ICCS Newsletter Summer 2018



1. Programme
2. Prof. Alan Fletcher UCD on Chinese Porcelain: The story of a 700-year old love affair: How China conquered the West through Porcelain.
3. Chinese New Year Dinner at the Green Dragon Well Restaurant
4. Chinese New Year Lunchtime Talk at the Asia Market
5. Chinese New Year Traditions Talk at the Chester Beatty Library by Yanyi Blake
6. Upcoming Events

1. Programme

For information on our programme, click HERE.   

Please note our meeting venue,

United Arts Club,
3 Fitzwilliam Street,

(just off Baggot Street,)
Dublin 2,

and meeting days,

the FOURTH WEDNESDAY (mostly!) of each month.

For information on our programme, click HERE.   

2.Prof. Alan Fletcher UCD on Chinese Porcelain: The story of a 700-year old love affair: How China conquered the West through Porcelain.

If you had been walking on the Fitzwilliam Estate, later to be Fitzwilliam Street, in the year 1722 you would, no doubt, have been interested to learn that the year you were living in was to be the focus of a gathering in the area nearly three hundred years later, and surprised to discover that the reason for this focus was the fact that 1722 was the year after which the mysterious, white, translucent ceramic from China, named porcelain, extended its palette range beyond the traditional blue and white to include the pink tones of Famille-rose.

Alan Fletcher armed us with this piece of specialised knowledge as part of a wide ranging talk on Europe’s, and indeed China’s, long love affair with porcelain which provided the broader context for his own love affair with the creations of the vitreous ceramic which began when his father returned from India with a treasure trove of highly ornate teapots, plates, vases, dishes and bowls from China. Their whereabouts are now unknown but they succeeded in firing the imagination of the young boy turned academic and porcelain expert.

To begin with, Alan informed us about the differing kiln temperatures needed to fire ovenware, stoneware and the higher temperature, as well as the blend of clays (kaolin and China stone) that are required to achieve the hard white purity of porcelain, the secret formula that eluded Europeans for so long.
He brought along a 2000 year old, ovenware Han Horse, still sporting traces of its original pigment, to preside over our sense of wonder as we began our journey with the Song Dynasty(source of the extremely rare and much prized Ru Ware) when porcelain was the main export from China and we were let in on a little trick of the trade as the copper band adorning the rim of a dish concealed the fact that it was put in the kiln upside down so that the glaze wouldn’t run. Knowing this just lent an added aura to the flawless perfection of a Qing Dynasty piece, featuring two ladies, that is rimless and free of kiln grit.
While the secret of its production remained out of reach, the appetite of Westerners for porcelain was insatiable, fuelled by the desire of the rich and powerful to surround themselves with auspicious objects and the desire of others to imitate them. Notable among collectors was Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and Grand Duke of Lithuania, a rich and powerful man but he was weakened by an exotic ailment, a kind of lovesickness for porcelain, that saw him bankrupt himself in pursuit of it and the status it conferred.

It was Marco Polo who gave us the name for porcelain瓷器Cíqì (from the Italian word porcellana as its shiny whiteness reminded him of a cowrie shell, itself named on the basis of a fanciful resemblance to porcellini/ little pigs) During the Ming Dynasty blue and white porcelain became extremely popular and Europe couldn’t get enough of it. Alan showed us 3 exquisite examples: a spittoon featuring fierce dragons, a bowl and a stem cup for wine.
In time, due to a spot of industrial espionage, porcelain’s secret was out and factories in Meissen in Germany, and later Spode and Minton in England, where bone was added to achieve added whiteness, began producing their own porcelain. However, Chinese motifs, most famously the Willow pattern, retained their popularity as the white ceramic continued to be seen as the proper medium for purveying a vision of an Oriental paradise in scenes of rural tranquillity.
An ugly reality intervened in the 1850s in the shape of the Opium Wars. Even the centre, in terms of porcelain production, Jingdezhen, could not hold in the scenario that ensued and a poignant image of the decline was their refusal of a request by the boy Emperor for a sacrificial red imperial piece as they no longer had the expertise to produce such work.
Alan allowed us to inspect, at first hand, a number of beautiful examples of famille-rose porcelain featuring idyllic images . The last plate brought together two of the great icons of Chinese culture as the writing extols the virtues of tea. Fortunately none of us tested any of them for hardness or left them in need of a gilt and lacquer repair which, however skilfully done, robs them of their musical ping.
But the niceties of porcelain’s beauty are in the eye of the beholder, an eye like Alan’s capable of fine distinctions (second nature to generations of ceramicists in China), sensitive to a touch of indigo in the cobalt, for example, and able to savour the purity of a whiteness unaided by extraneous material like bone. It was a privilege to be in the company of this eminent protagonist in the long and on-going love affair between the West and a substance so prestigious and so synonymous in our minds with China that we lend it that country’s name in everyday English usage.

3. Chinese New Year Dinner

19th February - A very enjoyable evening in the Green Dragon Well Restaurant to celebrate the Year of the Dog.

4. Culture Talk for Chinese New Year at the Asia Market

Trudi Kiang

Linda Hui Yang

Howard Pau

Richard Doran

Lunchtime Talk, Friday 23rd February

A distinguished panel ably and amiably chaired, as is her wont, by ICCS President Deborah Wilson, shared reminiscences/reflections about Chinese new Year traditions, past and present, as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations for the The Year of the Dog.
Tucked away in an enchanting space in the bowels of the Asia Market we were plied with some fine fare as we listened to the conversation, including foods that were new to some of us like the delicious rice cake called mochi.
Howard Pau, founder of the Asia Market, told us about the trek involved in meeting relatives at the border between Hong Kong and mainland China when the only means of transport available was a bike. Hence the long and bumpy ride back to his home village to meet relatives. A far cry from the high speed trains of modern day China.
Dr Linda Hui Yang, an Intercultural Researcher and Trainer in the School of Education in U.C.D. remembers, as a child, being fed, at regular intervals, in order to stay awake for the celebratory dumplings at mid night! Only then could you open the red packet, full of good luck and money. She gave us a beautiful image, from her childhood in Harbin, of a red and white landscape as wrappings from fire crackers littered the snow.
Mandarin speaker and host on Chinese Central Television, Richard Doran, told us that a line of firecrackers were let off in honour of the bride as she walked to her wedding ceremony which made for an explosive entrance but perhaps, as Debbie suggested, at the expense of temporarily deafening her!
Health and safety has regulated or consigned some traditions to history but new ones have sprung up in their place, notably the Spring Festival Gala on television which caters not just for the indigenous population but wraps ex-pat Chinese communities in its massive, 5 hour long global embrace.
Our own ICCS member Trudi Kiang’s late husband Tao was an astronomer, more devoted to science than tradition, but she remembers the importance attached by his parents to his being born as a dragon. He made it but only by a few days!
After the talk there was time to stock up on a few exotic foods from the bewildering variety on offer in the Asia Market itself.

5. Chinese New Year Traditions Talk at the Chester Beatty Library by Yanyi Blake

A wonderfully informative and colourfully illustrated talk by ICCS Vice President Dr. Yanyi Blake in the Chester Beatty Library, as part of the Chinese New Year Celebrations for the Year of the Dog which began on 19th February(the second Full Moon after the Winter Solstice).

Yanyi explained to us about how the Chinese lunisolar year is based on bringing exact astronomical observations and the needs of agriculture into harmony with each other and went on to take us on a magical trip through the many traditions associated with the Spring Festival, beginning with the various methods deployed to frighten off the wild beast Chu Xi such as the colour red, loud noise and fire. My own favourite is the mirror on the head of the lion in the Lion Dance which scares Xi off with the reflection of its own face!

The Spring Festival Couplets,Chunlian, are brief but rich in meaning.

The ubiquitous red lanterns come in all shapes and sizes.

Elders are honoured but the young are certainly not forgotten!

The Family Reunion Dinner is at the heart of the celebrations

with dumplings in the North and Sticky Rice Cakes in the South.

and it is an important opportunity to wish relatives well.

Temple Fairs, the Ice Buildings at Harbin and decorative paper cutting all feature in the general blossoming of culture.

Then there is the marathon Spring Gala TV show to bring the nation together.

A new moon, and many sweet, symbolic ones, in the form of sticky rice balls, herald the Lantern Festival which brings the celebration to a close.

6. Upcoming Events

28th March – Inner Mongolia, Past and Present.

Mr Yuyang Wang was born and grew up in Inner Mongolia. As an independent film maker Mr Wang frequently travels back and forth to China and engages with the New Silk Road Cultural and Art Exchange Programme. Together with his wife he will present us with a historical perspective on the region as well as the most recent developments on Xian, the Silk Road and the intriguing world of Inner Mongolia.

25th April

– The A.G.M. gives the membership a say in the running of our Society, and an opportunity to become involved in the Committee through nomination and election.

26th April Restaurant visit.

-€20 per person. Sichuan Chilli King Restaurant, 100 A Parnell St. 6.30 p.m . maximum 16 places.

23rd May – United Arts Club Party!

– Show and Tell. Attendees are encouraged to bring along a Chinese possession with personal story attached.

30th May – Asia Market Tour

– Asia Market Tour followed by Dim Sum Supper, with a "Goodie-bag" to take home. €20 per person, max number to attend: 20.Show and Tell.

9th September

– Annual Barbeque at Wesley House

Provisional Autumn Programme

26th September

– Denis Mullen

24th October

– Richard Doran

28th November

– Linda Hui Yang Deeks

12th December



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This Newsletter is published by the Irish-Chinese Cultural Society.