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.
The hierarchy of Emperor’s wife can be very complicated across Chinese History. During different Dynasties,the titles of the hierarchy can be very different. Some Dynasties have very sophisticated rankings and categories while others have simplified systems. The rankings of the wives can be equal to political status in the Imperial Court, although they are not allowed to interfere political affairs. Different rankings receives different salaries, daily supplies, accommodations, and the number of servant, etc. And of course, their attire and accessories can be quite different.
Speaking of the most famous women that rise from bottom to the top in power, there are only few to take note on, and each of them are from different dynasties. In fact many Chinese Dramas and movies have depicted their stories, with some imaginations and fantasies. There is one thing we need bear in mind, that all the stories we know about ancient Chinese and stories are derived from historical documentations, which is very limited and simplified in ancient Chinese language. A story can be as short as one sentence. So there are a lot of guessing, imagination, and ‘retouching’ on that one sentence to give an intriguing and complete story. We can only say that historians are trying their best to stick to the truth of history, but no one can be 100% sure about what happened in details hundreds thousands years ago.
What I believe is, art creation itself demands imagination and innovation. It is not a textbook for history student or scholars. As long as it does not go against the overall history, a little bit of ‘retouching’ can add fun to the design. Just like no movie is completely real even it says ‘based on a true story’. With this idea in mind, let’s look at the few famous women that rose from bottom to top power(as the emperor’s wife)–Wu Zetian(The Chinese Empress) and Cixi, the Empress Dowager. I chose these two women because they are no doubt the most famous two ladies, and their stories happened during Tang Dynasty and Qing Dynasty respectively, where the system for choosing the wives of Emperor are comparably refined. In addition, both of them not only rose to the top position for women but also, their power was higher than men at then.
The Story of Wu Zetian 武则天
Wu Zetian is also known as the Empress Consort Wu, Empress Wu, was a Chinese sovereign who ruled unofficially as empress consort and empress dowager and later, officially as Empress Regnant during the brief Zhou Dynasty(684-705), which interrupted the Tang Dynasty(618-690&705-907). Wu was the only Empress Regnant of China in more than four millennia.
She was the concubine of Emperor Taizong(reign 626-649)。 After his death, she married his succesor-his ninth son, Emperor Gaozong(reign 649-683), later officially became Gaozong’s Empress Consort(皇后),The highest ranking of all the wives, in 655. She had considerable political power even prior to her Empress Consort title. After Gaozong’s debilitating stroke in 660, Wu Zetian became administrator of the Court, a position equal as Emperor, until 705.
Her rankings and titles through out the years:
Wu Zetian was born in a rich family, in 624 AD
才人Cairen:637 AD, 14 years old, became the concubine of Taizong, title 才人 cairen, ranking of one of consorts with the fifth rank(五品 fifth Pin) in Tang’s nine-rank system for Imperial officials, nobles, and consorts.
Buddhist Nun: Emperor Taizong died in 649, while Wu did not have any son of his, she had to be permanently confined to a monastic institute after emperor’s death, according to Tang’s custom.
昭仪 Zhaoyi：652 AD, Wu was 27 years old. The son of Gaozong, who became the Emperor after his father’s death, decided to bring Wu back to the palace as his concubine(Although Gaozong was effectively Wu’s step–son) and gave her the title of Zhaoyi, which is the highest ranking of thenine concubines of second rank(二品2nd Pin). Wu progressly gained more and more influence over the governance of the empire throughout Emperor Gaozong’s reign, and eventually she effectively was making the major decisions. She was regarded as ruthless in her endeavors to grab power and was believed even to have killed her own daughter to frame Empress Consort Wang(and later, her own eldest son Li Hong), in a power struggle.
皇后Empress Consort: 655 AD. After the power struggle and rivalries against Empress Consort Wang and Consort Xiao, Wu finally became the new Empress Consort of Gaozong. Later this year, former Empress Consort Wang and Consort Xiao were killed on orders by the new Empress Consort Wu after Emperor Gaozong showed signs of considering their release from arrest. During her years as Empress Consort, she actively gained allies and eliminated officials who had opposed her ascension.
天皇天后Imperial Emperor and Empress：660 AD, Emperor Gaozong suffered from illness and began to have Empress Consort Wu make rulings on petitions made by officials. It was said Wu had quick reactions and understood both literature and history, and therefore, she was making correct rulings. Thereafter, her authority rivaled Emperor Gaozong’s. Slowly, Gaozong became aware of Wu’s increasing power however, he could not stop Wu effectively.
皇太后Empress Dowager：683 AD. Emperor Gaozong passed away, his son with Wu, Li Xian, ascend to the imperial throne, became Emperor Zhongzong. Wu thus became the Empress Dowager, title for the mother of Emperor. However, Zhongzong only had a short 6 weeks of reign. As he showed signs of disobeying Empress Dowager Wu, Wu deposed him and replaced him with her younger son, Li Dan, becaming Emperor Ruizong.
Although Li Dan carried the title of Emperor, Wu was the actual ruler, both in substance and appearance. She did not even follow the customary pretense of hiding behind a screen or curtain, and in whispers issued commands for the nominal ruler to formally announce(垂帘听政). Ruizong never moved into the imperial quarters, appeared at no imperial function, and remained a virtual prisoner in the inner quarters.
称帝 Empress Regnant：690 AD. Wu had Emperor Ruizong yield the throne to her and established the Zhou Dynasty(武周), with her named as the ruler. She gave herself the title 圣神皇帝(Supreme Imperial Emperor).Traditional Chinese order of succession sis not allow a woman to ascend the throne, but Wu Zetianwas determined to quash the opposition and the use of the secret police did not subside, but continued, after her taking the throne.
Removal and Death: by 705AD, Wu became seriously ill. In Febrary, Wu passed her throne to Li Xian, Emperor Ruizong. Ruizong honored her with the title of Empress Regnant Zetian Dasheng(则天大圣皇帝). On 3rd March, Tang Dynasty was restored, ending the Zhou. Wu passed away on 16th December 705,and pursuant to a final edict issued in her name, was no longer referred to as Empress Regnant, but instead as Empress Consort Zetian Dasheng(则天大圣皇后).
Let us look at the attires of Wu Zetian at her different stage of life.
When she was only 14, as a contestant in beauty peagent 秀女, she has very simple hairstyle, with two buns on each side of the head, called 双环重髻 the double loop bun, usually used by unmarried girls, with minimal hair accessories. The hair accessory is Chai钗 (refer to previous post about traditional Chinese hair accessories link:https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/tzhao002/tag/chinese-hairstyle/).
After she was selected by Emperor Taizong and entitled Cairen, ranking fifth Pin, she has better ans slightly more hair accessories. Her hairstyle also changed. Her hair was splited into two sides and shaped like two loops on top of head, called 双环望仙髻 the ‘double loop fairy-watching bun’. This is a very popular style during Tang Dynasty. Her hair accessories now have not only Chai钗， but also Dian 钿, and tassels that resemble Buyao步摇.
When she was called back from Buddhist Temple and became the concubine of Gaozong, she was entitled 昭仪 Zhaoyi, 2nd Pin. It was a great leap in hierarchy. At this stage, her accessories are much more elaborated and luxurious.
In the first picture, her hairstyle is called 盘桓髻 Linger Bun, with all her hair gathered at the top first, then linger upwards, with a flat top. Then decorated with 篦Bi infront(the comb-like accessory), Chai钗(long pin with decorations) and Buyao步摇(pin with tassels) at sides, and some Dian钿(decorative flowery pin).
In the second picture, the hairstyle is same as Cairen style, the ‘doule loop fairy-watching bun’. However, there are more accessories, making her more demure, wealthy-looking, and high class.
The makeup in first picture is also a typical style during Tang Dynasty. It is called 梅花妆 the plum flower makeup, with plum flower motif at the middle of forehead.
Generally at Zhaoyi stage, her accessories are elaborated and flowery, colorful, and still has the youthfulness.
After she took down all her enemies and became the Empress Consort of Emperor Gaozong, her attire became even more flamboyant.
Her hairstyle is called 回鹘椎髻(literal translate as Hui Hu spine bun)
Hair accessories are excessive on her head. Chai, Dian, Buyao, Dian, Huasheng(forehead accessory), mostly golden in color, with some coral. The material are more costly, the amount of material used increased drastically. Also. Phoenix pattern are more obvious. Red and Yellow is the main colors. In addition, only the wife, not concubine, can wear scarlet color, as shown in the picture below.
Finally, she became the Empress Regnant, or the female Empress.
The hairstyle is called 高髻 high bun. the hair accessory is becoming more unisex, with less flowers and a throne same as previous male Emperors, with gold Chai at sides. Gold is the main color, giving the impression of supreme power. As she was already at the age of 67, her accessories are not as flowery and colorful anymore. She is matured ans experienced in handling all affairs of states and life. She did not need to dress prettily to impress any Emperor as she herself is the highest power. She only need to dress LIKE A BOSS.
There are many other hairstyles in Tang Dynasty, I cannot count and introduce one by one. The general trend is the higher position the person is at, the more elaborated one’s accessories will be. The color of gold and red is a symbol of power, and can only be used at certain position. Also, the use of phoenix and dragon pattern is very strictly classified.
From reading articles about Chinese architecture, I realize that there is rules in different pitched roof regarding owner’s hierarchies. This could give me some references in designing my jewelries as I am thinking of making a set with different social status representations(like from lower class girl to high rank empress).
In traditional Chinese architecture, the type of roof design is a reflection of the owner’s social status. From top class to commoners:
1st: 重檐庑殿顶。Double Hip roof. This type of roof can only be used for the main hall in the Forbidden City, and Confucians Hall, and main Buddhist temples.
Hip roof is a type of roof has all sides slope downwards to the walls., usually fairly gentle slopes. The roof slope curves inwards to form a convex surface. Double Hip roof, as the example shown above, is the layering of hip roof. Hip roof has five roof ridge, with the main ridge lying on the top horizontally.
2nd: 重檐歇山顶。Double Saddle Roof. This roof is used in the palaces, gardens, temples.
Tian An Men Gate, for example, is using this type of roof. This design comprises a hip roof that slopes down on four sides, and integrates a gable on two opposing sides. It has nine roof ridges, including one main ridge.
3rd: 单檐庑檐顶。 Hip Roof. The single version of double hip roof. Usually used in important architectures.
4th: 单檐歇山顶。Saddle Roof. The single version of double hip-and-gap roof. Usually is used in important architectures.
5th: 悬山顶。Suspension Roof. Usually used only in citizens’ houses, not for royal families or high status families.
This roof design has influenced Korean and Japanese architectures. The roof only have two slopes, with the two sides of “人”shape slightly protruding out than the wall below.
6th: 硬山顶。Gabbled Roof. According to Qing Dynasty’s regulations, only government officials below six Pin(see details at the bottom of the article) and commoners can use gabbled roof.\
This type pf roof only has two slopes, and the walls on each side is at the same level or slightly protruding out than the roof(compared to suspension roof).
7th: 卷棚顶。Round Ridge Roof. Used in commoner’s residence.
Round Ridge roof has no main ridge on top of the rood slopes, thus the lines of the roof is more gentle and smooth, which is why it is commonly used in gardens and casual places. It is also used for the servants’ residence in the Forbidden City.
8th: 攒尖顶。Pointed Roof. Usually used in pavilions ad towers. There is no rank specification for this type of roof.
Other types of roofs:
盝顶 Lu roof. It is a flatted roof surrounded by four side slopes and eight ridges.
盔顶 Helm Roof. It is similar to pointed roof. However, the slopes are curved outwards at the upper part and then transit to inwards, resembling a helmet. It is usually used in ceremonial architectures or pavilions.
From my readings, there is a more detailed introduction for Saddle Roof:
On the ridges of the saddle roof, there are always beastly creatures sitting. The types, numbers, and sequence of the creatures need to follow strict rules. For example, sitting on the two sides of the main ridge is the 正吻 Kiss Beast, also known as Swallow Ridge Beast, as the way they look.
At the end of the rest eight ridges, there are 垂兽Dangling Beast. There are 8 Dangling Beasts in total.
On the 戗脊 Hip ridge(the diagonal ridge below the flight gabbles on each side) there are a row of running beasts.
There are ten beasts in total, the leading character is a heavenly being riding his beast ,the rest is dragon, phoenix, lion, Pegasus, Seahorse, Suan Ni(son of dragon), Ya Yu(Sea creature in tales), Xie Zhi(goast-like beast), Dou Niu(water related beast), Shi Xing(Thunder related beast). Some of the beast may exchange places.
Chinese Official rankings is very complicated, just like the modern China as there are too many people in political area holding positions. The highest official would be ranking one Pin, while the lowest would be nine Pin and blow. and in between two Pins, like One Pin and Two Pin, there are many divisions and subtitles. Four Pin would of middle to low range.
Speaking of Chinese architecture, the first thing come into people’s mind is probably the Forbidden City, also known as The Palace Museum. It is the home of royal family during Ming and Qing Dynasties, and represents the highest achievement of Chinese Architecture. Every arrangement and design in the Palace Museum has its meaning and references in Feng Shui. The whole palace is symmetrical, where the main halls of the palace locating on the central axis. More details of Forbidden City can be found online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_City#Outer_Court_or_the_Southern_Section Forbidden City wikipedia
Forbidden City is, at the same time, not the only representation of Chinese architecture. There are many other unique characteristics that of Chinese buildings, in common people’s house, mountains and rural area, as well as in all the 胡同Hu Tong(alley) in Beijing.
I would summarize what I think can be relevant to my project as below:
—-The main colors of the Forbidden City architecture is red and yellow. It is believed that yellow is the symbol of Earth(in the Five Wlements Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water), and Earth represents the nation, which is why the roof of the buildings in the Forbidden City is always yellow in color. Red is the symbol of Fire, and fire can give rise to Earth, which is why the walls and pillars is always in red. Red Fire holding the yellow Earth, means the prosperity of the nation.
—-the rectangular shape and layout of the whole Forbidden City.In ancient China, when science was not much of a common sense and people do not have an accurate idea about the world and universe, they used to believe that the sky is round in shape, and the earth is rectangular(天圆地方). Chinese emperors used to believe that China is the centre of the world, and the Palace Museum is thus the centre of the world. Rectangular shape represents Earth。 However, there are exceptions, such as 天坛 the Temple of Heaven , where the emperors went to worship heaven for auspicious and prosperous years. As you can see from the image, the base is squarish, and the upper staircase as well as the main temple is round, precisely reflects the idea of “sky is round and earth is rectangular”. The Temple of Heaven is where (they believe) people connect to Heavens and Gods, so the temple should be built in heavenly way.
This wall was designed to cater clustered residence where the population is comparably crowded and fire prevention is at great challenge. Horse-head wall can help preventing the spread of fire from neighbors. The horse head of the horse-head wall is usually 金印式(gold deal type) or (chao hu type) which expresses the house owners’ pursuit and wishes of high achievement in political area. From top down view, the horse-head wall creates an illusion of full steam ahead with its ups and downs.
—-Hollow Engraved Flower Windows
In traditional Chinese houses, there are always high walls surrounding the whole area as boundary.It is a safety precaution, but at the same time, it might give people residing inside the sense of repression. That is why hollow engraved windows are incorporated to break the dullness. The windows allows sufficient lighting across the walls, and let the whole architecture breathe, while still providing divisions. The pattern on the windows are usually auspicious in meaning, to show the good wishes for the family members. The hollow windows also brings out the beauty of void, adding sophistication to the design.
Pitched roof is a crucial element in traditional Chinese architecture. Pitched roof has smooth curves that instantly deliver the sense of magnificence and rhythm. The tiles on the roof forms linear patterns that adds interesting details to the overall image. In addition, pitched roof has the function of adjusting indoor temperature during hot summer and cold winter. It provides ventilation as well as draining off rain water.
Cornices are the upturned corners of the roof of architectures, resembling the form of flying bird, which gives the sense of lightness and delight. They are usually seen at the corners of pavilions, terraces, pagodas and towers.
Before I start my article, here is an eye-opening video of different marriage traditions of varies ethnic groups in China. China has 56 ethnic groups, among which 91.59% are Han, and the rest 8.41% are people of the other 55 ethnic groups(according to the Fifth National Population Census of the People’s Republic of China in 2000). Different ethnic groups have different customs. In Chinese history, the ethnic group of the ruling party accounts for the etiquette across the country. For example, during Qing Dynasty, the ruling family is Man ethnic group(满族), thus the costume style and accessory style, as well as the customs they practice all go according to Man traditions.
Video source: YouTube channel no009<Documentary-Amazing Marriage Customs-China Anthropology 101> Published on 25th October 2013
To stick to my topic of jewelry, let’s look at the accessory aspect of these wedding traditions.
5’15”–“Usually bride’s veil is lifted after the ceremony, but here the bride uncovers her face before the ceremony starts. That is when the bride and the groom first set eye on each other.”The red veil is a tradition and rule in ancient China, which also contains the element of surprise–although back then it probably wasn’t the main purpose.
33’14”–The Ainis of Xishuangbanna, is a branch of Hani ethnic group. 34’35”–Their costumes are designed to show off their most important features. They use silver, ribbon and lace, as well as nature objects such as flower seeds, shells, and even beetles. The girls will process the beetles before wearing them on hair. When girl reaches the age of 18, she wears yellow cap; married girls wear black caps.(Use accessory to represent their status and identity)
1:09’30” when Ethinc group Miao(苗族) girls and guys are looking for partner, the boys will blow Sheng(芦笙), a traditional music instrument, while the girls dance around them. If a girl likes a boy, she will put her necklace onto the his Sheng. Miao people adore and are professional in silver jewelries because the region is abundant in silver. Even to date, many Chinese people and tourist of other countries visit Miao district and purchase silver accessories. During wedding day, Miao girls wear a great amount of silver jewelries on them, usually the more the merrier, to show the good blessing.
However, Miao is only a minority ethnic group in China. Majority of the Chinese nowadays are Han people, which traditionally uses gold jewelries, red wedding gowns, etc, as we seen in many Chinese movies and drama.
Nowadays there are still some jewelry related traditions in Chinese wedding.
For example, in Cantonese traditions, there is hair combing ceremony(梳头shutou). Hair combing session expressed the bless of female family members to the couple:
一梳、梳到尾(First combing, blessed to be together to the end)
二梳、百年好合(Second combing, blessing for a hundred years of harmony in your marriage)
三梳、子孙满堂(Third combing, be blessed with a houseful of children and grandchildren)
四梳、白发齐眉(Fourth combing, be blessed with longevity)
A sweet dessert soup containing pink glutinous-rice balls(汤圆pinyin: tangyuan, Cantonese:tongyuhn) is served after the hair combing ceremony to wish the couple a complete and sweet marriage.
In Teochew traditions, 四点金si dian jin(four pieces of gold)is an important part of betrothal gift to the bride. Usually the four pieces of gold jewelries are necklace, a pendent or ring, a pair of earrings and a bangle. It is selected by the groom’s mother and is presented to the bride durng the tea ceremony(when the groom arrives at bride’s house to fetch her).Usually, the design of the Si Dian Jin is cloud patterns, phoenix, dragon, and some suapicious floral designs, indicating that the groom and bride are heavenly couple like dragon and phoenix (龙凤配)。
Si Dian Jin id the name of a traditional architecture style, a four-pointed curved roof found in traditional homes. The jewelries symbolizes a blissful union in a secure home.
Gold jewelries with red wedding gowns create a very vivid, vibrant and auspicious atmosphere in Chinese wedding. Red is for joyful occasions in the culture, and gold is a symbol of wealth, fortune. In fact gold jewelries are still so popular during wedding in modern China, as a way to respect to customs, also a way to show off wealth. In some part of GuangDong province in China, “Golden Bride” has become increasingly popular. On the wedding day, the bride is adorned with excessive gold jewelries such as necklaces, bracelets, bangles, rings, ankle chains, etc. From far the bride would look like a girl made of gold, thus is called “golden bride”. Besides showing off the wealth, this also symbolizes “locking up” the bride so the bride will not run away and will be obedient in the groom’s family.
As we can see here, the gold bangles are wore as necklece on the bride. The accessories are not meant to make the bride visually beautiful anymore, it is a mean to show wealth, to attract auspicious vibes, even the jewelries may not make the girl look objectively prettier or elegant. The family just pile up everything they can onto the girl, to make her look burdened, clumsy, as they believe this is good for the marriage.
The double joy“囍”
The double joy character is so iconic and recognizable that one sight you know it is a Chinese style wedding. You can find countless different designs of the double joy on internet. During Chinese New Year, Chinese families paste inverted “福(good vibes)” in and outside their house. During Chinese weddings, Chinese families paste 囍. Although it is not a piece of jewelry in wedding, it could be cooperated into the elements of jewelries.
SINGAPOREBRIDES.com https://singaporebrides.com/articles/2000/11/combing-the-hair-and-other-chinese-wedding-traditions/ last access 1st September 2016
Weddingplannersingapore.net http://weddingplannersingapore.net/wedding-planning-101/traditional-chinese-wedding-guide/hair-combing-ritual-shang-tou/ last access 1st September 2016
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_pre-wedding_customs last access 1st September 2016
Gold, dragons, phoenix, all these elements can clearly show the sense of “Chinese”. However, it also shows some cliche, and may not be suitable for younger generation. Take myself as an example, I would not wear a gold accessory with dragon and phoenix because it makes me look outdated, old-fashioned, and overly mature. If I want my designs to be accepted by younger generation who pursuit fashion and style, the jewelry must not look “old”. It can have the elements of traditional Chinese style but it should not look totally traditional–in other words, it should express tradition in a modern way. All the wedding jewelries and Si Dian Jin available now in jewelry shops are meant to be worn during wedding, not as a fashion accessory, which is a challenge that I want to overcome.
Here is some jewelry brand and design that I personally like. They may not be very relevant to the idea of traditional Chinese style but they can give me inspirations on jewelry designs, sensual designs, and how jewelries can make the owner pretty, elegant, or sexy, instead of just being a beautiful jewelry itself. The act of wearing the jewelry pieces can bring both the jewelry and the person alive. I admire how they combine different texture or material together, each brand has its own unique style and characteristics, and how they complement user’s overall aura.
Jennifer Meyer has amazing details in her designs. Although the designs are simple and small, they are extremely elegant and sexy. Very fine diamond paved pendant with turquoise instantly attract people’s attention. The striking color of the natural material combined with gold gives a high class yet casual feeling.
Ippolita makes great use of different gems and its intriguing light reflection characteristics. The designs are so fancy because of the transparency of the stones, and the range of colors in one design. Weither is contrasting color or similar tones, they are all so well combined to please one’s eye. The precious gem and their light transparency make the jewelry “breathable”, visually light, and gives the atmosphere of delight.
Fine curvy lines with micro paved diamond simply makes an haute-couture, high-fashion kind of statement. The design is so delicate that it maximize the elegance and sexiness of human body. The design is also very visually light, emphasizes all the desirable female traits. Of course, diamonds are girls’ best friends.
Stephen Webster have wild and brave designs. The designs always take inspirations from fairy tales, animals, plants, and the designer is not afraid of using bold colors. It has Disney Story collections, sea creature collections. The designs are very recognizable, with designers’ great master over colored stones, the ombre designs are so well paved that you almost cant realize that they are individual embed stones. Every his design looks like having a story to tell.
I like how the designer plays the idea of void, making use of the empty space to create the lightness and tension for the jewelry. This is very prominent when the jewelries are worn, as can see from the image below, the jewelry “floats” on fingers and ears, in a very elegant and demure way. The smooth and sexy curves of the designs also make it very appealing on and off human body.
Kimberly McDonald’s jewelries are simply mesmerizing. Geode, Opal, Calcite, Aquamarine…All the fancy colored natural stones with their organic shape, sit inside the ‘halo’ of micro diamond, it is the amalgamation of disorder and order, natural and artificial. Moreover, the diamond halo sometimes are of different sizes, definitely gives me some surprise. There is some playfulness in the design, and something that is so attractive that makes me cant take my eyes off the pieces. It is almost like there is a universe in each of its jewelry.
Irene Neuwirth plays a lot with colors and opals. It has some designs that are similar with Kimberly McDonald. However, Irene Neuwirth can be more youthful. One of the iconic designs is its color gradient necklaces.
Jacquie Aiche is pure sexiness. The jewelries are so small but they speak so loud. A little bit goes a long way. Just a little details glorifies the beauty of skin and body, the subtle sparkles creates mystery and sophisticated aura.
Qeelin is a great example of the combination of eastern elements witrh western material. Diamond is obviously not something traditional Chinese jewelry uses. However, designer uses micro pave method and put diamond onto traditional Chinese motifs, objects, such as lion-dance lion, bells, Chinese coins, Chinese lock, hulu(gourd), Chinese Zodiac. Although the subject matters are very traditional, the overall design is still versatile and fashionable, maybe due to it’s small size and the not-over-yellowish-gold color. This brand is now very popular in China and among celebrities, as it is very recognizable, youthful, playful and shows our Chinese identity.
Aimee Sun, Yun Yun Sun, is a Taiwanese Socialite and entrepreneur. She started her jewelry lines as a hobby and designs very interesting, unique pieces. My favorite collection is her Nonsense collection, as show below. She make many different sentences directly into necklace, ring, and earring. The sentences and words are far from formal. There are many necklaces from other designers says”hello””Happiness” or some popular slogan, but those are so cliche and commonly seen. I always want something more “me”, more naughty, more playful and makes deeper impression on people. This is the collection where I found myself, find something that can represents me, not everyone. I have purchased dozens of her jewelry from nonsense collection and they do attract a lot of attentions and fun from my friends. More importantly, Yun Yun Sun uses Chinese words and sentences, which is rarely seen in any jewelry design. This brings out my Chinese identity efficiently. The Chinese sentences such as “不要一直偷看我(don’t keep peeping at me)”“有奶有脑(boobs and brain)”“我怎么可以这么美(How can I be so beautiful)” are the best statement of Chinese identity and personal characters, because obviously, the use of Chinese language and humor is all written in the small pieces.
All jewelry pictures above are from yun-yun-sun.com
Design is not copying, but design always needs inspiration. I wish I can take inspiration from modern designers and create something, as I mentioned many times, traditional yet fashionable and wearable…Although I am still currently overwhelmed by so much information and still finding my entry point..
I came across a few articles regarding the different types of hair accessories during ancient China. They more or less are same in content. Here is the brief summary of the information.
There are countless styles of hair accessories in ancient China, just like modern times. It is hard to count every single design, like we can’t give an exact number of different dress styles. Accessories always go with creativity, thus there will always be something different and new. However, all the hair accessories can be categorized into the few main categories below. As the translation of ancient Chinese language is difficult to be accurate, I will just loosely translate the names with descriptions.
Hair pin, in the shape of a long stick. In ancient China, people use it to bun up hair. In Chinese tradition, when girls reach the age of 15, they will bun up the hair with a hair pin. As such, 笄ji is also the word for Rite of Passage for girls.
Relevant quotes from classic Chinese books in Chinese history:
<礼记。内则>：“女子十有五而笄” Book of Rites. Neize: Girls pin their hair up at the age of 15
<仪礼。士昏礼>：“女子许嫁，笄而礼之称字” Book of Etiquettes. Marriage Etiquette: When girl is (at the age of) allowed to get married, they will put a ji to bun up hair.
簪Zan is developed from 笄ji, and the usage is almost the same as ji. It is usually made of gold, jade, tusk, bone, tortoiseshell, etc. It can also be used to scratch one’s scalp.
Since Shang Dynasty(1600BC-1046BC), Chinese started to use zan. It serves two purposes, firstly is to set hair bun or, secondly is for decoration. It can be used by both men and women. In ancient China, there are rules that criminals are not allowed to use zan. Emperor’s wives if commit any offence are also banned from using zan. So, zan also is a symbol of dignity.
In Neolithic times(Neo stoneage), until Shang&Zhou Dynasty(1600B.C-256B.C), zan is mainly made of bones. SInce Han Dynasty(202BC-220AD), ivory zan, jade zan, gem embed zan started to emerge. During Tang Dynasty(618-907AD), Song Dynasty(960-1279AD) and Yuan Dynasty(1271-1368AD), the use of precious materials such as gold, silver, jade became prevalent, The techniques also improved a lot to create more delicate and sophisticated designs.
The head of zan(the decorative end of zan)is commonly seen with the motifs of plants, animals, geometric shapes, or other home objects. Most of the designs have auspicious meanings. Sometimes gems such as jade, enamel, coral, pearls are embed into the designs. The use of zan is also strictly going according one’s social status. The best and most rare materials are always used by royalties. Dragon, phoenix motifs are exclusively for royal family, specifically, the Emperor, Queen Consort to Consorts, Empress Dowager.
As mentioned above, zan can be used functionally and/or decoratively. For function use, zan is used in the same way as ji, where it is inserted into the bun to stabilize hair. For decorative purpose, it can be used in more versatile ways, in different parts of the head.
Relevant quotes from classic Chinese books and poem in Chinese history:
<后汉书。舆服志>：“黄金龙首衔白珠，鱼须擿(zhi4)，长一尺，为簪珥。” <Book of Later Han.Travel and Dress>: Golden dragon head with white pearl embed in mouth, Fish Beard pin, (apprx) 23cm l0ng, is the zan and the jade earrings .
杜甫<望春>：“白头搔更短，浑欲不胜簪”<Spring view>by Du Fu: My white hair is even scarier with scratching, and can barely hold a hairpin(zan). (translation: https://eastasiastudent.net/china/classical/du-fu-spring-view/, last access 30th Ausgust 2016)
钗chai basically is two 簪zan combined together, it is used to hold hair, or can be used to pin the hat on hair. Zan always have two pins, or sticks, instead of just one pin. Zan is not only an accessory but also a symbol of love, probably because it is in pair. In ancient China, between lovers they will split a chai at farewell and each person keeps half. When they meet again they will combine the two halfs into one.
辛弃疾<祝英台近.晚春>：“宝钗分，桃叶渡，颜柳暗南浦”<Zhu Yingtai jin.Late Spring>:”Split the chai, At Taoye Du(the place of farewell), fog is covering the sight of the willows, the scenery at waterside is very desolated.” However, this poem is using an metaphor to express the poet’s sadness of leaving his motherland.
步摇Buyao is an extension of Ji, Zan, and Chai. It had large variety of designs. One main character of Buyao is that it has some mobile part that can moves when the lady walks. It could be tassels or spring-like parts, chains or anything that has certain mobility. Hence the name came as 步(bu,walk) 摇(yao, move).
video source:Youtube Channel FU ZHANG published on 26th April 2016. Chinese drama<The Empress of China>, stories happen in Tang Dynasty(618-907AD)
Just for reference and get an idea how Buyao looks when wearing. You can watch the video starting at 10:16 when the Consorts are talking with each other. Personally I think Buyao is one of the hair accessories that emphasize on feminine aspects the most, making women look more demure and gentle, with subtle sexiness. The drama and costume generally respects Chinese History, including the color of the attires, the design of the jewelries, the hairstyle. You can find a few types of hair accessories I mentioned in this post.
Relevant documents in classic Chinese books:
<释名.释首饰>:“步摇上有垂珠，步则动摇也。”<Late Han Etymological Dictionary. Name of accessories>:”Buyao has dangling beads, when walks it will sway”
白居易<长恨歌>:“云鬓花颜金步摇，芙蓉暖帐度春宵。” <A Song of Immortal Regret>by Bai Juyi:”She had a florid face and cloud-soft hair adorned with glittering golden beads (Buyao) that swayed,
Behind bedchamber curtains painted with lotus, springtime passion was in play. translation:https://28utscprojects.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/071/ last access 30th August 2016 This poem is used to describe Yang Yuhuan, also known as Yang Guifei, the most famous Imperial Noble Consort of Tang Dynasty. She is one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history, and is also blamed for distracting and interfering Emperor’s affairs of states. Rumor says she was executed in Lushan’s rebellion against the emperor, but the truth remains a mystery.
钿Dian, also known as 钿花dian flower, originated from Southern Song(420-479AD), generally in red, green, and blue. Made with gild and/or silver, it can be pinned on hair as decoration. In most designs, dian make use of different materials to create flower shape. There are other patterns beside flower, such as bird, fish, duck. This is similar to many hair accessories we use in modern days, purely for decorative purposes. It can be combined with Buyao, as seen in image 2,4, and 5 there are dangling beads on the dian.
In different occasions, women wear different hair accessories according to their status. Royal generally wears flamboyantly. in <后汉书.舆服志><Book of Later Han.Travel and Dress>says when Grandma-Empress dowager and Empress Dowager(grandmother and mother of the Emperor) visit the temples, their accessories“簪以瑇瑁为擿，长一尺，端为华盛，上为凤皇爵，以翡翠为毛羽，下有白珠，垂黄金镊。左右一横簪之，以安蔮结。诸簪珥皆同制，其擿有等级焉。”loosely translate to”Zan is made of tortoiseshell, about 23cm long, Huasheng at front, Phoenix Jue on top, using jade as feather, below here is white beads, and dangling golden accessories. There is a horizontal zan on each side of the head, to complete the entire outfit. Every one’s earrings look the same, but hair accessories shows hierarchies. ”
华胜Huasheng, also known as 花勝(pronounce the same), usually is made into the shape of plants and is put at the forehead of women as decoration.
Relevant documents in classic Chinese books:
<释名.释首饰>:“华胜，华，象草木之华也；胜，言人形容正等，一人著之则胜，蔽发前为饰也”<Late Han Etymological Dictionary. Name of accessories>:”Huangsheng, Hua, resembling flora; sheng, to describe people with presentable appearance, if people wear it, it is an accessory at forehead.”
篦Bi is a finer version of comb, it can be used to comb off dust and dirt from hair. In ancient China, people pay a lot of emphasis on grooming, thus looking good is very important, and people bring a comb with them wherever they go, especially for women. Slowly it became a fashion to use bi, which is a comb that pin on hair.
from this painting of Zhang Xuan we can tell how women use Bi at that point of time.
http://tieba.baidu.com/p/2708145136 Post by Yi Yi Guan on Baidu,<顺手带来，中国古代女子发饰：笄、簪、钗、华胜、步摇……> Last access 30th August 2016
http://fashion.sohu.com/20150410/n411077091.shtml 360doc.com <中国古代女子发饰：笄、簪、钗、华胜、步摇、篦、钿> Last access 30th August 2016
Nowadays we do not use so many types of hair accessories anymore-at least not at the same time. However, there are similar products for girls who want extra sparkles.I browse through my favorite shopping website shopbop.com and found some items:(https://www.shopbop.com/accessories-hair/br/v=1/2534374302062842.htm)
There are also bohemian style hair accessories that can be put at forehead, which resembles Huasheng.
The ancient style accessories can be re-designed into something more suitable, wearable in modern times, and yet reserves a bit of traditions.
While this video is not a 100% accurate historical documentation, it gives an idea of how important hairstyle is in Chinese history.
Hair carries significant meaning in Chinese culture, it reflects your identity, status, your religions, and your political stands. With changing of ruling parties, the hairstyle changes as well. For example, when Qing dynasty(1644-1912) took over Ming dynasty(1368-1644), The emperor of Qing enforced the policy of cutting hair.
It was so important the policy stated “Keep your hair and lose your head, keep your head and lose your hair”.
As for women, it is said that only married women are supposed to bun all the hair up. For single ladies they are supposed to let some hair down.
Also, cutting hair could be an offense in Chinese Culture, as people believed that your body are all the gifts from your parents, damaging your body equals to insulting your parents, which is unfilial. Cutting of hair can be seen as a punishment or humiliation.
There was a historically documented event in Qing Dynasty, between Queen Consort Ulanara乌喇那拉氏 and Emperor Qianlong 乾隆皇帝(1711-1799), during 1765. Ulanara was the sencond Queen Consort of Emperor Qianlong, after the first 孝贤纯皇后Queen Consort Xiaoxianchun(Emperess Xiaoxianchun) passed away.
Queen Consort Ulanara protested against Emperor Qianlong on his decision to appoint an Imperial Noble Consort upon a girl(*see more details below). As cutting hair is normally only performed when someone’s parents or spouse pass away, or some important figure passes away, it representing the virtual death of oneself, as to accompany the dead. The protest was so intense that Emperor Qianlong and his Queen Mother(Empress Dowager) abolished Queen Consort Ulanara into the Cold Palace(**see explanations below). Because of this incidence, Queen Consort Ulanara was never treated fairly and respected by Empreror Qianlong. After she passed away in 1766, one year after the incidence, Emperor Qianlong degraded her funeral scale and standard, and banned her from being buried in royal tombs. Even 13 years after the event, Emperor Qianlong still hasn’t forgiven her.
Relevant resource: (In Chinese) start at 19’20”
Youtube Channel CCTV Culture Official (By China Central Television)
20140606 百家讲坛 清十二帝后宫疑案6 乾隆帝爱恨交加的三个女人
Access date: 28th August 2016
As we can see hair and hairstyle have great meaning in Chinese history. Although in modern times, hairstyle is, in most cases, a personal preference, and cutting hair is not a sin or an offence anymore(maybe in some religions), we definitely have more freedom in deciding how long we want our hair to be and how often we want to style it. However, the idea of hair accessories can still bring up some Chinese traditions and stories. Incorporating hair accessories into my jewelry design can be a good direction to look at. Combining what I have mentioned in previous post regarding Chinese wedding customs, hair accessories can also play up and down, for different occasions, for different hairstyles.
*The hierarchies of Emperors wives in Chinese History, Qing Dynasty
There are strict rules regarding the hierarchies of Emperor’s wife in Qing Dynasty. From the highest ranking to the lowest ranking, and the maximum number of persons allowed for each title are listed below: (Translation may vary)
皇后 Queen Consort x 1
皇贵妃 Imperial Noble Consort x 1
贵妃 Noble Consort 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
Generally, Emperor will respect Queen Consort and do not appoint Imperial Noble Consort as this may make the Queen Consort feel intimidated or threatened, which is why Queen Consort Ulanara was so raged at Emperor Qianlong’s decision.
Translation of titles: http://www.guokr.com/question/482351/ last access 28th August 2016
Hierarchies and number limits: http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/10825806.html last access 28th August 2016
** The Cold Palace:
Also known as Limbo. A representation of the place in the Forbidden City where Emperors put his abandoned, abolished or unwanted wives to spend rest of their life. Usually it means the Emperor has lost interests in them or wants to punish them for their wrong doings.
The Cold Palace is not a specific palace in the Forbidden city, it symbolizes a situation where emperor does not want to pay attention to the wife anymore, and do not entitle the wife to have the welfare that she used to have. This includes less maids servicing her. Once the wife is put into the Cold Palace, it is equals to taking away all her titles in the hierarchy although it may not be officially announced. It is very commonly seen in Chinese drama and novels.