Today’s post, by Fang from the Visitor Team, is a celebration of Chinese New Year and is part of her series on the Chinese Zodiac.
For more about the objects and collections at Manchester Museum, have a look at the Curators’ blogs.
Chinese Zodiac: Part 2 – Chicken
Chinese New Year 2017 starts on Saturday 28 January, and it’s The Year of the Rooster (鸡, Ji). In Chinese, the “Year of Ji” means “chicken” – either rooster or hen, but it is usually translated as rooster. And although many websites say 2017 is the Year of the Rooster – but the Stem-Branch calendar says it’s a female. Most accurately, the year of 2017 is called Red Fire Chicken Year. This blog will cover both the rooster and the hen.
The Chinese Zodiac
In the Chinese Zodiac, the chicken is the only bird included in the twelve zodiac signs, due to its virtue, appearance and habit; the chicken was one of the earliest animals domesticated by humans. Also, the rooster is the animal closest to the phoenix – the Bird King in Chinese mythology. Further, Chinese people regard the chicken as the ‘Fowl of Five Moralities’, a symbol of literacy, martialism, courage, benevolence and integrity.
People born in “Chicken years” are considered to be trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work. They are hard-working and able to deal with a variety of tasks. Rooster people will continue the success from the previous Year of the Monkey, and make good career achievements in the year 2017.
To celebrate the Year 2017, China issued a set of two Zodiac Stamps; one depicts a mighty rooster walking forwards, and the other a gentle hen guarding two lovely chicks, to symbolize a happy family. The designer Han Meilin previously designed the mascot “Fuwa” for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Dingyou Chicken Stamps (Image from cj.sina.com.cn)
I have found some objects on display at Manchester Museum which include chickens in their design.
In the Money Gallery
In the Money Gallery, there is a Roman currency bar with chicken motifs. It is a cast copper alloy currency bar (“Aes signatum”), dating back to the early 3rd century BC, minted in Rome. On loan from the British Museum, its design is of two feeding chickens facing each other, with eight rayed stars both above and below the chickens’ heads.
Roman currency bar, Money Gallery, Manchester Museum.
Another object in the Money Gallery is in the Manchester Medallions case.
Silver medal issued by the Manchester Poultry and Pigeon Association. Money Gallery, Manchester Museum.
This silver medal was issued by the Manchester Poultry and Pigeon Association, who held an annual show, described in 1914;
“The sixteenth annual show of the Manchester Poultry and Pigeon association opened in Belle Vue, its entries suffering heavily due to the war, although there were still 4,670 entries some 600 below the previous year’s tally.”
– Nigel Barlow, 1914 Day by Day in Manchester
Medals from these shows are recorded as early as 1906, and a local newspaper reported that the Association was still holding an annual show at Belle Vue Zoo in 1928.
The Museum’s silver medal was presumably issued for the 1911 show. We can appreciate this beautifully designed medal showing chickens in the foreground (and some flying pigeons in the background). In the centre is a hen, and to her left is a rooster – two very elegant, well-kept birds that an owner would have been particularly proud of!
A mystery object
As well as the thousands of objects on display, the Museum has many more in the stores. One of these is a lead figurine of a cockerel with well-defined coxcomb and beard. Strongly curved lines form its tail and the wing feathers form the main body.
This cockerel was previously in the Wellcome Collection, but without contextual or archaeological details, it remains a bit of a mystery! Was it perhaps once a votive offering?
Lead figure of a cockerel No.: 1981.736 (Image from: Manchester Museum Collection Online)
One of my favourites!
One of my favourite objects is a tsuba, a Japanese sword hand-guard, in the Living Cultures gallery.
Japanese tsuba, Living Cultures, Manchester Museum
This tsuba was aquired from Miss G. Whipp in 1939. It is made from iron/copper with gold decoration. The obverse is decorated with bamboo trees together with one rooster and one hen; the reverse depicts two chicks. It is a chicken family, the mother is looking for food while the father is looking back towards their babies. What a happy family, which nicely coincides with the Chinese Year 2017 Zodiac Stamps.
Celebrations in Manchester
There will be many celebratory events in Manchester during the Chinese New Year festive period, including The Dragon Parade, The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors, a street food market, Lion Dancing on Market Street, and many more!
Have a look at the full programme of ‘What’s on this Chinese New Year 2017 in Manchester’.
Wishing you all a happy and successful Year of the Chicken! 新年快乐！
Roman Currency Bar (British Museum)
Chinese Zodiac Signs, 1st Edition, 2013, and Auspicious Animals and Birds in Chinese Culture, 1st Edition, 2013, Chinese red series books, press-mart.com and hsbook.com
Nigel Barlow, 1914 Day by Day in Manchester
And for more about the objects and collections at Manchester Museum, have a look at the Curators’ blogs.