Friday, 18 January 2013

Introduction to China ,Korea And Japan Art Beads

This remarkable group of seven Chinese eye beads from the "Warring States "period (481-221 B.c.) are some of the most technically complex glass beads ever created. Possibly influenced by Phoenician and Roman beads imported into China at this time (Bead Chart 465), these heavy beads are distinguished by their lead-barium content. The layered-glass technique, often with geometric pat-terns formed of dotted lines and sometimes seen with more protruding "horned" eyes than are shown here, is a Chinese contribution to the bead type.' These beads were collected by William Charles White, a Canadian missionary who became the first Anglican bishop of Henan Province. Top bead: diameter; 1.9 cm.
The use of jewelry in the Far Eastern civilizations of China, Korea, and Japan contrasts sharply with its role in Western culture and most tribal societies. Necklaces a seemingly ubiquitous article of adornment elsewhere were not typically worn in the Far East. Instead, jewelry took the form of belt hooks and buckles, plaques, hair-pins, bracelets, and other less prominent accessories. Beads often played both functional and decorative roles as attachments to headdresses, hats, and inro (small, ornamented containers). 

Although beads were not common attire in the Far East, they were consistently manufactured for limited domestic use and for export. Quantities of beads made of precious or semiprecious materials and glass have been uncovered in the ancient tombs of royal or elite households. In antiquity, glass beads were highly valued treasures and were often combined with jade beads and gilded bronze elements, such as belt hooks. Glass beads were also made for export at various times in both China and Japan. Jade beads were revered in China, Korea, and Japan: The character for "jade" and "bead" is the same in each of the three languages.

Also, in both Korea and Japan, a unique crescent or comma-shaped bead is accorded special respect. Called kogok in Korea and magatama in Japan, the bead is found exclusively in these countries, each claiming to have produced the earliest examples during the first millennium B.C. (Bead Chart 820, 821). In both countries it is a sacred symbol: Korea com-bines a blue and red kogok-shaped figure, the yin-yang symbol, in its national emblem, while in Japan, the magatama is combined with the sword and mirror as one of the three emblems of royalty.

A master-piece of glass beadmaking produced in 1984 by Kyoyo Asao. Length, 2.4 cm. Far Eastern beads often demonstrate exquisite craftsmanship. Chinese eye beads dating from the fourth to the first century B.C. and Japanese ivory and metal ojime (slide fasteners for a personal carrying case) from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries A.D. are among the most complex and beautiful beads ever made.

The atypical use of beads in Far Eastern societies has its origins in ancient cultural history China, followed by Korea and Japan, and was among the first societies to become literate. To be literate certified a man as civilized. Such a man did not find it crucial to appeal to a single supreme deity to define, stabilize, and insure his place in the world. (He might, however, consult a variety of ancestral and natural spirits.) Jewelry, therefore, was not worn to influence spirits. Almost without exception, beads seem to have been valued in the Far East more as status symbols than as protective amulets. Moreover, the use of such status symbols was rigorously controlled by civil law and by the precepts and taboos of the indigenous religions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism. Confucianism, the key to Chinese thought, was extremely influential in the development of Korean and Japanese philosophies (particularly among the ruling classes). 

It is a system of ethics rather than a religion of magic and superstition and is not given to the production of art, much less to ornament. (Aside from Buddhist prayer beads, the few examples of beads with ritual significance in the Far East are known primarily from earlier, pre-Confucians times.) Chinese Taoism also advocates naturalness, contemplation, and the disavowal of worldly goods, and Japanese Shintoism stresses respect for the elements of nature rocks, trees, waterfalls, and plants. Furthermore, Confucianism is based on social responsibility, respect for age and authority, and faith in a patriarchal government founded upon moral virtues. These codes kept a rigid class system intact: Displays of wealth, particularly the wearing of jewelry, were reserved strictly for the elite.

Official court beads or "Mandarin chain" worn by the emperor and the nobility during the period of Manchurian rule in China (1644-1912). Although the form of the chains was influenced by Tibetan Buddhist rosaries, they were used in China primarily as status symbols rather than prayer aids. This necklace is composed of 108 red Peking glass beads, four jade spacers ("Buddha heads"), a fiat jade plaque, counter beads, and tourmaline dewdrop pendants. The bead-covered silk cord and terminal dewdrop pendant attached to the jade plaque was draped on the wearer's back, acting as a counterweight to the necklace. Mandarin officials fingered their beads, handling them like worry beads. They also used them as abacuses for business calculations. Length, 41.3 cm.Buddhism entered the Far East about the first century A.D. and was adapted to the traditional religious philosophies of each country. Differences in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhist prayer beads demonstrate the integration of Buddhism into indigenous beliefs.

 Interestingly, it was when Buddhism was at its height (about A.D. 400-900) that beads as items of adornment made their strongest impression on Far Eastern cultures, demonstrating the influence of this religion on all levels of society. By contrast, Confucianism was the religion of the intelligentsia, whose adherence to rationalism and strict social ethics did not allow for beads in ritual practices.
Unfortunately, most of the available information on ancient beads is gleaned from discoveries at royal and wealthy tombs, so that we know little of the possibly perishable adornment of ordinary citizens. It may be that the growth of trade by land and sea, which also helped to spread Buddhism, injected cosmopolitan attitudes about jewelry into Far Eastern society and gave greater access to beads and luxury materials to all classes of people.

Glass beads 'node in Osaka during the 1970s by the late master beadmaker Kyoyo Asao (1918-1985). Far right bead: length, 2.1 cm.Far Eastern history, however, is punctuated by periods of trade and cultural exchange followed by years of self-imposed cultural isolation. Active contact with India and Iran, for example, frequently coincided with important periods of bead development and use in Far Eastern societies. The spectacular beaded crowns, necklaces, and girdles of Korea's fifth- and sixth-century royal tombs, and the beautiful glass beads produced during the Nara period (A.D. 645-794) in Japan are examples of the importance of beads during times of cultural interchange. Indeed, many Korean and Japanese tombs have yielded a variety of imported beads. 

Edo period glass beads. Left to right: gangidama, or "zigzag bead."Diameter; 1.8 cm; kuchinashidama, which derives its name from the seed of the gardenia (kuchinashi), whose form it resembles. In the West it is known as a melon bead; sujidama, or "line bead "possibly of Venetian origin or at least made in the Venetian style; sarasadama, a delicately patterned nineteenth-century head that derives its name from imported Indian cottons; marudama, or "round bead," found in Japan but possibly made in china; tombodama, ("complex glass bead); tombodama, possibly of Venetian origin.Conversely, beads do not appear to have been generally available or important in most isolationist periods. The reasons for isolation were complex and varied in each country throughout the centuries. Frequently, isolationism was brought about by rulers attempting to avoid alliances between competing leaders (or enemies) in their own countries and outside powers. During the seventeenth century, when neo-Confucianism spread throughout the Far East, isolationism was a policy to save the country from European colonialism and the influence of Christian missionaries. 

A lacquer ojime made of at least 19 yellow, black, and red layers of lacquer Carved in relief, it depicts symbols of Japan's aesthetic life, including tea ceremony implements, musical instruments, and a basket of fruit culled "Buddha's hand."Diameter, 1. 6.5 cm.
During times of isolation, which were often accompanied by a return to the tenets of strict Confucianism, cultural separation led to a decline in the use and manufacture of beads. In these periods, particularly from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century isolationism was reinforced by sumptuary laws that mandated the styles of clothing, jewelry, and possessions appropriate to each social class. 

Since beads, which symbolized wealth and status, were restricted even among the elite, the importing, making, and wearing of them in quantity ceased to be an important practice. (An exception was the Japanese ojime.) The clothes of the elite, moreover, were often richly patterned and heavily embroidered, providing a substitute for jewelry. Nevertheless, glass bead making for export existed as a cottage industry in nineteenth-century China and Japan, when their ports were closed to foreign goods, and glass beads were frequently used for ojime in Japan. 

Chinese glass beads have been particularly important trade items over the centuries. As they were distributed through a variety of trade networks and through many transactions, knowledge of the origin of particular beads has often been lost. Glass beads carried by Europeans during the early days of trade among Indians in the American Southwest and Northwest may frequently have been of Chinese origin, including the well-known "padre" and "pony" beads (Bead Chart 1023). Clearer historical evidence and richer archaeological data on Chinese glass beads may help answer questions about a number of Asian bead types, including examples from Taiwan and Indonesia. 

Red, black, and silver lacquer on ivory creates a dramatic portrayal of a hunting falcon encircling the ojime as it swoops to catch a dragonfly Diameter 1.6 cm.
Trade with the West expanded in the 1840s, and within ten years China became a large-scale exporter of beads. These beads were the product of cottage industries located in sever-al centers, notably in Canton in the south and Poshan in northeastern China. The beads commonly referred to as 'Peking glass" was probably made in Poshan (Bead Chart 822-32). Glass beads continue to be made in China even today, frequently involving techniques reported over a hundred years ago.

Like China, Japan remained for the most part closed to the West until the nineteenth century, except for limited entry of Dutch and Chinese ships at the port of Nagasaki. Nonetheless, quantities of Bohemian, Dutch, and Venetian glass beads were brought in by Dutch traders, and Chinese glass beads were either imported or the products of Chinese glass bead makers established in the Nagasaki area.

During the years of isolation, when trade was restricted to Nagasaki, merchants in this area not only circulated goods between Japan and Europe but also obtained products from Southeast Asian countries. Dutch traders gave prized glass beads to Japanese provincial lords and important government officials, thus providing Japanese beadmakers with examples of a wide range of glass bead technologies in use at the time in other nations. During this period, most beads, including those made of gold, silver, iron, copper, ivory coral, glass, crystal, and wood, served as ojime, slide fasteners, used to hold inro, personal carrying cases, in place. Ojime became status symbols and the focus of enormous creative attention. 

A rare coral ojime beautifully carved into a seated monkey. Length, 2 cm. Following Admiral Perry's arrival in 1853, traffic in glass beads expanded as part of a general increase in Japanese export manufacturing. By the 1870s, Japanese beadmakers were traveling to Austria, Italy, and India to learn modern manufacturing techniques. Today, mass-production of glass beads thrives alongside the work of a few accomplished beadmakers, such as the late Kyoyo Asao, who revived old techniques to produce his masterpieces.

It is with pearls, however, that the Japanese have made their greatest impact on twentieth-century adornment. By 1913, Mikimoto had perfected the cultivation of pearls, making it possible for almost anyone to own them. The Japanese continue to excel in pearl farming and control the industry worldwide. 

In Korea, royal tombs excavated in the states of Paekche and Silla dating to the fifth century disclose quantities of both imported and locally made beads, including those of gold, jade, and glass. Of extreme interest is a glass mosaic face bead found in a royal tomb at Kyongju in Silla, which may relate to fourth-century face beads produced in Constantinople by Roman glassmakers. Most of Korea's imported beads and materials came over the silk routes into China from the Middle East, central Asia, India, and the West. This pattern of Korean trade conducted via China with the outside world continued for centuries. 

The Yi dynasty (A.D. 1392-1910) was the last to rule Korea before its annexation by Japan in 1910. Yi rulers banned Buddhism and molded the nation's social and spiritual life according to neo-Confucians principles derived from China's Ming dynasty. This meant a return to sumptuary laws and a limited use of beads. 

A stained ivory version of Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil."Length, 1.4 cm.Strings of beads were allowed to tie down hats but were not to be worn as necklaces. Men's topknots and ponytails were held in place by long barrel-shaped beads, while women wore beads sewn onto headdresses and attached to a tasseled ornamental knot (maedup) or a pendant (norigae). The elite used beads of amber, jade, coral, turquoise, and carnelian for these purposes, while glass served those of lower rank.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Koreans wore "perfume beads" made of aromatic spices and gums. Blue, white, green, or red in color, they were strung on white horse-hair, and often dangled from fans.
Today, Koreans cut semiprecious stones (amethyst, quartz, carnelian, crystal, and agate) into beads and export pearls from Cheju Island. Glass beads are made by lamp-winding techniques learned from the Japanese in the 1920s. There is also a special type of necklace bead made by hand from a mixture of flour and glue. 


The concept of artistic microcosm’s self-contained worlds within a confined space was developed by the Japanese and employed in activities from gardening to personal adornment. No item was too small or unimportant to be designed as a totality in which function and aesthetics were integrated. Thus the Japanese say:"Nothing is beautiful that is not also useful, and nothing is useful that is not beautiful."

Ojime were no exception: They were meant to be worn not as ornaments but as fasteners for small cases in which an individual carried items of everyday necessity on his person. The traditional Japanese costume, the kimono, has no pockets; while women kept small articles in their sleeves, men carried personal possessions such as medicine, seals, tobacco, and coins in containers suspended by cords from the obi, a wide sash binding the kimono at the waist. 

These containers ranged from simple leather pouches to elaborately lacquered wooden inro. The inro were boxes held in place by two cords that joined at the top where they passed through a bead, called an ojime. The cords were finally attached at their far end to a netsuke, a counterweight that dangled over the top of the obi to insure that the inro would not slip out (see drawing).

The elevation of the inro, netsuke, and ojime ensemble into an art form reflects social, political, and economic circumstances in Tokugawa Japan, which was strictly divided into social classes: nobility, samurai, merchant, farmer, or artisan. Edicts prescribed the appropriate dress for each class, forbidding jewelry to all, including the nobility. In the early days, farmers, merchants, and artisans carried pouches; gentlemen wore inro. With peace and stability, merchants prospered, becoming patrons of the arts. Inro ensembles were their means of discreetly displaying wealth and taste. Probably considered insignificant, inro were not restricted by sumptuary laws.

A teakettle with a paulownia tree, emblem of the imperial family. Length, 0.4 cm.
The earliest reference to ojime dates from the beginning of the seventeenth century. However, early ojime in no way resembled the beautifully sculpted beads collected today They were simple devices of stone, coral, bone, and other materials. By the late eighteenth century, inro became less functional but were used instead to display status. By the early nine-teenth century, matched sets of increasingly elaborate inro, netsuke, and ojime were commissioned and collected and the subject matter of the three parts was carefully coordinated. The ojime as an art object reached its zenith between the late eighteenth century and the reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912). The ojime shown on page 63 are of this period.

Creating ojime challenged the artisan to work within severe restrictions of space and form. Ojime (slide fasteners) had to be diminutive but sturdy, with a smooth, round shape. Sharp projections could easily break off or catch on the kimono. Thus ojime had to be finished on all sides, the cord holes positioned to maintain the harmony of the overall design. Four types of "artistic" ojime can be recognized: beads with lacquered and inlaid surfaces (fig. 1); cameo-style or high-relief carving across a solid surface, including deeply cut, openwork pieces (fig. 2); 3-dimensional miniature sculptural forms resembling netsuke (fig. 6); and engraved ojime (fig. 9). 

An engraved ivory ojime of bamboo and a sparrow. Length, 1.45 cm.
Sculptural ojime presented a major design problem: how to carve an artistic opening in a small object while maintaining a precise tension in the double cord. Two solutions were found: running a straight perforation through the carved body or creating a form, such as a monkey, that would appear to be climbing up the cord (fig 5). The other three forms of ojime use the same technique to accommodate a double cord: a straight perforation through the center. Beads with a wide perforation (typically 4.5 to 5 millimeters in diameter) are distinguishable as ojime. 

Most artistic ojime are of ivory, although they were made of many organic materials found in Japan, including horn, bone, wood, seeds, and tortoiseshell. Ojime were also made of native gold, silver, and copper. Glass ojime were frequently worn by the less affluent classes. Ojime captured the full spectrum of Japanese life: history, religion, flora, fauna, people, and daily events. Hardly a subject was omitted, and the rounded ojime form also lent itself to depicting narrative.

As Japan was opened to trade after 1854, Western dress began to replace the kimono and its accessories. By the turn of the century the Japanese industrial revolution was in full swing, and few netsuke, ojime, and inro were made. Today, netsuke and ojime are again being created as works of art.

Writer -Lois Sherr Dubin
Visit Also:

Silver Necklace 


No comments:

Post a Comment