History of Cranes in Chinese Art

Significance, Symbolism and Meaning Of  Cranes in Chinese Art

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Chinese Symbolism In Art History

Since ancient times, the Chinese have been exceptionally creative in using various living, non-living and imaginary objects to represent abstract ideas. They have a symbol for everything, including life, death and longevity. One glance at Chinese art as well as their rugs and carpets can educate on the myriads of Chinese symbols. Among the most popular and widely used symbols are the ones for longevity. They include bamboo, cicada, peach, gourd, pine, deer and crane.

Crane Symbolism and Meaning in Chinese Culture and Art

Cranes, or herons as they are also referred to as, play an important role in Chinese mythology. In Chinese culture, the crane is venerated as the prince of all feathered creatures and thus has a legendary status. Embodying longevity and peace, it is the second most favored bird symbol after the phoenix. Throughout the imperial times, crane motifs were used on the robes of civil officials to depict their ranks. Because of its ability to fly high and over long distances, its wings were used as an amulet for protection against exhaustion.

Cranes in Chinese Art - Nazmiyal

Cranes in Chinese Art

There are three main types of cranes in Chinese mythology and each has it’s own color:

  • White
  • Black
  • Yellow

What does a white crane symbolize in Chinese art / culture?

In Chinese culture, a white crane holds significant symbolism and represents several important qualities and concepts. Here are some of the key meanings associated with a white crane in Chinese culture:

  • Longevity: The white crane is considered a symbol of longevity and is often associated with immortality. It represents the wish for a long and prosperous life.
  • Purity and Innocence: White is the color of purity and innocence in Chinese culture. The white crane’s pristine feathers symbolize purity of character and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
  • Grace and Elegance: White cranes are known for their graceful and elegant movements. They are admired for their poise and beauty, and their depiction in Chinese art often symbolizes gracefulness and refined manners.
  • Wisdom and Nobility: The white crane is associated with wisdom and nobility. Its calm and majestic demeanor is believed to reflect wisdom and insight, and its association with higher ideals embodies noble qualities.
  • Heavenly Messenger: In some Chinese myths and legends, the white crane is considered a heavenly messenger or a spiritual guide. It is believed to be a mediator between the human and celestial realms, carrying messages to and from the divine.

Overall, the white crane is highly regarded in Chinese culture and is associated with positive qualities such as longevity, purity, grace, wisdom and spiritual significance. The white color cranes’ symbolism represents aspirations for a harmonious and enlightened life.

What is the meaning of a black crane in Chinese culture / art?

Chinese art, the symbolism of a black crane differs from that of a white crane. While the white crane is associated with positive qualities, the black crane carries different connotations.

Here are some interpretations of the symbolism of a black crane in Chinese culture:

  • Mystery and Elegance: The black color of the crane represents mystery and intrigue. The black crane is admired for its unique and unconventional beauty, representing a sense of elegance and allure.
  • Yin Energy: In traditional Chinese philosophy, black is associated with yin energy, which is feminine, introspective, and receptive in nature. The black crane embodies these yin qualities and may symbolize deep introspection, wisdom, and sensitivity.
  • Transformation and Change: The black crane is sometimes associated with the concept of transformation and change. Its dark color represents the transformative power of darkness and the ability to navigate through the unknown.
  • Hidden Strength: The black crane may symbolize hidden strength and resilience. It embodies the idea that strength and power can exist in subtlety and understatement, rather than in overt displays.
  • Symbol of Bad Luck: In some interpretations, the black crane is considered a symbol of bad luck or an omen of misfortune. This negative association may stem from cultural beliefs and superstitions in certain regions.

While the black color crane may carry different meanings, it is generally regarded as a creature with its own unique allure and symbolic significance.

What does a Yellow crane in Chinese culture symbolize?

The yellow crane holds special significance in Chinese culture and art and as such, it is associated with several symbolic meanings. The Yellow Crane Tower, a famous landmark and cultural symbol in China, further enhances the symbolism of the yellow crane.

Here are some interpretations of the symbolism of a yellow crane in Chinese culture:

  • Prosperity and Good Fortune: The yellow color is traditionally associated with wealth, abundance, and good luck in Chinese culture. The yellow crane symbolizes prosperity, success, and positive outcomes in various endeavors.
  • Nobility and Prestige: The yellow crane is often associated with nobility and prestige. It represents high status, honor, and dignity, signifying respect and admiration.
  • Freedom and Transcendence: The yellow crane is admired for its soaring flight and represents freedom and transcendence. It symbolizes the ability to rise above challenges and limitations, reaching new heights both physically and spiritually.
  • Artistic Inspiration: The Yellow Crane Tower, which has inspired numerous poets, painters, and scholars throughout history, is associated with the yellow crane. It symbolizes artistic inspiration, creativity, and the pursuit of beauty.
  • Symbol of Wuhan: The Yellow Crane Tower is a famous landmark in Wuhan, China, and is considered a symbol of the city. It represents the local culture, history, and identity of the region.

It’s important to note that the symbolism of the yellow crane may also be influenced by specific legends, poems, and historical accounts associated with the Yellow Crane Tower and its cultural significance. The yellow crane’s symbolism embodies positive attributes and is regarded as a symbol of good fortune, prestige, freedom, and artistic inspiration in Chinese culture.

But rather than the color, the setting and postures of the crane are more important

Here are some meanings of the crane based on it’s posture:

  • A crane that is shown with its wings stretched out and one leg raised stands for longevity.
  • When a crane is depicted under a pine tree near a spotted deer, it symbolizes a prolonged life.
  • A crane that is shown among peony flowers stands for prosperity and longevity
  • A crane that is shown with lotus flowers symbolizes purity and longevity.
  • If a Chinese crane is shown flying towards the sun, it signifies a desire for social advancement.
  • A crane that is shown perched on a rock and looking at the sun stands for an important authority who can see everything.
  • Two cranes walking or flying together is the ultimate symbol of longevity.
Cranes in Chinese Art by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

History of Cranes in Chinese Art

Since cranes fly in the clear blue sky above the dusty earth, they are also considered symbols of cleanliness and purity. When a Taoist priest is on his deathbed, people say that he is turning into a feathered crane. Many Chinese still believe that cranes carry their spirit to heaven after they die. With such a revered and legendary status, no wonder cranes appear consistently in Chinese art and carpets.

Beautiful Antique Chinese Rug 47558 (sold)

Beautiful Antique Chinese Rug 47558

The depiction of cranes in Chinese art and antique rugs are almost entirely based on their mythological significance and symbolism. But there is a slight difference between the way they are depicted in art and carpet. While in art they are usually shown alone, in a pair or in a group in a beautiful natural setting, like a lake or waterfall, in carpets they may be shown with other symbols such as a lion.

Antique Chinese Carpet 48435 (sold)

Antique Chinese Carpet 48435

One of the more popular depictions of cranes in Chinese carpets is of a red-crested crane flying among the clouds and roses, symbolizing longevity, wisdom and nobility. Another popular depiction is a crane hovering above a deer grazing under a pine tree. Two cranes dancing on the ground or flying together are also very common. In whichever scenes cranes are depicted, their symbolism in Chinese art and carpets is always important.

This art blog about the meaning and symbolism of Cranes in Chinese Art was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

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