In Western horror stories, bats are often associated with vampires as frightening, blood-sucking creatures of the night.

But there is little frightening in this exquisite and compact exhibition, as the bat in Chinese iconography is considered an auspicious animal. The Chinese for “bat” has a similar pronunciation as “good fortune”, and images of the bat traditionally appear on a range of objects alongside other auspicious symbols to bestow propitious messages and greetings.

One of the famille-rose peach and bat decorated ceramic dishes on display.

Co-organised by the Asia Society and Chinese University of Hong Kong Art Museum and curated by the museum’s Xu Xiaodong, the exhibits, including ceramics, jade carvings, paintings and textiles with bat designs are predominantly sourced from Hong Kong museums, including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and collectors.

A highlight is the reuniting from separate collections of a pair of beautiful famille-rose peach and bat decorated ceramic dishes, displayed together for the first time in 30 years. Dating from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), the combined motifs of bat and peach represent good fortune and longevity. In a wonder of small-scale composition, ripe peaches skirt the dishes’ circumference while three red bats hover in the empty space of an imagined sky.

The one contemporary intervention in the exhibition is Chinese artist Sun Xun’s impression of a bat cave by projecting a short looped video of groups of bats in flight onto the gallery’s historic vaulted ceiling.

Sun Xun works on his mural.

Also, on a long corridor wall, Sun has painted in situ a freehand mural of bats in flight and fight through a mystical mountain and cloud landscape. This alludes to an exhibited court robe of the Guangxu period (1875-1908) of embroidered bats amid a design depicting eternity: “May your blessings and longevity be as great as the mountains and oceans.”

This excellent exhibition is complemented by seminars and nighttime walks to see the fruit bats living near the Asia Society.

Bat Cave – Treasures of the day, creatures of the night

Asia Society, until January 3, 2016


PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 5:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 5:00am
John Batten#ChineseIconography