Creches from China

Chinese Triptych
Zhejiang Province

This cluster of Chinese triptychs made by a Chinese Christian from the Zhejiang Province center on the promise of Isaiah 9:2 that people sitting in the dark have seen a great light, a symbol of the future Messiah. The three Chinese characters above the triptych with a barred window mean love, hope, and faith. The central panel is always reserved for the Holy Family, sometimes in the company of a water buffalo which in Chinese culture is a symbol of protection. Notice also that on one of the central panels there is a third adult person. He represents God Father, the real father of Jesus, standing behind Mary and Joseph. The side panels give space and attention to other figures of classical nativity scenes: to star, lamb and sheep, to the shepherds, to camels and magi.




From China with Art
Zhejiang Sheng area

Many nativity sets bought in the USA carry the label "Made in China." Almost all of them are of Western design but produced in China. There is a different kind of nativity representations which are a genuine product of Chinese culture. Chinese art with its roots in calligraphy and the mastery of the brush excels in rendering the intricate beauty of details and the narrative power of broad strokes. There exists in Chinese art a fortuitous assimilation of Christian art as exemplified in this nativity representation. The tondo featuring the journey of the magi is a masterpiece of detailed intricacies. Held and supported by the butterfly, a symbol of life eternal, its medallion shaped Nativity scene is both mirror and shield of divine protection suggested by the circular form of the artwork.

[Elisabeth van Mullekom Collection]




Tree of Life
Zhejiang Sheng area

An area famous for all types of woodcarving, the Zhejiang province, is home of the only Christian woodcarvers' workshop in China. This Nativity scene was designed by a Chinese Christian man who wants to remain anonymous. A generous nativity set, it has an impressive number of figures and trees. In Chinese nativities, human figures tend to be of modest size but are beautifully carved. All figures related to nature, like animals and trees, are given more sizeable proportions. Indeed, nature is dominant, the mother and teacher of the human race. As in many other cultures trees were the object of veneration in ancient China. It was in the shadow of the tree pipal (ficus religiosa) that Gautama Buddha received his divine illumination. The tree became a symbol of the "great awakening."Manger and cross in Christian tradition and legend have been assimilated with Incarnation and Redemption, but it is Jesus Christ himself who is the tree of life.

[Elisabeth van Mullekom Collection]



Away from Home
Christian Carving Studio
Zhe jiang

The spacious home in this set is almost empty. People who live here left behind an empty manger and some stray animals. The action in this scene is away from home and in the open space where people meet people, animals, and trees. Though almost diminutive the holy couple holding the baby is still the center of the least until the eye discovers the superbly carved horse and the imposing camels. Only then does the onlooker rediscover and realize the importance of nature in Asian culture. Nature is not only akin to a life-giving mother. Natrure also holds sway over human behavior and morals. In this set the horse and camels stand for strength and perseverance, two virtues of universal importance and application. The rooster hails the coming of Christ. He is also a symbol of fecundity. So there is no "away from home" for nature is omnipresent. In Christmas lore nature bows only before the newborn king.

[Elisabeth van Mullekom Collection]



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