“Open work” charms are among the most interesting and oldest of all Chinese charms. These are bronze charms which have irregular shaped “openings” or “holes” between very exquisite design elements.
The themes are purely pictorial so there is rarely any Chinese character or inscription. Also, owing to the design, both sides of the charm are identical.
One of the most interesting themes is a scene from a pavilion or temple complex as shown in the rubbing at the left.
There are a number of activities taking place.
Just above the square hole in the middle is a two-story pavilion. Inside can be seen a person playing the guqin. The guqin is an ancient Chinese stringed musical instrument closely associated with Confucius and the scholarly class. In the scene shown here, the guqin is the horizontal line upon which the musician has placed his hands.
There is one person each in the the small pavilions at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. While we cannot be certain, they may be composing poetry or practicing calligraphy or painting.
There are two additional figures, near the bottom center of the charm, seated between these two pavilions. They are playing the Chinese game weiqi (围棋) or go and the board with little round pieces can be seen between them.
In the very center of the charm is an arched bridge surrounded by a railing.
At the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions are “longevity stones“. “Longevity stones” are strange-shaped rocks which by their very age symbolize “long life”.
Also, just above the small pavilions on the right and left are bamboo trees. Bamboo symbolizes the Confucian scholar because it is seen as being upright, strong and resilient yet gentle, graceful and refined.
The charm appears to portray the leisurely and carefree life of scholars and retired officials although others believe that the scene is actually an idealized “Temple of Confucius” and that the individuals represent Confucius himself.
One characteristic of pavilion charms is that, unlike other types of open work charms, the center hole tends to be square instead of round.
Pavilion open work charms of this type first appeared during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and most are believed to have been cast in Dali, Yunnan Province.