-Collectors-Guide-Tiles/dp/4805313234/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1414844427&sr=8-7&keywords=mah+jongg

 

 

-6   Here we have a deeply carved dragon on the side of a mahjong box. Isn't he just fabulous?! He definitely has more of the camel's head and lack of mane we expect, and his body is covered with fish-like scales. His claws are somewhat rounded, in keeping with the rounded shapes of the clouds, which here are ruyi-shaped (the mushroom shape often seen in Chinese art.) Note the cross-hatching around the center panel, forming a frame.

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This set above, auctioned off at Channel Islands Auctions, features a wonderful deep carved front panel. The flaming disk may well be the object he's fixated on, and he's in the sky, seen in the clouds. On both of the boxes we have just looked at, the dragon scene does not relate in any way to the scenes on the other sides of the box. It just must have made the set more appealing to the buyer. Dragons can also appear on box handles. Here is one such example:

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Here's a handsome fellow who definitely was the reason the new owner bought this box!  And now follows a view from the side:

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You can notice his camel-like head, long whiskers, and short backward facing horns. The carved scene he is covering is one of combat, but it does not seem to relate to the dragon whatsoever, unless we take the dragon as the symbol of the ruler and this is a story of a young ruler learning the arts of combat? And now for what has been promised for the last few days: information about those wonderful dragon and pearl photographs we saw. The artist is Liu Bolin, who is represented by Eli Klein Sun Gallery in New York City. Liu Bolin has been dubbed the Invisible Man, because very often  viewers do not know that they are seeing him when they are looking  at one of his photographs. In many ways, it is similar to many of us who don't know what we are seeing when we look at the art on Mahjong tiles and sets, but we are learning!

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Above is the artist posed in front of yet another dragon from the 9 Dragon Wall in Beihai Park in Beijing, with the wall seen in its entirety in the photograph below. There is another 9 Dragon Wall in the Forbidden City.

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We thank the people at Klein Sun Gallery, and invite you to explore more of the art and artists represented there.

To learn more about Liu Bolin, here are a few links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Bolin

http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/11/liu-bolin-the-invisible-man/100623/

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2011/04/06/134666588/chinese-artist-attempts-to-blend-in-literally