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Chinese accessories display highlights ancient craftsmanship

     Archaeological finds reveal that Chinese people have been dressing up with attractive ornaments since pre-historic times. While adapting to the changes and with the help of advanced technology, clothing became available in much wider variety and served more functions. The design of accessories then became more diverse.

     To give the public an opportunity to appreciate the excellence in Chinese craftsmanship, the Hong Kong Museum of Art has organised an exhibition entitled "Glittering Beauty: Chinese Accessories from the Hong Kong Museum of Art", which will run from tomorrow (November 21) until December 2010. Featuring 170 items of Chinese accessories carefully selected from the collection of the museum, including headgear, hair ornaments, bracelets, archer's rings, belt ornaments, purses, scent holders and snuff bottles, the exhibition will let visitors appreciate the beauty of diancui (kingfisher feather inlay), inlaying, filigree, carving and embroidery, and understand the development of Chinese civilisation and culture.      

     Since the Zhou dynasty, garments and accessories not only served functional and ornament purposes, but were associated with the system of etiquette. Specific formats of attire were used to identify seniority, official rank and social status. On different occasions, like festive celebrations or religious ceremonies, there were strict dress codes and accessory rules. During the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), government officials wore a silk ribbon to attach the official seal to the waist. The colour of the ribbon indicated the official rank. The fish-shaped official pendants and pouch worn by officials in the Song dynasty (960-1279) showed past merits of the wearer by the choice of material. In the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), the Jurchens had numerous codes for attire. For example, common women were not allowed to wear pearl or jade tian ornaments on their hair, while ladies of rank could not wear any sun, moon or dragon motifs. In the Qing imperial court, the decorative materials, number of gold discs and rows of pearls in hair ornaments worn by Manchu ladies reflected their status. Single pairs of ear-pendants commonly worn by Han women were forbidden in the royal courts.
     Over the centuries, costume and accessories were modified continually with social and cultural development. For instance, hairpins, which were used since the Neolithic period, evolved from one-pronged to two-pronged in the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589) to support the increasingly high and broad ladies' hairstyle. Designs of the buyao headgear became increasingly elaborate and were matched by earrings hanging from the sides or studded in the earlobes. The buyao became a prototype for the phoenix crown which appeared later. Another example is the silk waistband which gradually developed into the leather belt, forming a part of the official costume in many dynasties. The material of the ornaments on the belt indicated the official class of the wearer, and preferences varied from dynasty to dynasty. Gold was a symbol of eternity in the Song dynasty, so gold belt plaques were reserved for the highest class. In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), jade belt plaques were considered most superior.

     In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Manchu rulers wished to create harmony between Hans and Manchus after they gained rule of central China. For this reason, while preserving Manchu customs, Qing royalties put in place a new costume system based on the traditional Ming pattern. Wearing a court necklace was one of the new specifications for ceremonial costume. For the ladies, caishui, a long colourful kerchief about one metre long, was often worn on the chest. Jade rings were attached to the kerchief for suspending needle containers, toothpick cases, purses and fragrant pouches. Waist accessories for officials became more diverse. In addition to purses and fan cases, Western introductions like tobacco pouches and spectacle cases came into fashion. Embroidered items by ladies and accessories or jewellery imitating royal court designs were popular gift items for friends and relatives, or as tokens for love and alliance.

     The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and Fridays, and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. On Christmas Eve and Chinese New Year's Eve, the museum will close at 5pm. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available for full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website

Ends/Friday, November 20, 2009


A cloud collar embroidered with bat and butterfly design from 19th century.


A lady's headdress tianzi decorated with bats, butterflies and flowers in pearls, semi-precious stones and kingfisher feather inlay from Qing dynasty.


A gilt-bronze belt hook with kui-dragon design with turquoise inlay from western Han.


A pair of earrings with semi-precious stones and kingfisher feather inlay from Qing dynasty.




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