Shoes, crazy shoes

I must admit that I am not that passionate about shoes, but I cannot resist sharing some of the fascinating or insane shoes stories. Speaking of the shoe culture in the world, one may think of those stilt-like high heels. One kind of the entertainment news that everyone hears about but refuse to admit would be those celebrities tripping on stage. Records generally attributed the invention of the high heels to le roi soleil – Louis XIV (1638-1815), however there are in fact some earlier records in the eastern world that worth some digging too about high heels!

Han Dynasty (202BC-220BC) Clog

In the archaeological findings China discovered that wooden clogs have been used since very early periods, normally to be used to walk in the muddy fields, and this tradition started some 3000 years ago. In the ancient poetry during the Spring and Autumn period (770BC-221BC) there were also mentions of beautify ladies dancing in clogs, and how the sound resonates in the halls. So it is both men and women who wore these clogs.

In the Han Dynasty, wooden clogs were also an essential object to accompany girls when they get married. A famous poet, Buddhist, and explorer, Xie Lingyun (358-433) was acknowledged to have invented the wooden clogs with removable teeth. His invention was rather interesting, because it allows one to remove one of the two teeth of the clogs to assist maintaining balance either when climbing up the mountain or descending from it.

What followed was the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the wooden clogs started to look like the modern Japanese kinds. This was also the period where the two countries were extremely active in cultural exchange. In the more recent history, wooden clogs were used often in tropical regions to protect the splashing of mud onto the pants, and to prevent “Hong Kong feet”. Have you heard of this term? In Chinese it refers to the smell arising from the shoes after walking a full day in them – I think you get the gist. But the wooden clogs are one of the many “high heels” that ever existed in the oriental world, there are many more, and some rather strange and even disturbing.

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Shoes

The Song Dynasty and Ming Dynasty gave birth to some disturbing traditions, including foot-binding. A decent lady must have super tiny (around 10cm / 4”) and arching feet, so young girls sustained great pain to fold their toes down under their feet, until they were useless. These feet were called the golden lotus, and the women walking with such feet could never be fast.

Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) Shoes

This picture shows a pair of the typical Qing Dynasty Manchu aristocrat shoes. Luckily ladies no longer needed to suffer from the foot-binding pains, but I suspect walking on these may invoke other pains if not careful. The heels of these can range from 5-10cm / 2”-4” to as high as 25cm / 10”! Probably no high heels of modern world could match those! If you have watched some Qing Dynasty TV shows, you most likely have seen these.

One of the possible reason for the invention of such crazy high heels was to hide the large feet ladies have under the bottom of their skirts. Another says that the Manchu ladies invented these shoes to protect their feet from bug bites in the mountains when picking mushrooms or fruits.

Either way, the relentless struggle seems to continue between us and our feet. Who knows, perhaps when the lady feet are no long the popular torture subjects, the high heels for men would regain popularity. However, I do feel very lucky to have been born in our modern world!

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!

Mindful Art, Zen Home | InkDifferent Studio

Anything up your sleeve?

Have you been in a situation where you are about to leave the house, you already put on the outfit, selected the right shoes, and you know exactly which purse to take, but you do not feel like taking it? It happens to me constantly! When this happens in the winter I find it easier, because many of my jackets have lots of pockets that allows me to put in my phone and keys, but if it happens in the summer, I would have no choice but bring a bag. I have seen many girls going shopping with their boyfriends, and it is their boyfriends who end up carrying their pretty purses… In the ancient oriental world, such problems do not have to exist, it is because the people wear outfits that have great capacity for carrying things, and such “pockets” are not even visible from the outside. Now how do you think they manage to hide all their belongings?

Solution: sleeves!

Sleeves are the best place where anything can be held without attracting any attention, and this location would not interfere with the integrity of the outfit. An even better result is that hiding anything in sleeves make it so much harder for thieves to pick pockets.

Other than sleeves, the belts can also fold in some tiny objects, or if this person is wealthy enough, servants will be following around, and they can carry as many things as possible.

Now that you know that the sleeves hide a small world, are you wondering about the technicality of it too, such as how to keep things from falling? You are asking the right questions, the design is rather practical, and the pockets’ openings are in the opposite directly from the opening of the sleeves! I also suspect by keeping stuff in the sleeves, the sleeves can look nicer too, with the weight added. Keep in mind though in the various Dynasties these sleeve styles look different, also between male and female they also have differences in style. However, in general, whenever possible, it is in the sleeves that all the treasures hide. What about these treasures, what do people normally carry around?

Solution: money, letters, handkerchief, and sometimes a few small sticks

The most common things found in a sleeve would be money, which is why we even have a slang describing the governmental officials who are clean with integrity to have “breezes in their sleeves”, clearly, no money found there! Letters and handkerchiefs are common, they are also useful daily things. What about these small sticks?

Solution: early calculator!

Believe it or not, these rather unremarkable sticks served as the early version of calculators. They can be made of wood, bamboo, ivory or jade for fancier people. We no longer know the exact time of their invention, but in the Spring and Autumn period (770BC-476BC) they were already well in use. Do you know how they work? It is certainly not “1 stick = 1 –> 1000 sticks = 1000”, what math would that be! Give us Asians some credit 😉

Solution: see the chart on the left!

Their use is something that follows either the top or the bottom line, so there are two ways to use them, and to make calculation it is rather simple. I will not go into how to use them to do addition, subtraction or multiply here, but enjoy the exploration!

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!

Mindful Art, Zen Home | InkDifferent Studio

What makes a beautiful lady?

In the previous blog we discussed one particular measurement of “beauty” in men, and today, let us talk about beauty of a lady. In the oriental world, there has always been some rather tangible aspects against which a beautiful lady is measured. The looks of a lady is a consideration: the hair shall be abundant, the forehead shall be wide, the eyes shall be clear, the mouth shall be apricot-shaped… the face shall be flower-like, the graceful waist shall resemble the willow tree, the body fat shall be sufficient. These are well-written in the ancient texts, guiding the aesthetics for generations, but these only refer to the physical appearance of a lady so far.

Song Dynasty Painting

Ladies worked hard to preserve their beauty since the ancient time. There were quite some toxins involved to make their faces white, because being white has always been a standard girls of today still follow! The most lethal of them all would be lead, arsenic, and cinnabar.

A beautiful lady has to be educated, because the inner beauty and the external beauty support each other. Women have always been able to receive education, and in the early periods, they were always able to move about rather with ease. In the later dynasties however, the feudal society tightened its fists and squeezed away quite some rights of female – this aspect aside, in general, girls were able to receive education, and some were able to obtain official status in the governments. The four most elegant subjects are: music, chess, calligraphy and painting. These are the advanced skills to acquire in addition to knitting, and the ability to read. The skills of music, chess, calligraphy and painting are considered graceful abilities, these are also places where emotions could be expressed freely.

Qing Dynasty Painting

This painting shows a lady playing a musical instrument called Guqin. It is a plucked instrument of seven strings, both ladies and gentlemen in the older days would take pride in playing Guqin, which is considered an instrument of “great subtlety and refinement”, and it is not to be confused with a popular modern instrument called Guzheng. I personally believe that string instruments pair the best with the oriental art, Guqin from the eastern world, and cello from the western world.

Qualities of a beautiful lady.

Tang Dynasty Painting

Chess or game of go, both are called “Qi”, and they are both enjoyed by people in the older days, male and female. This nice pass time allows for the practice of strategy as well as socialisation.

Ming Dynasty Painting

Another elegant pass time of a lady would be practicing Chinese calligraphy. Slowly grind some ink on the ink plate, light a stick of incense, and then spend the entire afternoon perfecting the character that contain so much emotion in every single line, what a life!

Qing Dynasty Painting

Painting is a most elegant activity for a lady also. The poetry that lingers the mind needs materialisation, and the painting brushes would help to extract these lines of poetry and write them down on a piece of paper or silk. Yes, it is writing, these paintings are just like visual journals, they are written with our hearts.

Qing Dynasty Painting

The life of a beautiful lady is busy but at a leisurely pace. She takes great care of herself, her family, and her life. She notices the flowers blooming in her garden, she greets small animals that come her way. She is always patient and kind, she becomes a cup of tea that exudes long lasting fragrance.

A beautiful lady makes everything in her life beautiful. So what makes a beautiful lady? The looks will disappear one day, but the confidence, the experience, the most comforting quality shall always remain.

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!

Mindful Art, Zen Home | InkDifferent Studio

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