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Saturday, 11th October 2008

Cavander pushed the boat out when it came to two of their sets. The first was Ancient Egypt [1926] and the second is this set Ancient Chinese [1928] Indeed if you look at Cavanders card output you will see there is a geographical theme running through many of them.

The style is very similiar to the Egyptian cards but has a silver background rather than a gold background. Both are series of 25 cards.

The reverse of the cards does not really have a formal title which can actually be a little off-putting to traditionalists like me. It also makes it difficult to compile the checklist but no matter.

How they all laugh like drains when I do my 'enter the dragon' joke

Many of the cards centre about the traditions this most ancient of cultures possessed.

Of course some of those traditions do appear rather strange from this distance as viewed on the back of a cigarette card. Card 5 seems to suggest the chaps spirit needs coaxing into a coat. Quite why I don't know but that is my fault not theirs.

Ancestor worship being something of a feature death is soon prowling the cards once more, Card 9 explains the custom of putting a white cock, with feet tied, on the coffin lid. The cock is meant to become the residence of one of the three spirits of the dead person. In this way part of the dead person returns to the family residence.

Details from Card 5
The following method is adopted by the Chinese to prevent the death of a sick man. A coat recently worn by him is suspended on a two-foot measure, a metallic mirror is tied above the coat, and the coat and mirror are tied amongst the green leaves of a bamboo. One of the family stands with this while the priest repeates incantations to cause the sick man's spirit to enter the coat.

Quite what happens when the cock dies is not gone into.

Card 20 also makes this point about ancestor worship. '...The child is taught from its earliest infancy to worship idols and the tablets of its ancestors.' Now language is one of those things, worshipping idols has a certain twist to it in the modern western world where idle worship is largely practiced.

The Chinese culture is so different to our own much of it strikes as incredible. Card One sets the scene with the idea that the Chinese have most strange and singular ideas about the worship of thunder and lightening. I presume this card was not written on a Thursday or the narrator might have given some regard to Thor.

Much is made of the fact the Chinese worshipped many deities. By card three we are introduced to Han Chung-le, one of the 8 immortals, represented by a fat man with a fan, which he uses to revive the dead. The same card introduces us to Leu Tung-pin, another immortal that overcame temptation ten times and slew evil monsters with his sword. This rid the world of evil for more than 400 years.

The cards also make much of processions but does not really give the time to explain what they are all about. Card 6 mentions the Executioner. The entrance exam is described, 'They take a turnip, and drawing a line about it, aim at cleaving it into two parts, striking precisely on the line. When they can invaribaly do this they become part of the candidates for the post.'

It might be no coincidence that card 7 explains common people mixing in a procession of high officers is a misdemeanour. Civilians in sedans must have the sedan put down and people walking must stop and step aside. Luckily the executioner seems not to be required, instead people call lictors beat, 'unmercifully' those who fail to obey all the rules. Consider yourself lucky getting away with a beating I think.

By card 10 the Kitchen God is being examined with the same astonishment all the cards are given. Again I presume the compiler has forgotten Ukobach, the Christian demon of fried food. Yep, those monks had a bit of spare time and they used it creating all sorts of demons. It is reputed that we have more saints than we have days to be assigned them. So mayhaps the pot is calling the kettle black here. Anyway before I begin an arguement I cannot win let me slide back into the comfort zone of cards.

Incense and candles are burnt on the 1st and 15th of the month. This is by way of bribe as it is believed this god ascends to heaven to report to the 'Pearly Emperor Supreme Ruler' all things that have been going on that year in the household. The card does not say quite why the bribe is required, I bet it is a good reason though.

Cavanders, Ancient Chinese, #13. A chap having trouble with his walkman

Cripes, some heavy handed phrasing going on there but I suppose life is like that sometimes. I suppose there might be another culture which has a character who supervises the pencil but I am at a loss to think of one at the moment. Perhaps I am showing my ignorance here (is it the first time?) but I'd love to think there was still a place for the worship of these characters in Chinese education. Although there are classes for teaching the use of chopsticks so perhaps there is not. Imagine those children going to school, heads still reeling from the incense burnt for the Kitchen God going to school to worship the holder of the pencil.

The dragon is probably the most well-known symbol of China, at least it is round these parts because of the local restaurant. How they all laugh like drains when I do my 'enter the dragon' joke. Sometimes I get the impression they have heard it before, surely not. Cavanders do not let us down with card 11 and card 18 mention the dragon.

Card 17 is my favourite because I saw a documentary about this very subject, fishing with cormorants. Now I am convinced the only culture in the world that would train birds to fish for them is China. The bird cannot swallow the fish because of string tied around their necks. When they surface with a fish in thier mouth the fisherman nets both them and the fish. A fisherman controls three to four birds during an fishing expedition. I like a bit of fishing myself but rod and line is about the limit of my control.

Details from Card 13
Kue Sing is one of the two stars which the Chinese profess to have discovered to have the supervision of the affairs of this world relating to literature and the pencil.
This star is represented as an ugly-looking man with a head having two horn like projections, standing by one foot on the head of a large fish. He is worshipped in college and high schools on the 1st and 15th of each month.

Dragons might be deemed as important but it seems likely that the tiger is a more dominant force in the culture. Many of the deities are seen in association with the tiger but the real clincher must be the fact that Chinese gamblers worship the tiger and we all know the Chinese love to wager. On the 2nd and 16th of every month incense and candles are often burnt (oh to have an incense business in the Chinese quarter.)

Finally though I feel some affinity with the Chinese Phoenix (card 22) not because of ite 'pre-eminent elegance and benevolence' or the fact it is not supposed to injure either insects or herbs, not even because it is supposed to only come down to earth to bring good-tidings.

Oh well, I might feel like I have some affinity with this mythical beast but I clearly do not. :-(