What does it say??
June 9, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Characters on the bottom of a porcelain box - what does it say?

I picked up a small porcelain (I think) box at a thrift store recently with characters on the bottom. Does anyone know what language they are, and what it says?

Here is a picture of the bottom.

posted by amicamentis to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
Yep, Chinese. The photo is sideways- it should be flipped 90 degrees to the left/counterclockwise in order to be read correctly. The top two rows of characters are in an old-timey font style, but the three smaller ones on the bottom look more modern. (Source: I studied Mandarin briefly a couple years ago, so that's all I can give you...)
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:19 PM on June 9, 2014

This should help.
posted by acidic at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2014

The middle one of the bottom row (outside the box) is a kanji (could be either Chinese or Japanese) that represents a gate. So it might (or might not) mean gate. Even if it does mean gate, it might be using 'gate' as a metaphor, e.g. for a particular school of learning.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:30 PM on June 9, 2014

The kanji on the left of that row includes three dots on its left side that represent splash marks of water. Again, this is very far from telling you what the writing actually SAYS.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:37 PM on June 9, 2014

Then, the thing just to the right of the water, that looks like a five-legged starfish? That bit means 'great' or 'large'. The lefthand kanji as a whole, I *think*, is the one used in Japanese for 'billowy clouds' and also 'deep and broad'.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2014

That is what is known as "seal script", and it's the predecessor to Hanzi.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2014

The kanji on the right, below the box of seal script, can mean 'come' or 'become' or 'cause' or 'due' or 'next'. In Japanese. Which this might not even be. When the Japanese started using kanji (Chinese: hanzi) they would sometimes use the hanzi that meant the same thing, and sometimes use the hanzi that sounded like the same thing. That's my crude understanding; it actually seems to be a lot more complicated.

So anyway, I am very ignorant and nothing I say is reliable, but if it pleases you to feel you have some tangential understanding of your box, you might suppose the bottom row to mean MADE BY THE GUILD OF BILLOWING CLOUDS, or whatever strikes you as most plausible and vivid.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:18 PM on June 9, 2014

kanji on the right, below the box of seal script, can mean 'come' or 'become' or 'cause' or 'due' or 'next'.

No, that character in the picture is 彩, not 来.

Being mindful that "it is ok not to answer if you don't know the answer", I know part of the answer. This is Chinese. The bottom row says 澳門彩, which is something like "Macau coloring" (澳門 is "Macau"), which may be a brand or trade name. The six characters inside the box are in seal script, which I cannot read very well. I can only make out the character of 清 (middle-right). I see nothing about billowy clouds or water.

Seal script is quite challenging to read even for literate native speakers. Seal script characters often look quite different from their modern equivalents. Maybe someone on this site can read it well, but you may need to consult with a Chinese seal carver if you want a definitive answer. If you ever find yourself in a city with a Chinatown, that would be your best opportunity.

Based on my experience with such ceramics, the bottom usually just states information like trade name, location of manufacture, and other such mundane details.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:26 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

The 792 mark on this page is very similar.
posted by Sar at 2:32 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think Sar has it! Thanks, everyone, for the insight!
posted by amicamentis at 2:39 PM on June 9, 2014

(On preview, Sar got it...)

For the six characters contained in the seal, they seem to be seal script for:
大清 乾隆 年制
(Produced during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing dynasty)

The characters for 大清 (Qing dynasty) and 乾隆 (Emperor Qianlong) were guessable for me, a native Chinese speaker, but 年制 (produced in the year of) stumped me because they look nothing like their modern equivalents!

You can see some more examples here - the pictures are seal scripts with "made in the reign of..." and names of various Qing emperors.
posted by monocot at 6:15 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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