A Chinese-temple donation inscription that is couched as an address to that temple’s deity or deities, as is customary with such inscriptions.

LOCATION

Inverell Pioneer Village

Donation plaque dated 1866 - Inverell Pioneer Village
Donation plaque dated 1866 – at Inverell Pioneer Village (IMG_6880, 16.4.21)

TRANSCRIPTIONS

Regular-script transcription that retains variant character forms and original format

Donation plaque dates 1866 transcription

Regular-script transcription that employs standard character forms and a rearranged format

同治五年歲次丙寅孟冬吉旦
  沐
恩弟子仰福堂敬送彩門企陽

TRANSLATION

Entrance adornment(s) and door-like screen(s) respectfully given by Thy/Your favoured followers’ Yeung Fook Tong, on an Auspicious Day in the First Winter Month of the Fifth Year of the T῾ung-chi Era, which is the sexagenary year IIIiii.

WHERE WAS THIS OBJECT USED?

This plaque and the matching Name plaque dated 1866 are believed to have been made for a temple that opened that year in Rocky River.

NOTES

This text is a Chinese-temple donation inscription that is couched as an address to that temple’s deity or deities, as is customary with such inscriptions.

The romanisation “Yeung Fook Tong” is the translator’s romanisation rather than one that has been confirmed to have been used historically. It is fashioned according to older spelling conventions for the standard Cantonese pronunciations of the characters in question. “Yeung Fook Tong” is an organisational name whose constituents give it the overall sense of “association that hopes for good fortune”. The form and auspicious sense of the name “Yeung Fook Tong” is typical of temple-committee names.

The name “Yeung Fook Tong” is also inscribed on the entrance adornment (“choy-moon”) which is displayed at Wing Hing Long Museum. In consideration of this, and in light of that artefact’s matching paintwork and woodwork, it seems highly likely that it is the (or one of the) entrance adornments referenced by this inscription. (Note that the first character of the organisation’s name, which is inscribed on this plaque in an elegant running script, is mistranscribed on page 92 of Wilton’s Golden Threads as an altogether different character, which does not match that written in regular script on the entrance adornment. The names on the plaque and the entrance adornment are in fact identical.)

The date is given according to the Chinese calendar and corresponds to the period on the Gregorian calendar that began on the 7th of November and ended on the 6th of December 1866. (See note below for specific details on the wording of the Chinese date.) This date of 1866 would appear to fit with the reported construction that year of a temple at Rocky River, at a place that was likely home to a series of three Chinese temples, the first opening in 1857 and the third in 1880.

It is likely that the “Yeung Fook Tong” entrance adornment is from the same temple as the Altar table dated 1866 which has, as the name suggests, a matching date of 1866, though the date range of the 9th of October to the 6th of November is slightly earlier.

The 1866 date also coincides with the opening of Melbourne’s Emerald Hill Joss House. Indeed, a number of artefacts at Melbourne’s Emerald Hill Joss House (which is now known as the See Yup Society temple, South Melbourne) bear the exact same date as the present plaque.

The donated items: The items donated are given to be 彩門 “choy-moon” and 企陽 “kei-yeung”, which are translated above as “entrance adornment(s)” and “door-like screen(s)” respectively. (These romanisations reflect standard Cantonese pronunciations.) The words 彩門 “choy-moon” and 企陽 “kei-yeung” are particularly rare, and this circumstance, combined with the unusual way in which the inscription is carved (see the last paragraph of note entitled “the typography” below), appears to have resulted in a previous translator mistaking them for the personal names of donors. Further to a significant amount of research, this translator can confirm with a high degree of confidence that they are actually the names of objects, and that the inscription is concerned with their donation.

彩門 “choy-moon” or “entrance adornment(s)”: 彩門 “choy-moon”—which turns out to be the name of a distinctive type of temple decoration—is a word that does not appear to be recorded in any dictionary, or to be widely known, but is nevertheless still in limited use. There are numerous references to “choy-moon” online, including a relatively detailed and well-referenced 2016 essay about them and their history on Taiwanese researcher 陳碧純 Chen Bichun’s blog site 西貢故事館 “The Saigon Story-museum/The Saigon Storarium” (a.k.a. “Saigon – Cho Lon blog”). The essay relates that, while seemingly unknown in Taiwan, “choy-moon” are found in numerous Chinese temples in Vietnam, as well as in Fat Shan (a.k.a. Fóshān), Hong Kong, Macao, and Malaysia. On the basis of evidence from a number of temples and their restoration timelines, Chen Bichun hypothesises that their “choy-moon” were installed at the end of the nineteenth century and were the work of Fat Shan woodcarvers, who were either based in Fat Shan or had moved elsewhere. She also states that both of the Foshan Zumiao’s (a.k.a. Foshan Ancestral Temple) “choy-moon” date from 1899, and bear inscriptions attributing their production to Fat Shan/Foshan workshops. Chen Bichun’s essay is accompanied by images of “choy-moon” at temples in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Penang and Fat Shan. Research by the translator and historian Paul Macgregor has identified many more temples, including a number in Australia, that were or are home to “choy-moon”, including the Emmaville temple. Other online references to “choy-moon” including the following:

The earliness of the “choy-moon” or “entrance adornment”: The apparent reference in this inscription to the “Yeung Fook Tong” entrance adornment has the effect of dating it to 1866. This is a much earlier date than those mentioned in Chen Bichun’s essay; it also predates the examples that the translator has been able to identify through research. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that the “Yeung Fook Tong” entrance adornment might be the earliest still in existence. Naturally, more research would be required to assert this with certainty.

企陽 “kei-yeung” or “door-like screen”: 企陽 “kei-yeung” is a Cantonese word that appears to be even rarer, the translator being successful, after much searching, in finding only one living native Cantonese speaker who knows and uses it. The individual in question is a 90-year-old resident of Canton (a.k.a. Guǎngzhōu), with a long-standing interest in his city’s history and architecture, about which he has written extensively, occasionally employing the word “kei-yeung” in so doing. His name is 潘廣慶 Poon Kwong Hing (or 潘广庆 Pān Gwǎngqìng in simplified characters and Mandarin Pinyin). Prior to making contact with Mr. Poon, the translator was successful in finding a number of written records that relate to “kei-yeung”, which help to substantiate its sense, and confirm the characterisation Mr. Poon later gave in the telephone interviews he kindly granted. The first such record is a lexicographical listing for the word—the only one that could be found. It appears in a unique glossary of Cantonese words, entitled 廣州語本字 “Cantonese Expressions and their Original Characters”, which was completed in 1924 by a distinguished member of Imperial China’s literati, a certain 詹憲慈 “Chim Hin Tze”; though it remained an unpublished manuscript until 1995. (Incidentally, one of the late Mr. Chim’s sons, who contributed a foreword to the publication, would appear to be a resident of Sydney.) The glossary lists the word 企陽 “kei-yeung” along with a word that has a similar sense to “awning”, and amongst a set of nouns concerned with buildings. An image of the relevant entry, from the 2017 second printing of the 2007 paperback edition of the Chinese University of Hong Kong publication, is shown below, followed by a translation from the original Literary Chinese.

“KEI-YEUNG, the vernacular pronunciation of which is 企樣 [see below], are objects with door-like panels that stand along either side of the wall within the front eaves a great hall. The Shih Ming states: ‘Lap-yan are akin to yan [human beings] that are lap [stood erect].  They are otherwise known as yeung-moon [“yeung doors”], the word yeung being applied to that which is anterior, and the word moon [door] being employed on account of their resemblance to a spaced pair thereof.’ Yeung-moon was originally the name of a type of wagon door, which was borrowed for application to a house door on account of its similarity in form. Yeung-moon were simply termed ‘yeung’ in the province of Kwang Tung. The word ‘kei’ means ‘to stand’, and thus draws on the same significance as ‘human being standing erect’.”

The author was primarily concerned with the etymology of this and the other terms he was describing; his definition, while most helpful, is thus relatively short. The other content of his entry goes to his hypothesis that the Cantonese word “kei-yeung” is connected with a truly ancient word, 陽門 “yeung-moon”, which is the name of a type of front-facing wagon door that is recorded in the chapter on wagon terminology within a well-known late-second-or-early-third-century Chinese lexicon entitled the Shih Ming. The author also supplies the pronunciation of “kei-yeung”, by means of another two characters, only the second of which differs. This guidance on pronunciation makes it clear that the second syllable of “kei-yeung” is not pronounced as its character would lead one to believe. However, the character the author supplies as a phonetic guide has two distinct pronunciations in Cantonese, which makes his intended pronunciation ambiguous. In light of the absence of a sufficiently detailed explanatory introduction to the glossary’s modern publication, the translator contacted Dr. Kwok Fan Chu (朱國蕃) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s D.C. Lau Research Centre for Chinese Ancient Texts, who was responsible for the addition of romanised phonetic renderings, to enquire as to why he had determined the pronunciation of the second character of “kei-yeung” to be “yeuhng”, as opposed to the alternative “yéung” (Yale Cantonese romanisations). The translator was also interested to learn whether Dr. Chu was familiar with the word, and whether or not any field research had been conducted in connection with the publication to determine if it was still in use. The answers to the latter questions were in the negative. In response to the first question, Dr. Chu stated that he was unfortunately no longer able to recall his rationale for determining the pronunciation, and no longer possessed the relevant notes. He suggested that he might simply have been inclined to opt for what is considered the base pronunciation of the character, in line with what he had perceived from other entries to be the general preference of the author. (Dr. Chu was also kind enough to enquire of a Cantonese-speaking professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong whether he was familiar with the term; he was not, but found the explanation given in the glossary perfectly credible.) The translator later determined, through conversation with Mr. Poon, that the correct Cantonese pronunciation is kéihyéung (Yale Cantonese romanisation), and that the romanisation supplied in the modern publication is, according to Mr. Poon’s statements, not a valid alternative. While the translator made no mention of Chim Hin Tze’s description, Mr. Poon said that he knew of several varieties of “kei-yeung”, including one type which he believed could be placed as a pair on separate sides of the frontage of a great hall. However, the variety he was best familiar with is installed within restaurants and the halls of large houses. He provided a picture of this variety of “kei-yeung”, which is shown below. The several “kei-yeung” in this image, Mr. Poon indicated, can be seen at the front left and rear left and right, adjacent to 花罩 “fretwork arches”.

(Image of a Canton restaurant provided by Mr. Poon Kwong Hing, with his handwritten annotation “indoor kei-yeung” added; date and source unknown.)

Mr. Poon also differentiated kei-yeung, in broad terms, from several other similar screen-like contrivances, such as 屏風 “standard screens” and 屏門 “screen-like doors”, examples of which are shown below.

(Façade of the 泮溪酒家 “Poon Kai Restaurant”, within the front entrance to which is visible, according to Mr. Poon, a 中屏 “central screen” that employs a “kei-yeung” design but is distinct therefrom. Image provided by Mr. Poon Kwong Hing; date and source unknown.)
(Photograph taken by Malcolm Oakes in December 2016 of 屏門 “door-like screens” in the study carrels of the 植桂書室 Chik Kwai Study Hall, in the village of 黎屋村 Lai Uk Tsuen, Pat Heung, New Territories, Hong Kong)

For other images of “screen-like doors”, see: https://kknews.cc/home/enob9ez.html One difference between “screen-like doors” and “kei-yeung” that Mr. Poon highlighted is that the former can be opened, while the latter are fixed in place. The third source on “kei-yeung” identified by the translator is internal documents of the Selangor & Federal Territory Kwong Siew Association, which are indirectly quoted on a page of the Association’s website that is dated 16 October 2017: https://kwongsiew.org/330.html The record in question states that the “kei-yeung” located under the front eaves on either side of the large hall of the Association’s Kwan Ti temple (168, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur) were removed in 1924 and replaced with glass paneling. The glass paneling in question would appear to be that which is still visible today, and can be seen in the photograph below.

(Copyright © 2012~2017 AngKongKeng.com; untitled and unattributed photograph from an article entitled “KL Guan Di Temple”, accessed December 22, 2020 https://angkongkeng.com/ /19- /220- -kl-guan-di-temple)

The translator contacted the temple to ascertain whether it held any photographs of the large hall that date from before the 1924 restoration. The answer was unfortunately in the negative. The Cantonese-speaking temple staff were also unfamiliar with the word “kei-yeung”. The final source on “kei-yeung” identified by the translator is a set of articles about exhibitions that have featured an elaborately carved shrine, the most recent of which opened in Guǎngzhōu (a.k.a. Canton) on the 8th of August 2020. An image of the shrine is shown below.

(Unattributed image entitled “广州木雕神楼” [“Spirit-mansion shrine carved by Canton woodcarvers”], from an article entitled “影响世界的中国非遗”展览——永华红木制清明上河图地屏、兽头狮脚圆桌荣登广州塔!” [“Exhibition of Chinese Intangible Heritage that has Influenced the World …”], accessed October 19, 2020 https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/186940713 with a “kei-yeung” delineated.)

The articles relate that the shrine, which is now classed as a 國家一級文物 National Grade One Cultural Relic, forms part of the collection of the 廣東民間工藝博物館 Guangdong Folk Art Museum, an institution that is housed within Guǎngzhōu’s 陳家祠 “Chan Family Ancestral Hall” (the “Chan Family Ancestral Hall” is today generally represented in English as the “Chen Clan Ancestral Hall”, “Chen” being the Mandarin Pinyin romanisation of the Cantonese surname “Chan”). It is said to date from 1909 and to have played a role in a religious festival that was once held by a collection of 18 villages in the district of Poon Yu, a festival which had been an uninterrupted annual tradition for over 300 years, until 1950. Along with many other cultural artefacts from around the province, the shrine had been moved to the ancestral hall in 1958, as part of the establishment of the Folk Art Museum. In 1964 it was disassembled and placed into storage, where it remained until 1995, when it was at last reassembled. Importantly, the articles relate that one of the large eight wooden crates in which many of the components were stored bears the carved inscription “企阳花(上)” “Kei-yeung decoration (top)”. (The articles give no indication that their writers were aware of the significance of the word “kei-yeung”, merely recording the word in a list of the inscriptions borne by each crate.) In light of the information already uncovered with respect to “kei-yeung”, it would appear that the shrine’s “kei-yeung” are the two vertical elements with door-like panels and plain wooden frames that abut the central “fretwork arch”. In summary, the translator’s initial researches appear to have uncovered the Cantonese pronunciation and central significance of the word “kei-yeung”; however, more research is still warranted with respect to such matters as this door-like screen’s varieties, applications, geographical area of historic use, and precise architectural definition. While the word may be virtually unknown today, it would seem that this was not always the case, and that a knowledge of it may be important to understanding China’s literary, material and cultural heritage; for example, the 1730/31 edition of the 廣東通志 “General Gazetteer of Kwang-tung Province” references a rock named 企陽石 “Kei-yeung Rock”, located fifty Chinese miles to the southeast of the city of 羅定 Luoding (modern Pinyin romanisation), which it describes as being shaped liked a “jaden screen”, flat-ridged, and rising abruptly for in excess of thirty chang (96 metres): without familiarity with the word “kei-yeung”, the nature of the reference that this toponym apparently draws on would be utterly unclear.

The typography: Excepting the interlinear characters, the text on the panel is carved in the traditional fashion, in vertical columns that progress from right to left. The second column is only one character deep, it being occupied by the character 沐 “to bathe in”, which is deliberately written one character space lower, preceding the character 恩 “favour” at the top of the next line. 沐恩 “to bathe in favour” is a set expression, meaning “favoured”. The peculiar typography reserved for it serves a purpose similar to reverential capitalisation in English: “bathing” is an action engaged in by the humble followers concerned, whereas “favour” is associated with the exalted deity or deities; it is thus fitting that the character for the former appear lower than the character for the latter. The overall sense is akin to “Thy/Your favoured”, the pronoun being implied in Chinese but required in English. (Note: singular “Thy” would be appropriate were the inscription to be referencing one deity, and plural “Your” were it to be referencing more than one.) The characters “吉旦” “auspicious day” have been inscribed at the bottom of the first column as interlinear text, i.e. as text written in vertical columns that progress from right to left within a line of generally larger text. Interlinear text is frequently used in Chinese for inserting notes, in a similar fashion to bracketed text in English. It may also be used, however, as a means of fitting more text into a line than might otherwise be accommodated. This would appear to be the case here. The characters “彩門” “choy-moon” (“entrance adornment(s)”) and “企陽” “kei-yeung” (“door-like screen(s)”) are also presented as interlinear text. Curiously, they are written as a block of four characters above the characters “敬送” “respectfully given” at the end of the last column. Read before “respectfully given”, they appear to be the names of givers. Read after “respectfully given”, they appear to be the names of items being given. (See the text entitled “Vertical inscription on original left-hand panel” on the object named “Altar table dated 1866” for an example of this exact sentence structure.) It having been established that these words are the names of objects, and not personal names, it would appear that it was the latter reading that was intended: hence the rearranged format of the text in the second transcription. It seems likely in this case that the carver(s) did not have sufficient room to inscribe these characters at the base of the second line, and that the interlinear presentation format served, therefore, not only to accommodate the characters within the line but to separate them out and facilitate their reading after the non-interlinear text had been read.

Detail on the date: Further detail on the wording of the Chinese date, “同治五年歲次丙寅孟冬吉旦” “an Auspicious Day in the First Winter Month of the Fifth Year of the T῾ung-chi Era, which is the sexagenary year IIIiii”:

  • The name of each Chinese era holds a significance. 同治 T῾ung-chih (Tóngzhì) is composed of the character 同 t῾ung, meaning “together”, which can function somewhat like the English prefix “co-”, and of the character 治 chih, which means “to rule or govern”. The name was reportedly chosen by the empress dowagers Tz῾ŭ-hsi and Tz῾ŭ-an (Pinyin: Cíxīand Cí’ān), to mark the period within which the new child emperor, 清穆宗 Tsing Mu Tsung (Qīng Mùzōng), was assisted by them and court officials in the governing of the country. The meaning of T῾ung-chih 同治 is therefore close to that of the English word “regency”. This “Regency Era” began on January 30th 1862 and ended on February 5th 1875. It should be noted that modern and English-language reference works often give the dates of Chinese eras incorrectly, or use era names as if they were the titles or names of individual emperors, because of confusion with respect to the distinction between eras and imperial reigns, names and titles. While Chinese eras may correspond closely to Chinese imperial reigns (the periods in which emperors ruled), they are nonetheless different. Chinese eras are the names of time periods that began and ended with the start and end of Chinese years. New eras were generally begun on the first day of the new year following the ascension of a new emperor to the throne, and in some Chinese dynasties the era was also changed one or more times during an individual emperor’s reign, though this was not done during the Tsing (Qīng) dynasty (the last imperial dynasty).
  • 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 from the set of ten heavenly stems (丙), which correspond to the numbers one to ten, and the second being the 3rd from the set of twelve earthly branches (寅), 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. The 5th year of the T῾ung-chih Era did indeed correspond to the third sexagenary year.
  • 孟冬 “the first Winter month” is a literary expression for the 10th month on the Chinese lunar calendar. Note that as such it does not necessarily correlate with the first true month of Winter on the Chinese solar calendar.
  • 吉旦 “(an) auspicious day” is a set expression often seen in inscriptions of this type. It typically designates the first day of the Chinese month, but can also be used in its literal sense for other days.

The possible identity of the “kei-yeung” (“door-like screen(s)”): Close examination of the uprights of the plaque’s frame suggests that it may have been cut out of a larger object. This raises the possibility that the plaque might once have formed one panel of the (or one of the) “kei-yeung” to which its inscription refers. The matching panel entitled “Name plaque dated 1866” appears to have been cut in a similar way.

This is a continually evolving website, and more information about this object will be published as further research is conducted.