Here is a simple summary of the main characters appeared in my story.
Pardon my handwriting..
The main character Lee:
Xiunv(13)–>Noble Lady Lee(13)–>Dame Lee(14)–>Consort Lee(17), gave birth to a son, who died–>Buddhist Nun(20), after Emperor’s death–>Imperial Noble Consort Lee(23), of the new Emperor Lihong–>Empress Consort(31)
Xiunv Ou(Lee’s best friend)
Lee’s Servant(had a crush on the Prince)
Xiunv Zhao–>Noble Lady Zhao–Dame Zhao
Empress Consort Wu(of the old Emperor)
Emperor(Father of Lihong)
Empress Consort of Lihong, who was killed by Lee.
Not all characters are worth having a piece of jewelry. I am thinking of designing a few pieces for Lee, and one piece for each selected character.
All images in this article are taken from shanghaitang.com, unless specified otherwise.
I went both the store and its online website for some inspiration. I love some of its items as they are so modern looking yet they have some Chinese traditional elements.
Take the bracelet for example. it is a simple bangle with Shou or Fu or Xi, the auspicious Chinese characters on it. The overall design of the bangle is quite commonly seen, Hermes have something pretty similar.
All above images are from Shanghai Tang official website
the color of the bangle if of the customer’s choice. I personally like the snakeskin material as it looks more high class and sophisticated compared to solid color.
Some other interesting jewelries from Shanghai Tang official website:
I couldn’t list all of them down, but from what I selected we can see the elements designer put into the jewelries–cloud pattern, Chinese Ancient coin(铜钱), Chinese characters, fan, tassels, red thread, peonies, etc.
I am also attracted by its apparels and bags:
I like the leather jacket, which is so cool, so modern chic, but still have the traditional patterns/motifs printed on it. leather+tradition
The black and white Qipao in the second picture(the left) is something I would buy as well(if I have enough $ ha), I wouldn’t feel old fashioned in it although it is a qipao, the material, the shimmer and the monochrome make it wearable even for fashionable young ladies.
The black bag with cloud patterns reminds me of Gucci Jackie bag:
Anway, speaking of Gucci, its 2016 new designs is another style worth mentioning because they started to incorporate embroideries and floral paintings, which is so fascinating, playful, and traditional-modern.
However, Gucci mainly uses literal patterns while Shanghai Tang puts more elements in the designs. For example, the buttons of the men’s jacket(burgundy color) is the traditional button used in Tang Zhuang, the standing collar of men’s suit is also a subtle representation of Chinese style.
I also admire how the ladies match the attire withankle boots. Recently i have growing interest in booties because they can instantly play up the outfit by adding boy-ish chic to the style. They are heels that are not that feminine, and it shows the character of the person once you change heels to boots! Matching boots with Qipao in the advertisement making the whole outfit even more “in”, youthful, and stylish.
Below are the photos I SECRETLY took when I went to Shanghai Tang shop(Raffles City):
So they have not only apparels, jewelries, but also cups, chopsticks, wine stopper, etc.
Beautiful china with intricate patterns. Again reminds me of Hermes. Apparently not only Hermes does great stuff, although it is the most famous one.
Interesting Item! Because the featured person is the last Emperor of Qing Dynasty, a.k.a the last Emperor of China–Puyi, and his favorite concubine who is believed to be murdered by Empress Dowager Cixi. The style is Andy Warhol but the theme is so China. Like how it was played around Chairman Mao, etc.
Chopsticks and chopstick pillow(that’s the direct translation from Chinese). The prints and details make the items so much more high class. Of course, the presentation as well. I don’t think I will ever use it if I buy it back.
Chopsticks again, with Chinese Zodiac heads. They become art pieces instead of utensils. They even have their own pedestal, the presentation makes it look like some ceremonial stuff. The box for the chopstick is also so well designed or overly designed. Just like all the perfume bottles, although the smell of the perfume is the most important factor but companies still spend so much money and effort on the bottles. It is the whole package that matters.
The design of the display wardrobe has strong Chinese influence as well. The Chinese Knot中国结 , the wooden frame, red and golden color. etc.
i hope after simplify and refining my designs, my jewelries can also be modern-chic yet have the sense of tradition.
This is a short write up after week 6 consultation, to update my design direction.
My direction now is to design a set of jewelry that go according to the stories I wrote. The design I have for now is pretty complicated and resembles the Chinese antiques. However, my next aim is to simplify the design into something more modern, and yet capture the essence of the characters and the status.
Some initial sketches:
These designs are, however, too complicated for both modern aesthetics and production. So simplifying the designs and reserve the “gist and gesture” would be my next step.
Another 5 years has passed. Our son is almost 7 years old now. He is as smart as his mother, and as beautiful as her mother. My Empress Consort and Imperial Noble Consort have not creating troubles for me and have kept family affairs very organized. Probably because Lee is more decisive and My Empress Consort Wong is more obedient and soft-tempered. Lee has helped Empress Consort a lot, if not for her, the Empress Consort might get a lot of disrespect due to her quiet nature.
I have health problem since young, sometimes I am too weak to read all the memorials from officials, and Lee will help me read, even write the comments according to my will. Over time, I would allow her to comment on her own will, and inform me afterwards the issue. She has guided me about states affairs even before I became the emperor anyway.
Everything goes well until one day, a devastating news came to me—my Empress Dowager had a sudden death. There was no signs, i was till talking to her last week. The Imperial doctor says she died of disease. Although there was not much love between me and her, she has always been a good wife and a good Empress Consort. She made no mistakes and has always been supportive of me. What I can do for her now is giving her a decent funeral, and take care of her family.
The death of Empress Consort Wong leaves the position empty, and as everyone expects, Lee is soon promoted to the new Empress Consort. She has what it takes to be in that position, furthermore, she has given birth to my only son. No one can doubt her status.
As former Empress Consort just passed away, the ceremony for the new Empress Consort Lee’s titling is kept simple. Nevertheless Lee still has her phoenix crown as custom. The gold phoenix is so huge compared to her slim figure, as if it is pressing her down. Lee has reached 31 years old. She walks slowly but steadily in her heavy costume. her Bianfang is embed with coral. She looks powerful—and she IS. Sometimes I feel she is more powerful than me, she is the one connecting with the officials and suppressing the royal clans. She is the one telling me the policies I should implement for the best of my country. Sometimes I feel she is the real Emperor, I am only her assistant. Maybe all these years I never change, I am still the young prince who cares no more than my paintings and music, and my loved ones.
Few months later, a servant came to me and report that she saw something the night before Empress Consort Wong’s death. She says that she accidentally saw Ou, Lee’s best friend, secretly put something into Empress Consort’s food. She wasn’t sure what she put but after that night, Empress Consort Wong died a sudden death. She was so scared that she would be involved so she has kept the secret until now.
Can’t deny that the idea came to my mind after the death of Wong, but I chose not to believe. Even if it was Lee who poisoned Wong, I can’t afford to punish her now as I need her to assist me in states affairs, and the country can’t afford to lose two Empress Consort in few months.
However…Since the servant has come to report, I have to do something about it. I can’t declare war with Lee, and I don’t want to. AI still love her although she is not the Noble Lady Lee I knew anymore. I need to keep the peace between us.
After some thoughts I decide to take investigation of the incident, which is just a disguise in my plan. I then blame everything on Ou, who ‘wants to help her best friend on her own will, while Lee has no idea about her plot’. I gave her death punishment. I know Lee would be heartbroken–but she won’t object my decision as she knows it is the only way to keep her safe. Ou, on the other hand, is truly a good friend of Lee and has taken all the responsibilities on herself. So I decide to take care of her family after her death. Before her last day, she takes down her necklace and gives it to Lee, as a memento for her.
Instead of saying the country is under my reign, I’d rather say it is Lee’s reign. She has organized everything so orderly and nicely. The royal clans have submitted countless memorials to point arrows at her, but without her, I can’t lead the country well. Maybe after my death, she will guide the young emperor as well, or even take full control…Still I can’t order her death because I need her to fight with the royal clans and some other Officials who are trying to control the young emperor. The power need to be balanced…Until one day the new emperor is capable enough to handle all the issues on his own.
But for now, she has the power, and my love, to keep her status safe and sound.
After three years of mourning, Lee is 23 years old already. I decided to bring her back to the Imperial family-not as my father’s widow, but as MY consort. I know there will be a lot of discussions and objections, but I don’t really care about them. I am the Emperor and as long as I handle the states matter right, no one can question my reign.
I am bringing her back…She used to be my father’s Noble Consort, I want to give her something more than that, to show her that she will be having a better life with me. As I already have a wife, and she has become the Empress Consort, the highest position available now is Imperial Noble Consort. That would be the title for Lee. Finally she is my woman.
On the day of ceremony, she dresses up in the ceremonial attire. She reminds me of my mother who passed away decade ago. My mother used to be an Imperial Noble Consort of my father. She is wearing a Dianzi钿子, with phoenix pattern on one side, and flower patter on the opposite. Pearls, gems, jade..anything nice and luxurious I would give her to show everyone her status, and my love for her. The tassels move as she walks, making her even more demure and elegant. She can’t wear scarlet dress as she is not the Empress Consort. Her dress is bright yellow, the brightest yellow can be as she is the highest among all concubines.
Now she is my Imperial Noble Consort. It is like my dream come true. I respect my Empress Consort as well, she is kind and understanding, and she never show any objection in the new Imperial Noble Consort. But we were married because my father asked me to do so, not because I liked her. Anyway that is how marriage is usually arranged, by parents. Nevertheless, she will be kept as my Empress Consort, and I will provide Lee whatever I can to make her life no less than the Empress Consort.
I hope my Empress Consort and Imperial Noble Consort can get along well.
The following year, Lee is expecting our first child. I was over the moon!I almost wanted to immediately assign the kid as the successor, but I know I shouldn’t. This time, Lee gave birth to the child smoothly and the kid is kept safe after birth. I will not let Lee lose a son ever again.
In the Imperial household, having a son is like having a amulet, Lee’s status is unparalleled as my Empress Consort did not have any kid with me. Meanwhile, Lee has wide connection with the noble man in the court, as we planned before. We have been suppressing all the royal clans and promoting capable peoples who do not have strong family background.Meritocracy is more emphasized.
I have to admit that I can’t handle all the state affairs without Lee, although I am not supposed to let my concubine to learn about any court issues. She is more vigilant, decisive, and farsighted than me. She can always think of a comprehensive solution faster and better than me.
Lee has a best friend Ou, who was my father’s Xiunv but never get selected as a concubine. I allow her to visit Lee as she wishes, and sometimes stay over at Lee’s palace. Lee also has a servant from her family that has been with her since she first came to Palace. It is good that Lee has some real friends in this lonely and complicated place.
Another year passed, our son is one year old now. One day, Lee approached me and asked for a favor–she wants me to appoint marriage for her servant. I permitted her request and appoint her servant to a high rank Official’s son. Soon after which, her servant is sent out of the Palace to her new home. On the day of departure, Lee gave her a gold bracelet and some money personally. After that day, I have never seen her again. I never ask Lee why she wants to send the servant away, maybe she feels that the servant has done her duty and deserves a better life afterwards, or maybe asked Lee to do her the favor—I am not sure, as long as Lee is happy about it.
(what happened is that Lee realized her servant always dolls up whenever she knows that she is going to meet the Emperor. Slowly Lee found out that her servant secretly wants so attract Emperor’s attention and is fantasizing about becoming a concubine herself. Lee can not tolerate the servant’s betrayal so she request to send her out of the Palace. Marriage is just an excuse to kill the servant’s hope. Lee still shows mercy to the servant as she as accompany her so decade, and thus find her a good family)
Lee assists Empress Consort on daily affairs in the Imperial household. Although I continue to have new concubines from the triennial pageant, I never neglect Lee because of the new girls. As an emperor I have to take more concubines so to give birth to more children, and thus will have more choice in selecting my successor. It is a bless and a curse. I hope the rivalries between my children and my concubines next time wont be so cruel.
Lee told me I need to gain my father’s trust in a very discreet way, so that my siblings wouldn’t suspect anything or point their arrows to me. At the same time, I should show no interests in competing for the throne—until the very last moment where I supposed to act reluctant but no choice in accepting the grant. All is to protect me, and to ensure the plan is carried out smoothly.
At the end of every month, my father would meet me and test my study progress. I never liked that day as I always put little effort in things that I was not interested in. This month, as usual, my father came again. He brought along some of his states report and was going to question me about some current issues. Little did he know, that I have already memorized by heart all the answers of the possible questions, as Lee taught me. Lee also told me that these answers were not the perfect answers and that my father surely would have something to add on. However, these answers were good enough to impress my father of my progress without overdoing it. As expected, my father asked me about the flood in the south, and I replied him with what I memorized–lowering tax, send refugee supply, etc . He was very impressed, that I started to pay attention to states issues and started to have my opinions. Of course I didn’t, it all was Lee. And all these my brothers didn’t know.
The second time was my fathers birthday. Every year, all the princes would prepare a gift for father to wish him longevity. All along I have given the task to my servant and ask them to get the task done. This year, Lee was my adviser. I thought she was going to present something very expensive or rare, but she didn’t. She told me that a lot of things need to be considered. If we prepare a very expensive gift, it would be suspicious as I am not supposed to be so wealthy even though I am a prince, furthermore, as an Emperor, my father would not be lacking expensive things. If we present something is very rare, that means we have put a lot of effort in preparing the gift, which should not be the main focus of a prince as we are supposed to be studying and worrying about states issues. The gift must be of appropriate amount of effort, value, and most importantly, shows love to my father. In the end, Lee chose an unused item of my own—a jade flute. My father loves music as well, but not as much as I do. The jade flute was a treasure of mine although it is not very expensive. I had kept it nicely as my most favored item. Lee says giving my most favorite item to my father is the best way to show my love as a son to a father, this gift was definitely not a competition with my brothers, but my father would love it very much. As Lee had foreseen, my brothers have researched on my fathers hobbies and had presented the luxurious, rarest item they could find. But father seemed to be happiest when I present my humble gift. Lee said, nothing should be overdone. Meanwhile, my brothers regarded me as childish and naive.
Slowly, under the guidance of Lee, my father had increasing interests on me. I suppose he still wasn’t considering appointing me as the emperor to be, but things were promising. Meanwhile, Lee also helped the Noble officials gained my fathers trust, so they could participate more in important discussions and their opinions are heard. All was happening secretly until one year before my father’s passing away.
Father knew that his health was declining, and assigning the successor was of the top priority. Official Lin, who is an alliance of us, was giving suggestion to my father. My father surely wasn’t aware of what was happening among me, Lee and him. Official Lin advised my father the possibility of considering me as the successor, the reasons were similar to what Lee told me, that I was the only son of him that will let the brothers live peacefully for the rest of their life. And given that my knowledge and study has been improving, I should no longer be put out of the choices of candidates. That was, probably, the first time my father had this idea in his mind. That was the moment of change.
I did not know what Lee had told my father in the last one year, she must have done it so subtlety and carefully as women are not supposed to take part in any court affair. All I knew is that my father has kept his decision until the last moment of his life, maybe to prevent unnecessary rivalries among the brothers.
Everyone was kneeling outside my fathers bedroom, until his last breath. In the end, I became the new Emperor. So now I can save my brothers and most importantly, Lee…I suppose?
It is now the period for nation-wide mourning, people are to wear black and white clothes, and are not allowed to cut their hair, or organizing any type of celebration event. Lee is in her mourning attire as well, simple, minimal decoration, minimal makeup and accessories. Her accessories are all silver and white now-but she still shines in the crowd. According to customs, after the death of the Emperor, all concubines are to mourn for their husband and are to either become Buddhist nun, or stay lonely in the Palace for the rest of their life . However, I won’t let Lee be like that for long. After I consolidate my reign, I will bring her back… soon.
The three years before my fathers death, Lee contacted me through one of her servants. After meeting her, she told me that she wants to form alliance with me, in fighting with other princes and Officials. It was totally unexpected as I am the least possible person to be appointed as the new emperor. My father had never put hope on me as an emperor, neither did all my siblings. Furthermore, I myself had no ambition in the throne, or any intention to fight with my brothers. I was just weak, carefree, non-self driven..basically, I was still a kid inside. I did not know what Lee saw in me.
She looked so pale and unwell, the only same thing she had was that Zan簪 from her family. She dressed up very simply and low-profile. ” Li Hong”, she called me by name. It was the first time she actually talked to me face to face. I knew I only had a crush on her, it was nothing serious–in fact, it was not supposed to be happen. and I had no idea if she knows about it.
“Li Hong, I know you probably do not remember who I am” Of course I did, how not to remember her.”I had plan that is daring, and dangerous. I am telling you this because I trust that you are a kind and good kid, and I know you always wanted the best for all people. I am not forcing you into this plot, you can reject me if after hearing the plan you feel strongly against it.” She looked into my eyes,”We are going to make you the next emperor, I know you might have hundreds of questions in your mind now, but let me explain to you. You can be no less familiar with the infighting for throne and power. Your brothers are not like you, they crave for the title, and will eliminate anyone threatens their authority. Which is why if, anyone of your brother becomes the next emperor, he will kill the rest competitors. Your father probably is worrying about what would happen after his passed down his throne, that is why he never openly decide who is the crown prince.”
“HOWEVER, you are different. Your brothers never see you as a competitor, because they never expect you to fight against them for the throne, they see you as a little brother in the family. Your father did not see you as a future emperor so far, that is why you can survive and live peacefully for so many years in the palace.” She then stepped backwards and asked me firmly”Think about, if you are the future emperor, will you ever kill any of your brothers?” I shook my head, she continued, “The possibility of your brothers usurping the throne is much lower as well because they still have the brotherhood with you in their hearts.”I could not find any word to reply her at that moment, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. So she carried on, “Of course, only you and me is not enough to even start the fight. My family is not a strong backing, and you have never expand your connection in the court. Currently, the politics is greatly controlled by the royal clans, Empress Dowager and relatives. We cant rival with them for now. We can only develop our own partisan. We can start from the minority group in the court that get into politics through hardworking, studying and Imperial examination. They are capable people who are always suppressed by the royal clans, and thus can never climb to high positions in the court. If we form alliance with this group of people, they will be loyal to you, and if we ever get power, it is beneficial for the nation’s future as the royal clans will not have the monopoly over politics anymore.”
“But I DON’t WANT TO BE THE EMPEROR.” I replied her, “I know nothing about politics, about states affairs, and my father never put hope on me. How to convince him, I cant’t even convince myself.”
“Then it is time for you to start learning! You are the son of the Emperor and you can never escape the obligation. You are expected to be outstanding and well taught in politics. If your country is in crisis you are supposed to step out and contribute. You don’t want to see your brothers kill each other do you?”
Maybe she was right, but I still had no confidence in all these, or maybe I was just not ready to be involved in the rivalry.
She seemed to know what I am thinking, so she added”You don’t need to worry about how to deal with or impress your father, I will teach you. In the mean time, I need to gain back his attention, so it is more reliable for the noble mans to form alliance with me and you. A favored Noble Consort with a prince, that would convince them. AND…” She came closer to me, “It was the only way I can survive in the Palace. You want to save ME, don’t you?”
Well, I found myself in no position to reject her. I did want to save her, I liked her so much. I did not really care about the throne or even the country, but I cared about her.
So the plot began…And I had the mission to impress my father. I was not as smart as Lee, she seemed to be planning about a lot of things, and I only need to do what she asked me to do.
Soon Lee had gain back my father’s interests. I guess it was not hard for her, as she was still so pretty and attractive, as long as she dolls up and try to please, I believe no man won’t fall prey. She was still the Noble Consort Lee, but everyone knew she can be an Imperial Noble Consort if she ever opens her mouth to my father.
the images in the story is mainly to make the article less boring. They are all from Chinese drama Empresses of the Palace, happened in Qing Dynasty. The costumes and accessories is applicable for my story’s background.
Chapter 2–The Empresses
When it comes to Imperial household there is always rivalries and fights for power. I do not know what exactly happened to all of the ladies but along the years there are people died, there are people missing, and of course, there are new born babies’ sudden death as well. I never think it is a bless to be born in such family, but I have no choice.
When the new Noble Ladies join the family, they probably will learn to survive in a hard way. Father is always busy with her states affairs and he seldom visits his ladies. The competition of who giving birth to a son faster and whose son is smarter is never ending. I know my brothers are competing with each other for father’s attention as well, but i am so not into all these drama. I just want to do the things I like, drawing, reading, and I don’t really care about the throne. Maybe that is why my brothers are not hostile to me, they treat me more like real siblings than competitors.
It seems that Noble Lady Zhao has privileges and she was the first who get summoned by my father among the new concubines. The next day I saw a lot of servants going to her palace with rewards granted by my father, as well as the gifts from other ladies. She is probably the one will get promoted soon. If I were my father, I would summon Lee instead, she is so much prettier than Zhao. But who knows, things can happen and nothing is for sure. A few days later, Noble Lady Zhao is promoted to Dame Zhao, one level up.
A few months later, I saw something happened when I walk pass the Imperial Garden. It seems that Dame Zhao is punishing some servant for dirtying her dress. Spoilt girl, she is so pretentious nowadays, even though she is only a Dame. She ordered the servant to slap herself nonstop, until her face is totally red and swollen. I know I should not interfere all these so I quickly leave the scene. The next day I heard that Dame Zhao was confronted by Empress Consort Wu, who is the in charge of all affairs in Imperial household, including the concubines. I guess Dame Zhao is messing up with the wrong person, the servant she punished was under Empress Consort Wu. What happened to her I am not sure, I only know that from that day on wards my father has never summoned her ever again, and grandma does not give her more attention, probably giving up on her as she has no basic knowledge in dealing with the Palace.
Meanwhile, Lee has been pretty quiet. I have not seen her for months since the selection day. Until my father’s birthday celebration, she appeared again. She dressed in dancing attire and dances so gracefully. Father was very attracted by her. Soon after that day, she was promoted to Dame Lee. I have not personally talked to her nor do I know her characters, but she has always been quiet instead of outspoken. Maybe that is why she has not gathered much jealousy although her beauty makes her outstanding.
A few years have passed and I am 17 now. Dame Lee has become Consort Lee. Moreover, she is expecting a baby. Everyone knows that once she gives birth to a boy, she will sson become a Noble Consort, which places her only lower to Empress Consort, as father has no Imperial Noble Consort. She looks more matured now, the last time i see her, she has less flowers on her head. Instead, she has more golden accessories, everything is bigger and heavier. She is not the little girl anymore, she carries the status and power. Nonetheless, she is still wearing the Zan she brought from home.
However, the peace proved short-lived. Shortly after the birth of the new prince, he died an unnatural death. I have seen this a few times, but I feel heartbreaking seeing Lee crying over her son everyday. I did not know what is the cause of the death, or who murdered the kid. He is just a victim of the power rivalries. My father has many sons, and has lost many as well. I can’t say he is not sad over the death, but he probably is used to all the ‘accidents’ here. As for Lee, that is her first child, she was almost mad. Slowly father has lost his interests in Lee as she is unable to recover from the incident. Lee was never promoted to Noble Consort by my father. That is the sadness of being an Emperor’s concubine. You might get all the attention quickly, but you might lose it very fast as well. Emperor is never short of pretty girls who made themselves available to him, if one can’t catch up the pace, she will be left behind and forgotten.
Some other concubines have given birth to princes and princess, and are promotes to higher status. Lee was forgotten by my father. She looks like a woman who has lost faith in her husband and life. The good thing is, she is attracting less attention from other concubines and people do not see her as a competition anymore. She has a more peaceful life now. Father never put her into the Cold Palace, she still has her freedom in the Palace.
3 years later, my father, the Emperor, passed away at the age of 45. Stress has worsen his health, and finally he could not fight with it anymore. I love my father very very much, and I believe many of my sibling brothers do as well. I know some of them have been hoping for the day to come so they can become the next emperor. But I never wish something like this to happen. I only want my father to stay with me. Father has his testament indicating who to become the new emperor—-and it is me!
I won’t say that I have no idea about this, because in the past three years, a lot of things were going on, between me and Lee, between my brothers, between the concubines…I know I will be the new emperor, although myself has no crave for the power. I did it because I love my brothers, and because of Lee.
After all the research I finally start to write my own cheesy story about Emperor, Empress and concubines. I would narrate the story in the perspective of the SON OF THE EMPEROR who later ascend to throne after his father’s early death. It makes sense as he would be someone witness all what happened. It is gonna to be a brief story, compared to the 60-episode Chinese drama, but would be sufficient to present all the jewelries in the collection. Story can be altered depending on my final designs.
However this is just the draft so a lot of things I have not made up my mind such as the names of the concubines, emperors, etc.
Before starting the main part, here is some background of my story. The hierarchy of the concubines of Emperor follows the late Qing Dynasty system(Top down):
皇后Queen Consort x 1
皇贵妃 Imperial Noble Consort x 1
贵妃Noble Conosort x 2
妃Consort x 4
嫔Dame x 6
贵人Noble Lady x unlimited
常在Attendant x unlimited
答应Repliant x unlimited
Girls selected from the triennial beauty pageant will start from the title of Noble Lady, skipping the Attendant and Repliant. The contestant of the pageant, before being selected, is called Xiunv秀女.
Chapter 1-Emperor’s new concubines
Every 3 years there will be a nation-wide beauty pageant to select new concubines for the Emperor. The indirect relatives of imperial family, as well as the families of government officials are required to send their daughters when they reach the age of 13. This year, the daughter of official Lee is 13, and thus, is sent to the Palace for the selection. Lee’s mother feels so anxious and reluctant to leave her daughter, as she knows the intense rivalries in the Palace can torture her daughter for the rest of her life. Lee has unparalleled beauty for her age, and mother is sure that her daughter will be selected as Emperor’s concubine. However, my father(the Emperor) is already 38 years old this year–older than Official Lee. Thinking of daughter becoming the concubine of someone that is 25 years older than her, the mother can’t stop sobbing.
Lee, however, shows more excitement than anxious. She has heard so much about the luxurious life inside the Palace. the endless jewelries and delicacies. She wants to be part of it, she wants all the attentions and respect. She has no idea about how she is going to achieve it, she only knows that she will gain what she wants one day.
On the day of departure, Lee’s mother gave her a 簪zan, telling her that she is going to become a lady soon, not a little girl anymore. This Zan has very simple design, as Lee’s family is not well off, and Lee’s mother hopes that Lee can always remember her root and her family.
Finally, 秀女Xiunv Lee is sent to the Palace, together with the daughters from other families. Lee’s mother has also appointed a girl servant for Lee, to take care of her. Among other families there is Xiunv Ou, who is the best friend of Lee. And Xiunv Zhao, who is the daughter of first rank official Zhao, and is a spoilt princess of the wealthy family. Although she was only a 13 years old Xiunv, she can afford to give tips to a lot of servants in the Palace, so as to build up her network. Like Lee, Zhao’s mother also gives her a piece of jewelry. However, hers is much more delicate and expensive-looking, with dangling tassels–a Buyao步摇.
All the Xiunvs were settled in a small courtyard, each is assigned with one room and one servant. Of course, Zhao gets the best room and the most obedient servant. So their life in the Palace starts. None of them have met my father (the Emperor), and all are excited about it.
The first time i see these girls is at the Imperial Garden. They are around the same age as me. I can’t tell which xiunv is from which family, but it doesn’t matter to me, because only those are selected will be my father’s concubine—my step-mother, although as I said, we are at same age.
Soon the selection day arrives. The selection is always very straight forward. Grandma, the Empress Dowager, will hint my dad on who to select. She always favors the girls from her own clan, or from her relatives family. As for the girls from her opponents’ family, they never get selected in the pageant, ending up all becoming the servants in the Palace. That is why, rumor says that those family always send fake daughters to the pageant, so their real daughters will not suffer and become servants for decades. If Xiunvs are not selected by the Emperor, they will be released out of the Palace only after 25-30 years old.
I get to witness all these because grandma wants me to learn about the customs. As expected, Xiunv Zhao is selected first. She is from Official Zhao’s family, certainly she will become my father’s concubine–Official Zhao is so close to grandma. Xiunv Zhao–Or Noble Lady Zhao now, has presentable look. However her attitude is so arrogant. But I guess no one can do anything about it, she has her father, and my grandma as backing, even my father doesn’t like her much, she will have her place in the family.
After the first Noble Lady is selected. the rest is more flexible for my father. As long as they are not from the opponent’s family, my grandma will close one eye. So normally the prettier ones are selected. My father picked this girl, I did not know her name at that time, but she is stunning. Her beauty stands out in all the Xiunvs. On her hair there is a simple Zan with minimum decorations. Later I learnt that she is from Official Lee’s family. After her there is another girl selected, which I did not pay attention to. I am mesmerized by Lee’s beauty, so much that I hope they were selecting girls for me, not my father. I always wonder why father needs so many concubines, he did not have time to meet all of them. I guess some of the step-mothers have not seen my father for years. The Palace is immense, and lonely. I see nothing fun being a concubine, especially when she is not favored by my father. It is just a sad life.
All the Xiunvs beings elected are now Noble Ladies, and they get to move into better place, with better attires and some more accessories. The nect time I see them, they are wearing flowery Chai and Huasheng. Lee is so pretty with her new look, even she was not given the best items. Nevertheless, their Palace life begins and so does my story with Lee.
This article will be briefly divided into the story if Cixi, and the development of Qing hairstyle. However, I could not find resources that clearly linked Cixi’s ranking with her hair style or accessory changes..So you may want to skip the lengthy text of Cixi story if you are just interested in the development of hairstyle.
Empress Dowager Cixi, of Manchu Yehenara clan, was a Chinese Empress Dowager and regent who effectively controlled the Chinese government in the late Qing Dynasty for 47 years, from 1861 until her death in 1908.
She was selected as an imperial concubine of Emperor Xianfeng (reign 1850-1861) in her adolescence. She gave birth to a son, Zaichun in 1856, who later became Emperor Tongzhi(reign 1861-1875) after the death of Emperor Xianfeng, and she thus became the Empress Dowager. Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency, which she shared with Empress Dowager Ci’an(The Empress Consort of Xianfeng). After the death of Emperor Tongzhi in 1874, Cixi and Ci’an continue to attend and monitor state affairs behind the screen(Chinese Custom for Empress Dowager to guide young Emperors) for the new Emperor Guangxu(reign 1875-1908).1881, Empress Dowager Ci’an passed away, Cixi thus became the only Empress Dowager who is controlling the emperor.
In 1898, Emperor Guangxu and Xici had conflicts over the Hundred Days’ Reform, Cixi rejected the, as detrimental to dynastic power and placed Emperor Guangxu under house arrest for supporting radical reformers. Since then, Cixi became the only authority in the court. Although Cixi’s main intention is to protect his country and the Qing Dynasty, she has underestimated the power of foreign invasion and have compromised too much to keep the vulnerable peace. China was on the phase of changing from Dynastic reign to modern China, politics became very complicated and western countries was aiming at China. 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing, Cixi together with Emperor Guangxu, escaped to Xi’an. Cixi attempted to create new reform campaign. in 1908, Cixi passed away in Beijing, one day after the death of Emperor Guangxu.
1851: 秀女Xiunv, the contestant for beauty pageant selecting Emperor Xianfeng’s concubines.
1852: 贵人Noble Lady, Sixth Pin, in the nine ranking system. She was given the title “Noble Lady Lan”. Among other chosen candidates were Noble Lady Li of the Tatala clan(Later Consort Li), and Concubine Zhen of the Niohuru clan(later Emperor Xianfeng’s Empress Consort).
1854, 懿嫔 Dame Yi, or Imperial concubine Yi. fifth Pin, one rank higher than Noble lady.
1856, 懿妃 Consort Yi, fourth rank, one rank higher than Dame. She was elevated to this position after giving birth to Zaichun, Emperor Xianfeng’s only surviving son, on 27th April 1856.
1857, 懿贵妃Noble Consort Yi, the rank placed her only second to the Empress Consort among the women within Emperor Xianfeng’s household. Unlike many of the other Manchu women in the imperial hosuehold, Cixi was known for her ability to read and write Chinese. This skill granted her numerous opportunities to help the ailing emperor in the governing states affairs in daily basis. Occasionally, Emperor Xianfeng had Cixi read palace memorials for him and leave instructions on the memorials according to his will. As a result, Cixi became well-informed about state affairs and the art of governing from the ailing emperor.
1861, 圣母皇太后Empress Dowager Cixi. After the death of Emperor Xianfeng in 1861, Cixi’s son Zaichun, Emperor Xianfeng’s only son, ascend to throne and became the new Emperor Tongzhi. As she is the birth mother of the Emperor, she is regarded as Empress Dowager, together with Xianfeng’s Empress Consort Ci’an, who became Empress Dowager Ci’an慈安太后. Both Empress Dowagers are to cooperate in harmony and help the young Emperor to grow and mature together, according to Xianfeng’s wish. Xianfeng also appointed “Eight Regent Minister” to direct and support the future Emperor. However, tensions between the two Empress Dowagers grow as time passes by, and in the competition of power.
1874, Emperor Tongzhi passed away, Cixi appointed the new emperor Guangxu光绪皇帝. Empress Dowager Ci’an passed away in 1881.
1898, 慈禧太后Empress Dowager Cixi. Cixi put Emperor Guangxu under house arrest after his attempt to push Hundred Days’ Reform. After which, Xici became the supreme power of Qing government and started her monopoly. Although from the title of “Empress Dowager”, it did not change since 1861, her power increased greatly after her ‘co-worker’ Ci’an’s death and the house arrest of Guangxu.
As we can see from the chronicle, Xici’s status in the imperial household rose extremely fast. In ten years(1851-1861), she was elevated from a xiunv with no rank, to Empress Dowager, the highest position for women in Qing Dynasty system.
However, Cixi lived in a socially unstable period of time in Chinese History, Qing Dynastic power was threatened and interfered by western invaders as well as the reformers within China. The title of Empress Dowager became less powerful as political situation changed. Qing court was under a series of unequal treaty with foreign countries, and has became a puppet regime.
Compared to Wuzetianhttps://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/tzhao002/emperors-wife-hierarchy-part-1-wu-zetian/, Cixi was at a time that China has declined power, while Wu Zetian was building a stronger nation. Both are of equal status by name, however in real, Xici was not as powerful in international aspect. 1905 AD, Sun Zhongshan and his peers established Zhonghua Minguo(Republic of China). Qing Dynasty ended in 1912, with its last emperor Puyi.
Now let’s look at the accessories of Qing Dynasty.
Cixi, like any other girl, pay a lot of attention on her grooming. Even at older age, she still indulged in dolling up herself. Cixi lived in late Qing Dynasty, compared to early Qing, China became much wealthier after Qianlong’s reign(1735-1796). Thus in late Qing Dynasty, the accessories, especially for imperial household, were more luxurious and flamboyant.
One popular hairstyle during Qing Dynasty is 两把头Two Side Bun. This hair style is demure and convenient to incorporate hair accessories onto it. This hairstyle splits hair to two sides, then bun up at the top of the head.
However, as China became wealtheir in mid Qing Dynasty, under Emperor Qianlong’s reign, the original small two side bun is insufficient for women to pile up all kinds of jewelries on their heads. The hair bun became fragile and would collapse at one touch. Thus, a new type of hair accessory emerged–扁方bian fang.
Bianfang is like a very long 簪zan(hair pin), and its flat in shape. Women used Bianfang to bun the excessive hair that could not hold the weight of accessories or the weight of hair itself. It upports the hair and allow more accessories to be added on.
Bianfang is a reflection of status in Qing Dynasty. It is also a symbol of becoming an adult for girls back then, just like 笄ji. Different occasions requires different types of Bianfang, people pf different background wears differently as well.
For example, during funerals wife mourning for her husband, she needs to style her hair in a very loose and effortless way, with a small bone bianfang on her hair. If it is the funeral for father or mother in law, then the woman should place a silver or white copper bianfang horizontally on her head.
For royals and rich families, the material and design of bianfang can be very precious and exquisite. Emperor’s concubines and other noble ladies would purposely reveal the two ends of bianfang, as that is the most elaborated part, to attract attention. Sometimes there will be tassels at the ends of bianfang. Wearing bianfang restricts the movements of head, neck, and shoulder, together with cheongsam and elevated shoes, making the ladies look very demure when walking.
For Manchu girls, the symbolic hairstyle, as we can see from many dramas and movies, is 旗头 Qi Tou, direct translate as flag head.
Interestingly, the elaborated, exaggerated Qi Tou is only developed at the very late stage of Qing Dynasty, after the death of Emperor Xianfeng(the husband of Cixi). Before that, hairstyle was kept simple and small, at special occasions Empress and other imperial household ladies would wear some Chai or the most, 钿子Dianzi.
Women would decorate with some hair accessories such as chai钗 and some flowers. As Bianfang helps to stabilize, there was a trend that more accessories were put onto hair. However, it got out of control as all ladies wanted to show off and be pretty. It went until the extend that Emperor Xianfeng had to officially gave an instruction to the ladies in the Forbidden City that the dressing code should be simple and non-exaggerated, maximum of only two flowers can be worn on hair. If three is worn, there will be punishment accordingly. Xianfeng believed that it is a good tradition and culture to be thrifty even in imperial families. As such, the hairstyle was not out of control at Xianfeng’s reign.
However, after Emperor Xianfeng passed away, the fashions and pursuit of hair started again
And to satisfy their ego and ambition of piling up hair accessories, the Qi Tou became larger and larger.
And it became SOOOOO big that real hair could not satisfy the appetite. So, what the ladies did is, instead of using real hair, they just simply put a black board on the hair bun, to substitute real hair, holding more and more accessories.
as we can see from the above image, Qi Tou has developed to such a exaggerated stage, almost like someone from Beking Opera.
Although Emperor Xianfeng has regulated the use of hair accessories, Cixi herself was a girl that pay a lot of attention to grooming, and I guess that is why after Xianfeng’s death, Cixi came into power and she probably brought back all the fashion and trend of dolling up. As a saying I read somewhere, in hereditary monarchy, where one person has the monopoly, the character of the person is the character of the nation. So I guess Cixi more or less is responsible the development of Qi Tou..
One bizarre thing, although Qi Tou looks so flamboyant and so showing-off, it is actually not restricted to social status. Because in Chinese Manchu tradition,Qi Tou is a casual hairstyle, and should be worn with only casual dress.No matter what social status you are, you can wear it. For formal occassions, ladies should wear Dianzi 钿子 as shown earlier. However, the influence of western culture diluted many of Chinese traditions and Cixi herself sometimes would ‘mix-match’ Dianzi with casual dress, (intentionally or unintentionally we are not sure), and Qi Tou could be seen as a more fashionable accessories, so end up the tradition was not strictly followed. It is said that Qi Tou was seen with formal dress in late Qing Dnasty as well. At the point of time, I guess all the traditions and customs are interrupted by the complicated political situation and people’s pursuit of new things.
What we can say is, for sure, people of better wealth and status are able to afford better hair accessories with more precious material, like gold, high quality jade, ruby, pearls, etc. Empress Dowagers and Empress Consort are able to wear phoenix pattern, abundant of gold, while commoners or abandoned concubines simply couldn’t afford.