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Queensland Museum

Chinese Collection

Chinese lanterns Muyu Chinese dragon Yueqin Chinese lady's silk jacket Chinese lady's shoes

Chinese lanterns

The paper lantern on the left is close to 100 years old. It has a flower-like shape and a candle holder on the cardboard base. Its four main colours are red, green, yellow and orange. On the right is a colourful Chinese lantern sold in shops today.

Object description

The paper lantern is old shop stock from Kwong Sang and Co, Chinese merchants and importers established in Toowoomba in 1883. In 1887 a Chinese migrant came to Queensland by the name of Hock Sing and he became the sole operator of the store. He was known as Kwong Sang and was leader of the Chinese community in Toowoomba for decades. The business sold tea, firecrackers, sanctuary oils, peanuts, Chinese lanterns and silk. His son, Diamond Lum, also played a significant role in Australian-Chinese relations, through his role as Honorary Consul for China in Queensland.

History

Lanterns have been part of Chinese culture for centuries. Emperors hung them in their gardens, on boats, in homes and temples. Paper lanterns (deng) with the sacred red colour and lucky roundness of money (yuan) symbolise long life and good luck. A Festival of Lanterns is celebrated at the end of the Chinese New Year. Silk, paper and plastic lanterns are paraded through the streets at this time.

Muyu

This is a set of muyus or Chinese wooden slit drums. The sound produced is affected by the instrument’s size, type of wood, and how hollow it is. Today muyus are often used in sets of five. In a Chinese Orchestra they are used to convey a solemn and religious feel to the music. They are also used in battle scenes and played in fast and lively pieces.

Object description

This is a set of four wooden slit drums or idiophones. Sound is produced without the use of strings or membranes. A wooden stick with a tear-shaped knob is used to beat against the drum to produce sound.  Each drum is shaped like a triangular prism with a slit along the bottom. Heart shapes are carved into both faces with a hole at the point. Four grooves are carved across the top. They are painted red with two gold fish on each side.

History

The muyu is also called a ‘wooden fish’ and was first used by Buddhist monks. The fish was a symbol of wakefulness as fish were thought not to sleep. The symbol reminded Buddhist followers to remain awake and concentrate on their prayers. The striking of the muyu provided the rhythm as they chanted their scriptures. Mention of muyus has been found in writings from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD).

Chinese dragons

Chinese dragons are said to be made up of nine different animals: the head of a camel; scales of a fish; horns of a deer; eyes of a rabbit; ears of a bull; neck of a snake; belly of a frog; paws of a tiger; and claws of an eagle. Dragons appear in many areas of Chinese culture but today their purpose is mainly decorative. They cover shop fronts at Chinese New Year and are embroidered on silk clothing and wall hangings.

Object description

This Chinese dragon is made of gold-plated ceramic with a gold commemorative plate affixed with red silk tassels. It is one of a pair that was donated to the Queensland Museum in 2007 by Peter Beattie, a former Premier of Queensland. The Chinese Community of Queensland presented the dragon to him in recognition of his clear stance against racism and for embracing the multicultural nature of Queensland society.

History

Dragons are mythical creatures thought to possess magical powers that could ward off evil spirits. In ancient Chinese culture they were a symbol of power and strength. The Imperial golden dragon with five claws on each foot was a symbol for the emperor in many Chinese dynasties. Many Chinese people use the term ‘descendants of the dragon’ to refer to their cultural identity. Today dragon dances are a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Yueqin

This is a Chinese lute or moon guitar. The Yueqin gets its name from its round shape as ‘Yue’ stand for ‘the moon’ in Chinese. It is used by the orchestra for the Beijing opera and produces the loudest sound of the plucked lute family of Chinese instruments. It can be heard easily above the full Chinese orchestra.

Object description

This moon guitar is a chordophone which means it produces sound by the vibration of strings. It is made of wood, bone, metal, and cord. It has a flat circular body. A curved piece of wood extends from one side with four circular knobs that are connected to four plastic strings. The strings run along the wooden extension over the frets which are inlaid with bone. At the end is a round piece of wood with an incised shell decoration.

History

Legend suggests that the yueqin was invented in China during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC). The traditional yueqin had strings made of silk but nylon or steel-wrapped nylon is commonly used today.

Chinese lady’s silk jacket

This jacket is made of silk. The Chinese were the first to invent silk production several centuries ago. With increased travel and trading, the secret of silk production (sericulture) eventually reached other parts of the world. Silk is now used to make clothes, shoes and many other products. Today, the Chinese are still considered the finest silk merchants in the world.  

Object description

This is a bright blue silk jacket. Embroidery is on the cream cuffs, around the collar, down the centre front, bottom and half way up the sides. All cream areas are piped with black silk. There is bright orange, purple, yellow, red, blue, grey and green embroidery. Motifs include butterflies, peonies and orchids. It is fully lined with blue habutae silk and was donated to the Queensland Museum in 1950.

History

Chinese legend suggests silk production was discovered by Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih. She was the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China in about 3000 BC. She discovered that unwinding the cocoon of silkworms would produce a shining strong thread. That is how silk production was invented. The motifs on the jacket have special meaning in Chinese culture. Butterflies are the emblem of joy, peonies for feminine beauty, and orchids for love and beauty. 

Chinese lady’s shoes

This is a pair of Chinese lady’s shoes for bound feet. They are very small as the ideal length for a bound foot was seven and a half centimetres. Shoes for bound feet were called foot-binding shoes and lotus slippers in many non-Chinese communities. They are referred to by a variety of names in China and Chinese literature. These include gongxie (arched shoes), xiuxie (embroidered slippers), jin lian (gilded lilies) and san cun jin lian (three inch golden lily/lotus).

Object description

These are lotus shoes with a triangular sole. They are made of bright red and blue cotton and cream silk. Elaborate designs of dragons and flowers are embroidered on the silk. The blue panel at the top has white and green satin stitching along its length. The heel is covered in green fabric.

History

Foot binding was a custom practised in China and occurred during the Song Dynasty ( 960-1279 AD), over a thousand years ago. Small feet were greatly admired in China. To ensure that a young girl’s feet did not grow, her feet were usually bound after she was four years old. It was done with a stout bandage, the bandage being tightened daily after removal. The bound foot never ceased to cause pain while the woman walked. In 1911 this practice was banned by the Chinese government.