My father-in-law showed us an ivory pipe that his family has had for many decades.

I can’t identify the characters by looking up the radical and then the remaining strokes.

Can anyone help out?

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2 Answers 2


It looks like "三年明命". I cannot understand it exactly but perhaps it means "you can know your destiny in three years".

What's more, I noticed that the character "命" was written incorrectly.

Add: If "明命" means a reign title of Vietnam, "三年明命" shows that this pipe was made in 1822. And it seems so.

  • 2
    "明命" was also a reign title of Vietnam.
    – T-Pioneer
    Jul 14, 2021 at 5:14
  • Was it the time when ancient Vietnam was under the "rule" of the Ming Dynasty? Jul 14, 2021 at 5:37
  • @WayneCheah Just see here: zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%98%8E%E5%91%BD
    – T-Pioneer
    Jul 15, 2021 at 2:16
  • 明命三年 sounds more appropriate if 明命 refers to a reign title.
    – Alan Zzz
    Jul 15, 2021 at 18:57
  • @AlanZzz Maybe Vietnamese follow a different rule to order words in sentences. "南方银行" is "银行方南" in modern Vietnamese.
    – T-Pioneer
    Jul 16, 2021 at 4:31

It is 三年明命, written with modern pen and poor calligraphy skill. The words 三年明命 does not make sense to me. The writer may be a kid or a teenager, or a non-native Chinese learner, and possibly not Chinese but from other Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam.

  • How did you make sure that it was written with a modern pen but not a knife or something else?
    – T-Pioneer
    Jul 16, 2021 at 4:29
  • @T-Pioneer Firstly, there is no 笔锋 and there are 渗墨. What's more, you are from Yangzhou, China so you can also see that that's the writing of ordinary people, not written calligraphy pro, so there is more possibility that it is written by modern ink pen. For these two reasons I was 90% sure. I haven't considered by knife, and it is also possible, but I can't imagine 'something else' since using a pen to write is far more common than everything else. I am not familiar with writing with knife but consider the round 收笔 I think with a pen is higher in probability. Jul 16, 2021 at 8:04
  • Thank you so much, but there is still one question: how can one use an ink pen to write on an ivory pipe? It is so hard. Maybe it is a special kind of pen?
    – T-Pioneer
    Jul 17, 2021 at 1:54
  • @T-Pioneer That makes a point. The ivory pipe is smooth on the surface, so the ink of normal pen could not stay on it. Jul 17, 2021 at 4:06

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