Sunday, 20 January 2013

more door gods

I explained the origin of the Chinese custom of posting ‘door gods’ at the main entrance to a building in Leaping Dragon, and I presented three examples from my local area in Guardians at the Gate, so without further explanation here are three more examples, which I photographed yesterday in the village of Shui Mei, near Kam Tin in the west of the New Territories (see the map at the end of this post; the red asterisk marks the approximate location of my house).

Cycling from Fanling to Kam Tin is an adventure in itself, following a complex maze of single-track roads, dirt tracks and narrow, sinuous, crumbling concrete paths, which I will describe in a future post. The buildings where these door gods were photographed are all next to each other: the Tang Kwong U Ancestral Hall, the Cheung Chun Yuen Study Hall and a small temple to a deity whose identity I have been unable to discover.

The study hall would probably be better described as a martial arts academy, unlike the more conventional study halls, which in earlier times were used by candidates for the imperial examination, the passing of which was a requirement for those wishing to join the civil service. It has a large adjoining courtyard, where students practised, and an even larger garden, but sadly both these and the outbuildings are in a ruinous condition.

As required by convention, Yuchi Jingde is on the left and Qin Shubao on the right in all the following images, although only where they are guarding the martial arts academy are they carrying their conventional weapons. The temple guardians have a cartoonish quality that I find delightful, while the ancestral hall guardians show a depth of detail that is distinctly unusual and that reflect the individualism of the artist. On a technical note, the glare that creeps in from the sides of most of the photographs is unavoidable, because they were taken when the doors were open but still partially illuminated by the light outside. The temple doors had been opened 180 degrees, so this fault does not occur.

Guarding the Tang Kwong U Ancestral Hall.

Guarding the Cheung Chun Yuen Study Hall.

Guarding a small temple.

Because the images of the door gods in Guardians at the Gate were montaged in a way that juxtaposed images of the same guard, I reproduce below the door gods from that earlier post montaged in the same way as the new images, for ease of comparison.

Guarding the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall.

Guarding the Hau Ku Shek Ancestral Hall.

Guarding the Tin Hau Temple, Lung Yeuk Tau.

Location map.

8 comments:

  1. These are stunning, Dennis. The colors and detail are so rich and intriguing. Have any of these paintings been restored? If not, they've been well-preserved!

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    1. I can’t answer your question with certainty Kris, but my expectation is that they are constantly being retouched, because they would be exposed to the elements when the doors are closed, and I’ve seen quite a few painted friezes on external walls that haven’t been looked after and have faded almost to nothing.

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  2. Fascinating, Dennis. How old would you say these images are?

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    1. Impossible to say Marty. Some of these buildings date back to the seventeenth century, but most have probably been renovated/restored at various times in their history, so whether these images are original or reflect the efforts of more recent artists is open to debate.

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  3. Hi Dennis! Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it. Hope you are doing well.
    This is a very interesting subject and post. It's sad that some of these old things are not being preserved, but in a country with such a long history, that must be a daunting task.

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    1. Hi Pat. As I explained in reply to a comment on Guardians at the Gate, the building of an ancestral hall required the permission of the emperor, so these buildings were regarded as elitist by Mao Zedong. Many in China were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but those in Hong Kong survived, and most are in good condition.

      I’m doing well Pat, although I’m still recovering from a bad cycling accident at the end of 2011. Thanks for asking.

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  4. These photos are very nice, Chinese culture is very interesting!

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    1. Thank you Julia. I’ve lived in Hong Kong, off and on, since 1974, and I still find new aspects of Chinese culture to fascinate and delight me.

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