Chinese Earring Fashion: A Living Legacy

Chinese earring fashion today is based upon the longstanding history of a very unique civilization. When we explore the history of this fashion, we discover that women are nearly the same 2,500 years ago as they are today. In fact, Chinese women in the past were often buried with their favorite earrings and other jewelry. Archeologists have found a variety of earrings while working through the historical artifacts of China. The evidence strongly supports this very old fashion trend.

“Erdang” is a kind of ancient earring which was worn by piercing through the human earlobe of women. It was also one of the more popular items of jewelry displayed by Chinese women in ancient times. In Guangzhou, which is located in south China’s Guangdong Province, a piece of pottery was unearthed. It dated back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220). It showed a dancing woman wearing Erdang earrings. There is an important dictionary compiled by Lui Xi, a scholar from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) which is entitled “Shiming” (Interpreting Terms). According to Shiming, Erdang earrings were first used by ethnic women in remote border areas. Later, this fashion trend spread to Central China as well.

The oldest Erdang earring was discovered in Chu State tomb. It dated back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.). Archeological excavations demonstrated that wearing Erdang earrings had become quite fashionable during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) as well as the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). These ancient earrings were generally made of certain materials. These materials included gold, jade, silver, ivory, marble, glass, and crystal.

Glass Edrang earrings were in style mostly due to their bright colors and shimmering and translucent facets from the time of the Han Dynasty to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581 A.D.). Literate Chinese people in these time periods wrote admiring poems in praise of these extra special pieces of jewelry. Throughout the past several decades, Chinese archeologists have discovered thousands of glass Erdang earrings in old tombs like the ones described already. The tombs of the dead with Erdang earring artifacts are located around the vast countryside. This is especially the case in Central China’s Henan, Hunan, and Hubei provinces.

In Changsha, which is the capital city of Hunan Province, dozens of Han Dynasty tombs with a plethora of glass Erdang earrings were found between 1952 and 1964. In fact, the colors of the glass Erdang earrings were very diverse. They included the colors of blue, green, purple, black, and white. Plus, these earrings were either transparent or translucent. What most impressed these experts and archeologists was the fact that many of these artifacts were still shining when they were unearthed!

During the Han Dynasty, empresses, imperial concubines, and princesses all wore earrings in a very different way. They did not pierce their ear lobes with earrings. Instead, these women attached the Erdang earring to a hairpin. Then the earring would hang down beside their ears. According to the Shiming text, such earrings were referred to as “zan’ er” or hairpin earrings. They were a symbol of royalty rather than an ordinary piece of jewelry. The ancient scholar Lui has pointed out in his classic work that the hairpin earrings of the royal courts were to remind the imperial women of their duty to give an attentive ear to wise counsel. So, when the emperor spoke to the royal women, they had to remove their hairpin earrings out of respect in order to give him their undivided attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *