Translation in progress for a Chinese table screen


This eight-fold table screen which is currently displayed at Lotherton Hall is one of the most interesting yet trickiest objects from the Chinese collections. It is believed to be a present to someone, possibly an official or a prestigious scholar, on his 80th birthday some 200 years ago.

I am trying to unravel the full meaning of the cursive scripts which appear on the square panels of each side. They used many symbolic and old Chinese words, however, making them hard to read. At first, I thought they were two poems consisting of 8 lines and 7 syllables each, which described the painted scenes of figures and mountain views respectively.

After spending some time researching the words and the contexts in which they have been used, I am now hesitating to suggest that the two poems seem to address completely different topics. The poems allude to the story of the Heavenly Peach Garden owned by the Queen Mother of the West (王母 pinyin pronunciation: wang2 mu3) who is the Daoist Goddess of Immortality.

Yet some of the lines reveal the role of the owner of this present in relation to the politics at that time, while some share similarities with the Chinese couplets (对联 pinyin pronunciation: dui4 lian2), which are still used on the occasion of birthdays nowadays. Here is my translation of some of the scripts:

五湖太老方傾 ? (荦)

Pinyin pronunciation:
wu3 hu2 tai4 lao3 fang1 qing1 ?(luo4)
si4 hai3 gao1 ren2 jin4 fu4 shi1
Great learning is known only when elders from the Five Lakes

And scholars from the Four Seas gather to improvise

Notes: Five Lakes, Four Seas mean all corners of the world

Pinyin pronunciation:
yuan4 yan2 he4 suan4 qi2 fang1 shuo4
wang2 mu3 pan2 tao2 ren4 yi4 tou1
We wish you longevity like Fang Shuo who gained immortality
After eating the peaches stolen from the Queen Mother

Notes: Fang Shuo served as an attendant then the Superior Master of the Palace under Han Emperor Wu (140-87 BC). His brash confidence and ready wit were favoured by the emperor. This led Fang to become a prominent figure in the Daoist legends. One famous story about him was that he thrice stole and ate the peaches of immortality from the Queen Mother of the West.


Pinyin pronunication:
man4 yan2 tao2 ? (jun4) wu2 zhen1 shang3
gan1 gu3 xiang1 feng2 jin4 zhu3 ren2
Rumors say that Tao Xun failed to appreciate
I came across friendship in this foreign land (uncertain)
(These two lines are tricky, the meanings suggested by these words do not seem to make sense)


Pinyin pronunciation:

zi4 shi4 peng2 hu2 tian1 bu4 lao3
bi4 tao2 hua1 de5 zui4 chang2 sheng1
I believe in the fairy mountain and the ageless sky
Let us live to eternity beneath the golden peach blossoms
Another mysterious aspect of this object is whether the paintings and the poems were created by the same person. The painted scenes of figures appear to suggest a moment before a feast began when the guests and attendants carried out some form of offering. The mountain scenes are decorative. The same red seal mark consistently appears in the corner of the calligraphy squares suggesting this is the poet’s mark, is believed to provide information of who wrote the scripts, which is however, not yet identified.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian says:

    My wife is Chinese and can probably help with translation. I work for Leeds Museums and Galleries, conservation staff, based at Temple Newsam. My wife's name is Thanh Fraser, can be contacted by email at


  2. Ian says:

    In fact in the furniture store at Temple Newsam I have a ten panel, full size Chinese screen, that is very similar in layout (structural conservation, and putting back proper Chinese hinges, works nearly done). Very good quality painting and calligraphy on it. It will be going back to Lotherton Hall at some stage.


  3. tariq14639 says:

    ally very relevant article with the topic it is good work.


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