More of the Cultural Edifices of China’s neo-Imperial Aristocracy – posted by T.E. Yu 20th July 2012
Bird Culture – A ‘Garden Colony’ (typically of a single type in 10,000-20,000 sq feet aviaries (or if larger several popular species)) that ONLY owners of Siheyuan can properly and humanely indulge in among the neo-Aristocracy’s Scholar Gardens.
The highly developed sensitivity of the Chinese Bird Culturist among the neo-Imperial Aristocracy has deep scorn for 3ft to 5ft square, even 10ft ft square cages as main living spaces for their beloved ornamental or song birds. Typically owners who do travel out with their birds regularly display 2 characteristics :
1) the owners are sensitive and communicate well with their birds, are able to coax their birds into the cages
2) the birds are very well rested and happy to accompany the owners on their trips
Thus the number of bird culturists in society are typically small and highly elite, clustered in the most urban of imperial boulevards, and for certain almost always are Scholarly Garden owners if not professional (not the pet mill type though) bird breeders. Materials range from bamboo (cheapest), bone ivory (intermediate), to brass clad ornamental stone (expensive), and jadeite inlaid ivory (these are extremely rare).
General Sizes of Travel Display Cages for Each Species and ‘Cage Play Skills’ :
The sizes of circular Chinese birdcages are defined by the diameters of the cages which is similar to the lengths of the centrally placed perches. The tradition to use the appropriate size for each species has changed very little over the years. 8 to 9 inches cages are used for oriental white-eyes, 10 to 12 inches cages for most finches, 14 inches cages for hwameis and magpie robins (slightly larger cages are sometimes used for these species today) and depending on the length of the tail feathers, cages 16 inches and above are used for white-rumped shamas.
A bird that after acclimatisation to the surroundings and to the display bamboo cage will over time, develop a ‘cage play’ (movements within the cage) that is most natural to its species. After which the bird is introduced to spacious aviaries as well, with stints in the smaller cage to retain ‘cage play skills’.
The size and variation of the bamboo cage help to define the type of cage play a bird may be skilled in. Good cage play skills are highly desirable to some hobbyists (much like technicians), though the ‘soul nature’ of large aviary only birds is considered far more valuable to the more sensitive among birders who can discern fidgeting fidgeting from a bird who has ‘lived spaciously’ unskilled though that bird might be!
Over time, a ‘Skilled Bird’ (some would say cooped up into OCD . . . ) well acclimatized to the small space of a bamboo cage will also be conditioned to channel most of its energy into its songs and physical displays. The limited space within the cage is intended to heighten the intensity of the performance of an in-form bird with an abundance of energy – so as not to dilute performance. Conversely a bird from the neo-Apexer preferred large aviary is valued for it’s ’emnative nature’ or ‘wild soul’, giving rise to many a reflective conversation on the distressed state of the lower classes interred in high density tiny pigeonholecoop flats or rabbit hutch houses, or high density duplexs or ‘detached homes’ with little more than 10 feet of space on either side as opposed to the Estate Dwellers, sprawling Villa owners and Siheyuan owners!
A ‘Balanced Bird’ can also be ‘trained’ and the same bird could also be kept in a spacious aviary as often required that retention of developed desired cage play or songs will not be lost. A full time aviary bird or ”Free’ Bird’ has far less ‘cage play skill‘ but is eminently preferred for breeding or Scholar Garden residency-companionship purposes for their ‘soul nature/wild soul‘, instead of ‘show birds’. The abundant space maintains the least skilled but most suitable breeders while ‘show birds’ spend stints between cage types and aviaries so as not to dilute the energy during a performance.
In the Pro ‘Noble-Savage’ set among the naturist inclined within elite, (as opposed to the insanity situations of of sparrows kept on leashes or song birds looking ragged in their cruelly-small cages by children has mostly ended . . .) birds at all levels are allowed to choose to fly off, or if the owner is insistent and particularly conscientious – released into a area of suitable wilderness that species naturally occurs in, once they have bred their 3rd brood for breeders to continue, or reach ‘retirement’ age (this varies but is the equivalent of when a bird reaches 55 or for the ‘Pro-Noble-Savage’ types, even for performance song birds – at the ripe old equivalent of 35!). The reasoning being that the ’35 year old birds’ will still have sufficient interest and vigor for life, suffered less in enclosed environs, and thus will have capacity to enjoy, associate with and who knows perhaps even teach the naturally occuring wild population all they have learnt in the company of humans. This of course is not an option among the ‘tiny cage’ or ‘keep in cage till ‘old age’ and ‘death’ advocates, skilled as their space, freedom and poorly socialised, companionship frustrated birds may be. Though costly and ‘yielding’ less, ICCR in the interest of humane treatment of a pet that has brough so much pleasure for near 1/3 of natural life, advocates the ‘Freebird’ with ‘release into wild’ retirement at equivalent ‘Bird Age’ of 35. Released birds sometimes are tagged with distinctly designed or cheaply plated gold rings so that a former owner can identify their former pets in the area released in or if the pet comes back for a visit!.
Example of an Extant ‘Song Bird Garden’ Of The Day
In Hong Kong, Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is considered lower end, and strictly for ‘skilled bird’ types, not unusual to see the occasional old man riding around with bird cages attached too their bicycles. Occupying an area of about 3000 square metres, this charming though not particularly spacious Chinese-style garden is located in Mong Kok. It is the favoured gathering place of Hong Kong’s songbird owners though impacted and dominated by the 70 or so songbird stalls selling row upon row of Twa-twas or Picolets, mynahs, cockatiels and starlings, skylarks and grosbeaks, rose finches, plovers, oriental magpie robins and Mongolian larks also. Not exactly a proper Scholar Garden per se. (If only Yuyuan Garden could consider something for the upper crust?)
Among the birds favored for their songs are tiny Japanese white-eyes and hwamei. Exotic birds like fallvettas, leaf birds and yhina however only naturally occur in the wild and need to be kept in large conservatories by wealth hobbyists. Bird singing contests are often held on off day mornings, with 2 categories of winners being the birds that can sing the highest number of different songs in 15 minutes or the birds which sing the best or have the most pleasing presence by vote. Younger birds are trained by placing them near older birds which the younger birds usually imitate out of boredom (this is the skilled bird). The best birds cost as much as $2,000. Untrained birds sell for as little a $1.50 but ones who have been trained for a year fetch as much as $300.
Keeping song birds was frowned upon during the cultural revolution and viewed as a crime in the Cultural Revolution. These days though, one is hard pressed to even find a fair community of apex classers who appreciate this millenia old hobby!
Typically those who are unable to afford the time (dedicated Birding Staff) and space or lack devotion to the hobby, tediousness of coaxing birds from cage to cage (evolution of 1000s of years never designed or inlined birds to associate much with humans or transfer from cage to cage) cynically do not support use of larger aviaries claiming technicality and ‘skill’ over the free spirited ‘nature’ of these birds, but as all things in nature, space is a luxury that only the apex classes can understand that the lower classes do not and may never understand. The elitist owner of the Scholar Garden aviaries within their Siheyuan (balanced bird) is as different a type of man than the urban dweller (skilled bird), even as at superlative levels the Mongol or Manchu nomad herdsman (wild bird) touches on the wild and free nature of the stereotypical noble savage . . . balance is the best and the Imperial Era Chinese knew this to a tee given the design of the 20,000 square foot 5 Jin and above Siheyuan, very much a cage in the grey Urbanscapes of the day, even as high density low rise went hi-density hi-rise in this era!