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The Blue Willow China Pattern

When I was a little girl, my Great Aunt Eva, who lived in London, gave me a little china tea set with a blue willow pattern. It was not a full sized set, but the kind of thing one could use to throw a tea party for one's dolls. It was a nice gift, and I used it a lot, and in time, through a lot of moves, I lost most of the pieces.

I never married, so no one ever threw me one of those bridal showers, and I didn't ever get a full set of dinner plates. But somehow that blue willow china pattern had made a big impression on me. When I moved to Missouri with my two year old daughter, the local grocery store ran a promotion. You could get a piece of blue willow china with every grocery purchase over a certain total. That's how I bought my current set of china, piece by piece. And that is the china I serve meals on every day to our small family of three. Over the years, I've chipped a few pieces, but surprisingly, Bow has never broken any of my china.

A Blue Willow Plate Image Credit: The Wikipedia

A Blue Willow Plate Image Credit: The Wikipedia

Making Up Stories about The Blue Willow Plates

When my daughter was very little, she and I used to make up stories about the figures that appear on the blue willow plate. We would especially focus on the three people who are going over the bridge. My daughter also liked to talk about the two birds flying high above the blue willow scenery. Our stories would vary from day to day. But did you know that there are traditional stories associated with the Blue Willow Pattern?

I will share a few of them with you.

The Blue Willow Story

Legend has it that there was once a wealthy mandarin whose daughter was more beautiful than the graceful willow tree itself. The young girl fell in love with a servant of her father's, a poor accountant of low and common birth. Her father became very angry. He fired his daughter's suitor and built a high fence around his house to keep the pair apart. Instead, he betrothed his daughter to a highborn gentleman, a Duke. The marriage was to be consummated on the day the last blossom fell from the willow tree. But the accountant arrived on the eve of the wedding and carried the bride away in the Duke's ship which was laden with the gold and jewels which  the Duke had brought as bride price. The two escaped to a secluded island, where they lived for some time in great and untroubled happiness. But in time the Duke caught up with them and had them put to death. The gods, taking pity on the young lovers, turned them into a pair of doves who flew away.

Willow Pattern Plate

The Willow Pattern -- an operetta

Playbill for the "The Willow Pattern" Image Credit: The Wikipedia

Playbill for the "The Willow Pattern" Image Credit: The Wikipedia

China Lore as a Way To Promote Sales of the Willow Pattern

Some say that this story was invented two hundred years after the china pattern was imported to England, and that its sole purpose was to promote the sale of the willow tree pattern. In time, even an operetta was written to enact and dramatize this story. As a marketing campaign to enhance the value of a china pattern, it was an ingenious move.

A Very Old Snapshot: Friendship and Blue Willow China

My daughter whispers a secret to a friend on a play date while snacks are served on blue willow china

My daughter whispers a secret to a friend on a play date while snacks are served on blue willow china

Before I gave up Coke, I was already into Blue Willow

From the same period as my daughter's playdate, Bow enjoys grapes on blue willow china

From the same period as my daughter's playdate, Bow enjoys grapes on blue willow china


The History of the Blue Willow Pattern

So what is the real story behind the blue willow china pattern? Some say the that the blue willow pattern is the way the illegal Hung Society defied the Manchu rulers they considered to be alien invaders unjustly tyrannizing China. The plates were meant to remind members of the Hung society of their pledge to defend Chinese and Buddhist values.

The Manchu are supposed to have destroyed all the original blue willow pattern pottery and plates except those smuggled out of the country. The design made its way into England in the 18th century and was re-introduced into China from England in the 19th century.

Whatever the truth of these various legends may be, the Willow Pattern has made a big impression on my family, and it is on this very china that the only literate chimpanzee in the world takes his meals every day.

(c) 2010 Aya Katz

The bananas are in a blue willow serving plate

The bananas are in a blue willow serving plate

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The Willow Pattern Story

Books by Aya Katz


Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 12, 2013:

I think it must have been really nice to go camping in a ghost town with your dad. That is a memory to treasure!

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on July 12, 2013:

Well you are definitely doing that with your new site Historia Obscura, and books on historical topics. Yes, my dad is very much into all the treasure hunt stuff. He even used take us to ghost towns to go camping. He is very much into the thrill of the hunt.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 11, 2013:

Some people enjoy finding bargains at thrift stores or yard sales. That can be a fun thing, if you view it as a treasure hunt. Maybe that's what your dad likes to do.

I like creating, too, though I am not as into crafts as you are. I kind of enjoy finding hidden treasures in history, in nature and in the people I meet.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on July 11, 2013:

Resort community, but I no longer live up there. Not everyone is rich per se, but my dad worked for a few people who were celebrities and doctors, so that is how he learned about finding stuff. Personally, not interested in scouting out stuff like he does, but I am glad he enjoys doing that. I prefer to focus on creating.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 11, 2013:

Well, it's nice that they give useful things away, anyway.

Nobody around where I live is rich. But most people are happy, which is what matters.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on July 11, 2013:

Oh the people in Lake Arrowhead are definitely rich. They have multimillion dollar homes. Many of these are second and third ones. I would think they would treasure heirlooms, but the china set was not exactly an heirloom set. Just a nice china set, and they probably bought something new. Contractors and electricians often get nice stuff like picture frames people will throw away even. That is how I got some new ones that say golf course on them, which I was going to paint over. These are wood frames though, and I can do something amazing with these.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on July 11, 2013:

Thanks, SweetiePie. It was nice that your dad found you a beautiful set of china at a reasonable price.

I think people who constantly sell their old things to get new things can't really be rich. They are just restless with regard to material things. Truly rich people treasure the things they have, especially heirlooms. They keep them no matter what new thing they may also get.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on July 10, 2013:

I like this blue willow china. I had bought this adorable china teacup with a picture of a cat on it, but unfortunately I broke it. I do have a nice set of china that was made in Japan with a beautiful flora design. My dad found this really nice set at the second hand store up in the mountains where a lot of rich people simply get rid of stuff they never really used because they always buy a new set, or get a new set of something.

Janie Walsh on December 09, 2010:

Transferware is most wonderful beautiful china ever produced. I have also a willow teaset, it's fabulous. I want to know more about it. I hope you have a great day.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 20, 2010:

MPG Narratives, thanks for sharing that memory. I think anyone who has ever encountered the blue willow china pattern has strong, meaningful memories associated with it.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on September 20, 2010:

Back in the day I shared a flat with a girl who owned a dinner set in this pattern and we loved to use it to eat our dinner in front of the TV. Beautiful pattern and thanks for the great stories.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 16, 2010:

ReuVera, ah ha! Yeah, most of it comes from England. And, yes, everything tastes better on blue willow!

ReuVera from USA on September 16, 2010:

I've just checked my tea set, it was made in England! Haha.

Yes, Aya, it was worth taking additional precautions to pack and preserve this small, 4-person willow pattern tea set through our movings. The tea out of these cups tastes better. :)

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 16, 2010:

anglnwu, thanks! I'm not surprised that the stories about the Blue Willow pattern are better known in the West than in China. For one, thing some of the stories may not be authentic, and were just a marketing ploy by an English merchant. But even to the extent that the pattern does originate in China, it was pretty much stamped out there for a long period of time by the rulers, only to be re-introduced by foreigners. That's why when I think of the Blue Willow pattern, I associate it more with my real life experiences with England and the English, and not with my memories of Chinese culture from Taiwan. Nevertheless, there's definitely a China connection!

anglnwu on September 15, 2010:

I'm Chinese and I don't even know the stories associated with the Blue Willow pattern. Thanks for the interesting narration and the fantastic pictures. I love how Bow is snacking out the blue willow plate. Of course, your daughter is lovely.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 15, 2010:

Samina, good of you to drop by! I see that you associate this China with the UK, too. I would love to see a picture of your grandmother's traditional chocolate colored willow crockery!

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 15, 2010:

ReuVera, thanks for your comment. You and I seem to lead parallel lives sometimes. I imagine it was really hard to preserve your willow pattern tea set through your many moves across the globe. But it was worth it, right?

Samina on September 15, 2010:

Hi Dr Katz, so impressed by reading your stories on Blue Willow Pattern. Since I came to UK I too liked this stuff.But I still remember that long time ago my grandmother had lovely crockery, a look-alike of blue willow pattern but in chocolate colour but not chinese though, something traditional. Never seen after that. Your this hub on blue willow awakened me on that piece of my grandmother's crockery...alas!

ReuVera from USA on September 15, 2010:

Amazing! We have a willow pattern tea set and I kept it through all our movings and immigrations, such a power these pictures have!

When I was a child I also used to make stories about people and animals from the pictures on chinas and trays. Just like with Mary Poppins :) but no one got into life, though.

Enjoyed your hub. Thanks.

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 15, 2010:

China man, wow! I would never have guessed that the blue willow china pattern could entice someone to join the navy in order to see the world! Guilin sounds like a beautiful place!

I lived in Taiwan for three years, but somehow when I was there, it made me think of the Middle East, with its sesame treats and it exotic yet familiar fruit. On the other hand, my association for blue willow china, despite its Chinese provenance, is mostly things to do with England, English culture and English manners.

However, the Chinese heritage that is ingrained in the pattern itself was not lost on my daughter and her friends when they were little.

Anyway, it's a rare thing when plates have so much to say to us!

Aya Katz (author) from The Ozarks on September 15, 2010:

Hi, Wendy. Thanks for your comment. It is indeed a beautiful pattern!

china man on September 15, 2010:

Cool hub ! WE had willow pattern plates at home when I was a kid as decoration. It was the patterns that talked to me about exotic places and part of the reason I joind the Navy to see the world. The particular patterns that fascinated me were of the strange mountains with trees fgrowing out of ht side and little pagodas clinging to rock ledges. These are the main reason I moved to Guilin here in China - just last month - where these scenes are typical in the landscape. I am now busy touring around in my spare time and photographing as much as possible, but I will stay here maybe 18 months and so have plenty of time. Amazing the power of those willow plates huh !

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on September 14, 2010:

This is a beautiful Pattern.

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