Saturday, December 29, 2007

Roosters: Themes in Chinese Art

The Chinese language is replete with homonyms. The meaning of a word can be entirely altered simply by the speaker’s intonation or inflection. This gives way to extensive punning, both for humor and arts. A popular example is the word Fu, which can mean “good fortune” or “bats”. Therefore bats are considered good luck in China and are often used as decorative elements in furniture or décor items. In Western culture bats are often associated with vampires and the like, but in China they are among the most potent of good luck symbols. Fu can also be translated as “blessings”, implying not just good luck but divine good luck.

Almost every sound in the Chinese language is given to the same sort of double meaning. The word play often crops up in visual arts. A painting of a fish has the double meaning of “prosperity”, a Rohdea Japonica flower (also called a Sacred Lilly) is homonymous with “Ten Thousand” or a Hibiscus can be used as a pun for “wealth”. It is a very rich language to mine for both wit and artistic meanings.

The Rooster is another animal that may not be highly prized in Western culture, but in China they are considered emblems of high rank and well wishes. The written Chinese for “rooster” is a combination of two characters, both make puns. Part of the word can imply “auspicious” while the other half makes a play on “nobleman” or more specifically “Duke”. The image of a rooster therefore implies both high rank and honor. Roosters are also thought to ward off evil as their crow marks the daybreak, ending the night and chasing away its shadows and evil spirits.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How to Give Peace to Your Friends and Family

The Holidays are here and its time to wonder about what makes a good gift, particularly for those who you don’t know all that well but still need to give a gift to. Business associates are always difficult. They need something appropriate, not over the top but certainly not cheap or thoughtless either. When you know every little about a person gift giving can be challenging.

Luckily there is some Chinese culture that comes in handy here. In China one of the best gifts you can give is a vase. That’s because the words for “vase” and “peace” in Chinese are remarkably similar. So when you give a vase as a gift you are actually offering peace and friendship. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about anyway?

Now the really great thing about vases is they don’t have to be extravagant to be meaningful. This is one case where size really doesn’t matter. You can choose a vase that suits your budget, your shipping carton or a certain color scheme. No matter your choice you’re still giving peace.

The vase is also one of the 8 auspicious symbols from Buddhist and Taoist traditions. The symbols are thought to bring peace and good fortune and are often used as decorative elements in Asian arts. The vase in particular represents a container of health and wealth, from medicines to money, and is a symbol of the fulfillment of wishes.

Reorient has vases, more than we can count. Porcelain vases, cloisonné vases, ceramic vases and even stone vases, all of them symbolize peace and good wishes. Here are a few examples to consider.

A vase with a crackle finish has a stoic and stately look. When you want to add levity to a décor the crackling adds a touch of instant history. In Chinese arts however, there is another depth of meaning. The word “crackle” is a homophone, which implies “year after year.” Giving a vase with a crackle finish means you wish the recipient continuous peace and well being.

A vase with a Peony, the flower of wealth and rank in China, makes for a wish
of peace and prosperity. The example pictured is a cloisonné vase. Cloisonné is a metal ware and can extend the metaphor to mean an “unbreakable” peace and prosperity.

A vase with profuse bloom makes a play on words in Chinese and can mean "may everything be auspicious."

A vase with pomegranates adds hopes for future generations to the symbolism.

The China rose is a unique flower in that it blooms all year round so a vase with roses indicates a wish for peace throughout the four seasons.

But the most potent symbol to combine with a vase is a dragon. Dragons are among the most powerful forces for good that exist. Dragons bring wealth, stability and nobility. Reorient has some very special vases with dragons for the holiday season. Our newest addition is this cloisonné pair of vases with dragons depicted wrapping around the vase body. The workmanship is extremely fine, representing some of China’s best hand crafted art. The colors are rich and vibrant and the detail is truly beautiful. The set is a vintage production from the late 1970s and is a one of a kind item. If you know a collector who appreciates fine Asian arts this is a real find to consider. If dragons are your passion you can find many more dragon themed items at the store.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chinese Contemporary Art

The Cultural Revolution was a chapter of unprecedented upheaval in Chinese history; sitting on a soft pillow instead of a hard chair could earn you a stern accusation of being a counter revolutionary. The political and social atmosphere rivaled anything George Orwell put in his fictional 1984. Truth is stranger than fiction.

It is it any wonder then that contemporary Chinese art expresses a degree of cynicism? People who lived through 20th century China experienced a shift from ancient Dynastic rule to near anarchy to sleek skyscrapers shooting up out of the rubble. Civil war, invading forces and a complete cultural reboot has culminated today in a hungry consumer culture and new frontier of rising tycoons. Where once the poor worker was heralded as China’s undisputable hero, the shopper now reigns supreme. Really, how could you not be cynical?

The art trend, dubbed Cynical Realism, is characterized by stark colors and subject, mixed with some recognizable symbols or archetypes and peppered with absurdity. It is a unique expression that captures the moment in Chinese history so accurately, yet seems to leave so much unsaid. Speaking without saying is in itself an art form in China as historically one never knows when they are running afoul of the sometimes murky lines of censorship and legality.

At Reorient we have collected Chinese art for decades, both professionally and as a personal passion. We are very proud to offer a selection of original Cynical Realism paintings. While the artists represented in our selections are not the same ones whose works now fetch millions at auctions by Christie’s and other top line art market makers, they do follow in the same foot steps, exhibit some of the same forms and certainly emerged from the same crucible.

Please browse our current selections and check back as we build on our latest fascination with the Far East.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sleeping Buddha

The Temple of the Sleeping Buddha, also called the Recumbent Buddha, is located in Beijing’s western suburbs. The temple complex hosts several buildings and gardens but the hall of the Sleeping Buddha is by far the most prominent. Visitors flock from all over Asia as well as the west to visit the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, said to be in a state of awakening, literally as well as spiritually.

The Sleeping Buddha statue is over 15 feet long, weighs at least 50 tons and is about 700 years old. Many of China’s Dynasties, from the Tang through the Ming, have added to the temple complex making it one of the oldest surviving historical sites in China. Buddhism itself is generally thought to have migrated to China around the first century of the Common Era, or approximately the year 2700 by the Chinese calendar.

We visited the temple in 1995. China was still at the very beginning of its current economic superstardom. Much of Beijing was poor, dirty and neglected, yet choked with traffic and activity. The Hall of the Sleeping Buddha was a remarkable example of preservation and opulence and the surrounding gardens were a tranquil sanctuary against the background of a frenzied culture on the verge of new world prominence.

Our memory of the temple’s solitude is part of what inspired us to start carrying a collection of silk coverlets and cotton quilts aptly named “Sleeping Buddha.” These are hand sewn, block printed and vibrantly colored; best of all they are supremely soft, warm and luxurious. There are two collections, theTEN THOUSAND BUDDHA cotton voile coverlets in raspberry, marigold or saffron colors and the truly lush ENDLESS KNOT dupioni silk coverlets in turquoise, Chinatown orange or gold.

All six are available in the store or on line. They are made in India and designed by New York artist Martha Bone who was inspired by here own travels through Asia. Pair them with our dupioni silk pillows from Vietnam and you’ll have a sumptuous pan Asian silk experience. These are truly bedroom couture with fine hand crafted workmanship. And while stylish these coverlets are also warm, with 100% cotton fills.

Martha uses stunning vibrant colors to invoke a feeling of lush tropics and far way places. With their softness and warmth the whole collection whisks you away and places you in the lotus gardens outside China’s Sleeping Buddha temple.

The Sleeping Buddha in Beijing has no shoes. The huge statue lies on its side with bare feet. Over the centuries dignitaries and religious pilgrims have left shoes of all sizes for the Buddha’s awakening. Some are cloth, some are wood and some are stone.

Now available from reorient and inspired by the same temple are vintage miniature stone shoes. Each is individually hand carved from varieties of soft river stone. Coloration varies from a light tan to a pale celadon green. Each is elegant in its simplicity and natural stone luster. They are meant to endure indefinitely and were originally carved almost 30 years ago.

As is the case with many objects in Chinese culture, shoes have a double meaning in the lexicon of art. A pair of shoes symbolizes the concept of “togetherness,” most often in the capacity of husband and wife. This is due to both a visual and linguistic pun. The two shoes together is a visual cue for things that obviously belong together and should not be broken apart; further the phrases for “together in harmony” and “children’s shoes” have very similar pronunciations in the Cantonese dialect. If you add a mirror to the assortment the double meaning makes a Chinese saying: “may husband and wife grow old together.”

By further extension, the concepts of “together” and “harmony” are synonyms in both Chinese and English. Buddhism is all about achieving a level of harmony in the universe such that you end suffering and enter a realm of tranquility. How appropriate then to leave shoes for a sleeping Buddha.

We have Sleeping Buddha quilts and stone shoes in stock in the store and ready to ship. Come in and see for yourself how vibrant, fun and soft these hand made quilts really are. We might be at the end of a hot summer but winter with its cold dark nights is coming. Liven up your bed set now to keep it feeling luxuriously warm. Matching pillows and shams are also available, just ask at the store.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The History of Blue & White Porcelain

The history of blue and white porcelain starts more than 3,000 years ago when the first porcelains appeared in China. It was during the Zhou dynasty (1027 – 771 BC) that Chinese craftsmen built the first kilns that could reach high enough temperatures to create what we now call porcelain.

During the Tang dynasty (618 – 907) porcelain went into mass production but it took several hundred years more for the advent of the now classic blue and white styling. The earliest examples of blue and white porcelain are attributed to the Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368). Artisans experimenting with different materials, such as iron, copper and cobalt, found that each created different colors when porcelains were fired in the kiln. The cobalt allowed for a vibrant blue color that gave a stark contrast to the white porcelain body and brought out stunning detail. Credit is given to the city of Jingdezhen, sometimes called China’s porcelain capital, for this important development.

Though at start of the Ming dynasty (1369 – 1644) trade outside China was forbidden, by the late 16th century blue and white porcelain had become a standard and was wildly popular in Europe. Trade ships waited for days in Chinese ports and brought back hundreds of thousands of blue and white porcelain items at a time. To this day collectors head to the Netherlands to find the finest examples of Ming era blue and white porcelain. In the 17th century the Dutch East India Company held a near monopoly on the sought after commodity.

The blue and white porcelain being made today throughout China has changed very little from the days of Ming emperor Kangxi. The biggest modern advancement is gas fired kilns and a “decaling” technique that eliminates the labor-intensive hand painting. Reorient hand picks our porcelain wares on our own buying trips to China. We work with smaller kilns that hand paint their blue and white porcelains, capturing the charm and tradition of this time honored art.

If you have any questions about any of our Chinese blue and white porcelain please give us call, send us an email or stop in the store. We are always happy to share our experience and expertise.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Shinjuku is a neighborhood in Tokyo with skyscrapers, neon, lots of restaurants, bars and love hotels. You can buy almost anything from a vending machine and even some of the restaurants use a vending machine out front for you to pay and place your order before you enter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Night Snack

Buying snacks out of the back of a Japanese mini-van and by "mini" I mean it would fit inside a Dodge Caravan. The concept of this street vendor in Japan is misleading however. The Japanese do not eat on the street, with the occasional exception of an ice cream cone. Meals to go are packaged neatly for take home. You do not walk down the street munching on a Yakatori. If you do go so far as to sneak a snack on the go you will be shunned with disturbed stares and left with no place to dispose of the refuse. There are almost no trash cans on the street and no litter either. Tokyo is by far one of the cleanest cities in the world.


Tokyo's trendy Harajuku neighborhood is a throng of shoppers on the weekends. A great place to go people watching, even a dreary rainy day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Early AM in Hong Kong

Sunrise in Hong Kong through tropical trees and sleek skyscrapers. Jet lag comes in handy to get out early before the city wakes and get a few good pictures.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Reorient is in the Orient til July 28th

Reorient's gallery store will be closed until Saturday, July 28th. You may continue to shop on line at and reach us via email while we travel to China and Japan to seek out more art and cultural treasures for our Rhode Island store.
The photo is of Shanghai's continuously rising skyline. Watch this space for more images of Asia and cultural postings.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Money Tree

The Money Tree is so called because it typically has five points on its leaf, which correspond to the five elements of feng shui. When there is a balance of energies good fortune is allowed to flow through your home or business. Placing a money tree in your place of work is said to promote balance and the flow of good fortune. The five elements are as follows:

Wood feeds Fire; Fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears Metal; Metal collects Water and ultimately Water nourishes Wood.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Chinese Proverb:
Don't wait for thirst before digging a well.

Watch your email for our latest secret summer sale. If you haven't signed up for the newsletter you can do it here.

By the way have you seen our cool contemporary canvas pillow cases? They are colorful, stylish and really just fun to see. Click on the one here to see more.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Blue and White Dragon Plate / Tray – porcelain

A Chinese dragon is a composite beast. It is said to have the form of a snake but with the scales of a carp. It has deer antlers and a whale’s tail; the feet are of a tiger with an eagle’s talons. A dragon’s face comes from a camel while the ears are derived from a bull and the eyes from a lobster. Though Chinese dragons do not have wings they do fly and are thought to make their home in the clouds, inside mountains and under the sea.

While dragons are symbols of power, they are never seen as frightful or evil in China. Eastern dragons are an overwhelming force for good and their depiction in Asian arts is intended as good omens and sources of prosperity and good fortune.

Our blue and white dragon tray is a classic “double dragon” design. The two facing dragons represent “a happy reunion.” Courtly garments from the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) often incorporated the same double dragon motif in silk embroidery. The motif can also be used for family ties or to show strong friendship.

The tray also includes a pearl painted at the center of the two dragons. Pearls are associated with wealth, luck, prosperity and sometimes wisdom. Often Chinese dragons are depicted with a flaming pearl clutched in their claw or under their chin. Artistically it is both a potent symbol of a dragon’s power as well as a play on simple monetary value. The flaming pearl in particular is one of the eight sacred treasures from Buddhist and Taoist traditions and it is said to have the power to grant wishes.

In ancient times, well before pearl farming or cultivating, the precious commodity was rare to an extreme. Quite simply any one who found a pearl also found a great personal fortune. Thus the folkloric attribution of a wish granting power to pearls. Cultures throughout the Orient consider the pearl as a jewel to fulfill all wishes. Buddhists consider the pearl one of their divine seven treasures. In Korea it is believed that the yellow (King) dragon dons a pear-shaped pearl on his forehead, which has supernatural healing powers.

Surrounding the dragons on our tray are an assortment of traditionally stylized clouds. Dragons and clouds have a close association in China because they are intertwined in the bringing of rain. Rain leads to crop growth and finally harvest, which is the ultimate in agrarian prosperity. There is also a hierarchal pun as well as a linguistic pun behind the use of clouds as auspicious symbols. A cloud is literally high up in the sky, so they are considerer an emblem of high rank, many courtly robes are embroidered with cloud designs. Also the word for “cloud” in Chinese has a pronunciation that is close to the word for “fortune,” thus clouds are used as an embellishment in Chinese arts to add a sense of importance to a design.

Our simple tray is full of expressive imagery when you know where to look. Even the shape is intended to evoke the shape of a cloud, further enhancing its good luck power. It is made of porcelain with blue cobalt oxide under glaze and a clear glossy over glaze. It is a fine example of Chinese porcelain based on the centuries of production that began with the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Because porcelain is a dense stoneware it is naturally dishwasher and microwave safe. The trays are available both in the store and online.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Temple Jar

This simple yet distinctive "General's Hat" jar is 20” tall and finished in a natural white glaze. It is ideal for both modern décors and traditional settings with a colonial or Victorian flavor. It can seem tropical and exotic or become a comfortable part of an eclectic ensemble. ReOrient recently imported a limited quantity. They are available in the store and through our on-line listings.

You can see more temple jar offerings here:

Temple Jars have an elegant shape that lends a sense of levity to your décor. Whether elaborately decorated or finished in a single color glaze, the shape connotes a degree of seriousness. They look both imperial and austere. They are dramatic and can “tease you out of thought,” not unlike the Grecian urn in Keats’ over memorized ode. Placing them on pedestals on either side of a sofa will add drama to a room, placing them in an alcove raises an often ignored space to a level of note and using them as a center piece allows for both leaving it covered with its regal "General's Hat" lid or filling it with a fresh bouquet of flowers. Quite simply it is a great decorator’s item because it casts an air of stateliness and uplifts the significance of the objects which surround it.

The history of temple jars is somewhat misunderstood. That is to say no one seems to have a complete and authoritative answer as to how they were used in antiquity. In Chinese they are often called a "General's Hat" jar because the lid resembles the helmet of a Dynastic military leader. There is reference to this shape in a 1334 AD Chinese text concerning salt production. In modern times, both East and West use this urn shape for cremation remains but the jars have more than ample use outside of such ceremonial purposes. They can truly be considered just a jar, albeit one with a fancy lid. The ancient history of China and the development of porcelain vessels is entirely one of utility. They were used for almost any kind of storage which could include anything from rice to ancestors. People who are concerned about the funerary connotations of temple jars need not worry as this has never been their exclusive use. There is also a similarly shaped vase, produced with out a lid, called a “Ming Jar,” which was clearly intended as a large dry goods storage vessel. Considering the extra expense that producing a lid entails, it is safe to assume that Ming jars and temple jars served a similar purpose in the ancient world, just to different classes of people.