Friendship encapsulated: The gift of the Chinese figurines

For more than 30 years, Brisbane Girls Grammar School has established and maintained relationships with overseas schools. These special connections encourage and promote linguistic and cultural exchanges that enrich the global and learning aims of our School.

In July 2000, Girls Grammar organised and hosted an international conference for Languages Other than English (LOTE) on our Spring Hill campus. Representatives came from our Affiliate Sister Schools in Japan and China. Our Chinese Sister School, Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School, presented our School with a fascinating and valued gift of miniature figurines.

Chinese Figurine gift from Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School

This set of Chinese figurines, approximately 52 centimetres wide by 38 centimetres high, mounted on a red cloth with a red and gold border, has been set in a black frame. The figures represent the 56 different ethnic groups in China. In Chinese culture, red is a symbol of good fortune, happiness and joy, while gold symbolises wealth and prosperity. This significant gift from our Sister School not only signifies the importance of our connections but serves to spread the message of good fortune and prosperity for both schools.

The first gentleman at the top left hand represents the Han ethnic group, which comprises the majority of the Chinese population–approximately 93 per cent. The remainder of the figurines represent the 55 minority ethnic groups in their most typical and traditional garments, which are often quite colourful. Each figurine, male or female, is signed alongside the ethnicity of that figure. Together, these figures speak to the totality of Chinese identity and the national solidarity of China.

The first gentleman from the Han ethnic group

Chinese figurines have been produced for thousands of years throughout China’s long history. Craftspeople made these figurines in different styles and from various materials, including ceramic, clay, and porcelain. These figurines were typically cast in the desired shape and then refined with hand carving. They are then hand-painted and often glazed to enhance their beauty. Traditionally, figurines should bear the marks of chisels and other tools. These marks should be slightly irregular, showing the hand of the craftsperson.

Each ethnic group is signed with the ethnicity of that figure

Chinese figurines

Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School is a public, all-girls, weekly boarding high school that offers accommodation to its students in dormitories on campus.

The partnership with Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School was signed in 1996. At that time, the Queensland Government was encouraging schools, particularly independent schools, to establish ties with educational institutions in China. The Shanghai school came highly recommended, and its aims and philosophy mirrored those of Girls Grammar.

In 1996, on the signing of our mutual partnership, the teaching of Chinese was still relatively new to Girls Grammar and marked an exciting page in our history. To celebrate the occasion, a group of seven Year 11 students, including Jennifer Abernethy, Phyllis Chan, Catriona McDonald, May Nakajima, Leah Kinnon, Yan Cheng, and Emma Hutchison (all 1997), accompanied by then teacher of Chinese, Mr Justin Lam, and myself (then Director of International Studies), travelled to Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School. Students were hosted by families, while the teachers were housed in the boarding school. In particular, Mr Lam and I were privileged to meet student Amy Qui and her parents. Amy guided us around for a day and we concluded the day with a lovely meal in her apartment.

1996 Sister School trip to Shanghai No 3 Girls’ High School

Shanghai No.3 Girls’ High School began life as St Mary’s Hall, established in 1881, and the McTyeire School, established in 1892. In 1952, these two schools were taken over by the People’s Government of Shanghai and merged into Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School.

As one of the first Shanghai Municipal Experimental and Model Schools, Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School has, through ongoing study and international exchange programs, become the basis of research into girls’ education in China, as well as a place of cultural exchange.

Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School is also a founding member of the Strategic Alliance of Global Educators (SAGE) which was formed in 2012. The intent of SAGE is to unite top forward-looking and innovative schools from around the world. Educators come together to form professional networks that allow wider and deeper sharing of pedagogical ideas, resources, and best practices.

1996 Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School visit to BGGS with Mr Zhang, Mr Gao and Ms Judith Hancock

Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School encourages students to be ‘IACE girls’: girls of ‘independence, ability, care, and elegance’. This motto aims to capture distinct traits that will inspire the students and alumnae to become leading women of their time and, like Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School has produced generations of successful alumni. Both schools take pride in each being ‘a cradle of talented women’.

In 2022, Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School celebrated a significant milestone of 130 years of excellence in girls’ education in China. Girls Grammar Principal, Ms Jacinda Euler Welsh, delivered an inspiring online speech to celebrate their accomplishments and to affirm the enduring friendship between our schools. Ms Euler Welsh spoke about how the two schools share a similar approach to academic achievement and a holistic education, across generations.

‘I was struck by the similarities of our two schools, both inner city schools, but yours was certainly a beautiful green oasis,’ Ms Euler Welsh said. ‘Inside these beautiful grounds and the magnificent historic buildings, there was a true curiosity in learning and the belief in the importance of girls’ education … an understanding of the power and transformative experience of learning’.

1996, First Chinese exchange delegates from Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School including BGGS host billeting students, Adele and Emma Marriott (middle row, right)

While the pandemic halted in-person exchanges, even in this hiatus of reciprocal visits, we maintained our communications and are reminded often of our connection through the gifts that our Affiliate Schools have given us over the years. Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School has often gifted calligraphy art that incorporates messages and the spirit of friendship.

Art is also represented in gifts from our Japanese schools, and our Sister Schools in France and Germany have often gifted works, art or books that relate to the history of their regions. French gifts of art are usually from artists local to the town of Angouleme, home of our Sister school. However, whatever the gift, it is the essence of our friendship that imbues each and every gift with meaning and memories.

Until the onset of the global pandemic, exchanges between our two schools happened regularly and we we will soon resume our program of in-person student exchange. Recent times of adversity have not dimmed our commitment to working together with all our overseas schools. We continue to strengthen and cement our educational ties and the significant friendships that we have nurtured across the decades with our Sister School program, providing unique and enriching opportunities for our students that now span generations.

At the time of this gift of the figurines, Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School was one of five International Affiliate or Sister schools with which Girls Grammar was in permanent partnership. These affiliations are celebrated and are as strong today.

The set of Chinese figurines, hanging appropriately in the Director’s office of the International Studies Faculty, is a constant reminder of our relationship with Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School and of the rich cultural heritage that underscores such relationships for our students and the entire Girls Grammar community.

Ms Lorraine Thornquist (Williams, 1967)
Manager, Fine Arts Collections



BGGS 1996 Magazine

Euler Welsh, Jacinda Online speech to Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ High School, 9 September 2022.