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Chrysanthemum culture

In the Eastern society we have the Four Gentlemen Plants, and we discussed the bamboo last time. Another one of the “gentlemen” would be the chrysanthemum flower, which is exactly in season right now! Yesterday was the Double Ninth Festival, so our discussion about these flowers will start with the number “9”.

Chrysanthemum flower

The number “9” is a Yang number according to the Book of Change, which is also the largest digit. Sky can even be referred to as “9”. Yesterday according to the lunar calendar, was the ninth day of the ninth month, which is where the name Double Ninth came from. So when this special Yang number doubles (the name in Chinese is in fact, double Yang), there must be celebrations, because we have encountered an auspicious day!

But what does the chrysanthemum flower have to do with the number “9” or this festival? It is because around this festival there are plenty of activities, and amongst them, the appreciation of the chrysanthemum flowers. These flowers bloom right around the time of the Double Ninth Festival, and the chrysanthemum flowers have always represented longevity (this festival also involves the respect toward the elderlies or ancestors), then naturally a connection was created.

Chrysanthemum Longevity, Qi Bai Shi

Around this time of the year, various parks would have chrysanthemum flower exhibitions, displaying hundreds of kinds of these colorful flowers. In fact the chrysanthemum cultivation has existed for about 3,000 years in China already, and it was at first planted for its medicinal use. Starting around the Tang Dynasty these pretty flowers also attracted more attention and started to be appreciated for their beauty. It was also around this time that the Japanese chrysanthemum culture was developed. The Song Dynasty recorded many detailed variations of these flowers, and it was also around this time that the flower exhibitions became popular. As the technology develops, more and more styles of these flowers appeared, and in the Qing Dynasty there were already 233 variations of these flowers! It was only toward the end of the Ming Dynasty (mid 17th Century) that the Dutch merchants brought these flowers into Europe, where they started to be enjoyed worldwide.

Along with the appreciation of the flowers, people also drink chrysanthemum wine. The making of such wine already started in the Han Dynasty, and lasted until today. Obviously made for its medicinal purpose, this drink has a tint of bitterness, which according to the traditional medicine, usually clears the mind and with the chrysanthemum, it also brightens the eyes. Eventually drinking this wine became an auspicious tradition, indicating a long and happy life. In the painting above, the artist Qi Bai Shi at the age of 91 described, in his rather distinctive style, the association of health, longevity and these chrysanthemum flower and flower wine. The title also says the same meaning: chrysanthemum wine for a happy long life.

Chrysanthemum, Pan Tian Shou

The chrysanthemum flowers also carry the spirit of bravery, especially only when all the other flowers have waned, these brave souls would bloom. This character in particular is what the literati scholars admire, the spirit of a true gentleman. The attraction toward chrysanthemum flowers also has to do with the hermit quality they represent, as the scholar and social elites who aspire to be chrysanthemum generally preferred the peace and quiet outside of the messy society. The Jin Dynasty poet Tao Yuan Ming (365-427) famously demonstrated his grand love for these flowers, as he described his desired life. Below is a wonderful translation of one of the versions of Tao’s poem, translated by Yang Xian Yi and Dai Nai Die, and here I share with you:

Drinking (V)

Within the world of men I make my home, 

Yet din of horse and carriage there is none; 

You ask me how this quiet is achieved — 

With thoughts remote the place appears alone. 

While picking asters ‘neath the Eastern fence 

My gaze upon the Southern mountain rests;

The mountain views are good by day or night, 

The birds come flying homeward to their nests. 

A truth in this reflection lies concealed, 

But I forget how it may be revealed.


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Bamboo

Amongst the Four Gentlemen Plants and the Three Friends of the Winter, bamboo is one of the overlapping images. These groupings are both collections of symbolic flowers and plants that represent a certain characteristic that men admire. Bamboo, 竹 (zhu) in Chinese, is rather special, in the various ancient painting theories it has also been listed as an independent subject, demonstrating its significance in society and in people’s heart.

bamboo grass
Bamboo

Even though common, bamboo is loaded with cultural notions, and in the mind of the literati scholars, bamboo could never be replaced. One of the most famous scholars of the Song Dynasty, Su Dongpo, once wrote (I attempt to translate here): not eating meat will make people thin, but not having bamboo will make people vulgar. It is easy to gain weight again, but there is no cure for vulgarity. Harsh as it sounds, the message is loud and clear – to maintain elegance, one has to be surrounded by bamboo and bamboo like people. What kind of people are these?

Bamboo was given characteristics and personalities that resemble the most virtuous people. In fact people in the eastern societies love learning from various aspects of nature, including flowers and plants. Bamboo is seen to be shooting straight into the sky, never bending. It is gentleman like, standing with integrity and behaving courteously. Bamboo has joints, in Chinese these joints are called “节” (jie), also referring to integrity and a positive energy. Bamboo stays green in colder seasons, a reflection of its perseverance. Bamboo is hollow on the inside, a sign of modesty and broad-mindedness. Bamboo is tidy, clean, and elegant, giving people the impression that it is honest. There are more aspects but you get the idea, all these above mentioned characteristics can be human traits, and when somebody has all these qualities in him or herself, this person must be a good model from whom the others should learn.

Bamboo, Zheng Banqiao

The practice of comparing people with bamboo started already in the early Qin Dynasty ( -221BC). The great philosopher Zhuang Zi (369BC-286BC) in his articles wrote the baby phoenix fed on bamboo fruit only, unintentionally gave the reputation of bamboo a boost, because the phoenix is an elegant bird, and therefore the food it eats has to be elegant too. The connection between literati scholars, the social elites, and bamboo was reinforced in the periods leading up to the Tang Dynasty. The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove was formed in the 3rd Century, composing of scholars of literature, writers, and musicians. These people resided in the town known for its bamboo forest (no concrete proof), and therefore came the name of the group. These scholars expressed themselves in inferred ways, using symbolism, comparison, or myth to tell the world in an ironic way that they were frustrated towards the system and crude ruling.

In the collection of Tang Poetry (全唐诗) of the alleged 49,403 (some poems are considered not genuine) poems, the bamboo as a single subject covered 1,000 of them, a rather significant number. Most poets used the image of bamboo to express their admiration of its qualities, every single one mentioned above.

Bamboo, Wen Tong

The Song Dynasty was the most prosperous time of bamboo culture, and painting accompanied poetry had became a common method of expression. One of the most noteworthy artists of the time was Wen Tong, who was known to be able to paint two differently shaded bamboo using both hands simultaneously. The tradition of bamboo painting lasted until today, and as Ni Zan (a great Yuan Dynasty painter) said, my bamboo painting may not look like the real one, but so what? I paint bamboo as an outlet, and I cannot care less about whether it is straight, bent, or whether the leaves are prosperous. I think Ni has indeed captured the true essence of the bamboo spirit after all.


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A parallel universe of the Chinese Painting

Have you also considered certainty in our universe that is filled with randomness? Ok, let us narrow it down, what about the development of the Chinese painting or the so called Sumi-e painting? What would happen if the universe took a different turn concerning the oriental art? I suppose there is at least one scenario, issuing from the rock painting.

The rock painting means exactly as it sounds, and it was born in the pre-historical times when ancient ancestors of ours painted animals, figures and tools on the surface of caves. It experienced a glorious development during the Sui and Tang Dynasty (6th Century), and the evidences are clearly visible today, such as in the Dunhuang frescoes (see the gorgeous example blow), dating back as far as the year 336. Located in the western side of China, along the silk road, these paintings contained the wisdom of many ancient civilizations. This was also the type of painting that went all the way to Japan, deeply influencing its artistic taste. In China however, the rock painting encountered an overwhelming crush from the later water-ink painting and the literati-scholar art, and the techniques of rock painting were almost completely lost in the course of history. In Japan however, after its initial introduction in the 6th Century, it reached a peak during the 9th Century, manifesting into a rather Japanese style of painting, which led to the Yamato-e. Unfortunately in China, it was rarely seen anymore until recent years.

Dunhuang Murals, photo from the internet
Yamato-e, photo from the internet

The truth is, the usaeg of color of this ancient painting style still lives on in our so called “traditional Chinese Painting”, especially in the Gongbi style. The Gongbi painting also requires color pigments that are rock based. In the rock painting the majority of colors used came from minerals, and some others are chemically made. Some of the particularly beautiful colors such as Azurite (石青), Malachite Green (石绿), Orpiment (雌黄), Cinnabar (朱砂), Ocher (赭石) are still in our daily painting use, where the traditional craftsmen of the high-quality painting colors continued using traditional ways to refine these colors.

However these rock colors could not be mixed to create a new color due to the large grains, even the very fine modern versions. Also, the rock painting color pigments are not transparent, and the less fine pigments would create rough textures on the surface of the artwork, deeming it not desirable in the Gongbi painting, which strives for silk like smoothness.

Azurite ore, photo from the internet

So what would happen if the rock painting continued to influence the Chinese painting without interruption? I imagine the oriental painting materials would be completely different from today. Suppose the mineral paints could be refined at will, the surfaces used to paint on (paper or silk) may not exactly complement the purpose. Delicate paper or silk would be wasted to bear the thick layers of color above it, whereas thicker and less fine surfaces may fit better. The content of the painting may not change but the scale may. The Gongbi art is usually small with great details, thanks to the fine surface and the fine color; art such as Thangka would demand a much larger scale. Perhaps the painting brushes need changing as well, the delicate animals hairs may not be able to sustain the overwhelming rock paints, so perhaps the synthetic hair brushes or even tough hair brushes would be more popular. Also the plant based painting colors may never be developed, simply because these colors will not last as permanently as the mineral colors. Last but not least, ink may never be developed, and therefore, no ink stones.

I think I will be sad to not having silk like papers and silk to paint, not being able to paint in a smaller scale, and not to have the plant based color variations to use. In addition to all the above, I would miss the simplicity of painting using only ink. So in summary, continuing on this path may lead to the disappearance of all the treasures of the scholar’s chamber that we all love (brush, ink, paper, and ink stone), wow, I would be really sad.

Thangka, photo from the internet

History cannot be assumed, but after this thought experiment I do appreciate the various branches of the oriental art more. I love the fact that the ancient rock painting is not the dominate artistic expression any longer, but we are fortunate enough to still be able to enjoy this ancient art style and be able to paint in that way. What do you think?


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Ancient hunters (2)

Besides the falcons and the dogs, the ancient hunting world has a few other rather peculiar “assistants” – the lynx and cheetah are both trained hunting companions that the hunting world adored. Today let us focus on these rather special hunters.

Lynx – Oriental Ink Brush Painting

Rice Paper, 33cm x 33cm

By Fiona Sheng

@InkDifferent Studio | Brussels

The lynx is a large cat that is especially great at capturing rabbits. These animals look different enough from cats though, with rather sturdy body and long legs and very short tails. This shape grated them the ability to run through rough terrain, and in addition their thick coats allow them to sustain cold climates. The lynx has received a nickname: flying over the grass – you may get an idea of how efficient they must be in the hunting!

Such a natural hunter obviously would gain the hearts of the ruling parties of a hunting culture, such as the Tang Dynasty. The lynxes are trained to accompany the hunting units, as shown in the painting below, the lynx rides on the horse back together with their trainers on a thick round rug, ready to strike! Funnily the pointy hair on their ears mislead some people to believing that they were in fact owls. During the hunting, they are especially helpful in capturing animals hiding in between rocks or in the bushes.

Tomb Mural, Tang Dynasty
Tri-Colored Glazed Pottery, Tang Dynasty

The cheetahs are also amazing hunters in the oriental hunting scenes, especially in the Tang Dynasty. Their images are seen on many tomb murals or from unearthed discoveries. The tri-colored glazed pottery (唐三彩) below clearly shows a cheetah riding with a trainer on the horse back. According to historical records, such trainers came from many nationalities, as demonstrated in some of the murals (their facial features do not resemble that of the typical Han Chinese), and over a dozen countries offered these beautiful cats to the emperors of the Tang Dynasty. It is worth mentioning that these cheetahs are normally smaller than those from Africa, but their speed is still impressive. These beautiful cats can catch rabbits and gazelles, but the trainers have to go through quite some trouble teaching them to first sit still on a horse, pounce only when asked, and let go of the prey after a successful chase.

Tri-Colored Glazed Pottery of Tang Dynasty

Between lynx and cheetah, which do you think received more affection from people? The answer is, lynx. The lynx is smaller and easier to raise, making it the better companion; It is also capable of capturing wild geese and cranes, an ability quite unique to it.

These animals have been wonderful in the hunting over 1500 years ago, the dogs, the falcons, and these large cats. They have truly added diversity to the lives of the ancient societies, giving the people from our modern societies so much to rediscover.

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Ancient hunters (1)

Hunting as a peculiar culture exists in many countries throughout our history. The intelligent ancient people quickly realised their own powers could not match that of the larger animals, so they grouped together and developed tools to help themselves, these tools started from stones and then involved metal. However, since a very long time ago, animals have also been engaged and trained to help with the huntings, and today let us take a look at a few awesome hunting helpers in the ancient Chinese society.

Lynx – Oriental Ink Brush Painting

Rice Paper, 33cm x 33cm

By Fiona Sheng

@InkDifferent Studio | Brussels

In the old texts, this sentence is often quoted to describe the hunting scene: the left hand carries the yellow (hunting dogs), and in the right holds the eagle. This is a typical hunting scenario, so let us start with the hunting dogs and eagles.

The dogs, especially the “fine dog” (“细犬”) – the Chinese hound, as the painting shows below proved to be one of the best hunting companions in the ancient time. They are known for their acute sense of smell, slender body shape and high speed. They have been famous since the Qin Dynasty, over 2500 years ago, and today there are a few regionalised (mostly Shaanxi province) species of these dogs, however, they are quite rare and therefore precious. They are also known for their mild temper and elegant posture, making them the most beloved hunting dogs in the royal palaces. In the Qing Dynasty, a royal painter named Giuseppe Castiglione (郎世宁) (1688-1766) painted many portraits of the royal animals from the palaces, and amongst these paintings the Chinese hounds had the most representation.

Chinese hound, Lang Shi Ning, Qing Dynasty

There are in fact many other dog species precious to the ancient hunting activities, their status could be seen in the discoveries from ancient tombs, where the remains still wore gold or silver collars. In the paintings from the old days the hunting dogs were also very noticeable, such as the image below. In the same image an eagle is also quite visible on the prince’s shoulder. To be more precise, this bird should be a gyrfalcon.

Tang Dynasty, tomb mural from prince Yi De

In the Tang Dynasty and again in the Yuan Dynasty where ethnic cultures prevailed in the Middle Kingdom, these ethnic activities were accompanied by the hunting cultures. Falcons were often employed together with dogs to provide a stimulating hunting “show” – the birds strike first, attaching the prey and then the dogs arrive to make the final kill, as the falcons in size often could not match that of the preys. The following painting from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) vividly describes the moment where the falcon was about to make the final kill over this swan. You may also notice that the falcon is white, which is an extremely rare color in this bird species, but the white ones are always the most loved auspicious color, and therefore the white falcons would make the best royal hunting companions.

Ming Dynasty, Yin Kai

There are dedicated falcon trainers for the hunting of either swan or goose, distinguishable from the trainers’ hat feather colors. The Liao Dynasty (907-1125) was known for its hunting culture, and in each hunting season, the very first falcon and its trainer would receive the most honorable awards. The hunting “show” was also the most elaborate in this period of time.

In the next post let us continue exploring a few other animals that are great hunting companions, so stay tuned!

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A few cool drink recipes for you

clear glass bowl beside yellow flower

It seems that this summer Europe is having quite some hot days – I sincerely hope that you are dealing well with this warmth! But if you have been suffering from this heat without any solution, then perhaps this article will provide some help. In the traditional Chinese records there are quite a few entries discussing the balancing of Yin and Yang, which can be reflected in various ways depending on the seasons. In the summer time it is common to suffer from what we call “Shang Huo”, literally describing symptoms such as an inability to focus, irritation, oily skin with pimple appearing. It can get worse – the pee may get darker and we may suffer from constipation among other problems. In the traditional medicine the name given to these symptoms is “on fire” (上火) – our body gets over heated, the Yang over takes the Yin during this time, disturbing the body’s operating systems, causing various issues.

yin yang symbol on brown beach sand

“So it is said, for him who understands Heavenly joy, life is the working of Heaven; death is the transformation of things. In stillness, he and the yin share a single Virtue; in motion, he and the yang share a single flow.”

– ZhuangziThe Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

Keeping a balanced diet and regular exercises are all recommended to help maintain our inner balance, but there are a few easy recipes of drinks that can also comfort our lungs, our eyes (if you also face your computer 8 hours a day), and eventually our minds. You should be able to find all the ingredients easily in your local shops or perhaps via online marketplaces, and the preparation will not take more than 15 minutes.

There are some fruits that are also known to combat the unbalancing of the body, including grapefruit, pears and bananas. A balanced meal should come with some fruits too, but first things first, go get yourself a nice drink now!

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Blue, grey & black bird

The red-bill blue magpie is absolutely stunning. If you are a fan of the oriental art, you may have seen them in may paintings – we love them in arts. They are known for their cyan-blue coat, this magnificent creature has a very long tail, there are also many white or black decorations on its body, giving it a royal and mysterious aura. Do you know that this creature is a legendary one as well?

Blue Magpie – Oriental Ink Brush Painting

Rice Paper, 40cm x 40cm

By Fiona Sheng

@InkDifferent Studio | Brussels

Thousands of years ago there was a blue bird recorded in a legendary book, The classic of the mountains and seas. This book described three auspicious birds that have fabulous feathers and very light bodies, and they red beaks and black heads. The Goddess of the Western Heavens (西王母), controller of longevity and happiness owns these three birds, one of them is often responsible for mailing and the other two help the Goddess with her daily life affaires.

These birds live in the mountains of Peng Lai, and this is the only place where the world beyond and our world interacts. But human-beings cannot access this magical place because of a lack of paths, so this brave messenger bird took up the responsibility to carry the communications between our world and the world beyond.

By Fiona Sheng

Since the brave blue bird has done great deeds for the human world, people love it and granted it the meanings of light, happiness and love. This blue bird even lead to the creation of Phoenix.

Related to the blue bird, the black and grey birds stand out too. The common Eurasian magpies in the oriental culture are very loved. They are usually associated with happiness, as indicated in their Chinese name, the bird of happiness (喜鹊). These birds appear regularly in wedding decorations, and they are the busiest during the Chinese Valentine’s Day (lunar July 7th)! On this day, the couple known as the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl could meet in the sky over the bridge composed of hundreds of magpies. They are very kind creatures, aren’t they?

Ming Dynasty, Bian Wen Jin (partial image)

A relative of the black magpie, the grey magpie is also a regular in the traditional paintings. They have black heads and blueish-grey feathers, rather pretty. It is often said that wonderful things will happen when you see magpies, no matter the number of them. Do you have them around and have they brought you great fortune?

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Have you eaten today?

vegetable salad

Lately I painted quite a lot of animals and plants, and before each painting I usually spend a decent amount of time studying this particular animal or plant, so that its three-dimensional image is imprinted in my head before I lift the brush to paint. In each research however, if this plant or animal has been seen in the ancient Chinese times, there normally will be records about it, detailing its name, color, size, and other properties, especially how this plant or animal is beneficial to us humans – it may increase our blood flow, clear our lungs, strengthen our hearts, etc. I often say that the Chinese people prefer multi-functional things, so if something is pretty, it better also be useful too, or at least be tasty. The more I think about it, the more I realize this “trying to taste everything” tendency is something that I wanted to share with you.

vegetable salad

“The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating.”

– John Walters

Someone once said that there can not have been mermaids in the world, because the ancient Chinese books never wrote about them, not their looks nor how they taste like! “Chi” means “to eat” in Chinese, and no wonder China is spelled this way, eating is a deeply rooted personality trait in the Chinese blood. In my hometown there is a saying that if you have encountered something so upsetting that one BBQ session cannot even fix, then have a second one.

We love food, and we love eating. There are many slangs and expressions about eating in Chinese that explain almost everything we do in life! We call our jobs, “bowl” – a job with great security is called an “iron bowl”; a glamorous job is called a “gold bowl”; to get fired can be referred to as “lost the bowl”. In fact, to get fired can also be called “to stir-fry somebody’s squid”.

food healthy wood agriculture
Ma La Tang (麻辣烫)
  • When you are jealous, others would say that you are “eating vinegar”;
  • When you want to get back together with an ex, you can be called “turning around to eat grass”;
  • To be in a relationship with someone close to you, you will be called “eating the grass near your nest”;
  • When you do well in a company, your boss loves you, then you are “eating fragrance”;
  • If unfortunately you are not popular in your company, then you are “not eating well”;
  • To get sued, there is the expression to “eat affaire”‘
  • When making a loss, having to suffer from an unfairness, you have experienced “eating deficit”;
  • Harassments are referred to as to be “eaten Toufu”;
  • To receive kickbacks, you have “eaten” the kickback;
  • Suffering from poverty at the end of the month, you are “eating dirt”
  • … …

Ask a Chinese person to read this word “奶酪陷阱” (Cheese trap), I believe many would see it as “cheese tart” (奶酪馅饼) – we are always alert and receptive for any food related stimulus! Even the main theme of the Monkey King story (Journey to the West) is all about a whole bunch of monsters trying their best to eat the monk…

bowl of dimsum
Jiaozi

So, if you are at all similar to a Chinese person after checking with the previous parts, then when you have a hard time falling asleep, perhaps think twice about counting sheep, because this may be how it goes:

One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, lamb, roll of lamb, sesame sauce, lettuce, mushroom, shrimp, rice noodle, spicy soup, mushroom soup, tomato soup… …

You may have to get up and and find out where to get some hotpot…

Ok ok, I admit, we are big foodies. I think as long as we still enjoy eating, then the world is going to continue getting better! You know many happy and productive Chinese people? Now you know why!

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Pet Names & Culture

Are you one of the pet loving people? What is the name of your pet? I personally do not find the pet naming an easy task, but I surely know of some names that really crack me up – a cat named “Jean-Clawed Van Damme” or “Harry Pawtter” gets me every time – who doesn’t like a clever pun? In the oriental society since the prosperity of the pet industry, the pet naming also received quite a lot of attention. Today, let us explore a little bit of the pet naming strategy in the oriental culture. Who knows, perhaps you can get inspired for your next pet!

black and white siberian husky puppy on brown grass field

“If there are no dogs in heaven, when I die I want to go where they went.”

– Will Rogers

If we trace the origin of pets, one of the first real pets would be horses in the ancient Chinese society. The horse names already displayed the people’s wisdom, and the same naming strategies are still in use today. The most obvious naming strategy is using the observable patterns, which produced many famous horses in history, such as “white bunny” and “red bunny”. The speed was another factor, creating names such as “chase wind” or “chase lightening”.

In the Tang Dynasty (6th-7th century) with the popularity of domestic cat and dogs, people were able to take their naming abilities one step further and started using other species to name their cats and dogs. One of the most famous dog in this period of time was named “Oolong”, the black dragon. Yes, you read it correctly, the actual meaning of the oolong tea is in fact “black dragon” tea.

The most common naming strategy in the Eastern world is giving the pets a name that brings fortune and wealth to themselves (our recurring theme), and there appeared quite a few “fortune bringer” or “hundreds of happiness” in turn. I guess names such as “fifty cents” would simply not make the cut. This is a strategy that regained popularity amongst the millennials in our modern world, this “naming renaissance” is quite interesting, producing names such as “Fortune Li” or “Rich Zhang”.

Li Di, Tang Dynasty

Another very popular naming strategy is focusing on the characters of the pets. “White cloud”, “snowy” or “pink nose” became the popular name for quite a few fluffy cats in historical record. The most common cat name throughout history has been “mi mi” which resembles some sound they make; When it comes to dogs, the most interesting and fitting one I have ever heard was “go”, literally the word for dog in Chinese. Another way to call dogs is “wang”, which is mimicking the sound they make (in Chinese).

The modern world has also seen a wave of international names for their pets. So taking Chinese pets for example, you may very well hear names such as “Lucas” or “Amy” being used. My friends who come from all over the world, perhaps it is also time to consider some Asian names for your pets?

Corgi freehand brush painting, Fiona Sheng

Nowadays people enjoy to name their pets with food (many Asians are foodies in fact), so “egg tart”, “jelly”, “steam-bun” or “watermelon” could all very well be the name of pets, but you have to be prepared that your neighbours having the same ideas as you. Some people decided to give celebrity names to their pets, so we also know of many “Beethoven”s and “Li Bai”s, a very famous Tang Dynasty poet. I have also heard that some people choose the pet name by employing mathematical methods, for example, if the pet was born on February 14th, then in order to be more unique, the name could be “28” (you know, 2×14) – the sky is the limit in the naming creativity!

Honestly I cannot decide which strategy is better, they are all wonderful! I guess we just need to have multiple pets so that we can put our intelligence to proper use in pet naming!

Border Collie freehand brush painting, Fiona Sheng

Good news, the cat painting course is finally launched! You can access it below, and a Coupon Code (market lowest price) will be included in the coming newsletter (you will receive one each week, so subscribe now)!

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Cat masters and their “poop-scoopers”

Cats are beloved animals and more and more people are raising cats in metropolitan cities especially in Asia, as they are “self-maintaining” for the most part – they clean themselves quite well, they do not require walks each day, and chances are, they do not really need our company during the day when we have to go to work. Therefore the number of cat owners are quickly increasing. In the previous few posts we also discussed cats as symbolic animals in the oriental world and they represent wealth and longevity. But the truth is, the majority of the cat owners love them because they are absolutely adorable! Those big eyes melt our hearts and we would happily become the so-called “poop-scoopers” for them. Indeed, in the Chinese culture, the cat owners refer to themselves as “poop-scoopers” and they enjoy being called as such too. Cats however have not always been praised as an animal. Today let us take a look at them in depth from an oriental cultural perspective.

close up photo of cute sleeping cat

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”

– Terry Pratchett

According to the few records of cats, in the early days they lived in harmony with people, and it seemed that people were grateful for their efforts in protecting crops from being destroyed by mice. These cats are usually relatively larger ones such as lynxes or leopards, which were generally referred to as “mountain cats”. So in the early days, cats were definitely considered positive and honorable animals.

In the Sui Dynasty (early 6th century) however, the stories involving cats took a slight down turn. I believe this has to do with their popularity, as more and more people have them in their homes, more stories involving them have been told. Some of the stories involving cats at that time told of the cat demons, these demons would cause illnesses and harm our lives. The Sui period indeed experienced many outbreaks of deceases including several plagues, and even in the royal palace there were servant girls who became ill. These maladies were eventually attributed to cats, poor little things may have been in the wrong place at the time – now thinking about it, it was most likely that the rats carried germs. These cat demons could attach themselves to a human being, causing grave pain that spreads from limbs to all parts of the body, and eventually reaches the heart that makes the final kill. The cat demons could also be used as black magic that caused someone to loose his wealth or life. The Sui Dynasty gave rise to many practicing witches who claimed to be able to either create or control such cat demons.

Zhou wenju, Tang Dynasty

In the Tang Dynasty which followed the Sui, cats already became household domestic pets. During this period of time, cat painting also became an independent painting style and was separated from the general “beast painting”.

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) can be acknowledged as the first Chinese “poop-scooping” period, where cats became real masters. The names of cats because the loving “little tiger” or “little cat slave” and in the prosperous Song markets pet good and pet beauty industries appeared. If you are given kittens, you also needed to check the Chinese almanac so that these kittens come home at the most blessed time. With cats ascending the social ladder, more and more artistic productions were made about them, including many poetries and paintings. From paintings alone it is obvious that cats no longer serve from a secondary position but instead moved to the central position.

Li Di

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) gave birth to many “poop-scoopers” as well, including several emperors. The following painting was created by one of the Ming emperors, and another was known to have set up a “cat nursery”, so that his pets could be the master of many more human beings. This does not sound so dissimilar to the stories told about the British Royal Family and its requirements regarding corgis.

Ming Xuan Zong, Zhu mingji

The last empirical period, Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was famous for its novel productions, and naturally cats made great appearances in many books. In these stories however, the positive images of cats changed again, taking on more of the fictional and mythical spirit – obviously these stories sell!

Another nation that has long obsession about cats would be Japan, the stories regarding the Japanese cats always seem to be familiar to me though, it was most likely because many of them were linked from the origin. Cats in the Japanese society are also spiritual animals, and some of them have quite some special magical powers. They are considered noble animals – there is even a Cat Day (February 22) that honors them each year!

I am working hard at producing the cat painting course, which should come greet you next week! This course that contains a huge quantity of useful information about cat drawing (useful even for pencil sketching) has taken me countless hours to make. There are 3 carefully selected cats that will be painted as models, they provide you with interesting distinctions: hair color, hair length, eye color, species, postures and so on, so if you would like to learn to paint any cats in the future, this course will give you all the necessary skillsets. You will be the first one to experience it, and if you have subscribed to our news letter then there will be a nice bonus inside!

Cat, Fiona Sheng

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!



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