The spring couplets by Chiayi-based calligrapher Chen Ming-ching (陳明卿) are unique as they feature 84 invented symbols composed of repositioned Chinese characters and rebus puzzles.
Chen, 68, plays with Chinese idioms by rearranging separate characters in New Year greetings and idioms into individual symbols.
Even native speakers need some time to decipher the symbols, he said.
Photo: Tseng Nai-chiang, Taipei Times
One popular creation is that composed of zhao cai jin bao (招財進寶, “amassing wealth and treasure”) commonly seen on Lunar New Year’s couplets, the sight of which motivated Chen to create similar symbols and establish his own studio, which he named Jhuluoshan (諸羅山), the ancient name for Chiayi.
Chen has created more than 500 symbols, including those made of ma dao cheng gong (馬到成功, “succeeding in something the moment you start doing it”), nian nian you yu (年年有餘, “surpluses every year) and tian tian kai xin (天天開心, “happy every day”).
His creations also include felicitous expressions used to celebrate weddings, housewarmings and business openings, which have now been gathered in a book.
Character strokes must be rearranged properly, otherwise viewers would not be able to recognize the characters and the symbols would lose artistic value, Chen said.
He said he spent more than three years redesigning the seven characters of xiangqi (象棋, Chinese chess) into one symbol.
The Shuangfu (雙福) community development association in Chiayi County’s Minsyong Township (民雄) commissioned him to paint 35 symbols on a wall at the community’s entrance.
His creations combining images of deities and words praising them are popular among his friends, who use them in their stores to attract visitors.
Also fond of collecting stones and making sculptures, Chen also serves as chairman of the Chiayi City Stone Sculpture Association.
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