Wednesday, 28 February 2018

"Long cards" 1: Nantong pattern 南通长牌

[Nantong pattern], "Flower-king playing-cards"  Rugao city poker-card factory. 120c.+5
《南通长牌》--“花王纸牌” 如皋市扑克牌一厂. 120+5 張

The term 长牌 means "Long cards"  The Chinese use this term to refer to several kinds of  Traditional playing-cards. Such a term is unknown in the West. occidental catalogers prefer to classify such cards by their suit-system [Vide S. Mann]. The western classification has its benefits, but we shall use the Chinese term as our guide here, leading our way through the different types of cards used in China.  Some of these cards may seem familiar. But there is little in the western literature beyond photographs of them. In this series, we shall remedy this defect, exploring these mysterious pieces of paper in more detail

I start off with one such deck, which I call the "Nantong pattern". It has a special place in my heart. Until recently, it was the greatest regret of my collecting career.

Sometime in 2010-2012, I was in Geylang, Singapore . It is a place famed for its food, and brothels. Walking back from a restaurant, I noticed something in a drain. Drawing closer, it turned out to be a pile of playing-cards. They were of the Chinese style, but of a pattern I never saw before. The bottom of the cards looked like the common Ceki cards that were used in this part of the world.  But The top half of the cards was occupied with a figure. Furthermore, the cards in the suit of myriads were not marked with the legend 萬, or any Chinese numeral. Instead, they were marked with dots, like dice.  I did not pick the cards up. After all, they might have been the remnants of an illegal gambling den. But a regret lingered in my mind.

  The only other time I saw the cards, was in a mahjong-set. A piece of cardstock, on which the pattern had been printed was used to hold the dice. Other sets in that shop had paper with remnants of domino-suited cards serving the same function. But it seemed preposterous to buy a whole mahjong set for a single scrap of paper. I let that pass too.

One day, whilst idly searching the internet, I found an image of these very same cards. I Clicked on the link. It led to the shop of a merchant, who sold these cards on the Chinese website Taobao. I ordered the cards at once.

The cards are known as 南通长牌-- Nantong long cards. Nantong is a city on the Yangtze river, Jiangsu. They are printed by [Rugao city poker-card factory] This deck is similar to Catalog No. 245B in Sylvia Mann's All cards on the table , but the decks are not identical. The differences will be noted at the bottom of the page. The chief difference are the figures attached to the tops of the cards. Sylvia Mann's deck seems to be made by a maker called 景記

In the notes that follow, I am indebted to Hu Baishen胡柏生 and Du Guoyuan杜国元's  book nantong long-cards-- Talking about Dazihe (南通长牌-- 话说搭子和). published by 大众文艺出版社. This book explicates the cards themselves, as well as their history and the game played with them. Readers unfamiliar with Chinese Money-suited cards may wish to peruse 

 There are three suits: Coins, Strings and myriads. Each has cards ranking one to nine. In addition, there are three extra cards, called "Generals". There are four copies of each of these cards. The deck thus contains 120 cards   The deck also has a set of five "jokers", giving a grand total of 125 cards.

The Suit of Coins, or . The Chinese word literally means " Cake". Some take it as an allusion to the cake-like ingots of silver formerly used in China.  The bottom part of the card depicts the suit-symbols proper to the card's rank. The top half of the card depicts the figure of a person. The description of the cards is adapted from Hu and Du's work. 

1: Sha Wujing, or Friar Sand. He is one of the protagonists of the Journey to the west. The bottom part of the card  depicts Shi Qian, a character from The water margin, another Chinese novel
2: Li Tieguai, one of the eight immortals
3:Zhu Bajie, a protagonist from the Journey to the West. He has the head of a pig, and bears a rake, his trademark weapon. 
4:Tang Sanzang, yet another protagonist from the the Journey to the West. He is shown riding his horse, who will carry him to India to fetch the true scriptures of Buddhism. 
5: Sun Wukong, the beloved "Monkey" of the the Journey to the West. Along with Sha Wujing and Zhi bajie, Sun wukong protects the mild-mannered Tang Zanzang in his quest. 
6: Turtle spirit.
7:Clam spirit
8: Liu Hai chan, a Chinese immortal
9: The Qilin bestowing sons. 
The first "General card" is the white flower 白花 The card itself depicts Ruan Xiauwu, a character from The water margin. The Chinese words in black are 优极 "Excellent quality"  A red overprint covers them. It depicts Taibai Jinxing, the celestial messenger in the Journey to the West.  

The suit of strings.   The figures here are Chinese immortals. 
1: Taishang Laojun, one of the three pure ones of Taoism
2: Lu dongbin, One of the eight immortals. 
3: Cao Guojiu,  another of the eight immortals. 
4: Han Xiangzi, Another of the eight immortals. He plays the flute,being the patron of flutists. 
5: Zhongli Quan, with his magical fan. He is also one of the eight immortals. 
6: Zhang Guolao, another of the Eight Immortals. 
7: Bai niangzi , Madam white snake. From the eponymous drama. 
8: The subject of the red overprint is "The heavenly official gives blessings" 天官赐福. The Chinese characters are 如皋市扑克牌一厂, the maker's name. 
 9: The black Chinese character is , written in the archaic seal script. For its significance, see below. 
The second General card is the 红花, or Red Flower. It depicts Wu Song, one of the characters from The water margin. He is depicted with bulging eyes, a bare chest [with a pair of nipples!] and a pair of boots. The boots seem strangely unconnected to his body. 
The Red flower and nine of strings have the same overprint: A flower. 

The suit of myriads. In Other kinds of money-suited card, the values in this suit are shown by Chinese numerals. In this deck, the values are marked by dots. In addition to the figures in the top half of the card, the bottom part depicts yet another person. I will mark the figure on the top half by T, and the bottom half by B. Characters from the water margin are be marked with the initials WM

1: T: Hu sanniang, B: Yan Qing, (both WM)
2: T: Lan Caihe, one of the eight immortals B: Yang Zhi (WM)
3T: Guan Sheng B: Li kui, both from WM
4: T: Lu zhishen, alias Monk Hua,  B: Chai Jin (both WM)
5: T: He xiangu, one of the eight immortals B; Li Jun (WM)
6: T: Shi Jin. B: Sun Li (both WM)
7: T: Zhu tong B: Qin Ming (both WM)
8: Red overprint: Wu Yong B: Ruan Xiaoqi, the "Living king of hell"  (both WM)
9: T: The words 塑光.  B Lei Heng (WM) . The card has an overprint of a red flower

The last General is the 千子, or "Thousand children". Unique the other general cards, it is depicted as if it were a member of this suit, bearing ten dots. The card depicts Ruan Xiaowu, again from The Water Margin. The red overprint seems to have an inscription in seal-script, but unfortunately I cannot understand it. 

The five jokers. Four of them are marked 百搭- "Hundred connections". One of them is marked 小先生-- “ Little Sir" . On the other end,the cards bear one of the following words; [wealth] ,[rank],寿[longevity] , [fortune] and [joy]. The top half of the cards depicts an animal. 

The inscriptions on the four cards above reads 江蘇如皋-- Jiangsu, Rugao [city]. The place where the cards are made. 
The main game played with this deck is called 笃子胡 or 搭子胡 in a subsequent post, I will describe the rules of the game.

Notes on Sylvia Mann's Catalog 245B 

As mentioned above, a very similar deck of cards is featured in Sylvia Mann's  Alle Karten auf den tisch / All cards on the table [ 1990] She dates the deck to the late 19th century,. The deck possesses 120 cards, [4 x 30] plus five cards-- exactly the same as the Rugao deck. Her notes on the deck are sparse. She notes the domino-like markings on the suit of myriads, and the figures on the top of the cards.  The image used to illustrate them is below:

Here are my observations on the cards.

Top row: The five jokers. They are much more elaborate than the cards of the Rugao deck

2nd row [from top] : The ace through Nine of Myriads, ace on the right, Nine on the right. The figures on the top of the cards are different from the rugao deck. The clam spirit is on the 4 of myriads, instead of the 7 of coins. The Eight of Myriads [ 2nd card from left] has the legend 永興, Yong Xing --" Eternally flourishing" 

3rd row [from top] The ace through Nine of Strings

Bottom row: From the left, The Nine, Eight, Seven, Six and Five of coins, followed by the thousand children, Red flower and White flower. The Six of coins bears the legend 景記, which may be the maker's name.

Like the Rugao deck, the Nine of Strings, Thousand children and Red flower  bear an inscription in the Seal script. Unfortunately I am incapable of reading the whole inscription,

The inscription on the Nine of myriads [2nd row, 1st from left]  is 雲.
The inscription on the Nine of strings  [3rd row, 1st from left] is 商
I am unable to read the inscription on the Ten of Myriads [ Bottom row, 6th from left]
The inscription on the Red flower [bottom row, 7th from left]  may be 實

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