Thursday, 15 January 2015

the mystery of the chinese jars

Many situations, when first encountered, are strange enough to seem inexplicable, but a plausible explanation usually presents itself quite quickly, although plausibility is not a guarantee of accuracy. However, the mystery of the Chinese jars remains unexplained: all attempts that have been made to date have been unconvincing. Perhaps there is no explanation.

I’d been nosing around the rural sprawl on the other side of Sha Tau Kok Road, looking for interesting paths to follow, wondering where the ones that I found might lead. Was that a path between the two houses over there? No! It was just a narrow strip of broken ground that couldn’t possibly lead anywhere useful and was in any case impassable on a bike.

I turned away and continued my exploration elsewhere, but a thought kept nagging me: had I missed something when I looked for a path between the two houses? Eventually, I convinced myself that I should go back and take a second look.

I had been so certain about where to look for a path that I had failed to notice a path that headed off in a different direction. I chose this newly discovered option and followed it for about 20 metres, at which point, alongside a bend in the path, I came upon a pile of apparently discarded Chinese ceramic objects, mainly vases and jars. This is shown in the following photograph.

Only one of the objects is broken, so I deduce that each object was placed carefully on the pile, but why was the pile started in the first place? There are no pottery kilns in the neighbourhood, and there are no obvious clues as to who might be responsible for the pile, but there must have been a reason for its appearance. I suspect a supernatural motive, but I have no evidence to back up this hypothesis, so if anyone can throw some light on this baffling mystery, I would welcome their comments.

update: 20/01/2015
Although I had never seen anything like this collection of jars in more than 40 years in Hong Kong, last weekend I was walking up the ‘eastern descent’, something I’m not in the habit of doing, when I spotted a similar pile. I hadn’t noticed it previously, because with a sharp drop off both sides of the path, riding a bike here requires that one is fully focused only on the way ahead.

The items stacked here are earthenware pots rather than china jars and vases, and they have been stacked in a more orderly fashion than the items in the first pile, but this merely deepens the mystery. I do have one idea, which is probably completely fanciful: the Latin word for an earthenware pot is testa, from which the French word tĂȘte (head) is derived. And the first thought that occurred to me when I saw these testae was the old Mongol custom of piling up into pyramids the skulls of their defeated enemies. The Chinese would have known a thing or two about such practices, and they may well retain some folk memories of the atrocities suffered, commemorated in piles of pots. As I said, completely fanciful.


  1. Dennis, I believe that it is somehow tied to falling oil prices.

    1. Gadzooks! I think you may be on to something there Bruce.

  2. Have you asked a local? BTW, is the other bike fixed yet?

    1. No to both questions Peter. We’ve been fairly disorganized lately.


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