I received the following inquiry:
“I have been trying to decipher, without total success, a chinese cast bronze charm – my very tentative guess would be Ming Dynasty – and wondered if I could send along a digital image of the two sides?
On the front side two of the characters are (I believe) for longevity, but the other two I do not know.
The reverse has a male figure (left) and female figure (right), with what looks like a folded big dipper above and a design in a cartouche below.
Please let me know if I can send scans.
My reply was as follows:
The inscription reads chang sheng bao ming. The chang sheng would translate as “long life” and bao ming translates as “protect life”.
The symbols on the reverse side are as follows:
1. At the top are seven dots connected by a zigzag line which is meant to represent the “Big Dipper“.
2. The figure at the left is “Dong Wang Gong”, the Royal Lord of the East, who was actually King Mu of the Zhou (Zhou Mu Wang).
3. The figure at the right is the Queen Mother of the West (Xi Wang Mu).
4. At the bottom is a circle (which represents the moon). Inside the circle is a rabbit using a pestle and mortar.
The scene describes King Mu asking the Queen Mother of the West to give him the drug of immortality. The drug of immortality was made by the rabbit that lived on the moon.
Because of the wear on the charm, it is difficult to see the rabbit. If you look closely at the circle, the rabbits ears are at the 12 o’clock position, the tail is at 3 o’clock, and the legs are at 5 o’clock. The rabbit is facing left and slightly bent over. The rabbit is making the drug of immortality using the pestle and mortar. The top of the pestle is pointing to the 11 o’clock position.
It is very difficult to date charms but charms like this first appeared in the Jin (1115-1234) or Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties.
A size of 58 mm is about right for this charm.
Hope you find the above information helpful.
Thanks for writing,