Chinese Molded Gourds

Growing gourds in a mold was first mentioned in 2000 BC during the Xia Dynasty.   In China gourds were formed to hold medicines, crickets, and snuff.   The art reached its peak in the 1700's  AD during the reign of Qianglong.   These works of art could be owned only by royalty.  

Although this "casting gourd" technique was developed in China, real specimens have only survived from the 17th Century in China, in Taiwan, as well as in the other countries.  The art of molding gourds was forbidden from 1949 to 1976 by the communist government in China.  The methods have survived thanks to the work of Zhang Cairi.   You can read about him in a book by Betty Finch & Guojun Zhang: THE IMMORTAL MOLDED GOURDS OF MR. ZHANG CAIRI.

Molded Cricket Cage


During the Ching dynasty, decorated gourds were often used for cricket cages.   Keeping crickets as pets emerged in China in early antiquity.   Initially, crickets were kept for their "songs".  

In the early 12th century the Chinese people began holding cricket fights.  The art of selecting and breeding the finest fighting crickets was perfected during the Qing dynasty and remained a monopoly of the imperial court until the beginning of the 19th century.
Medicine Gourd Bottle

The Wu Lou (bottle gourd) is believed to hold the elixir of health and vitality.  Once there was an immortal  (Ti Kuai Li) who lived in a bottle gourd and emerged each morning to sell medicine.   

It cannot be said whether the legend or the use of the gourd bottle came first, but it is true that the earliest use of the bottle gourd was to hold liquids.   

Travelers would keep water or rice wine in the gourds.  Its role as a water container for travelers may be the reason for the Wu Lou  became a symbol of health.  It was the 'giver of health and vitality'. 

In Acient China the medicine from an apothecary was dispensed in a bottle gourd.


The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle

Tobacco was first cultivated by Native Americans both as medicine and for pleasure. Smoking, chewing, and snuffing soon spread to Europe and then, via Portuguese traders in the early 1500s, to Japan and China .   In Europe and Asia snuff was used as a highly prized royal medicine. 

Since Gourds were often employed in China as receptacles for medicines and herbs, and became a traditional symbol of medicine and healing.   In its natural form, gourd bottle snuff bottles would have appealed too and been used by doctors, druggist, and the Elite.

By the end of the Ming Dynasty the basic form of the Chinese snuff bottle was established, laying the foundation for the Golden Age of snuff bottles, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).  The Emperor Qianlong even presented a molded gourd snuff bottle to King George III. 
These Imperial bottles are now highly sought by collectors.
Oldest Molded Gourd

In the autumn of 1996, an exhibition entitled "Imperial treasures from Ho-ryu-ji" was held at the Tokyo National Museum.  Among the treasures was exhibited a gourd jar, decorated with 9 figures (and Chinese characters) by molding.  The gourd jar was documented in the book compiled in A.D. 1238 by a monk in Ho-ryu-ji. this is the oldest gourd jar decorated by molding. 

Molded Gourds were also used as vases and jars.  Today these ancient art treasures sell at auction from $2000.00 to $30,000.00 USD.
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