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Chinese Jewelry — History, Tradition, Culture, Types, Techniques, Symbolism, and Artifacts

Chinese jewelry culture encompasses history, development, traditional crafts, materials, classifications, and design.

 

It combines rich history, intricate craftsmanship, and profound cultural significance.

 

Delicate rings, exquisite earrings, stunning necklaces, and artsy bracelets – each ornament tells a story, crafted with precision and imbued with symbolism.

 

These pieces transcend mere accessories, becoming carriers of profound meanings.

Jade Decorated Filigree Gold Hairpin of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Jade Decorated Filigree Gold Hairpin of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Chinese Rings in Ancient Culture — Informative Origin and Love Representative

Since the Neolithic era, the ring has been used as decoration and to protect fingers from drawing bows

Turquoise Decorated Ring of Dawenkou Culture (around 4500 BC — 2500 BC)

Turquoise Decorated Ring of Dawenkou Culture (around 4500 BC — 2500 BC) — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

In ancient China, an Emperor would have an honorable Empress and many imperial concubines in his palace. 

Hence, around the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC — 220 AD), silver and gold rings were worn by the queen and imperial concubines to show their physical conditions implicitly.

If one were in menstruation or pregnant, she would wear a gold ring on the left hand to imply that she's inconvenient to serve the emperor.

 

When someone was available, she would wear a silver ring on her left hand and move it to her right hand after spending the night with the emperor.

Gradually, this implicit method spread to nobles and officials, then to the civilian world.

Meanwhile, rings that were mostly made of valuable materials, such as gold, silver, and jade, became awards to accomplished officials and love tokens between couples. 

Starting from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279), the ring has become one of the essential betrothal gifts to the bride. 

Puyi's Wedding Ring, Carved with Quotes " Yun Zhi Jue Zhong"
Puyi's Wedding Ring, Carved with Quotes "Wei Jing Wei Yi"

Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) Puyi's Wedding Ring, Carved with Quotes "Wei Jing Wei Yi, Yun Zhi Jue Zhong", From the Ancient "Book of Documents" (Shang Shu) — Palace Museum

Earring — From Self-Introspection to Beautiful Decoration

Earrings, or ear decorations, originated in the Neolithic era and were used as decorations or amulets.

No later than the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), two little jade pendants were hung on crowns and hats to be used as earplugs when they needed to rest.

Soon, the earplugs were regarded as a representative of self-discipline and introspection, a highly required characteristic in Chinese culture, for being an excellent way to avoid hearing and believing anything before careful consideration.

 

At the same time, they were also reminders of being humble and willing to listen to brilliant suggestions.

Jade Pendants on Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian) of Prince Zhu Tan, the Tenth Son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang

Jade Pendants on Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian) of Prince Zhu Tan, the Tenth Son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Gradually, these pendant earplugs spread from emperors and officials to scholars, then to women hanging them on their hairpins.

During the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279), royal women started to pierce ears and wear earrings, especially those made of valuable pearls and gold.

Portrait of Emperor Zhao Gou's Queen, by Court Artist of the Song Dynasty

Portrait of Emperor Zhao Gou's Queen, by Court Artist of the Song Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum

Until the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 — 1912), wearing earrings as decorative jewelry became popular, especially among women when many stunningly beautiful and invaluable relics were produced.

Chinese Bracelet and Armlet — Ritual Origin and Art on Wrists

Chinese bracelets originated in the Neolithic era when people wore round-shaped decorations on wrists and arms, which were used to exorcise evils, pray for good luck,  or be beautiful.

Later, in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), it was officially set to use Jade Bi (Yubi) to worship heaven and Jade Cong (Yucong) to offer sacrifice to the earth. 

Jade Bi and Cong, both round shapes and carved with exquisite patterns, were believed to be the prototype of today's Chinese bracelets and armlets.

Click to read more about Ritual Jade Articles

Jade Cong of Liangzhu Culture (around 3300 BC — 2000 BC)

Jade Cong of Liangzhu Culture (around 3300 BC — 2000 BC) — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Gradually, besides invaluable jade, more materials were applied to make bracelets and armlets, including gold, silver, gem, stone, etc. 

Because of their auspicious meaning and significant importance, bracelets have been used for centuries as the keepsake of love and betrothal gifts in China. 

Besides, different bead bracelets have also been popular, worn by both men and women as a symbol of believing in Buddhism or praying for good luck.

Chinese Necklace and Collar

Since the Neolithic period, people have started to wear things on their necks to keep records or serve specific functions in worship ceremonies.

Gradually, different necklaces have been used as decorations and representatives of one's social status or religion.