Tag Archives: Asian art

Chinese astrology symbols through Asian art

Like many people in North America, my first experience with Chinese astrology took place when I was a kid in an American “Chinese” restaurant.  Probably someplace called Ming’s or Canton Buffet. You get the picture…overcooked vegetables, lumpy sauces loaded with MSG, special fried rice with everything except the kitchen sink, oh, and fortune cookies. The placemat was covered with pictures of animals below which were little paragraphs describing each one. I always read the one about the sheep first because it covered the year I was born. Now, I know that those descriptions were about as authentic as the dinner I was eating. Of course, I still am a sheep but now I know that I am a Wood Sheep. Actually, there are many more categories beyond elements that affect you, according to this system. My Malaysian friend has promised to do my whole chart and, at first glance, she said it was a good one… Except for the fact that symbols are animal shapes, there’s little difference between Western astrology and its Eastern counterpart. Chinese astrology is rooted in Taoism and it was perfected during the Zhou dynasty, starting in early 1000 BCE. It is based on yearly cycles, the moon and hourly periods, unlike Western astrology, which is based on the ecliptic. I still remember my prof in my Planetary Physics class at the University of Oregon in the mid-1970s deriding astrology as hooey because it didn’t take into consideration the precession of the earth’s axis. That was Western astrology and I don’t know what he would have said about this… For today’s post, I decided to show you a range of beautiful Asian art using Chinese astrological signs as a starting point, relying on Asian Art Mall’s descriptions, with quotations running below. Links for each animal will take you to a bigger description. The site states that in “an excavation in 1955 of a tomb dating back to the Tang Dynasty, a set of zodiac figurines were found, each carefully made from pottery.  Interestingly, these figurines were created with the body of a human but the head of each of the 12 animals.”

Rat (born in 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032, 2044)      — The Rat is “considered aggressive, suspicious, ambitious, quick to anger, power hungry, hot-tempered, critical, as well as generous, honest, charming, imaginative, and generous.


The rat statue is one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac portrayed in the Kowloon Walled City Park in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. By HKCpedia (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Ox (born in 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, 2033, 2045) — “Powerful, unyielding, stubborn, but also born leaders, great parents, typically successful, upright, inspiring, conservative, and easy-going.”

Chinese - Snuff Bottle with Ox Herder Returning Home - Walters 4972

Pilgrim shaped snuff bottle with a mountain landscape and a man riding a bullock (a young steer) on each side. Coral colored stopper and ivory spoon; between 1644 and 1911; porcelain with enameled glaze. Acquired by William T. or Henry Walters. By Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Tiger (born in 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022, 2034, and 2046) – “Fighting animal, which is aggressive, unpredictable, emotional, yet charming, sensitive, courageous, and capable of giving immense love.  Somewhat of a risk taker, while also carefree.

Tuong gom ho thoi Canh Hung

A ceramic statue of tiger manufactured by artists from Bát Tràng village (Northern Vietnam) in the mid-18th century.By Binh Giang via Wikimedia Commons

Rabbit (born in 1915, 1927, 1939, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2003, 2036, and 2047) – “Affectionate, talented, pleasant, value security, enjoy tranquility, sometimes too sentimental and superficial, cautious, and generally successful in business.”

Puigaudeau, Ferdinand du - Chinese Schadows, the Rabbit

Chinese Shadows, the Rabbit; Ferdinand du Puigaudeau (1864-1930).By Jedudedek via Wikimedia Commons

Dragon (born in 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, 2036, and 2048) – “The Dragon is highly intelligent, gifted, unfaithful, loud, garish, popular, successful, enthusiastic, although also stubborn.”

Nine-Dragon Screen-1

Nine-Dragon Screen. By Shizhao (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Snake (born in 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2015, 2037, and 2049) – “People under this sign are clever, determined, passionate, intense, romantic, charming, and wise, but also tend to be vain and guided strongly by intuition.  The Snake will win money but should avoid being stingy.”


Nuwa, Chinese creator goddess; Myths and legends of China by Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner (1922). By Guss via Wikimedia Commons

Horse (born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026, 2038, and 2050) – “The Horse is friendly, intelligent, popular, cheerful, but also has an impatient, cunning, and selfish streak.”

CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - pottery horse, detail 2

Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 - 907) Excavated at Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, 1957 This yellow-glazed pottery horse includes a carefully sculpted saddle, which is decorated with leather straps and ornamental fastenings featuring eight-petalled flowers and apricot leaves. By Editor at Large via Wikimedia Commons

Sheep (born in 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027, 2039, and 2051) – “Sheep are creative, passionate, artistic, elegant, honest, and warmhearted, but also timid, disorganized, pessimistic, and vulnerable.”

3 sheep Asian Art Museum SF B60J397

Three sheep, white jade, approx. 1900-11, Qing Dynasty. On display at the Asian Art Musem of San Francisco. By BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons

Monkey (born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040, and 2052) – “Very intelligent, clever, inventive, and entertaining, the Monkey can also be discouraged easily and live dangerously.  Often distrustful of other people, they will guard against many situations.”

Sun Wukong at Beijing opera - Journey to the West

Chinese monkey king, Sun Wukong at Beijing opera - "Journey to the West." By d'n'c from Beijing (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

Rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029, 2041, and 2053)        – “The Rooster is hardworking, courageous, eager for more knowledge, strong decision-makers, very skilled, and great with details.  However, the Rooster is also arrogant, shrewd, eccentric, and sometimes, reckless”

CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - black glazed jug with rooster head

Black glazed jug with a rooster head; Eastern Jin Dynasty (A.D. 317 - 420); Excavated at Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, 1969. Used for storing wine or water, string or sinew was tied through the two small round holders at the shoulder of this jug. The rooster head and shape of the jug appeared during the Jin Dynasty. By Editor at Large via Wikimedia Commons

Dog (born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030, 2042, and 2054) – “People born under the Dog are honest, quiet, generous, intelligent, and very loyal while also being a bit stubborn.  They tend to worry about everything, have a sharp tongue, and like to place fault on others.

Green-glazed pottery dog, Eastern Han Dynasty, 25-220 A.D. Palace Museum (Beijing, China). By Rosemania via Wikimedia Commons

Pig (1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2020, 2031, and 2043) – “Very honest, sincere, tolerant, kind, and affectionate, the Pig is also short tempered and impulsive.  Since people under this sign are eager for knowledge, they tend to be successful.

Pig-shaped pottery gui (vessel) fro the Dawenkou Culture (c. 4200-2500 BC). Unearthed at Sanlihe, Jiaoxian, Shandong Province, 1974. By BabelStone via Wikimedia Commons

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Mishima Inlay Using Ceramic Underglazes

Mishima inlay is very attractive to me and I want to do more of it. This form of inlay does require a painstaking process using colored slips. First, I had to remove clay from the areas I wanted to inlay, then fill them with slip, let it absorb over time, then add more, etc. Finally, after the inlaid slip was level with the untouched clay on the piece or vessel and dry enough, I could clean it up and let it dry completely. I did this once with a tile mural I did of stellar evolution, inlaying cobalt slip on white clay. It turned out quite nice. But, as I say, very time-consuming. So, I was very happy to learn of the Mishima technique using underglaze. It seems so very easy and, while it’s not the same, traditionally, it affords very nice effects. I rather stoked about seeing this method on this video and I want to experiment with in the future. Mishima is an ancient technique and soon a friend of mine is going to take me to the studio of someone who is a master at this technique. They both go to the same Buddhist temple and my friend and I both look forward to going.


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The Wonder of Ah Xian’s Sculptures

What strikes me most about Au Xian’s work is the quietude. Much of the appeal lies in its mystery. One wonders what the models thought about while they were being cast. We have no clues: mute busts, figures with closed eyes hold their secrets. It is tempting to think the dreamscapes that play over limb and lip are the imaginings of the one cast. “Ah Xian is a Chinese artist who journeyed to the historical center of porcelain production at Jing De Zhen after living in Australia for more than a decade,” writes Van Horgen. “His China, China collection combines the Western portrait bust with traditional Chinese porcelain techniques and symbolic motifs of the Ming and Qing dynasties.” With further reference to this book, Horgen states, “Featuring body-casts of his friends and family, the 40 busts were hand-painted by local artisans under his direction.” Well, yesterday, I was talking with my friend Jennifer over coffee. She was telling me about ancient Asian lamps and the delicacy of baked duck in clay. Recently, I also wrote a short post about plaster casting, so I guess these elements led to thoughts of Ah Xian. The logistics of large-scale sculpture intrigues me, as I have only done smaller pieces. Beyond the technical aspects, though, I am interested in the way Ah Xian achieves effects by yoking together artistic traditions in startling ways.  Classical Asian motifs play over Western-style busts like slides projected onto a screen. I particularly liked what he had to say about bronze sculptures he’d made, as reported by The Australian. Metaphysica comprises a colony of busts with bizarre objects on their heads: a bright red fish, a teapot, a pagoda. Ah Xian picked up these ornaments, believed to betoken good luck or health, at markets in China. ‘My idea is that people will believe in anything and when you put them all together, it seems senseless or meaningless,’ he explains.” What a puckish sense of humor! Contrast this with the critical art world’s over-interpretation of this shy, middle-aged artist’s work. Ho-hum… I really don’t want to know much about Au Xian’s intentions. I just want to appreciate his work and the projects he orchestrates, to allow my brain to perceive, consider, and to be silent.


Three books about his works are available, the first by Au Xian, the last authored by him and others: China, China, Ah Xian – Sculpturen and Ah Xian.

Images licensed through Creative Commons.


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