Review by Solandia
“The magic, charm, excitement and poetry of ancient China.”
Originally published a few years ago in China as the ‘Chinese Ladies Tarot’, these Tarot images by Der Jen have been reprinted again, this time by Lo Scarabeo.
The major arcana feature young, attractive men and women (mostly women), dressed in traditional Chinese costumes. They are in set luxurious surroundings, wearing silk robes, rich jewelled combs and decorated head-dresses. All their faces are life-like and photo-real – some almost look like photographs - and are very pale and blushed with pink on the cheeks. I really liked the pose of the High Priestess, the way she has her hands held flat just beneath her closed eyes, like she sees beneath the surface.
There is personality in the major cards, and the Knave, Knight, Queen and King court cards are similar. It’s nice to see the energy and personality of the courts reflected in the image: the Queen of Chalices is dreamy, the Knight of Pentacles look cautious, the Queen of Wands looks confident, and the Knight of Swords looks full of wild energy. (The Queen of Swords does also look friendly and approachable, but on the whole they are an accurate reflection of the archetype.)
The minor arcana are not illustrated scenes like the Rider-Waite or even decorated pips as in the Marseilles; just simple arrangements of suit elements on a plainly coloured background. While the suits are labelled Chalices, Pentacles, Wands and Swords, the cards depict Chinese-style suit elements. Chalices are ornate, saddle-shaped vessels with carved decorations on a yellow and dark green background. Pentacles are Chinese coins with the hole in the centre, on a black and beige wash. The Wands are gold and have crown-like ringed top, and are set on a bluish-green and brown background. On the Swords cards, all of the swords are set in gold scabbards set with rubies, emeralds, and coloured stones, and placed vertically against a warm yellow-reddish-brown colour blend.
There are blue-green borders surrounding the tarot images, which also contain small blue and white yin-yang symbols halfway up the verticals. They’re a little distracting as they overlap the tarot scene itself; the colours don’t really match; and the illustrations themselves look Chinese in style without needing the yin-yang symbol to make it obvious. The backs are reversible, and have a blue stylised Chinese dragon mirrored on each half of the card, with accents off yellow, blue and green.
In the usual format for a Lo Scarabeo companion booklet, this booklet has explanations and keyword card meanings that are simple - and fairly extraneous. The most interesting part is the three original spreads: the Spread of the Five Forces, the Tai Chi Tu Spread, and the Spread of Changes.
The China Tarot is a youthful-feeling deck, with appealing Eastern-themed illustrations in the European tarot tradition. I would have preferred to see similarly illustrated minor arcana cards rather than repetitive pip cards it does has, but it’s still a workable and very attractive deck.