Jewellery and traditional beliefs

Today, China is known for being one of the largest producers of pearls. It is a very ancient artistic tradition, but China began to use precious metals relatively late. Rare references for ornaments date from the Tang period (618-906). At the beginning of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), the Chinese showed great interest in jewellery influenced by Persia and India. Only toward of the end of the 11th century, we can see local characteristics. The most important type of jewel was worn on the head like tiaras and diadems. We can see many influences in Chinese jewels from the Himalaya region (Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan), where the traditional skills were trekked from village to village, tribe to tribe. The jewellery traditions of the Far East reflect this immense environmental, cultural and economic diversity. However, many jewellery traditions were stopped during the time of communism, where personal adornment was severely criticised by the government. Only official badges and medals were authorized, in order to show one’s pride and loyalty to the party. Since the end of Mao Tse Tung reign, the Chinese have recovered the skills and knowledge to make ancient and traditional jewellery work.

Punched work, pierced work, and filigree are characteristics of Chinese jewellery. Their jewellery is seen to provide power and strength to the wearer. Animals were representative and symbolic. For example,  the dragon symbolized power and good luck, the goldfish for abundance of gold, the phoenix for good fortune, opportunity and luck, and many others like bird, tiger, monkey, bat, peacock. Clouds, flowers and twigs were also symbols of good luck. Colours and semi precious stones were worn in order to give power, but also to cure some diseases, give longevity, and to be healthy.  The most famous stones used for many centuries are coral, turquoise and jade.

Hair ornament, gilded silver, turquoise, coral and seed pearls.

Hair ornament, gilded silver, turquoise, coral and seed pearls.

Turquoise is seen as a “living stone” that shares the ultimate fate of the mortal that wear it. Its colour symbolizes water, air and sky. This stone can counteract devil forces and make the wearer brave and invulnerable. In addition, seeing it in a dream may bring you good luck.

Coral is supposed to bring good luck, strength to women, and favourable effects on menstruation. The most desired variety is the Italian coral. It was brought by the Silk Road and was only worn by the wealthiest class. Marco Polo noted that Tibetans ranked coral among the precious stones and used it to adorn the necks of their women and idols.

Turquoise and coral were used to make amulet boxes in silver, gold or copper. Hidden spells or prayers in the boxes were used to appease evil spirits, while the decoration was symbolic to strengthen power content.

amulet box made with turquoise and coral stones

The blue turquoise colour was also given by enamel or by the very traditional Chinese process: using Kingfisher feathers. The technique, called tian-tsui, means “dotting with kingfishers” that involves using glue to adhere the feathers onto vermeil, or silver. The Kingfisher bird is highly esteemed by the Chinese for its colour and celebrated in poetry and song by Chinese from ancient times. Over the centuries, the Kingfisher’s blue colour feather became highly prized and extremely sought after as an inlay in decorative arts. Kingfisher feather were used by the Chinese to denote status, wealth and royalty. Today that tradition has disappeared; many birds were killed during the Qing dynasty just in order to collect their feathers and the skill of tian tsui has disappeared as well. But we can still see very wonderful pieces in museums.

hair ornament made with kingfisher feathers

chinese necklace and earings made with coral beads and kingfisher feathers

This portrait of the wife of a high dignitary is painted on silk. It was made during the 1st Ming dynasty (early 15th century). She’s wearing a traditional headdress, which constituted with phoenix, clouds and flowers. The red beads were probably coral and the clouds in blue are made with kingfisher feathers to symbolize air and sky. We can also see turquoise beads on the pendants and pearls.

Turquoise, coral and pearls are very famous in Chinese jewellery. But the most famous stone is obviously the Jade. Not only for jewellery making, also for decorative objects, dishes, vases, hair comb… We found utilization of jade as jewel since Palaeolithic (hunter-gatherers) period with perforated beads at Zhoukoudian. But it’s during the Neolithic period the “art of jade” have started, caring in the Zhejiang province (5000 BC). The massive production of finely polished pendants and beads were being produced in South-East China during the 3rd millennium before Christ.  In ancient time, Jade was most expensive than gold. For example during the Imperial China, the first prize for an athlete was jade, after gold for the second place and at the third place ivory.

Jade often has a green colour, but the most rare and luxurious one is the white jade.  Many colours can be found: pink, orange or light brown, blue, black. The different colours are created by different types of chemical components: the green jade contains chromium salts, the blue-green jade contains cobalt salts, the black jade contains titanium salts, and the pink jade contains salts of iron and manganese.

traditional jade bangle made in various colours

In ancient China, jade was used in rituals and sacrifices. According to ancient Chinese beliefs, the sky was round and the earth was square. A jade ornament with a round hole in the middle, called “bi”, symbolized the sky. A jewel of long hollow jade with rectangular sides, called “cong”, symbolized the earth. The bi was often placed with the corpse before burial as jade cicada was used to symbolize rebirth.

China, late Eastern Zhou dynasty or early Western Han dynasty 3rd – 2nd century BC Diameter: 5 1/8 inches, 13 cm Thickness: 1/8 inch, 0.4 cm

In the Han Dynasty, some leaders were buried in suits made entirely of jade. It was made of many pieces with various shapes, usually square, that were held together by thin threads of precious metal or silk, like the shroud of King of Chu. These extremely expensive structures were reserved only for elites. It is estimated that it took several years to achieve this kind of ritual costume that consists of 2000 to 5000 pieces! The Chinese believed that jade had magical properties and protected the corpse from decomposition.

jade shroud made with white jade and gold thread, Han dynasty.

Jade is still being used today, although the techniques have changed with technology the jade objects as talismans, “bi” or decorative objects are still used in Chinese culture, and popular with tourists as souvenirs.

Worlds First Computer

Ok, so it’s a pretty bold statement to say what the first computer in the world is, many people still debate it, so I’m not even going to begin to try and convince you I have the answer but if we were to look at what defines the word ‘computer,’ it might help us out.

computer |kəmˈpyo͞otər|

noun

• an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.

• a person who makes calculations, esp. with a calculating machine.

‘A person who makes calculations, esp. with a calculating machine’ is the part that interests me. So what is the earliest calculating machine? You find that and who used it and you have your first computer. This again is up for debate as to which calculating machine was first.

One of the earliest calculating machines was the Chinese ‘abacus.’ The earliest written proof of the Chinese abacus is from the 2nd Century BC. Know as the ‘suànpán’ literally meaning ‘counting tray.’ It has two decks of beads on rods (there are at least seven rods but generally more). The upper deck has two beads on its rods and the lower deck has five beads on each rod. One bead on the upper deck represents the number five and one bead on the lower deck represents the number one. The horizontal bar that separates the two decks is the where you count from. If there are no beads touching the horizontal bar then nothing is counted. Moving a bead from the lower deck to meet the horizontal bar would count one, in order to count five you move one of the beads from the upper deck to meet the horizontal bar, a number over five is a combination of beads from upper and lower deck beads.

The abacus could be seen as one of the earliest pieces of Interaction Design. Interaction design was first coined in the mid 1980’s, many, many years after the abacus. One definition of interaction design is ‘The process and result of creating an interface that facilitates users’ goals and tasks.’ This sums up the abacus, the goal or task being to calculate and the interface being the physical object itself. So even though the abacus was not made with interaction design in mind. If we look back we can clearly see that it is a good example of it.

If I were to break it down and work out why its good I would start with the beads. Having these beads/objects represent numbers makes it accessible by all. Numbers can be written and spoken differently across many languages and the abacus needed to be understood by all as traders often used it. The traders would not know every language they would encounter and so having this common language using objects made the business side of their deals that bit easier. It erased the possibility of mental error, you don’t need to hold numbers in your head because the beads are the numbers and you can move them about to suit your needs. The beads are also good because they are split into five beads of value one on one side and two beads on value five on the other. This is good interaction and informatic design. If you were to have all ten beads on one side, like the western abacus, it becomes more difficult to read a number at a glance. With the Chinese abacus however it becomes easy. Processing one bead on the upper deck to count five and then only having to glance at the bottom deck to see if any beads were being counted is easier, there are fewer beads together and so distinguishing between them becomes a simpler task. The traders needed speed when using these calculation machines and dividing the numbers up this way gave them that ability. It also has quite a beautifully simple way to ‘reset’ it, all you need to do is spin the abacus on its horizontal axis, physics takes care of the rest as all the beads fly out to the outer edges of the board thus leaving none touching the horizontal bar, making a grand total of zero, ready to begin counting again.

The abacus is still use today for counting and there are many examples of children’s toys that are some form or abacus. It is also used for teaching basic arithmetic to the blind. All of the counting and the sums can be done completely through touch, another unique interaction that the abacus has.

All of this makes it, for me, quite an inspiring piece of interaction design. Possibly the longest standing piece of interaction design too. Not only is it still around but the design has even inspired bathroom design of all things. Proving it’s a design you can count on.

Food traditions in china

Food traditions in china

Households in rural china are known to thrive on growing as much of their own food as possible; this allows them to spend very little money on food. This low food expenditure suggests high poverty rates, however china’s rural population are generally not malnourished. Their diet mainly consists of rice, wheat flour, other grains and vegetables, with a low protein intake; through this most of their nutritional needs are met. Spend very little on food, allows families to save their money for the more important things in life: like school fees, household construction and other goods or services they may need.

Chinese people have many different eating traditions. Table manners are seen as a very important part of daily life, it is said that if you have good table manners it will add to the enjoyment of your meal and keep everyone in good spirits. Hosts in china are all friendly and hospitable. However, you must show them respect. Some may offer words of greeting to visitors before you eat and it is not till they have finished and say “please enjoy” or words similar you can tuck into your food, failure to do so shows major disrespect and is offensive to the host. The elders in a family are looked upon with great respect; they are seen as wise/intelligent people. As a show of respect it is tradition to present the senior members of the family with the best and finest foods first, this what is expected and has been going on for many generations. As shown in the photo hosts place the main dish in the center and arrange the side dishes evenly around it creating a circle. If dishes are prepared in a decorative form they will be presented facing the guest and elders, as a final act of respect.

As everyone knows china is the hometown of chopsticks but china were not the only ones to take up this tradition, they were also introduced in Vietnam, North Korea, and South Korea. It is said that the invention of chopsticks shows the wisdom of the Chinese, creating the simplest design of two sticks able to do so much to and with food. Nowadays it is a strong belief that chopsticks bring good luck to peoples lives, so are given as wedding presents and gifts. Chopsticks have developed over the years, starting off 5000 years ago as a two twigs picked off the ground and developing into two tapered sticks of equal lengths coming in all kinds of materials like bamboo, plastic, metal, bone, ivory, and gold. With allsorts of patterns engraved or printed onto them.

There are many rules regarding the correct way to use chopsticks. These must be obeyed or you could come across as having bad manners and can be seen as being very disrespectful.

  1. Firstly, it is considered begger like to hit the side of your bowl or plate with your chopstick because Chinese people think you would only do that when you are begging for food.
  2.  Secondly, it is seen as a kind of accusation to others if you where to stretch out your index finger while eating or point your chopsticks at another, at the table.
  3. Thirdly, it is seen bad manners to suck the end of a chopstick; this implies you haven’t been brought up properly, so puts shame on your family.
  4. And lastly, do not insert a chopstick vertically into the food. This is only done when burning incense to sacrifice the dead. So is a sign of major disrespect.

As you can see food is a very important part of Chinese heritage. There are many different traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation, that Chinese people just see as a way of life but others looking in, might deem unnecessary. Their relationship with food is very important part of their life and people from around the world should look into this culture and try new things. Then people might even start up their own traditions to pass down the generations.