Birds, Bats and Butterflies of Chinese Textiles

  • Exhib_slideshow_exhibition_chinese_textiles_1063

    Woman's chaopao or formal Manchu court robe, China, late 19th century. Silk, gold-paper-wrapped thread, tapestry. Gift of Mrs Charles M Cooke, 1927 (1063)

September 27, 2012 - January 20, 2013
Honolulu Museum of Art


Exhibition Overview

Birds, Bats and Butterflies of Chinese Textiles looks at the felicitous messages found in Chinese folklore and mythology, often based on Confucian, Taoist or Buddhist canons and beliefs. Chinese textile designs illustrating these messages often favor motifs with double meanings or verbal puns that result in intricate, colorful, and inter-related designs that reflect a strong sense of cultural tradition.

Birds symbolize the literary refinement of the scholars with the ability to fly towards heaven. One of the Twelve Imperial Symbols is a three-legged bird in a red circle representing the sun. Bats are understood to represent luck. The word “bat” in Chinese sounds identical to the word for “good fortune.” A bat brandishing a swastika on a ribbon is a visual rebus depicting “10,000 blessings.” Butterflies imply long life, beauty, and elegance. A pair symbolizes love, specifically young love, or an undying bond between lovers, and embroidered on garments strengthens the energy of love. A reliance on the heavens, principals of duality, harmony of nature and a universe reflecting a cosmic balance are reoccurring themes.