Modernising Hutongs: How Architects Are Renovating the Old Beijing

Beijing’s architectural landscape has changed immensely in the past few decades. It has become a modern and vibrating city, welcoming dwellers from all over the world. The new shiny skyscrapers dominate the scene, making it difficult to imagine how it used to look like before.

Beijing now

The city centre of Beijing was a maze of hutong (胡同). Hutongs are narrow lanes, typical of the old residential areas. They connect one-storey buildings called siheyuan (四合院), enclosed homes with one or more courtyards where often more than one family lived. As the population grew exponentially, the one-storey siheyuan homes were gradually abandoned for more modern flats in new areas of the city. Many of these historic alleyways were demolished in a rush to modernity in the 1990s, which makes the few ones that remain intact even more special!  

Beijing in the 1980s

Life in a Siheyuan (四合院) 

If you wander around these hutong alleyways, you might be lucky enough to get a peek inside through a red door and get an idea of the structure of siheyuan houses. 

A typical Beijing hutong

The key feature of this kind of architecture is the courtyard. The building on the northern side was reserved for the head of the family, because it received more sunlight. The southern part of the courtyard had the least amount of natural light and was therefore left to the servants. The eastern and western buildings were inhabited by children or less important family members.   

Depending on the size and the wealth of the family, these homes could have from one to five courtyards. The construction of a siheyuan had to take into account Feng Shui rules, according to traditional Chinese geomancy. Enclosed homes are to be preferred because they “hide winds and gather Qi”, Qi being positive energy. The position of the house gate is also very important in Feng Shui theory, since a gate is where Qi passes through. The best location for it is at the south-eastern corner.  

Structure of a siheyuan

So how was it like living in one of the courtyard houses in the hutong alleyways? If you’re curious to discover more about the dynamics of several families living in a siheyuan, contemporary Chinese writer Lao She 老舍 wrote a novel called “Four Generations under One Roof” (四世同堂 ) that describes exactly that. 

Modernising Hutongs

Following China’s rapid development, people’s lifestyle changed immensely. Many Beijingers were not comfortable living in old siheyuan homes anymore. Most of them had shared bathrooms and the electrical systems that were installed 30 years ago were not suitable for all the technological appliances we use today. The privacy and convenience of a modern flat was very appealing for most, but not for everyone! 

Some of the old courtyard homes were modernised by top notch architects. In most cases the core structure is still intact, and the courtyard is still the central feature of the renovation. For example in the project ‘Twisting Courtyard’, the designers played with the classic hutong colour, i.e. grey, and combined it with white. By adding some white stones in the grey courtyard, they created a continuity between inside and out, perfect for letting the Qi flow around the space! 

Twisting Courtyard, hotel in Beijing

A different style was adopted for the project ‘Micro Hutong’. The challenge was to use the very tight space effectively to create enough rooms for social housing purposes.  

The courtyard of Micro Hutong, Beijing

All the rooms face the courtyard, which is a semi-public space that can be also used by the neighbouring community.  

Bird’s eye view, Micro Hutong

The architercture firm that designed ‘Micro Hutong’, ZAO/standardarchitecture, was also involved in another project not far away from Tiananmen square. In collaboration with the families that lived in the courtyard house, the architects came up with several solutions to strengthen the sense of community and preserve the beautiful siheyuan. Children of the neighbourhood now have access to a small library and an art space in the courtyard. 

The children’s library at Micro Yuan’er

Grey-brick stairs lead to the roof, adding a new vertical dimension to the classic one-storey house.  

The rooftop, Micro Yuan’er

The last renovation we want to show you is definitely the most creative, maybe even a bit crazy! Hutong Bubble 218 features metallic ‘bubbles’ on the rooftop of a renovated courtyard house. The structure dates back to the Qing dynasty, it was first a hospital and then a residence for over 20 families. The degradation was evident, just take a look at the before and after pictures. 

Before and after, Hutong Bubble 218

The history of the building inspired the architects to enhance the dialogue between old and new with their metal works of art. The shiny surface reflects the old roof tiles and the neighbouring homes. The concept of bubble conveys the idea of a dream, a happy moment.  

The rooftop, Hutong Bubble 218

These renovations are all inspiring examples of how old and new can coexist in a harmonious way. In most cases traditional materials were used, namely grey bricks and wood, to preserve the ancient feel of hutongs. 

Wood and grey bricks typical of old hutongs
Modern grey bricks in a renovated hutong in front of one of Beijing’s lakes

Renovating old buildings is always difficult and controversial, especially when they are a distinctive feature of a place. In the case of homes, it is important to find the right mix between preserving some old elements while adapting it to accommodate contemporary lifestyle. Hutongs are one of the few things left of old Beijing. Urbanisation and development have drastically transformed the city’s feel. As the city changes so do hutongs. Renovating and modernising is the best way to keep alive the history of hutongs and the unique sense of community that takes place in those beautiful courtyards. 

The Importance of Women’s Day in China – an Innovative Tradition

Written by Maria Giglio

International Women’s Day (IWD) will take place next Sunday. Every year, on 8th March the world commemorates the efforts of worldwide women’s movements in advancing gender equality. Although today it carries no flags, IWD was particularly meaningful in the context of socialist and communist ideologies as the emblem of social struggles during the 20th century.  Some may turn up their noses to the significance of Women’s Day in modern days. If women were equal to men, what’s the need for a special day for women, you may ask. Sure, almost every woman in the world can cast a vote today. Women can drive buses, lead successful companies, go to space, and men can stay at home looking after children. However, gender inequality is also a matter of culture, of mindset. It follows women in many aspects of their daily lives, from family, to work and the street. IWD serves as a memento not only for the past, but also for the future, that women are, and must be, equal.

Now, moving on what is the meaning of IWD in China? Let’s just start from the fact that China’s history is as massive as its geographical extent, being characterised by great changes and overturns. For example, the establishment of Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1911) marked the end of the Han era, bringing a radical cultural makeover with the abandonment of Confucian tradition and lifestyle. Other important changes happened during the 20th Century, such as the fall of the Empire and constitution of the Republic (1911) and Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1949).

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang celebrating IWD in 2015

As you may imagine, the image, status and role of women in Chinese society changed throughout history. How come we moved from loose cut Hanfus, lotus feet to sexy Qipaos? This article is an overview of such (R)evolution.

Troublemakers: the Confucianist conception of women in Ancient China

Because in ancient times Chinese society was strictly patriarchal, history was men’s business: made and told by men. Women are not much talked about, except the times they cause trouble. As a result, the picture of women we get from early historical records is that of sorts of Messalinas[1]: manipulative, unreliable, selfish.

The idea that women were somehow inherently bad and not to be trusted is nested in Confucian ideology. In Confucius Analects (17:12) we read:

“Shaoren and girls are difficult to handle. If you get familiar with them, they cease to be humble. If you keep them away, they get resentful.”

Confucian scholars followed the lead by constructing a conception of women as passive human beings, in need of guidance.

The woman with no talent is the one who has merit.

“Women are to be led and to follow others.”

In this context, the only social function attributed to women was connected to their unique ability to giving birth. As a result, women unable to have children were considered useless, a waste of society. Having a son, rather than a daughter, was a relief. 

It’s a man’s man’s world. The Han Period

The necessary separation between men and women started to be expressed in terms of yin and yang. If men were strong leaders (yang), women were docile followers (yin). If men were action, women were stillness. Because entrenched in yin-yang culture, the distinction started to be endorsed and socially accepted as something natural, falling in the universal order of things. For the centuries to come, it would be featured in all Chinese social institutions.

During the Han period (202 BCE – 220 CE), women gained a new light as members of the family. Women could even be family heads if widowed before the coming of age of their eldest son. As mothers, wives and daughters, they would show virtues of obedience, humbleness, self-sacrifice, resignation for the sake of the family. As expressed in Confucian teachings:

When young, a woman should obey the father, when married, the husband, when old, the son.”

Because Han laws allowed concubinage, the rule of virtues was instrumental to keep family women and especially wives from expressing their jealousy or conspiring against extra-marital offspring.

Women as doers. Rise and fall of women’s status.

In the Centuries following the Han period, women started to earn a different place in society. Girls would be now educated with their brothers, Buddhist nuns would provide spiritual guidance, entrepreneurial women would run their hotels.

Women were almost emancipated. However, by the beginning of the Song Period (960-1279), Neo-Confucian waves stroked again to revive the old idea of separation between men and women.

It is during that time that the practice of foot-binding started to spread, to continue until up recent times. Although never explicitly endorsed by Confucian scholars, foot-binding was socially perceived as a physical expression of Confucian virtues and soon became a way to distinguish virtuous women, worth to marry, from unvirtuous ones.

At the same time, a new belief caught on that while a man could marry twice, a woman could not. Although widow chastity was never formally enforced by law or endorsed by Neo-Confucian exponents, you can bet that widowhood could become a true nightmare for women, especially when childless. This is when the awful practice of widow suicides started to diffuse, being welcomed by many as the ultimate act of a woman’s self-abasement.

Art is an expression of feelings and most of the times of the painful kind. This is probably why, by the end of the Qing period (1644 – 1911), woman literature had proliferated in China. Generations of female novelists and poets from empresses to maids would find in writing a way to express their unspoken feelings, fears, and desire.

Uprising women: The Cultural Revolution

With the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911, the Country gained a new face. It was with the rise of the Communist party, though, that women could redesign their role within Chinese society.

Although International Women’s day had been officially recognised worldwide since 1914, in China it was marked as a holiday in 1922, following the example of the Soviet Union. There, women’s Day was regarded as an emblem of social struggles and the Communist fight. On March 8th 1917, a group of Russian women protested for ‘Bread and Peace’, opening the way to a series of revolts that would then lead to the October Revolution and the establishment of Lenin’s Communist regime.

In China, women were granted suffrage in 1947. In 1949, after the end of the civil war and the constitution of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Tse Tung, the International Women’s Day became an official holiday. Women also enjoy a half-day off for the occasion.

In Mandarin, the International Women’s Day is called 妇女节 (Fù nǚ jié). The characters used for woman, “妇女”( Fù nǚ), generally refer to married women and because of that, the day doesn’t resonate with young ladies. As a result, Chinese young folks created their own “Girl’s Day” (女生节, Nǚ shēng jié). This is celebrated on March 7th and, unlike IWD, it has nothing to do with politics. It developed during the 1990s in universities as a sort of Valentine’s day. On this day, students engage in bold courting activities, such as hanging huge red banners to declare their love to their fellow girls.

“I may not be yours, Min Jun, but you will always be my Qian Songyi.”
Notes

[1] Valeria Messalina was the third wife of Emperor Claudio. Cousin of Nero and second cousin of Caligula, she couldn’t fall too far from her genealogic tree: clever, charming and influential, Messalina had a reputation for being scheming and promiscuous. After discovering that her wife was conspiring against him, Claudio ordered her execution.

About Interact China 

Shape

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

Chinese New Year: Time to Check Your Odds, Rats!

Written by Maria Giglio

Chinese New Year celebrations officially started last 25th January, welcoming the year of the rat. The Chinese New Year is one of the few National holidays in which everything literally stops in China. Aside for unfortunate emergencies due to coronavirus, normally for the occasion even the well-known hardworkers Chinese get to enjoy a full 2-weeks break. Commuters travel to their home villages, businesses shut down for break, families happily welcome their sons and daughters who study in big cities. During these days, even in busiest metropolises such as Shanghai or Beijing, you could hardly find an open shop! 

Photo by Ridwan Meah on Unsplash

Been there, done that. 

If you have been reading this blog, you may be already familiar with the origins and roots of this festival, mentioned in last year’s article about the Year of the Pig. To recap for new readers and lazy ones, the Chinese New Year is also known as The Spring Festival and marks the beginning of the Lunar Year. The starting date changes accordingly, following the Lunar Calendar. This is based on a very ancient – and honestly, not exactly intuitive – system, according to which the Lunar years go at a 60 Gregorian Calendar (our Calendar) year pace. So why, you may ask, every Chinese new year the Zodiac sign is different from the past year? Well, because. The sexagenary cycle interlinks with a 10-year cycle of Tiangan (the heavenly stems) and a 12-year cycle of Dizhi (earthly branches). Tiangan are associated with the 5 elements of Chinese astrology and change every two years: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water (sorry, no Air). Dizhi are instead associated with the 12 animals of Chinese zodiac, and change yearly: Rat (鼠, shǔ), Ox (牛, niú), Tiger (虎, hǔ), Rabbit (兔, tù), Dragon (龙, lóng), Snake (蛇, shé), Horse (马, mǎ), Goat (羊, yang), Monkey (猴, hóu), Rooster (鸡, jī), Dog (狗, gǒu) and Pig (猪, zhū). Easy-peasy huh? 

Photo by Glen Hooper on Unsplash

So, to recap, 2020 is indeed the year of the Rat, having been the last Rat’s year in 2008. But 2020 rat is not the same as 2020’s rat. In fact, this year we celebrate the Metal Rat, whereas 12 years ago, it was the year of the Earth Rat. Why is that so? Because the same heavenly-earthly branches combination occur every sixty years. Last Metal Rat year recurred in fact in 1948. However, each zodiac sign has also a fixed heavenly branch, which in the case of the Rat is water. 

Photo by Dru Kelly on Unsplash

Got it. But what’s so special about rats? Personality traits. 

The rat is associated with intelligence and a sharp mind. As our Tom explains in his new blog, the rat won the Heavenly Race using a ride from the strong and kind but not so canny Ox.  

According to the Chinese Horoscope, in general people born in Rat years are astute and successful. Yet, they don’t disdain peaceful life from time to time. Rat women are very well organised and value tradition. In Chinese culture, at home they are loving wives, caring mothers and great leaders. At work they are reliable, resilient and capable. Likewise, men born in the year of the Rat are very flexible and adaptable, showing great creativity and an innovative spirit. Unlike women of the sign, however, they are not natural leaders. 

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

What are the characteristics of metal rats? Highly talkative and charismatic, they are people catalysers who like to be at the centre of attention. For the same purpose, they tend to get jealous and somewhat possessive.  

Matching opportunities. 

The rat’s permanent heavenly branch is water, and therefore it gets along well with signs with opposite fixed heavenly branch, which in our case is earth. Thus, Rats are mostly compatible with Ox, Dragon and Monkey. 

Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

Wishes for 2020 

Despite usually a zodiac’s year is the most unlucky year for those falling under its sign, Rats can expect quite a good year ahead in terms of career success. Health? Not so well, but if taken care of, it’ll come around. 

Let’s be honest. This Lunar Year hasn’t started with the right foot. But we hope that the stars got it right, so happy Chinese New Year from the Interact China team!

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a like or comment below! 🙂

Photo by Giuseppe Martini on Unsplash

About Interact China 

Shape

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

To Live by Yu Hua: A Tremendous Journey into The Meaning of Life

Written by Maria Giglio

活着 To Live – A novel written by Yu Hua is the history of China 20th seen through the history of a family. 

One of the most prominent authors of post-Maoist literature, Yu Hua voices the anxiety and criticism of a generation lived in Cultural Revolution with sharp realism. 

The novel is written in the form of story in a story and uses first-person narration to emphasise the realistic feature of the family facts told by the main protagonist Xu Fugui and intertwined with the historical events that marked China during 20th Century, such as the Land Reform, the Cultural Revolution and the Great Famine.  The author revealed that for this novel he was inspired by an American folk song, “Old Black Joe”. The song talked about an old slave who, despite having experienced hardship and sorrow, would still look at life as a gift. 

The novel, published in China in 1993, was originally banned for its historical controversy, but it was later proclaimed as one of the most important works of Chinese contemporary literature. Today, To Live is considered a cult and a must-read to those interested in Chinese history and literature. 

Plot 

The novel takes place in southern Chinese countryside. The plot unfolds with the technique of double narration. The first narrator is a young student who travels across Chinese villages and connect with farmers and peasants to learn their stories. The second narrator is Xu Fugui, the protagonist, an old man who lives a simple, bucolic lifestyle. After having survived the death of all his loved ones, he now spends his days accompanied by an old ox also named Fugui that he once saved from slaughter. gui discloses his life to the young stranger starting from the time he was a young and arrogant rich man. A son of a wealthy land-owner, Fugui used to spend all his family money on gambling and prostitutes, constantly disregarding his father’s admonitions and his responsibilities to his pregnant wife Jiazhen. One day, Fugui squanders all the entire fortune over gambling, which causes his father to die of despair. In poverty, desperation and misery, he finds wisdom and balance and eventually grows a better man. He starts to appreciate the importance of hard work, the value of his wife who after-all has never abandoned him.

He lives through the atrocities of civil war as a brave and loyal friend. He strives for being a caring and generous father to his elder daughter Fenxia and the young son Youqing. Over his hard life, Fugui sees all his loved ones one by one tragically and prematurely pass away.  Nonetheless, he appreciates that he, after all, lives. And so, live he does, in modesty and compassion.   

It’s better to live an ordinary life. If you go on striving for this and that, you’ll end up paying with your life.” 

To Live – Yu Hua

Yu Hua’s writing is overwhelmingly realistic and crude and doesn’t spare violent and excruciating details. However, it is right through his its raw descriptions that he engages the reader with an especially intense and emotionally charging narration. 

Movie adaptation

In 1994, To Live was adapted to the screen with a homonymous movie directed by Zhang Yimou. The script keeps somewhat loyal to the plot, although the rawness of Yu Hua’s narrative is highly sweetened with a rather melancholic tone. More emphasis is given to the historical and social context in which the drama takes place. The ox, which seems quite a fundamental, symbolic character of the book implicitly reflecting the protagonist’s stoic endurance, is also removed from the script. Moreover, the original countryside setting is replaced with a northern city background. Finally, the script adds symbolic insights of shadow puppetry.  

Ironically, even though death, violence and pain are at the centre of this emotionally charging, beautiful Chinese tragedy, the author chooses to name the novel To Live. I read it as an exhortation for everyone to always look at life with kind eyes, no matter what happens. To put it in Fugui’s words:

“No matter how lucky a person is, the moment he decides he wants to die, there’s nothing that will keep him alive.”

To Live – Yu Hua

The novel bares human frailty in all its facets, to send a message of endurance.  

In 2003, an official English version of To Live was edited by Michael Berry (Professor of Contemporary Chinese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara) and published by Anchor Books & Random House of Canada Limited.  

The book in its English version is available on Amazon at less than 15.00 $. Have you read it already? I would love to hear what you think!

About Interact China 

Shape

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

Ethnic and Ethical: 4 Reasons to Love (and Live) Sustainable Fashion in China

Written By Maria Giglio

I remember the last time I walked around Regent’s Street area in London. It was last winter on a Saturday. Ok, it may not have been the last time, but surely it was the most memorable. I passed by a fur shop. A bunch of protesters stood in front of the building yelling at anyone getting out of the fancy door. Several bystanders just didn’t take them seriously or worse, they held their children tight, covering their eyes and ears, as if they were assisting to a terrorist attack. It was a moment of dramedy.

Greta Thunberg on her first climate strike in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm

Ok, we get it. In the era of veganism, environmentalism, climate change strikes, grumpy looks from Greta Thunberg to Donald Trump, not everyone is ready to give up their comfort food just yet, and for what? The promise of a better future?  Ain’t no hero, ain’t no saint, right? Wrong! Maybe this is an era in desperate need of a Marvel character, only this time the whole world is at stake. And by world, I mean trees, animals, insects, fish, your delicious bonsai, your Golden Retriever, but also you and I, our children and their children. Only problem is… The environmental alarm is set to 2030. In a world without fictional saviours, only humanity can save itself from self-destruction. Good news: we are still in time to make this happen. How? By compromising on our old habits: energy and food waste, water efficiency, responsible consumption. In a nutshell, sustainability. And compared to the payoff, this is really a small effort. The growing concern about sustainability issues has finally led many industries to look at it as a crucial bullet point in their performance checklist. Sustainable goals are increasingly becoming a key determinant of bottom line performances.

A relatively young capitalist economic superpower and a fast-forward technological hub, China is a fertile environment to grow sustainable businesses.  As an important branch of mass consumption, fashion is one of the most prosperous industries affected by sustainability goals. A workforce of young, western-educated home-comers are prepared to redress their homeland reputation with sustainable initiatives.

What is sustainable fashion?

The very first important question to ask is: what do we mean by sustainable fashion? The answer is, one that is environmental-friendly, but also people-friendly. Why would (and should) we support it, then?

It’s good for the planet

Sustainability intuitively relates to environmental issues. In what ways fashion can be sustainable under this aspect? First of all, generally ethical brands offer handmade products, usually unique pieces. Taking mass-production off the table implies to avoid frenetic production which exhausts resources rapidly, but also to avoid industrial processing which implies high level of energy emission, chemical material usage, water consumption, toxic waste.

Moreover, sustainable clothing is made of natural, organic and recycled materials. This contributes to reduce the ecological footprint not only because “what comes from nature returns to nature” but also because it reduces waste production. In fact, organic fabric generally ensures a better quality of clothing, which usually lasts longer than synthetic fibres. This discourages you from disposing of a shirt right after few months of usage.

It’s good for yourself

I’ve just pointed out that a very important feature of sustainable fashion is that is made of organic fabric. This is also good for your health. As a customer, you don’t want to risk to wake up covered in rash because of the wrong pajama. Organic fabrics usually have a very low level, if not free, of toxicity and carcinogens.

Moreover, let’s not forget that handmade production grants you top quality and awesome unique pieces, at a fairly reasonable prices. Don’t you want to feel special and unique too?

It’s good for other people

Environment and health are the most obvious reasons for going sustainable. But beyond those, we should think of sustainability more as a holistic concept, that refers to all the dimensions of our living together. It’s a call to share the global limited space and resources equally, responsibly and kindly, paying the same consideration for the well-being of others as the consideration we expect them to pay for us. The official plan for sustainability set up by the UN, the Sustainable Development Goals  (in short 2030 SDGs), amounts to 17 global goals in total including social goals in the global political agenda.

To mention some, gender equality, education, peace, justice, decent work, innovation. So, beyond the eco-friendly purpose, sustainable fashion also aims at achieving social equality. How? By taking care of the well-being of women and men behind each product. For example, the use of organic materials reduces the risk of exposure to and inhalation of toxic substances, thus safeguarding the worker’s health. Moreover, sustainable brands endorse a policy of fairness. Retailers in this slice of market are usually committed to promote the ethnic products of the most marginalised communities in the world to support their independent development. How? By granting fair pay and treating them as equal partners and avoiding engaging in abusive practices. Last but not least, by promoting their cultural heritage, often at risk of disappearance due to the mass-globalisation.

Ultimately, it’s good for your soul

Yes, it is. Don’t you feel already empowered by knowing that so much good can come from one simple gesture? You are one bag away from changing a life, for real.

Chinese Brands Committed to Ethical Fashion

And if you’re curious to know who is striving for social change in the Chinese fashion district, here are some examples:

Nuomi – A high-end fashion line, Nuomi empowers women with its handmade line, all using natural fibres such as bamboo, cotton, silk, and an admirable working ethics, creating employment opportunities in disadvantaged contexts.

Fake Natoo – is a true blessing for the environment, using exclusively recycled and donated materials. The fashion brand is also committed to create working opportunities for migrant female creatives by giving 10% of its annual revenue to their cooperatives.

NEEMIC – this high end fashion brand uses 100% organic materials, from fabric to cleansing products such as biodegradable soaps to avoid chemical waste.

Interact China: Do good, look good, feel good!

If you are looking for something that ticks all the boxes but is also culturally tripping, look no more! Interact China is devoted to promoting the delicate creations of Chinese and Southeast Asian ethnic communities.

Miao generations of lady crafters

Our mission is to improve the livelihood of these communities by providing them with the opportunity to sell their products in the global market.

Our co-founders Aileen and Norman on a trip to a Miao Village, Yunnan 2005

Each item is a little treasure telling the story of its people’s long journey. Do you want to hear it? The way we see it: do good, look good, feel good! You are just a click away from making it happen… Visit us on www.InteractChina.com !


About Interact China 

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

圖案

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

Silk Crossroads: Chinese Brocade in The World

Written by Maria Giglio

Ever wondered where all that Shakespearian costume vibes that Brocade shoes evoke come from? Well that’s an interesting journey.

Back in Renaissance, Italian folks went crazy about silk brocade. As a matter of fact, the English word brocade derives right from the Italian word broccato (interestingly sharing roots with the word broccoli!) to refer to the embossed (broccus means sprout in latin) effect produced on the surface by the weaving technique. However, brocade carries far more remote origins than Italian renaissance, dating back to the Chinese warring states period (around the 5th Century B.C), a time when the silk-secret had not been unravelled yet.

The character Jin (锦), used to compose the Chinese name for Brocade Zhī jǐnduàn (织锦缎) literally means golden dragonfly and refers to the noble texture of the fabric which originally was refined with gold and silver filigree which nowadays are replaced by copper or alluminium powder. Silk brocade features a unique colourful pattern, usually displaying flowers and nature, the distinctiveness of which is given by an irresistible tri-dimensional effect.

But first, the technical stuff

Brocade is not an independent but an auxiliary weaving technique used to ornate the main fabric with a carving effect. It is usually realised on a draw loom, where the basic design is created on multiple wefts (continuous brocade) while extra inlay effect is created with a supplementary weft (non-continuous brocade).

Chinese Brocade styles: the ones to watch

Chinese silk brocade has a long, established tradition. Mentions of silk brocade can be found in the Book of Songs, the oldest known collection of classic Chinese poetry (11th-7th Century B.C.). During the 1980s, pieces of brocade were retrieved at the Chu tombs of Warring States Period in Hubei Province.  Brocade varies from region to region, and many minorities have their own peculiar weaving style. Amongst the all, Yun, Shu and Song brocade are the most ancient and renowned types. To give an idea, Yun brocade developed over 1580 years ago during the Yuan Dynasty and is the most prestigious because of the use of gold and silver foil in weaving.

Shu brocade, coming from Sichuan and flourished between Han and Tang dynasties (3rd Century BC to 10th Century A.D.) is recognised worldwide as a textile gem, being characterised by a strong predominance of red.

Finally, Song brocade originates from Suzhou, in Jiangsu Province, the homeland of silk and reached its peak of popularity during the Song Dynasty because of its soft texture and the bright colourful design.

Today, Chinese silk brocade is acclaimed worldwide as a cultural relic. In 2006, Yun, Song and Shu brocade were enlisted in the national intangible heritage.

An intriguing history of weft and theft 

Although silk textiles have been extremely popular in the Western world since Ancient Greece and Roman Empire, where they were being exported via the Silk Road, the Chinese Empire managed to keep the secret of silk production for over 30 centuries, which secured a China’s monopoly on the textile’s trade.

It was under Byzantine Empire that the secret of sericulture was finally revealed to the world. According to the legend, in 550 A.D. two monks sent by Emperor Justinian to discover how silk was made, stole mulberry cocoon, silkworm and eggs and brought them back to Constantinople.

Chinese influence on Italian fashion history

After the disclosure of sericulture to the world, the commercial relations between West and East slowly declined, and by the end of the 14th century, brocade production was not an Oriental prerogative anymore. In Italy, the cultural fervour characterised by a pursuit of beauty and perfection during Renaissance, favoured the evolution of silk weaving techniques and the elevation of textile artisanry to a form of art, contributing to the establishment of Italy as a fashion sanctuary.

Long-lasting cultural interweaving

Sometimes we think of fusion as a concept that belongs to our modern times. Every culture claims its own, unique, virgin identity. And in part that is certainly true. But the fascinating history of humanity tells us something slightly different. Without interaction, there is no inspiration. Without inspiration, there is no progress. What if the silkworm had never slithered out the Silk road?

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Peonies & Co.: The Enchanting Power of the Chinese Flower

Written by Maria Giglio

Attention boyfriends of the world, I’m about to tell you the secret to a woman’s heart: if you love her, bring her flowers. That’s right, that’s it. Every woman in the world has a thing with flowers… unless she’s allergic, of course. In any case, no doubt she will fall in your arms. But why? Well, for starters it’s the simplest gesture to show appreciation to your other half. Plus, because there is a mystic, millennial symbolic connection between flowers and women.

Many cultures worship flowers as a universal image of feminine grace, beauty and prosperity. For example, in Christian tradition the Virgin Mary is often associated with the lily, symbol of purity or referred to as “Mystical Rose” without thorn to represent her sinless nature. In Buddhist culture, the lotus is worshipped as a symbol of perfection and fertility; resembling the woman’s uterus with its rounded shape, this flower is known for its incredible beauty and the capacity to stay clean despite flourishing in swamps and wet habitats. The energising power of flowers and spring are immortalised in Botticelli’s eternal masterpiece La Primavera.

In Botticelli’s La Primavera, Flora (3rd figure on the right) personifies the rebirth of Spring wearing a floral dress

Naturally, this charming love story between flowers and women reaches one of its highest peeks in Chinese culture, where it has been widely celebrated over millennia by a prosperous artistic tradition.

Chinese blossoms

Since ancient times, the Chinese have cultivated a true passion for flowers, by decorating their public and private spaces with beautiful gardens. Interestingly, the Chinese word for flower is “花” (huā) and visually represents the magic of a flower in bloom. In fact, the character is a compound, growing from the radical for grass “艹” under which the magic joyful metamorphosis of a plant when producing flowers is represented by a cheerful character.

On the twelfth day of the second month of each lunar year, as soon as nature awakens, a Spring Festival is held in honour of百花深 (Bǎihuā shēn), the White Goddess of Flowers, to celebrate fertility. As in other cultures, Chinese people too associate flowers with women and beauty very frequently, although the symbology related to flowers is much richer and varied, as evidenced by traditional and tribal art and poetry production.

Pink peonies

King of Flowers

Among the many flowers linked to Chinese culture, peony is certainly the most treasured by Chinese people. The equivalent of the Westerners’ beloved rose, the peony is also known as the king of flowers (花王, Huāwáng), existing in two main varieties, the tree and herbaceous peony. The original Chinese word for the herbaceous peony was 芍药 (sháo yào) to refer to the medical properties of the flower. Shao (芍) means in fact a spoonful (勺) of plant (艹), whereas yao (药) means medicine. After a while, both the tree and herbaceous varieties were known as 牡丹 (mudan). This word consists of two characters. The character 牡 (mu) is composed of the radicals for ox (牛) and and earth (土). The character 丹 (dan) means either pill, probably referring to the healing properties ascribed to the peony in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or the typical colour red, as a typical variety of the flower.

An ancient passion

Up until the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912 A.D.), the peony was renowned as the official national flower of China, as per appointment by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1903. As a matter of fact, Chinese passion for this flower sprang around 1,400 years ago. During the Tang Dynasty (around 600 A.D.) peonies started to be employed to decorate the imperial gardens and soon began to spread everywhere else in China. An imperial emblem of opulence and beauty, peonies were featured in paintings and textiles, as well as used in poetical allegories to celebrate the prosperity of the nation. Among the most valuable, the red ones represent wealth, while white peonies symbolize the beauty and cheerfulness of Chinese young girl.

Cultivating national pride

After the Cultural Revolution, the Peony is not recognised the official status of national flower anymore, though its fame and glorious reputation is unvaried in the heart of the Chinese people as it embodies the national hope for an ever-growing prosperity. Over the last twenty years people already expressed their willing twice by casting a ballot (one in 1994 and one 2003) for a renovated official acknowledgment by the Government of the peony as a national emblem. The proposal is still pending.

Although Chinese peonies can be found almost everywhere in the country, Luoyang (Henan Province, Eastern China) is certainly the best place to admire their beautiful blossoms. Renowned as the city of peonies, Luoyang offers a spectacular Peony garden showcasing over 500 varieties in full bloom. The garden is famous for hosting a peony high over 3 metres and as old as 1,600 years.

A view of Luoyang Peony Garden

Flowers in Chinese traditional fashion: take your pick!

The passion for flowers is vividly featured in the traditional apparel of Chinese people.

Back in the 60s Scott McKenzie used to sing “if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair”. If you insteadwant to wear flowers everywhere, check out our exclusive florid collection of handmade Qipaos!

Amongst the 56 minorities in China, Miao people hold pomegranate blossoms 石榴花 (Shíliú huā) particularly at heart. A national cultural heritage as enlisted by UNESCO, Miao embroidery features pomegranate flowers to symbolise the wish for prosperity. If you want a taste of this true textile rarity, check out these handmade bags that our Miao artisan partners have created exclusively for our costumers!

If you smell a nice deal… Discover these and more products on InteractChina.com!


About Interact China 

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

Medicating by Meditating: healing spirit and body with TCM

Written by Maria

If you live in a concrete jungle like London, New York or Hong Kong, you are certainly very familiar with stress, anxiety, and pollution that negatively impact the quality of your life. Your tight schedule makes you feel like everyday is the same as the day before. All this planning in advance causes an amount of stress that it gets harder and harder to bear. You feel like you’re about to crush and then it is Friday again. A pub crawl on Friday, some laundry on Saturday, and a lazy Sunday. Of course it will happen that some weekends are more exciting than others, but some are just extra hours of work. If you are lucky you will spend them on a Ryanair cheap flight towards an unknown small town where they barely understand you and you barely understand them. And it is Monday again. How to get out from this ordinary nightmare?

As I see it, we are all left with 2 options. We move to a desert island and leave it all behind. But what about your friends, your family, and all your fancy clothes? Also, human are after all social animals, we really need people to get by. And some pets too. And a sofa. Fortunately, there is another option. It only takes 5 to 20 minutes a day and, once again, it comes from the Far, far East. Just Meditate. Mind I said “Meditate”, not “Think”. Think involves our brain to function in a certain way: to formulate hypothesis, to plan, to take decisions, to supress our emotions. It involves stress. We have just agreed that we want to get away from that. So, what is meditation?

Origins

Meditation is a practice which involves full concentration, awareness of oneself and one’s surrounding, and the aim is to reach stillness of the mind and a deep status of mind-body relaxation to prepare it. In a way, meditation is the opposite of thinking, because we want to observe our thoughts, physical and emotional senses, as they were pictures in our minds.

Rooted in Hinduist tradition and dating back as far as 4,000 years ago, meditation arrived in China with the diffusion of Buddhism, although meditative practices are also very common in the Taoist tradition. 

In Chinese Traditional Medicine, Meditation has developed as a crucial as Acupuncture and a balanced diet, to favours the correct flow of Qi within and without body and mind.

Be Still: Meditation and Movement

In terms of techniques, stillness can mean many things. Stillness is about the mind, and it doesn’t necessarily imply that you only meditate in static positions, like laying down on the floor or sitting in a lotus pose with your legs crossed.

Yoga is a very popular choice. In Chinese tradition, Tai Chi and Qigong are the most common meditative movement practices. Apt for all ages and bodies, they engage in a sequence of slow, mindful bodily movements, to enhance balance, bodily control and breath. Such practices are great for your health, particularly for your muscular tone and your back.

To some meditation sceptics…

Now I can hear some of you saying ‘Do you seriously want to make me believe that if I lay down and tell myself not to think I will not think anymore? And isn’t it thinking about not thinking a thought anyway?’

See, that is the problem. A good meditator is one that focuses only on his breath. He does not impose himself what to think, he is not judgmental of losing his focus from time to time. When it happens, it only accepts it and comes back to his breath. It takes some time practice and time to appreciate the positive results of meditation. Some of us just call it patience. I prefer to call it commitment.

About patience…

‘What if I fall asleep while I am meditating?’, or ‘How can I not think not to fall, if I am standing upside down in a very odd Yoga position?’ are other kind of concerns. Well, if you fall asleep, you reached your purpose: certainly you have gotten relaxed, although you should maybe work on your awareness, trying to counting your breath to keep your mind active, though even and stable. Same when your practicing Tai Chi or Yoga. Just focus on your breath and keep tracking of your movement through inhalation and exhalation: it will naturally relaxing your muscles, thus encouraging a better withstanding of the pose; also, it will keep you distracted from feeling challenged, unbalanced, by the position, pain, stretch etc.

Meditation as Medication in Chinese and Worldwide Culture

Meditation practices spread throughout all the East because of their link to the Buddhist tradition, and were used as a form of healing alternative to religious rituals and conventional medicaments. Still today, especially in ethnic populations there is a diffuse belief that bodily illness is only a physical manifestation of spiritual illness, caused by a bad thought, evil demons, etc.

But apart from the mystic side of meditation, its benefits are undeniable. As I mentioned already, meditation is an engaging practice, which trains our minds to control emotions and impulses in a healthy way, without ignoring or supressing them. It helps keeping an even attitude through stressful times, or to certain emotionally-charging events in our lives. And it is commonly known that a calmer temper is good to keep our blood pressure steady, our heart rate at ease, and our anxiety and sleepless nights only a bad memory.

Not convinced yet? Based on Eastern practice of Meditation, the ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof (among his Guinness World Record gestures: a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow, a swimming several times half-naked under the ice for more than 110 minutes) developed a method to defeat our human frailty and enhance our resilience through the power of our minds and breath.

Personally, I am a big fan of Wim and can’t wait to join one of his crazy expeditions. But many of you may disagree. Believe it or not, scientists and doctors still pop their eyes in front of his extraordinary, super-manly health conditions. It’s not about magic, it’s just about commitment. Meditation is a way of life. To keep a steady mind clears the view from dusty confusion, facilitates decision, increases our self-esteem. It is not a surprise that there is a corporate trend to integrate yoga and similar practices in their employee schemes.

So what are you waiting for? Close your eyes and just breathe.

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Ikat, the ancient art of cloud weaving

Written by Maria

Feeling blue today? If you know what Ikat is, you may agree that it is not necessarily a bad thing. Coming from the Malay-Indonesian word mengikat (to tie), Ikat is an ancient textile art particularly diffused in Southeast Asia, particularly in China, Indonesia and Thailand.

The technique is complex and time-consuming, mainly consisting in dyeing the cotton yarns before weaving.

Named after such technique, the Ikat fabric can come in a variety of colours and patterns, although one of the most popular variations is the blue-patterned one. Ikat weavers use pigments of indigo, the local plant which famously gives the characteristic colour to denim, to obtain the particularly dense, sky-like blue. This is probably why in Persia Ikat technique is known as abr brandi, which literally means tying the clouds.

Origins

Although its origins are highly debated, Ikat is probably one of the most ancient and unique textile techniques of Asia. The earliest historical record was found in China and dates back to the 6th Century, though there is track that the technique has been used in India at least since the 7th century and developed in other Asian Countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.

Surprisingly, Ikat has also widely flourished in Latin American countries such as Peru and Guatemala since ancient times, where it developed independently of the Eastern world.

Ikat was brought to Europe by Dutch and Spanish explorers from Asia and Latin America during Colonialism, started in the 7th Century.

The traditional patterns of Ikat used to be entrenched of spiritual meaning. In particular, Ikat used to be a symbol of wealth. Until recent times, in Southeast Asia only aristocrats were allowed to wear Ikat fabric. The rule, also sanctioned with death punishment, slowly disappeared because of the colonialist pressures to trade and diffuse the product abroad, which led to its largest diffusion in the 20th Century.

Process

Just like batik and tie-dye, Ikat is obtained with a resist-dyeing method, mainly by controlling the colour spread so that it does not reach all the fabric. The purpose is to create the patterns out of the contrast between coloured and uncoloured areas.

The difference between Ikat and other famous resist-dyeing techniques like Batik or Tie-dye, is that dyeing is applied before and not after weaving. First, the design is marked onto the yarns. Then, the unmarked areas are then tied with rubber, wax or other materials, to avoid that the colour penetrates them.

The yarns are then dyed with the use of a straw. Finally, the yarns are untied and woven in the loom. Dyeing is fundamental to the creation of the patterns. A variation of Ikat is double Ikat, where both the warp and the weft are dyed.

If you want to know more about Ikat, watch the following video to see how ikat is made! https://youtu.be/3OAnnvPEOl8

If you have fallen in love with Ikat, please have a look on our new sleek line of blue scarves on InteractChina.com. Enjoy!

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Crying In Their Shoes: The Cruel Myth Of Foot-binding

Written by Maria Giglio

Have you ever seen a foot fitting in the palm of your hand that is not that of a child?

Female foot-binding is a practice as old as a millennium that used to be widespread among Chinese women until earlier 21st Century and was officially banned in 1912 after the establishment of the Republic of China.   

You may wonder why the practice had been around for so long, and the answer is not that easy.  

In China, a lotus foot, as small as 3 inches, was considered a symbol of feminine beauty, sensuality and elegance.  

Fitting the lotus

As a foot this small was rare to find among adult women, foot-binding had to start as soon as possible in order to prevent its natural growth, usually around the age of 5, and would take about 2 years to complete. The girl’s feet would first be treated with hot water and oil, then all toes, except the big toes, would be broken and bound to the soles to form a triangular shape; finally, the feet were bent double and wrapped in a silk strip that would have been changed every two days to avoid infections.  

As a foot this small was rare to find among adult women, foot-binding had to start as soon as possible in order to prevent its natural growth, usually around the age of 5, and took about 2 years to complete. The girl’s feet would first be treated with hot water and oil, then all toes, except the big toes, would be broken and bound to the soles to form a triangular shape; finally, the feet would be bent double and wrapped in a silk strip that would have been changed every two days to avoid infections.  

After the treatment, girls had to walk for long periods of time, to facilitate the breaking of their arches so that heal and shoe would crush together to fit in smaller shoes.  

Origins of Foot-binding 

There are many versions of the origin of foot-binding. What is certain is that this practice was particularly popular during Song dynasty. However, a common belief relates the invention of foot-binding to the period of Tang dynasty, around the 10th Century, and thus before the Song. Emperor Yu Li asked his concubine Yao Niang to dance on her toes on a six-foot tall golden lotus. Yao Niang binded her feet in white silk so to perform the dance which was so enchanting that every woman in Court had wanted to imitate her ever since. 

Historically, the first archeologic evidence about foot-binding in Ancient China dates to 1243, during the Song period, in the tomb of a 17-year-old girl named Huang Sheng.  

Meaning and spread of foot-binding 

Foot-binding was never imposed to women by any law. On the contrary, it was banned and condemned at times. Then why did it last for so long in first place? As already mentioned, a lotus foot was an aesthetic requirement to marry Chinese women. Soon it became a status symbol. Women with bound feet were typically regarded as particularly attractive and seductive. This is also encouraged by the fact that lotus-feet women walk slowly and gracefully to avoid aggravating the pain and uneasiness caused by the binding. 

Among many aspects, one important reason why foot-binding had been widespread until later years is its relation to Han culture. After their invasion of China in 1636 and the establishment of Qing dynasty, the Manchus imposed to the conquered their costumes and traditions and among made several attempts to ban foot-binding. Consequently, Han people, who also represent the majority of Chinese nowadays, kept practicing foot-binding as a way of resistance to the ‘barbaric’ oppressors who, on their side, stopped trying to ban it. 

During the Qing Dynasty and up until the 19th Century, bounded feet increasingly became a mark of beauty and turned into an advantage for finding a wealthy husband.

After the arise of many protests within the Chinese community, in 1912 the Republic of China officially banned foot-binding, but lack of enforcement and resistance didn’t stop it from being diffused until 1990s, when the practice had disappeared with the last generation of lotus feet women. By the end of the 20st Century all shoe factories in China had closed due to the lack of demand. The last factory, Zhiqiang in Harbin, was shut in 1999 with all the unsold stock being donated to the Heilongjiang Museum of Ethnography.       

Pleasure and Pain: Lotus Shoes 

Because of the pain caused by the broken bones and the awkward position of the feet, women could barely walk and so spent a lot of time home hand-sewing and embroidering to embellish their lotus shoes. 

But what did this footwear look like? As the name suggests, the lotus shoes recalled the shape of a lotus blossom with their cone shape. They were usually made of cotton and silk and enriched with fine embroidered or hand-sewn patterns, representing animals, flowers or ‘shou’, the symbol of longevity.  

The style and colour of lotus shoes varied according to the occasion. For example, while brides typically wore red shoes, the colour yellow was usually reserved to aristocracy, Imperial members, and in general wealthier classes. 

A painful expression of Chinese pride 

Nowadays, foot-binding is quickly stigmatised as an unnecessary and cruel practice aimed at perfect female bodies, compared to tight corsets. But the truth is much more complex than that, and the story of foot-binding tells us that there was a time when cultural identity would have been defended at any cost. 

Are you curious to see lotus shoes live? Check out the following collections around the globe: 


About Interact China 

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!