Originally believed to be from the 1866 Rocky River temple, this table was likely moved to the 1883 Howell Road Temple at Tingha. In recent years, prior to being donated to the Wing Hing Long Museum, the original table was cut down and rearranged to make a cabinet, which is the current form of the table.
Wing Hing Long Museum, Tingha
Photograph from 1901
Photomontage reconstruction of the original altar table from which the current cabinet is formed
Photographs of panels that bear inscriptions
TRANSCRIPTIONS AND TRANSLATIONS
1. Decorative horizontal inscription on original right-hand panel:
He whose name is famed is as a man of wealth and dignity who is unencumbered.
2. Vertical inscription on original right-hand panel:
Under a rising sun in the last Autumn month of the sexagenary year IIIiii,
3. Decorative horizontal inscription on original left-hand panel:
4. Vertical inscription on original left-hand panel:
劉戍庚 古阿廷 薛阿齊 鄧阿祖 盧阿漢
甘佩章 甘應傳 甘彩輝 甘茂贊 甘茂賢 甘阿彭
卓阿來 卓飲宏 蕭錦珍 李阿棣 余阿煥 余金富
Brocade table and patterned toadling respectfully given by Thy/Your favoured followers, whose names are listed at left.
Lau Shu Kang, Koo Ah Ting, Sit Ah Chai, Tang Ah Tso, Lo Ah Hon, Kam Pui Cheung,
Kam Ying Chun, Kam Tsoi Fai, Kam Mau Tsan, Kam Mau Yin, Kam Ah Pang,
Cheuk Ah Loi, Cheung Yam Wang, Siu Kam Chan, Lee Ah Tai, Yu Ah Woon, and Yu Kam Foo.
WHERE WAS THIS OBJECT USED?
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser article entitled “In the North, New South Wales”, which was published 3 August 1901 and is the source of the black-and-white image featured above, clearly states that the altar belonged, at least at the time in question, to the Tingha Joss House, a temple it introduces as “one of the finest in the state” and as having been “fitted up in the days when the Chinese were making fortunes out of the tin mines”. This temple would appear to have been located on Howell Road and to have opened in 1883. However, both the town of Tingha and tin mining in its vicinity were advents of the 1870s (Brown, Tin at Tingha, 23–28). The altar is dated 1866 and therefore predates the existence of Tingha and its tin rush. The date of 1866 suggests instead that the altar originally belonged to the Rocky River temple, which was home to the items entitled “donor plaque dated 1866”, “name plaque dated 1866” and “”Yeung Fook Tong” entrance adornment”. This raises the possibility that those and perhaps other items might also have been moved from Rocky River to Tingha.
The connection between texts 2 and 4: Inscriptions 2 and 4 would have been intended to be read in conjunction, with the resultant overall sense of “Brocade table and patterned toadling respectfully given, under a rising sun in the last Autumn month of the sexagenary year IIIiii, by Thy favoured followers, whose names are listed at left.” However, with the original altar’s panels swapped left for right in the current cabinet, these inscriptions no longer read as a single sentence.
The date: The last Autumn month of the sexagenary year IIIiii corresponds to the period on the Gregorian calendar that began on the 9th of October and ended on the 6th of November 1866. This is the Chinese month that immediately preceded the one named in the inscription on the “donor plaque dated 1866”. (The Chinese expression for the 3rd point on the sexagenary cycle is represented in translation by the upper- and lower-case Roman numerals IIIiii, meaning 3–3, because it is composed of two characters, the first being the 3rd of the set of ten heavenly stems, which correspond to the numbers one to ten, and the second being the 3rd of the set of twelve earthly branches, which correspond to the numbers one to twelve, these characters being used in combination, with the 10 heavenly stems cycling six times and the 12 earthly branches cycling five times, to form the 60 pairs of the sexagenary sequence.)
A variant character: The character translated as “table” is inscribed in a variant form: “棹” as opposed to “桌”. This variant character is listed in variant-character dictionaries, but is not widely known today, except in its other role as the standard form of the character for an entirely different word, one which means “oar”. Modern readers of Chinese will thus be apt to mistakenly read “brocade table(s)” as “brocade oar(s)”; the context, however, makes it clear that the former is the intended sense.
Text 4’s “brocade table”: 錦棹 “brocade table” might otherwise be translated as “resplendent table”, the word “brocade” carrying the secondary sense of “resplendent” in Chinese. This donated “brocade table” would appear to be the altar that the inscription decorates. The use of the expression “brocade table” for it, in favour of one or other plain words for “altar”, is by no means surprising: it is perfectly consistent with the parlance of traditional gift cards (禮帖), published formularies for which contained extensive lists of more elegant and literary alternative names for all manner of things that might be gifted, e.g. 家鳧 “house mallard” for 鴨 “duck”, 毛錐 “furred awl” for 筆 “writing brush”, and 雲履 “cloud slippers” for 鞋 “shoes” (鄭梧庭 [Zhèng Wútíng], 柬帖程式 [Jiǎntiě Chéngshì “Cards and Invitations: A Style Guide”], pp. 26–31).
Text 4’s “patterned toadling”: 花蟾 “patterned toadling” (the character equating to “patterned” having the base sense of “flower”) would appear to be an elegant epithet for “censer”, on account of its strong similarity to the expression 金蟾 “metal toadling”, which has a long history of use in that exact sense. Dictionary entries for the latter state that it is a metonym inspired by the decorative toad-shaped bosses (i.e. knob-like protuberances) found on some censers.
The donated items: In light of the preceding two notes, the donated items referenced by the inscription would appear to be the altar it graces and the altar’s censer. The censer would have taken pride of place at the centre of the altar, in conformity with standard rules of arrangement.
Text 1: Like text 3, text 1 forms part of the altar’s decorations, and cannot be assumed to have been added at the request of the donors. It is the first half of the couplet “有名閒富貴無事散神仙” “He whose name is famed is as a man of wealth and dignity who is unencumbered, As he who is free of worldly affairs is as a demigod that is independent”. This couplet is one of a long series that form a much-celebrated work of literature entitled the 神童詩 “The Child Prodigy’s Poem”, in reference to its reputed Sung-dynasty author, 汪洙 Wang Chu. (Note that the translation of the couplet that is provided here falls short of reflecting the rhetorical elegance of the original, which is written in metre, employs word-to-word antithesis, and is a mere ten syllables in length.)
Text 3: While the literal sense of the expression that constitutes text 3 seems unambiguous, its exact reference is unclear, at least to the translator. The literal sense is “star-viewing tower”, or rather “star-viewing storeyed building”, the third character denoting any building that is two or more storeys in height. The expression might also be translated as the single word “observatory”, a sense in which it was used in Australia’s early Chinese-language newspapers with respect to Western astronomical observatories. The only possible reference that occurs to the translator is the following: Wang Chu, the same Sung-dynasty child prodigy who is mentioned in the preceding note, is credited with the authorship of a short poem that relates to “star viewing”. The story goes that in his eighth year (by the Western reckoning), while herding geese by a school, Wang Chu was moved by the dilapidated state of its Confucian temple, and inscribed a poem on the temple’s wall. The poem took aim at Chinese officials for failing in the temple’s upkeep, while all along owing their stipends to the Confucian teachers venerated within. The poem contains the couplet “顏回夜夜觀星象夫子朝朝雨打頭” “Yen Hui’s view by night is of the stars, While the Master’s head is struck by rain each morn”, in which “the Master” and “Yen Hui” refer respectively to the idols of Confucius and one of his best-known disciples. (Needless to say, Wang Chu’s perspicacity and literary virtuosity resulted in the admiration of officials and his eventual elevation from poverty to their ranks.) It could therefore be that the inscriber of text 3 was likening the altar to a building from which idols might gaze at the night sky should their temple not be maintained, and by so doing reminding propitiators to contribute to the temple’s upkeep.
Text 4’s names: The translator could not identify any matches in the Chinese-language newspapers for the donor names listed in text 4. However, a number of the surnames are distinctive (viz. 桌 “Cheuk”, 古 “Koo”, 薛 “Sit” and 甘 “Kam”), which may assist in identifying a place of origin. It is notable too that the surname 甘 “Kam” is common to the names of a full 6 of the 17 donors. The places that appear on this basis to be possibilities are the district of 恩平 Yan Ping (now a.k.a. Ēnpíng); the district of 高要 Ko Yiu (now a.k.a. Gāoyāo); and the 新安 San On and Hong Kong region. The last would fit with the translator’s hypothesis that the 1866 Rocky River temple was established by persons from the Hong Kong-San On region. None of the names is a match for any found within the other inscriptions featured on this website. No matches could be found with donor names on plaques from the Ko Yiu temple in Sydney’s Alexandria.
Screens: The screen panels visible at the left of the 1901 photograph bear a very close resemblance to those held at McCrossin’s Mill Museum, which feature on in the objects section, and close examination reveals that the panel at far left is a match for the panel in the centre of “bamboo panel 2”.
This is a continually evolving website, and more information about this object will be published as further research is conducted.