I finished this painting about a month ago, but didn’t have time to photograph it properly until now.
A three-legged crow (三足乌) or Golden crow (金乌) is the Sun spirit in Chinese mythology. It lives in the Fusang tree (扶桑), which is a giant mulberry tree in the Eastern Seas, and travels the sky in a carriage every day. Originally there were ten crows and ten suns in the world, but they bothered people by coming out all at once and making the world burn, so some archer shot nine of them down, making the species nearly extinct. Now there’s only one left.
While preparing to a Classical Chinese class today, I came upon a popular chapter from Mencius (4th century BC) that mentions a hard choice between two of his most favorite delicacies, fish and bear paw, when he can’t have both. The choice is supposed to be a really hard one (and he chooses bear paw, which is supposed to sound really logical to the guy he’s talking to). This chapter is included in all the Classical Chinese textbooks, so I’ve read it many times, but each time I see it I still find it very funny, because I have this picture of the great philosopher standing in a supermarket and choosing between some fish and a packaged bear paw.
So this time I just couldn’t help it and made an illustration.
The bubble reads “I can have both an once! Isn’t it wonderful!!” in Ancient Chinese. And the sign on the shelf is a typical Chinese supermarket sign that says “buy one get one free”.
I made some more sketches of the same character from the Mandarin Chinese textbook I use at work, a Russian girl called Lena who is studying in China. I was curious to see if I could make several sketches of the same character so that she would be recognizable – I’ve never really tried it before. And I guess I’m satisfied with the results, enough at least to try moving on to doing the same thing with some other character from the same textbook.
I guess part of why I like making illustrations for this textbook is that it reminds me of my own time in China (I studied there for 2 years, not counting all the short trips). I was drawing this Chinese food on the table, and I almost felt the taste of steamed dumplings from that little place near our campus in Shanghai. When I graw this sketches, I attribute my own experience to the characters and it makes them a lot more real for me, more like personal acquaintances than just generic textbook characters. And since I teach using this textbook everyday anyway, this adds another dimention to the teaching process. Plus it’ s good illustration practice, of course.
To my surprise (I’ve been teaching Chinese for a few years now and never tried doing textbook illustrations until a few weeks ago), I realised that I was sitting there grading my students’ homework and thinking about possible illustrations of the lesson we are currently on in our textbook. And since drawing textbook illustrations is a great way to procrastinate grading piles of homework, it’s obvious which I chose to do.
The dialog in the textbook is about a student who has so much schoolwork that she spends all her weekends studying in her room. Only after finishing the bedside table I realised that the furniture layout in the room in the picture was exactly the same as my dorm in Shanghai two years ago.
Following a long discussion with my colleagues about the illustrations in the Mandarin textbook we use at work (which are not too great, to put it mildly), I came up with a quick sketch for the topic I was teaching this morning – buying fruit.