symbolism in chinese painting »

As a child growing up in a traditional Chinese household, Dorothy Siu-Ling Chan was intrigued by the many customs and beliefs of her family and throughout Hong Kong Chinese society. “Chinese New Year was my favorite tradition when children receive red packages with lucky money inside from parents, relatives and elder friends. On New Year's Eve my parents went to the flower markets and brought home bundles of blooming flowers, and on birthdays we got to eat the delicious peach-shaped steamed buns filled with sweet lotus seed paste.”

Dorothy’s culturally rich upbringing formed her early interest in Chinese painting, while the ever-present familial and societal customs of rituals and symbols left a lasting impression on her visual lexicon. Following are some examples of traditional symbols found in Chinese painting.

Mandarin ducks stay with the same mate for life—a symbol of enduring marriage.

Willow trees—one of the most poetic of Chinese symbols—are whispered expressions of love.

All blossoming flowers are symbolic of good fortune. Peonies in particular are a sign of wealth, and an entire bouquet signifies a very rich life.

Bamboo, with its traits of extreme strength, tenacity and straight up posture, is a symbol of a gentleman with similar qualities.

Cranes are some of the most revered creatures as they are symbols of longevity.

Pine trees and Cypresses are often depicted with cranes as symbols of devotion and honor.

Fish are symbols of abundance, since the word “fish” in Chinese is "Yue" which sounds similar to the Chinese word for “plentiful”.

The orchid is a beloved flower of the Chinese, symbolizing grace and elegance.

Peach is a symbol of “long life”.

Lotus seeds and pomegranates have many seeds, symbolizing many descendants—an important aspect of Chinese culture.

The butterfly symbolizes immortality, even with its flight and fragility.

Dorothy Chan studied the ancient history of traditional Chinese painting with the esteemed Professor Shao-an Chao, in Hong Kong. Professor Chao was a proponent of the Lingnan School of Art. This artistic movement took traditional flower and insect painting many steps further by focusing more on the art of brush strokes and introducing the concept of expressionism into contemporary Chinese painting. Upon moving to the U.S. with her husband and children, Dorothy also earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Rochester, with a focus on painting and sculpture. Dorothy incorporates her knowledge of traditional Chinese painting with her Western education of studio arts. Her work has a sense of lyricism and poetry, influenced by her extensive studies in music and piano.

Copyright © 2012 Dorothy Chan. All rights reserved.