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Chinese Lantern Culture

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Chinese lantern culture has a long history, the invention of lamps and lanterns has close relationship with the fact that people got to understand and made use of fire. The invention of lamps and lanterns presupposes human being’s cognition and preservation of fire. Darkness has never been our friends since remote past. It does not only limits people’s various activities but also makes good chances for beasts to attack people. Try to imagine how our ancestors who lived in primitive forests sworn at darkness.. Several hundred thousand years ago, as human beings kept improving their understanding of the function of natural fire, fire became people’s treasure to eat prepared food and the only tool for lighting and dispelling darkness. In the long time of living experiences and when the way of artificially collecting fire was found, people initiated borrowing some auxiliary devices to fix fire source for different needs. These auxiliary device used to fix fire source underwent constant renovation and evolution, finally, special-purpose lamps and lanterns for lighting came into being.

The earliest lamps of China appeared in the Warring States. Since then, the development has never stopped. Lamps and lanterns and their models in dynasties were unearthed and discovered in the whole nation. Plenty of archaeological statistics show that the ancient China lamps and lanterns feature varieties of types and obvious functions as well as different trendency of times. Many of them deserve to be called elegant artistic wares with novel style and special shape. These lamps and lanterns not only provide real object materials for us to research the development of China ancient lamps and lanterns but also embody the folk cultural details in different times. Particularly since the custom of hanging lanterns on 15th of the 1st lunar month happened in Han Dynasty, lantern making has never undergone recession in any dynasties. Till today when modern lamps and lanterns have been highly advanced, lanterns are the must articles for people to celebrate lantern festival once a year.

The origination of the word of lamp

Where on earth did lamps and the word originate? What archeaological study has discovered or articles handed down from ancient times show that the real objects named lamp were not founded before the Warring States. The word of lamp or candle did not exist in oracles of Shang Dynasty. According to historical documents, “candle” appearing in daily life in West Zhou proves the earlies record about lighting tools.

In West Zhou, “candle” might be a kind of torch made of flammable materials. The torch not to be lightened was generally called Jiao. The lightened torch that could be hold was called candle. The fine grasses and tree branches that were placed on the ground to make fire were named Liao. The Liao set outside of gates was called big candle while that inside of gates was called Ting (yard) Liao. Because of limitation of archeaological materials, nobody knows what actual style of candles were used in noble homes and in ordinary people’s faminies. So far as plenty of unearthed exquisit lamps and lanterns in the Warring States can tell that it should have a gradual development process before the Warring States.

The extant earliest lamps in China originated in the Warring States. None of lamps with inscriptions have been discovered, but we can find a relevant description in《Cuci• Zhaohun》that goes “ Candles burnt with fragrant oil seem like bright lanterns.” That explains the word of “lamp” existed in the Warring States period. Anyway in Zhou dynasty, “ding (锭ingot)” and “deng (镫lamp)” were both commonly used to indicate lamps.《Erya• Shiqi (explanation of wares)》says: “Woodenware is called “dou (豆bean)”, banbooware is named “doubian (豆笾vessel)” and earthenware called “deng (镫lamp)”. Dou and doubian were vessels used to hold preserved fruit at banquet or memorial ceremony. ”《Liji •• Jitong》says: “The person who’s holding the leg of a dou is gving fragrant liquid to the person who’s taking a deng.” Zheng Xuanzhu once explained : “Xiao is the straight leg of a dou, … the handle right beneath deng.” Mr.Jia yan descibed: “earthen dou(豆bean) is deng.” There was a song saying: Dou is deng. Mao Chuan explained: Woodenware is called dou, earthenware called deng. The sixth chapter of《Erya·Shiqi》goes:《Shuowen (article lecturing and word explanation)》said: Deng is ding, the basic component of word deng comes from jin (金gold) and the sound follows word deng (登 ascend). Xu Xuan said: Its popular name today is deng (灯lamp). Guo Pu in Jing Dynasty said: Deng is a kind of sacrificial vessels. 灯deng (lamp) for 镫 deng (ancient name of lamp) is phonetic loan characters made used by ancient people. In the Warring States period, some copper-made lamps with dou shape were named “candle dou (lamp)”, This phenomenon further proves that the word deng (灯lamp) was the evolution of dou (豆 bean).

Two ancient Chinese lamps





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