tianzu (Ceremonial Headdress)

About this object

History of use

Manchu women normally wore their hair up under a flat, folded and angled headdress of black silk worn parallel to their shoulders. On special occasions such as festivals and ceremonies they wore tianzu headdresses in this distinctive shape and covered with black silk gauze or netting. They often were ornamented with plaques inlaid with kingfisher feather and with gemstones and other precious materials such as coral and pearls, all suspended on wires so that they moved when the wearer moved her head. The type of headdress that has strings of pearls dangling at the front is called fengtian, “phoenix headdress”. While this kind of headdress is formal/semi-formal (ceremonial), it is not part of Manchu official dress. The official women's headdress is basically just like the Manchu men's round black hats, with red tassels on the crown and topped with gold and pearl phoenix ornaments, the number of phoenixes in accordance with the rank of the wearer.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), China was ruled by members of the Manchu ethnic group. They retained their distinctive dress and the women did not bind their feet. The dress of the majority Han population was influenced by Manchu clothing, and the queue was imposed on Han Chinese men.

Iconographic meaning

This style of headdress indicates that the wearer is Manchu and that she is participating in a special festival or ceremony. Bats are symbols of good fortune. Butterflies are symbols of marital harmony.

Specific techniques

Wire frame was formed and silk braid interlaced over it. Brass plaques were stamped ?, and the kingfisher feather adhered to them. Stones were inset.

Physical description

A headdress with a high vertical rounded front and flat top sloping downward to the back which is a shorter vertical band. Frame is of wire covered with intricately interlaced bands of black silk braid and fabric. Attached to the headdress with wires, there are highly perforated and layered gold-coloured brass roundels in the shape of flowers and leaves, all inlaid with various shades of bright blue kingfisher feathers outlined with metal. On and around them, there are many ornaments mounted on wires which include the following: bats made of pearls, flowers made of pink glass, gemstones inset in metal, green stone butterflies, and a large roundel of pink quartz. From the front of the headdress, there are suspended strands of pearls with coloured stone butterflies in the middle and stone drops at the end.