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Cicada (蝉, pinyin = chán) Teaset

December 15, 2008

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The cicada is quite a fascinating little creature, appearing as a symbol of longevity or immortality throughout the arts of China and Japan over the past several centuries. The accompanying photographs are of a yixing teaset that we sometimes use for brewing and serving pu-er. The tea pouring down over the pot was the initial rinsing infusion, used in this case to help season the teapot.

“Some anthropologists and archaeologists have known for years that the ancient Chinese regarded cicadas as symbols of rebirth or immortality in much the same way as the early Egyptians thought of the sacred scarab. Unlike the latter case, however, few western entomologists are aware of cicada symbolism used by the early Chinese. It is not mentioned in any English language entomology textbook of which I am aware. It is noted in Lucy Clausen’s remarkable little book, Insect Fact and Folklore.

Writing in Japan, the colorful and prolific Lafcadio Hearn in his charming essay on cicadas (“Sémi”), reported: “In view of many complaints of Japanese poets about the noisiness of sémi, the reader may be surprised to learn that out of sémi-skins there used to be made in both China and Japan-perhaps upon homeopathic principles-a medicine for the cure of ear-ache!”

“Cicadas are fascinating insects. They are large, conspicuous, and attract attention with their interesting “songs.” No wonder the ancient Chinese accorded them such a high position in their folklore and in their art. Watching cicadas can engender awe in the observer. One student remarked that he had always considered cicadas rather magical, and could easily see how they came to have spiritual significance in old China.”

Excerpts are from Cicada in Chinese Folklore on the Cultural Entomology site.

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