Printer Friendly

Concept and Form of Two Gods of He-He in Ancient Chinese Ceramic Art.

The Two Gods of He-He are also known as the Two Sages of Harmony and Union, a collective name of two prominent monks--Shide and Hanshan--who evolved into folk immortals who governed marital affairs and became the symbol of the Chinese Cupid. Its image is of one man holding a lotus flower while the other holds a round box in both hands. The lotus flower being held symbolizes 'twin lotus flowers on one stalk' and the box symbolizes 'a good union'. This is because the homophonic word represents harmony, auspiciousness and happiness in Chinese, and is mostly used for representing a happy marital union. In Chinese ceramic art, people are impressed by the profound skills, rich colors and exquisite patterns. Studying the meaning behind the art of Chinese ceramic patterns provides great value for understanding ancient Chinese culture and social concepts. Among them, the Two Gods of He-He is a typical pattern, which was prevalent and played an important role for nine centuries in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It not only was a term used in Buddhist Halls, but was also used by scholars and as an encouragement for regular folk. Eventually, it evolved into a folk legend and became an object of worship, thus acquiring the identity designated by the imperator [emperor] in the Qing Dynasty, reaching the peak of consecration. The pattern of the Two Gods of He-He gradually evolved from a gaunt, Zen-like and mysterious figure, used in the beginning, to a beaming child. From ceramic statues to ceramic patterns, the Two Gods of He-He demonstrates Chinese traditional belief, their attitude to life, and their aesthetics. It is a product borne of a perfect combination between matter and spirit, and traditional cultural heritage.

Characterization of the Two Gods of He-He The image of the Two Gods of He-He is derived from a Tang collection of poems titled Preface to the Collection of Poems of Hanshanzi. In the history of Tang literature, it is known as the most mysterious and peculiar figure. Hanshanzi was probably an orphan scholar, because his poems are often about Buddhist principles, and he wrote lines in his verses such as: "I learned the fun of living since I became a monk", resulting in future generations calling him poetmonk. Hanshan and Shide had the same attitude towards life and a similar poetic style. Hanshan's poems were spread in Buddhist temples (owing to their unique style) as early as the Later Tang and Five Dynasties so that he was frequently quoted by Zen Masters for practicing meditation and enlightenment and had many imitators. Until the Song Dynasty, Hanshan's unique poetic expression and concepts found echoes in literary circles, and ancient Chinese (and renowned) poets Wang Anshi, Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Zhu Xi and Lu You were all tremendously interested in him. Owing to his mysterious identity and the diverse spiritual connotations, there followed an attempt to reduce the strong curiosity (from all levels of society) in Hanshan's poetry. During the Song Dynasty, the figure was finally changed from 'Buddhist Immortals' to the 'Gods of He-He' and this was achieved through interpretation and evolution according to needs.

The Legends of Hanshan and Shide

There are many legends about the Two Gods of He-He. In ancient China, it was believed that the Two Gods of He-He refers to two monks at Hanshan Temple, Hanshan and Shide. According to legend, Shide and Hanshan were on good terms and were in constant company. Hanshan was an eminent monk during the Zhenguan Period of the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang, who lived in seclusion in Hanshan Cave, Tiantai Mountain, Zhejiang. Volume 27 of Transmission of the Lamp, authored by Shi Daoyuan of the Song Dynasty, recorded that Tiantai's Hanshanzi had no clan; he was named after the cold rock where he lived, which was 70 miles west of Shifeng County. He was gaunt and shabby in dress, wearing birch bark on his head and a geta on his feet. Shide was a foundling picked up by Zen Master Fenggan of the Guoqing Temple at the Tiantai Mountain when going out, so he was named Shide. Volume 27 of the Transmission of the Lamp records that Tiantai's Shide has no surname, because when Zen Master Fenggan passed by a mountain and reached a road, he heard cries and looked around, then he saw a boy, only a few years old, and asked what he was doing. "I've been abandoned here," replied the buffalo boy. Fenggan named him Shide and took him to the Guoqing Temple. Later Shide became the monk of the Guoqing Temple and was in charge of dining room lamp. One day, Hanshan asked Shide, "People smear me, bully me, insult me, ridicule me, despise me, disdain me, tease me, and fool me, how should I react?" "Just tolerate them, let them, overlook them, avoid them, put up with them, respect them, ignore them, and wait for a few years and see," Shide replied.

Another legend goes that although Hanshan and Shide have different surnames they were as close as brothers. Later, Hanshan came to Fengqiao Town, Suzhou, shaved his head and became a monk, building a hut and practicing Buddhism. Shide looked for Hanshan everywhere and came to Fengqiao Town too. He picked up a blooming lotus to meet him. Seeing Shide coming, Hanshan went into rapture, greeting him even without putting down the round box containing vegetarian food in his hands. They met each other and could not help dancing for great joy. Until now, the Hanshan Temple still keeps a green stone tablet engraved with their portraits and names. Thereafter, they were known as the Two Gods of He-He.

The Two Gods of He-He in ancient ceramic art

The image of the Two Gods of He-He gradually appeared on ceramic wares and statues in the Song and Yuan Dynasties and were mostly based on the image of Zen. The characteristics show detached Zen demeanor and have a mysterious expression. Until the Ming Dynasty, with the rise of civic culture, the Two Gods of He-He appeared on ceramic wares in the form of a pattern. The quantity of ceramic wares themed on the Two Gods of He-He was also growing steadily. Its image not only reflects the tendency of the confluence of Confucianism, Shism, and Taoism in the mid-to-late Ming Dynasty, but also mirrors that the Two Gods of He-He gradually headed in the direction of secularization. The image flourished in the Qing Dynasty, with a hundred schools contending in terms of quantity and illustration. This was greatly assisted after the image evolved into a beaming child, becoming a symbol of Chinese Cupid representing marriage and birth. After the Qing Dynasty, the image of the Two Gods of He-He gradually declined on ceramic wares.

During the Song and Yuan dynasties, Zen became the trend and influenced the literati, officialdom and commoners in a comprehensive and profound way. Under the influence of Zen, the image of the Two Gods of He-He on ceramic wares began to illustrate uncommon Zen demeanor. The Two Gods of He-He Lotus Leaf-Shaped Pillow produced by Ding Kiln of the Song Dynasty has a thin and exquisite form and clean color, with a high level of detail. The glaze is white, dense and smooth in quality. It features engraved designs and its ornament has the beauty of basse-taille.

The Two Gods of He-He produced by Cizhou Kiln in the Yuan Dynasty are simple and fresh. Famous for their white glaze and black painting (rust colored glaze) technique, together with engraving, lineation, shaving and creative use of color, the patterns on porcelain clay are ingenious and vivid. The themes of harmony and union became increasingly popular, demonstrated in the statue of the Two Gods of He-He with two smiling faces, coolly holding a bat in their hands, symbolizing enjoyment of a life of ease and comfort.

The Ming and Qing dynasties were the pinnacle of the illustration of the Two Gods of He-He in ceramics. During the reigns of the Emperors Jiajing and Wanli in the Ming Dynasty, there commenced many festive subjects with positive messages represented by the Two Gods of He-He. The use of five, clashing colored glazes, grew and came and diminished during this period as blue and white porcelain became the mainstream of the porcelain industry in the Ming Dynasty.

During the Qing dynasty, the Two Gods of He-He were represented in a diverse range of forms and patterns, including colored enamels and famille rose of overglaze color, blue-and-white underglaze color, mixtures of three or five underglaze colors, all applied in combinations of multiple techniques. The image of the Two Gods of He-He now morphed into the image of a child.

Even though ceramics themed on the Two Gods of He-He resonated throughout society during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, social and political changes after the Republic of China was formed gradually caused their popularity to diminish.

Social Consciousness and the Two Gods of He-He

"Oneness of heaven and men" constitutes the main part of Chinese traditional culture, and also infiltrates into the ceramic art. Creation guidance proposed according to the Book of Diverse Crafts during the pre- Qin period such as "manufacturing by observing the phenomena", "being harmonious with time and environment", "wonderful materials and exquisite techniques" and "implement finished without adornment" are all based in accordance with natural law and vemphasize the combination of rules and harmony. Everything contained in the idea of the "oneness" of heaven and men is linked, which in fact are relationships between things and people, and realizes a combination of practicality, aesthetics, and ideological content. The development and use of the Two Gods of He-He in ceramics also reflects a combination of practicality, aesthetics and ideological content. Incorporating their image is a way of expressing worship, and integrating designs (based on their image) into utensils for daily use realizes transformation and unification of practicality and aesthetics, giving weight to the theory of "oneness of heaven and men".

The promotion of childbearing awareness into the collective social consciousness brought about a boom in the use of the Two Gods of HeHe in ceramic art. Due to the low birth survival rate in ancient society, as well as the war-induced population decline, there was a push to increase economic growth and the population, from the late Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. The government enacted a series of policies encouraging birth and making childbearing awareness a social consensus. Families were encouraged to devote themselves to "giving birth and nursing for birth". The image of the Two Gods of He-He and its links to auspicious childbearing and marriage came completely into vogue and reached its peak.

Changes in the Characteristics in the representation of The Two Gods of He-He

The Two Gods of He-He in the early Song and Yuan Dynasties were large and tall, handsome and graceful, usually with loosened hair, bare chests and abdomens, wearing Taoist robes. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties, their image gradually became smaller and tended to be modeled as characters leaning close to and embracing each other. Later, with developments in the Qing Dynasty, they were gradually transformed into the images of children beaming with smiles, whose clothes were rich in patterns and whose hair was mainly modeled to be loosened or banded. In general, the Two Gods of He-He hold articles symbolizing good fortune, such as a lotus flower and a round case, representing harmony and union.

In the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the clothes of the Two Gods of He-He were plain and elegant, mainly in a single color with few pattern decorations. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, their clothes gradually became bright, with the use of various color glazes in yellow and green. Moreover, pattern decorations began to appear in their clothes, including plant, flower and geometric patterns.

Changes in the way the Two Gods of He-He are represented in ceramics demonstrate the changes in social consciousness the public's aesthetic taste. Transformed gradually from the Taoist and Zen images to the images of children, they have developed into an integral part of folk life.

Wang Zhongjie is a PHD candidate of fashion design at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China. Her research focus is on apparel design and China traditional costume culture (; Liang Huie is a Professor of fashion design at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China. Her research focus is on apparel design and China traditional costume culture (

The authors would like to thank the Fundamental Research Funds for the National social science foundation arts major projects (15AG004); Special Funds for basic scientific research operations of central universities (JUSRP51417B); Research Funds for Jiangsu social science projects (2017SJB0801).

All images from Art ron Auction Catalog. and edited by Wang Zhongjie.

Caption: Lotus leaf shaped pillow of The Two Gods of He-He, Song Dynasty, AD 960-1279.

Caption: The State of The Two Gods of He-He, Yuan Dynasty, AD 1271-1368.

Caption: Blue and white Plate of Two Gods of He-He, Ming Dynasty, AD 1368-1644.
COPYRIGHT 2018 Ceramic Art
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Zhongjie, Wang; Hui'e, Liang
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Apr 1, 2018
Previous Article:Tributes to Paula Winokur 1935-2018.
Next Article:The Land of Symbols: Korean Roof Tiles.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters