A Chinese Handling box for Temple Newsam House, Leeds

Astrological wall hanging, tea cup and saucer, old coins, silk bag

Astrological wall hanging

Description: Wall hanging depicting the 12 signs of the Chinese astrological calendar – the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Hare, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig. Made from cloth wrapped around card or paper, with embroidery and braid features. Typical of folk art from the Xi’an region of China.

Use: Decoration

Background: Legend has it that when the Buddha found enlightenment he invited all the animals to join him in a feast. Only 12 came – the first to arrive was the rat and the last was the pig. The animals were seated in the order that they came, and were honoured by being given a place in the Chinese zodiac, each with a different year to govern. Many Chinese believe that the year in which you were born determines your personality and how much luck you will have in your life. When it is your year, you should wear red to bring extra luck, even if its just a red thread around your wrist. Suggested activities:

Work out which Chinese astrological sign you were born under

Make your own wall hanging by cutting out and decorating 

cardboard animals


Willow Pattern Tea Cup and Saucer

Description: Staffordshire pottery teacup and saucer transfer printed with the full Willow pattern

Use: For drinking tea!

Background: Although the story behind the willow pattern is believed to be an ancient Chinese legend of doomed love, it only ever appeared on pottery for the European market, from the late 18th century onwards.

In the story, a corrupt official grew rich from bribes and lived in a splendid two storey house with his daughter Koong-se and his hard-working secretary Chang. Koong-se and Chang fell in love, and her father locked Koong-se in a small building next to his house and built a fence around it to prevent them meeting. She was promised in marriage to someone else, but managed to escape with Chang by boat to a little island. Her suitor eventually found them and killed Chang. Koong-se was so sad that she set fire to their house and died in the flames. The two lovers, re-united in death, became transformed into two eternal lovebirds.

Links with Temple Newsam House: There are many examples of ceramics in the house showing the willow pattern and other similar patterns. These ceramics were particularly featured in the East Meets West exhibition. Why this object was included in the handling box is that it is a good example of how familiar the willow pattern has become in the west.

Suggested activities:

Make up your own willow patter story and draw it on a paper plate


Old coins

Description: Replica coins from the Qing Dynasty. Each coin depicts a particular ruler within the dynasty. The characters at the top and bottom of each coin give the name of the ruler. The characters at the left and right sides of each coin signified that the coins were money that could be used everywhere in China.

Use: Symbols of luck and wealth, particularly popular at New Year

Background: Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival, takes place according to the lunar calendar and is usually in January or February. It is the biggest festival of the year and a time for families to be reunited and to honour their ancestors. All the family gathers for a meal on New Year’s Eve, on a table spread with new tablecloths and using new chopsticks and dishes. Calligraphy pictures symbolising good luck and long life are hung around the house, and fireworks and firecrackers are set off. On New Year’s Day everyone dresses in new clothes and visits relatives and friends, taking gifts such as fruit or flowers and money for the children, and being offered tea and sweetmeats to eat. The festivities last for fifteen days and include dragon and lion dances.

Suggested activities:

Take rubbings of the coins

Link to history of development of money in other cultures


Silk Bag

Description: Fabric bag with silk embroidered panels on each side.

Use: Handbag

Background: The fabric around the edge of the bag is a very traditional pattern that can also be seen on Chinese ceramics.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries | 
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