Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Grand Mother's Foochow Lacquerware Pillow

This picture is of the famous bodiless Fuzhou lacquerware

My maternal grandmother, Tiong Lien Tie, always used a hard pillow and could not enjoy any of those plush, soft feather pillows. She left a special hard pillow (similar to the one in the picture) to me. A real treasure, it has always been a kept well by me in my house (wherever I moved to)for the last 20 years. This pillow must be more than 70 years old now. My beloved grandmother passed away in 1984 at the ripe old age of 84

Unknown to many, this is a Fuzhou Lacquerware Pillow. In fact many Foochow grandmothers who were China-born would have used such a pillow. It was always amazing to me to see my own grandmother sleeping on such a hard pillow like Yang Kwei Fei or any other famous beauties we could see in the movies.

My grandmother used to tell me that this pillow was very handy. She could bring it every where she went and she did not have to wash it, or even sun dry it. And the most beautiful benefit of this pillow was that the bed and the pillow would never smell bad. My grandmother's fragrance often lingered on, in the rooms and places she had been to. Today I can still catch that fragrance when i think of her. She would always carry that scent of bai yu lan (or magnolia) with her.

So I am just so very happy to be able to share with you some information on this special product , made especially easier by information provided on the net. You are always welcome to visit me and see this lacquerware pillow or take pictures of it.

Here goes:

Source :

Lacquer is a natural substance obtained from the lacquer tree which has its home in China, a country still leading the world in lacquer resources. Much of the country is suitable for growing the tree, but most of the output comes from five provinces-Shaanxi, Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan.

Raw lacquer is the sap of the lacquer tree, which hardens in contact with air. A tree becomes productive 3-5 years after planting, and entails hard work on the part of the tapper. He can only get the latex in June and July each year and must tap it in the predawn hours before the cock's crow and sunrise. For the sun would reduce the moisture in the air, stopping the flow of the latex.

Lacquerware has a long history which extends back to the remote ages in China. From the neolithic remains at Tuanjie Village and Meiyan Township (both in Wujiang County, Jiangsu Province) were unearthed in 1955 a number of lacquer-painted black pottery objects, two of which, a cup and a pot, were discovered intact and found to bear patterns painted in lacquer after the objects had been fired. They are the earliest lacquered articles ever discovered in China and are now kept in the Museum of Nanjing.

Before the invention of the Chinese ink, lacquer had been used for writing. Twenty-eight bamboo clips found in a Warring States (475-221 B. C. ) tomb at Changtaiguan, Xinyang, Henan Province, bear a list of the burial objects with the characters written in lacquer.

Lacquerware is moisture-proof, resistant to heat, acid and alkali, and its colour and lustre are highly durable, adding beauty to its practical use. Beijing, Fuzhou and Yangzhou are the cities leading in the production of Chinese lacquerware.

The making of Beijing lacquerware starts with a brass or wooden body. After preparation and polishing, it is coated with several dozen up to hundreds of layers of lacquer, reaching a total thickness of 5 to 18 millimetres. Then, gravers will cut into the hardened lacquer, creating "carved paintings" of landscapes, human figures, flowers and birds. It is then finished by drying and polishing. Traditional Beijing lacquer objects are in the forms of chairs, screens, tea tables, vases, etc. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, an enthusiast for lacquerware, had his coffin decorated with carved lacquer.

Yangzhou lacquer articles are distinguished not only by carvings in relief but by exquisite patterns inlaid with gems, gold, ivory and mother of pearl. The products are normally screens, cabinets, tables, chairs, vases, trays, cups, boxes and ashtrays.

Fuzhou is well-known for the "bodiless lacquerware", one of the "Three Treasures" of Chinese arts and crafts (the other two being Beijing cloisonne and Jingdezhen porcelain).

The bodiless lacquerware starts with a body of clay, plaster or wood. Grass linen or silk is pasted onto it, layer after layer, with lacquer as the binder. The original body is removed after the outer cloth shell has dried in the shade. This is then smoothed with putty, polished, and coated with layers of lacquer. After being carved with colourful patterns, it becomes the bodiless lacquerware of extremely light weight and exquisite finish. Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware is moisture-proof, resistant to heat, acid and alkali, and its colour and luster are highly durable, adding beauty to its practical use.

Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware was created by Shen Shao'an during the Qing Dynasty. He was inspired in restoring the inscribed boards at temples and invented the technique. The bodiless red lacquered bowl Shen presented to the Qing measured 10cm in height, 10.8cm in diameter, with a thickness of less than 1mm. Emperor Qianlong was so delighted that he wrote a poem inside the bowl.

The technique of manufacturing bodiless lacquerware was passed down from generation to generation in the Shen family. After Shen Shao'an, the most successful lacquerware craftsmen were were Shen Zhenggao (1866 ~1928) and Shen Zhengxun, the fifth generation after Shen Shao'an. The bodiless lacqueware they made was sent to an international commodity exhibition in Paris in 1898, and won a golden medal. In the following years, their work won many awards from international exhibitions, as well as the approval of Empress Dowager Cixi. Fuzhou bodiless lacquerware thus became a favorite gift among royalty, government officials and foreign guests. Nowadays, bodiless lacquerware can be found in many famous museums around the world

Source :
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Copyright © 2003 Ministry of Culture, P.R.China. All rights reserved

2 memories:

James TC Wong said...

Wah...i didn't know such a pillow exists! Learning everyday! xD

sarawakiana said...

You can borrow it if you like. Or just to see it.

God bless. :) :) :)


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