Magnificent spectacle of dowry culture in Ningbo

Posted by freemexy on February 1st, 2019

Magnificent spectacle of dowry culture in Ningbo Ningbo museum enthralls visitors with a glimpse into how parents prepared for their daughter’s marriage even from birth.To get more Ningbo City news, you can visit shine news official website. In ancient times, when a girl was born, her parents would prepare dowries for the future son-in-law’s family.

After years of preparation, the dowries often included a myriad of items, from beds and wardrobes to mirrors and bowls. Every item was painted with red lacquer, traditionally considered auspicious in China. The bigger and better the dowry, the higher the status their daughter would have in her new family.That tradition pervaded in China for centuries, especially in Zhejiang Province. Among its cities, Ningbo could epitomize dowry culture by virtue of the so-called “Shi Li Hong Zhuang (十里红妆),” which literally means the procession carrying dowries might stretch for 10 li — 5 kilometers — when it was for the daughter of a well-off family.

Though such a spectacular phenomenum has now disappeared into history, it provided a remarkable snapshot of past times. Today, some Ningbo locals still prepare vintage-style red utensils on wedding days, creating an auspicious vibe and praying for happiness. In order to protect cultural heritage, Ningbo’s Ninghai County invited Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu to design a museum showcasing antique dowries. After seven years in construction, Shi Li Hong Zhuang Culture Museum opened to the public in May.

It has set up seven exhibition halls to display every facet of dowries, containing ritual and betrothal items, furniture, daily utensils, ceremonial vessels, brocade clothes and engagement letters, elaborating the tradition’s origin, customs, crafts and artistic value. The highlight of the wedding day was the bridal sedan, in which the bride would sit and be carried to the bridegroom’s family house, followed by porters carrying her dowry. The museum exhibits one of the top-notch bridal sedans preserved today.

It is dubbed “wangongjiao (万工轿),” meaning a craftsman had to spend thousands of hours completing it. It was made according to the traditional mortise and tenon technique that joined hundreds of pieces of wood at an angle of 90 degrees.The sedan chair was engraved with auspicious floral patterns, legendary stories and mythical creatures, embedded with ornate paintings on glass and carved with hundreds of figures. The whole surface is painted with glittering gold and red lacquer, with tassels hanging from the top. This is a classic “Ba Tai Da Jiao (八抬大轿)” — which literally means “a sedan chair that needs eight bearers.” In old times, only a wealthy family could afford such a stylish sedan chair, because the rent equalled to the price of tons of rice.

“In other places, modern sedans have already replaced the traditional sedan chairs, but Ninghai locals stick to carrying the bride with it, paying respect to tradition,” said Zhang Yaping, director of Ninghai County Intangible Heritage Center. At present, the best bridal sedan is the one in Zhejiang Museum. It was made in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and symbolized the top level of local craft. Craftsmen used common trees, often camphor and gingkoes, to engrave floral patterns and immortal motifs.

Timber had to be dried out in shade for at least six months in a bid to prevent cracks. Then it was coated with layers of red lacquer made from cinnabar, a material commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat neurological ailments. Lacquer is moisture-resistant, heat-resistant, corrosion-resistant and never fades on wood. Craftsmen ground cinnabar to produce a smooth texture, aiming to create delicate lines in sculptures. Eventually it was thick enough so that designs, figures and landscapes could be carved. Finally, gold was applied, which made the dowry look glitzy and luxurious.

Also See: Sedan Chair, Red Lacquer, Dowry Culture, Shi Li, Sedan, Ningbo, Dowry
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