This is something we always have handy, especially during the rainy season. It’s a common tool we use that most of us don’t pay any regard to. In China, however, the umbrella is a highly symbolic item. It was used for more than seeking shade or shelter from the rain or sun.
The Chinese umbrella holds a significant position in the country’s culture and has a long and rich history. It is said to have had a great influence on the umbrellas we use today all around the world. If you’re a cocktail lover or enjoy tropical drinks, you’ve probably seen a depiction of them in the little umbrellas that come with your drink.
But you must be wondering, what is the origin story of Chinese umbrellas? Who came up with them and how were they made? You’ll find all the answers you need in this post, including what was used to make them and how you can make one.
what is traditional Chinese umbrella?
The traditional Chinese umbrella, also known as the “Chinese parasol” or “Chinese sunshade,” is an iconic cultural symbol in China with a history dating back thousands of years. It is a unique and practical piece of traditional Chinese craftsmanship used for protection against the sun and rain.
The traditional Chinese umbrella is typically made with a wooden frame, often crafted from bamboo or other sturdy materials, that provides the umbrella with its structure. The canopy or covering is usually made from silk or oiled paper, which is treated to be waterproof and durable. The silk canopy can be intricately painted or embroidered with various traditional Chinese designs, calligraphy, landscapes, or floral motifs, showcasing the country’s rich artistic heritage.
Chinese umbrellas often feature elaborate decorations and adornments, such as tassels and decorative silk cords, adding to their elegance and charm. Some umbrellas may also have decorative elements, such as hand-painted patterns, poetry, or symbolic motifs, reflecting different aspects of Chinese culture and aesthetics.
In addition to their practical use as a sunshade or rain cover, Chinese umbrellas have been used historically for ceremonial purposes, in traditional performances like Chinese opera or dance, and as props in various folk rituals and festivals.
The Chinese umbrella has evolved over the centuries, and today, modern versions may use materials like nylon or synthetic fabrics for the canopy, and aluminum or other metals for the frame, offering increased durability and convenience.
what are Chinese umbrellas called?
The umbrella is a common daily life item and has various names in Chinese, such as “chēng sǎn” (撑伞), “zhāng sǎn” (张伞), “jiē sǎn” (揭伞), “chēng” (撑), “dǎ” (打), and “xiān” (掀). In China, umbrellas are widely used, among which the oil-paper umbrella is a traditional Chinese umbrella with a long history and cultural background. Apart from being a daily life item, umbrellas are also applied in other fields such as military, culture, and art. In daily life, umbrellas are not only used for sheltering from rain and sun but also for enhancing people’s aesthetics and fashion sense. Overall, the various names of umbrellas reflect their different functions and characteristics in various occasions, while also reflecting people’s pursuit of aesthetics in culture, history, and art.
what were ancient Chinese umbrellas made of?
The earliest umbrellas were made of bamboo and animal skins. According to legend, Lu Ban’s wife split bamboo into thin strips and covered them with animal skins to create the earliest umbrella. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cai Lun invented paper, leading to the emergence of paper umbrellas.
Oil-paper umbrellas, which became popular during the Eastern Han Dynasty, featured a frame made of hand-carved bamboo strips and a canopy made of cotton paper coated with natural waterproof tung oil.
According to the “Chronicle of Umbrella,” it states, “The Six Secret Teachings said: When it rains, no pavilions or screens are spread. This was a practice during the Zhou Dynasty. The popular saying goes: Spread cloth to avoid rain, making it simple to use as a sunshade. It has been in existence since the Three Dynasties.” This indicates that ancient umbrellas were made of silk. However, after Cai Lun invented paper during the Eastern Han Dynasty, silk and fabric umbrellas were gradually replaced by paper umbrellas due to the lower cost of paper. Nevertheless, these paper umbrellas were not simply made of a single sheet of paper but were reinforced with oil immersion or wax coatings to enhance their durability.
Furthermore, there were alternative items to umbrellas in ancient times. For instance, the “青箬笠,绿蓑衣,斜风细雨不须归” (a line from a poem) mentions “箬笠” (woven bamboo hat) and “蓑衣” (rain cape made of straw) as substitutes. Moreover, ancient scholars carried wooden book boxes with a protruding cover to provide shade from the sun and protection from rain.
Overall, the evolution of umbrellas in ancient China involved transitioning from bamboo and animal skin to silk and fabric, and eventually adopting paper as a more affordable and practical material.
what was the purpose of the ancient Chinese umbrella?
In ancient China, umbrellas served a wide range of purposes, functioning not only as practical tools for sunshade and rain protection but also as decorative items, ceremonial and wedding accessories, props in artistic performances, and even as weapons and sacred artifacts in religious rituals.
Firstly, umbrellas served as the most basic and essential sunshade and rain protection tools, ensuring people’s comfort and keeping them dry in various weather conditions. Secondly, umbrellas were used as decorative items to enhance people’s aesthetic sense and fashion. In the ancient Chinese officialdom, umbrellas of different specifications and materials were used by officials of different ranks. High-ranking officials typically used elaborate umbrellas, while lower-ranking officials used simpler and plainer ones. This use of umbrellas to differentiate officials’ status and position not only reflected the hierarchical system of ancient China but also showcased the official culture and power structure of the society.
Furthermore, umbrellas were employed in official ceremonies and wedding customs. In ancient China’s official scenes, carriages and chariots used by emperors and high-ranking officials during their outings were often adorned with umbrella canopies, symbolizing “shelter for the people.” In the context of folk weddings during the Song Dynasty, umbrellas were significant tokens symbolizing a blissful marriage and blessings of many offspring. Additionally, during the wedding ceremony, the bride would use an umbrella to cover her face, expressing shyness and a sense of mystery. This use of umbrellas not only demonstrated the importance ancient Chinese people attached to marriage but also reflected their value for family and children.
Besides being used in daily life and official settings, umbrellas were also common props in artistic performances, such as traditional operas, song and dance, and acrobatics. In specific scenarios, umbrellas could also be used as weapons. For instance, in martial arts novels and movies, martial artists often used umbrellas as defensive weapons to attack opponents. Additionally, umbrellas played essential roles in religious rituals and tomb architecture in ancient China. In some religious ceremonies, umbrellas symbolized sacred artifacts and were present in temples and Daoist monasteries. Moreover, umbrellas were frequently included as burial objects in ancient Chinese tombs, symbolizing the protection of the deceased from exposure to the elements in the afterlife.
Overall, umbrellas in ancient China played diverse roles, serving as practical tools, cultural symbols, artistic treasures, and social etiquette items, reflecting the wisdom, aesthetic appreciation, and lifestyle of the ancient people.
why do Chinese use umbrellas in the sun?
Using an umbrella under the sun is not limited to China; it is a common sun protection method, and it may be more prevalent in certain regions.
The primary reason for using an umbrella as a sunshade is to avoid direct sunlight, lower skin temperature, and reduce exposure to ultraviolet rays. In China, due to its geographical location and climate, many places experience intense sunlight, especially during the summer and periods of strong UV radiation. Therefore, people use umbrellas to shield themselves from direct sunlight and protect their skin from harmful UV rays. Additionally, in Chinese culture, using an umbrella carries etiquette and cultural significance. For example, in formal occasions, men often use black umbrellas to display solemnity and decorum.
In summary, using an umbrella under the sun is not limited to China, but it may be more prevalent in certain regions. The primary purpose of this behavior is to avoid direct sunlight, lower skin temperature, and reduce exposure to UV rays, while also carrying cultural significance.
styles of Chinese umbrellas
Ancient umbrellas came in several varieties, including:
- Cloud Umbrella: Opened like a cloud in the sky, closed like a net.
- Feather Umbrella: Made with bird feathers and a beautiful form.
- Blue Silk Umbrella: Not actually an umbrella, but a canopy made of blue silk.
- Yellow Silk Umbrella: Not actually an umbrella, but a canopy made of yellow silk.
- Blue Tent: A blue covered tent.
- Tent Cover: A canopy used for covering ancient vehicles.
- Red Silk Umbrella: Not actually an umbrella, but a canopy made of red silk.
- Curved Handle Umbrella: A type of umbrella with a curved handle at the top.
- Square Umbrella: A type of umbrella with a square shape.
- straight Handle Umbrella: A type of umbrella with a straight handle at the top.
- Straw Hat: A hat made of woven bamboo used to block sunlight and rain.
- Oil Canvas Umbrella: An umbrella made with oil canvas material.
- Oil Paper Umbrella: An umbrella made with hand-cut bamboo frames and painted paper surfaces.
how to display a Chinese umbrella?
Displaying a Chinese umbrella can be a beautiful and artistic way to showcase its intricate design and cultural significance. Here are some suggestions on how to display a Chinese umbrella:
Stand Display: Use a decorative stand or holder to prop the umbrella upright. This method allows the umbrella to be a centerpiece in a room or an accent piece in a corner.
Wall Mount: Hang the Chinese umbrella on a wall using hooks or brackets. This method not only displays the umbrella but also creates a visually appealing wall decor.
Opened Canopy Display: If the Chinese umbrella has an opened canopy, you can suspend it from the ceiling using a sturdy hook or string. This creates a suspended display that captures attention.
Closed Canopy Display: When the umbrella is closed, you can use a decorative wall hook or a hanger to hang it on the wall, like an art piece.
Shadow Box: Consider placing the Chinese umbrella inside a shadow box frame. This protects the umbrella while still showcasing its beauty.
Display Shelf: Use a display shelf or cabinet with glass doors to protect the umbrella from dust and showcase it as a collectible item.
Themed Decor: Incorporate the Chinese umbrella into a themed decor setting, such as a traditional Chinese room, an Asian-inspired display, or a cultural exhibition.
Lighting: Use subtle lighting, such as spotlights or LED lights, to highlight the details and colors of the umbrella.
Rotate the Display: If you have multiple Chinese umbrellas, consider rotating the display periodically to showcase different pieces.
Remember to handle the umbrella with care and avoid exposing it to direct sunlight for extended periods to preserve its colors and materials. The display should enhance the beauty and cultural significance of the Chinese umbrella while ensuring its protection and longevity.
how does the ancient Chinese umbrella work?
In ancient times, the umbrella was an important everyday tool that played a significant role in people’s lives. The umbrella served not only as a means of protection from the sun and rain but also provided shade during hot summers and protection from cold winds during the winter.
The craftsmanship of ancient umbrellas was highly refined, utilizing various materials and techniques. Initially, umbrellas were made using oil-paper as the canopy material, and later, materials like silk, canvas, and other fabrics were also used. For the frame, natural materials such as bamboo or wood were employed and meticulously processed to create a sturdy and durable structure.
Beyond its practical value, the ancient umbrella also possessed great artistic significance. In addition to being a functional tool, it served as a symbol of etiquette and culture. In literary and artistic works from ancient times, the presence of umbrellas can often be seen, such as in phrases like “Through rain and tears, Qingwen guards an empty room” from “Dream of the Red Chamber.”
In conclusion, ancient umbrellas were not merely practical tools but also symbols of culture and art. They represented the wisdom and creativity of ancient people, as well as their pursuit and love for life.
what does an umbrella represent in Chinese culture?
The umbrella holds diverse symbolic meanings and significance in Chinese culture, including:
Unity and Strength: The umbrella’s shape, standing tall and firm, symbolizes unity and strength.
Five Scholars Passing the Imperial Examination: The five umbrella ribs represent the successful passage of the imperial examination by five scholars, signifying wishes for promotion, wealth, and many offspring.
Progress and Advancement: The connections between the umbrella ribs symbolize joints, representing progress and career advancement.
Shelter and Care: The umbrella’s ability to shield from sunlight and rain symbolizes protection and care.
Etiquette and Culture: Umbrellas have been an integral part of Chinese ceremonial culture, often used in court ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and other occasions.
In addition to these mentioned symbolic meanings, umbrellas in Chinese culture have further extensions and implications.
Firstly, in ancient times, the umbrella served as a weapon in China, having defensive and offensive functions. In martial arts novels and films, one can often witness martial artists using umbrellas for combat and self-defense. Hence, umbrellas also symbolize courage and strength, representing people’s capability to protect themselves while expanding and conquering the outside world.
Secondly, umbrellas in ancient China were a symbol of status and identity. In the hierarchical society, only the upper class could use exquisite umbrellas, such as emperors, nobles, and wealthy merchants. Thus, umbrellas also represented power and social status, serving as an emblem of identity.
Moreover, umbrellas embody beauty and romance in traditional Chinese culture. In ancient poetry, umbrellas were often mentioned as decorative items in various occasions like weddings, funerals, and dances. In performing arts like opera and dance, umbrellas are used to create unique stage effects, enhancing artistic expression and emotional resonance.
In summary, umbrellas in Chinese culture carry diverse symbolic meanings and implications, combining practicality with cultural value. Whether as a functional tool for shading from the sun and rain, or as a symbol of etiquette, weaponry, or social status, umbrellas play an important role in people’s lives and have become an integral part of Chinese culture.
Chinese history umbrellas
The umbrella is a common everyday item in modern society, playing a significant role in providing shelter from rain, protection from the sun, and as a decorative accessory. There are various legends and historical records about the inventor of the umbrella. It is said that Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) invented the umbrella, while some accounts credit the invention to the wife of the legendary Chinese craftsman, Luban. However, according to historical records, the earliest umbrellas were made of silk and known as “silk umbrellas,” dating back to the Shang Dynasty.
During the Zhou Dynasty, umbrellas were used by the nobility and royal family for shading, rain protection, and decoration. These umbrellas were typically made of silk or paper. In the Han Dynasty, Zhang Liang invented the paper umbrella, making it more convenient and practical. These umbrellas were made from paper pulp, lightweight, affordable, and easy to carry, providing better rain protection for common people.
During the Tang Dynasty, oil-paper umbrellas became popular among the common people. These umbrellas were made from paper coated with oil, offering improved rain protection and durability. With advancements in umbrella-making techniques, the Song Dynasty witnessed a peak in the craft, and umbrellas became unique handicrafts. People began incorporating artistic and cultural elements into umbrella designs, making them symbols of fashion and culture.
In the Ming Dynasty, umbrellas found utility in military and warfare. During the Qing Dynasty, umbrellas saw further popularization and development. People started using more diverse and practical umbrella types, such as folding umbrellas and automatic umbrellas.
In modern society, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives. With technological advancements, umbrella materials and designs continue to undergo innovations and improvements. People can now use lightweight, durable umbrellas and choose from various types and colors to suit their needs. Umbrellas are not only practical tools but also cultural symbols representing people’s cultural identity and way of life. Additionally, for designers and artists, umbrellas can be a unique design object, incorporating artistic and fashionable elements into umbrella designs, showcasing distinctive aesthetics and cultural significance.
In ancient China, umbrellas were initially made of silk and were considered expensive, making them a luxury item. They were also known as “华盖” (Huagai), symbolizing royal authority, and were not accessible to the common people. It was only during the Tang Dynasty and later periods that umbrellas began to be used by the general populace. However, even during that time, there were still many restrictions on their usage, with regulations specifying that common people could only use paper umbrellas.
During the Northern Song Dynasty, a green oil-paper umbrella became popular among the common people and served as a fashionable accessory. Emperor Zhenzong of the Song Dynasty even issued an edict prohibiting the use of cloth umbrellas by the common people. This restriction continued into the reign of Emperor Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty, where the use of silk and satin umbrellas by the commoners was also forbidden.
It was only during the Qing Dynasty and later periods that the use of umbrellas by the common people became more relaxed. After the Xinhai Revolution, there were new developments in the craftsmanship of umbrellas used by the common folk, leading to the production of lightweight and freely collapsible umbrellas made of tung oil cloth, oil-paper, black cloth, and other materials.
In summary, for a significant period in ancient China, umbrellas were primarily made of silk and considered a symbol of status and authority. They were restricted to use by the royalty and nobility, while the common people were only allowed to use paper umbrellas. It was not until later dynasties that umbrellas became more accessible to the general populace, with advancements in craftsmanship and the use of various materials for umbrella production.
when were Chinese umbrellas invented?
Umbrellas are a convenient and practical item that has undergone continuous improvements and optimizations over the course of history. However, the exact time of the umbrella’s invention remains uncertain. According to historical records, the earliest legends related to umbrellas can be traced back to around 1000 BC in China. In the book “Yu Xie” (《玉屑》), Lu Ban is credited with inventing the umbrella during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, making it one of the earliest recorded mentions of umbrellas.
During the Tang Dynasty, umbrellas began to be widely used and became an essential item for people during their travels. In the Song Dynasty, umbrella-making craftsmanship reached its peak, and umbrellas became unique handicrafts. According to the “Meng Liang Lu” (《梦粱录》), umbrella production during that time had achieved a very high level, with excellent materials and exquisite craftsmanship, resulting in a wide variety of umbrella forms.
With the passage of time, umbrellas have continuously evolved in appearance, functionality, and usage. Nowadays, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives and also possess cultural and artistic value. In different cultures and regions, umbrellas may have various forms and uses, but regardless of the context, they remain an essential aspect of human life.
In conclusion, the exact invention date of umbrellas remains uncertain, but legends related to umbrellas can be traced back to around 1000 BC in China. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, umbrella-making craftsmanship saw significant development and resulted in unique handicrafts. Today, umbrellas have become an integral part of people’s lives, bearing cultural and artistic significance.
original Chinese umbrella
There are mainly two theories about the origin of umbrellas:
Umbrella industry in Taiwan worships Nüwa: According to Wu Yingtao’s book “Taiwan Folk Customs, Sacrifices,” it is believed that Nüwa used umbrella bones the size of beans to mend the sky, making her the deity revered by umbrella makers. In Chinese mythology, Nüwa is known for repairing the sky with five-colored stones. The association between Nüwa and umbrella-making might have arisen due to the similarity of repairing the sky to crafting an umbrella, where umbrella makers view rain as leaking from the heavens and mending the sky as similar to making an umbrella.
By linking a practical everyday item with the creation myth, it can be seen that umbrellas were endowed with a mystical significance in protecting people from natural disasters. This gave rise to legendary stories and myths closely intertwined with the enduring human progress, showcasing the significance umbrellas hold in people’s minds.
Umbrella industry worships the ancestor’s wife of the master craftsman Lu Ban: The book “Chinese Industry Deity Worship” mentions several legends of Lu Ban’s wife, Yunshi, being revered as the ancestor of umbrella-making. One version states that while Lu Ban was working outside, Yunshi would often bring him food and noticed that he and other craftsmen were working in the rain. Inspired to create a device for sheltering from the rain, she brought back rattan and wove it into a large conical hat. Another version tells of Lu Ban and his apprentices building shelters every ten miles for people to take refuge from the rain. Yunshi suggested that people couldn’t walk from one shelter to the next. Inspired by her remark, she used bamboo to create the framework and assembled it into a small shelter with oil-paper covering, forming the concept of “one step, one shelter.” Thus, Yunshi became the ancestor of the umbrella industry.
From a manufacturing perspective, the emergence of umbrellas reflects humanity’s proactive and nature-adaptive approach to protect themselves from natural phenomena, fostering the principle of craftsmanship focused on human needs and development.
The origin of the umbrella remains uncertain to this day. There are different theories regarding its origin.
One theory suggests that umbrellas may have originated around the 11th century BCE during the time of King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty. It is said that soldiers marching under the scorching sun used large lotus leaves to shield themselves from the heat. However, this method was impractical for the commanders. Hence, skilled craftsmen were ordered to create small pavilions resembling the lotus leaves every ten li (about 5 kilometers) on the marching route to provide shade for the commanders. Eventually, these pavilions were combined with carriages, resulting in the creation of wooden umbrella canopies. Over time, the fixed canopy frame was replaced with a collapsible and adjustable frame, thus forming the rudimentary design of the umbrella.
Another theory attributes the origin of umbrellas to ancient myths and legends. According to one account, during the battle between the Yellow Emperor and Chiyou at Zhuolu, there were colorful clouds with the appearance of flower petals and branches above the Yellow Emperor’s head. Inspired by this phenomenon, people created canopies resembling the clouds, which gradually evolved into umbrellas.
Soviet scholars have also studied the origin of umbrellas and proposed that they may have originated in China during the 9th century CE. In this theory, a high-ranking attendant’s wife in the imperial palace made an umbrella with twenty-eight spokes to shield the emperor from the sun and rain. This umbrella was considered a symbol of imperial authority.
In conclusion, the exact origin of the umbrella is still debated, and various theories link its creation to historical events, mythical stories, and craftsmanship.
what dynasty was the umbrella invented in China?
The umbrella in the Shang Dynasty was made of silk and had a similar shape to modern umbrellas. During the Shang Dynasty, silk weaving had already reached a relatively advanced level. In the tombs of the Shang Dynasty, many fragments of silk with black and red diamond-shaped patterns were discovered, making them some of the earliest silk fabrics in the world. Additionally, in the bronze vessels of the Shang Dynasty, many vessels with black and red diamond-shaped or curvilinear patterns were found, which were likely used to store silk fabrics to display their nobility and preciousness.
The existence of silk umbrellas in the Shang Dynasty is documented in historical texts such as “Bo Wu Zhi” (《博物志》) and “Han Shu, Yu Fu Zhi” (《汉书·舆服志》). According to “Bo Wu Zhi,” miniature folding umbrellas were already used during the Shang Dynasty. These portable umbrellas could be carried around to provide shade from the sun and protection from rain. Additionally, “Han Shu, Yu Fu Zhi” records a type of ceremonial garment called “bi xi” that was similar to a modern apron, used to cover the area above the knees. Although these texts do not directly describe the shape and purpose of the silk umbrellas used in the Shang Dynasty, they indicate that people during that time were already using silk to create sun and rain-shielding tools.
In conclusion, the silk umbrella of the Shang Dynasty is one of the earliest known silk rain accessories in the world, reflecting the highly advanced level of textile and dyeing technology during that period.
who invented the umbrella in China?
The Chinese umbrella has a long history and is a part of traditional Chinese culture. There are different legends about the inventor of the Chinese umbrella.
One legend attributes the invention of the Chinese umbrella to Lady Yun, the wife of the renowned Chinese craftsman and architect, Lu Ban. Lu Ban was known for his exceptional woodworking skills, and his wife, Lady Yun, was intelligent and skilled in various crafts. One day, when Lu Ban went out for work, Lady Yun noticed that it started to rain heavily, and Lu Ban had not brought any rain gear with him. Concerned for her husband and others caught in the rain, Lady Yun decided to devise a tool that could shield rain and snow. She diligently researched and eventually invented the Chinese umbrella.
Another legend attributes the invention of the Chinese umbrella to the Yellow Emperor, one of the legendary ancestors of China, who was a great leader and inventor. In the time of the Yellow Emperor, people could only use large leaves or animal skins to shield themselves from the rain, which was inconvenient. The Yellow Emperor observed this situation and started studying how to create a portable and effective tool to shelter from rain and wind. After numerous experiments and improvements, he ultimately invented the Chinese umbrella.
Regardless of the legend, both stories attest to the long history of the Chinese umbrella. During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese umbrellas became popular and became essential items for people’s travels. In the Song Dynasty, the craftsmanship of Chinese umbrellas reached its peak, and they became unique handicrafts. With the passage of time, Chinese umbrellas have continuously evolved in appearance, functionality, and usage. Today, Chinese umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives and hold cultural and artistic value.
where was the Chinese umbrella invented?
The exact place of the umbrella’s invention remains uncertain, but legends related to umbrellas can be traced back to around 1000 BC in China. According to the book “Yuxie,” Lu Ban is credited with inventing the umbrella during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, making it one of the earliest recorded mentions of umbrellas.
During the Tang Dynasty, umbrellas began to be widely used and became an essential item for people during their travels. In the Song Dynasty, umbrella-making craftsmanship reached its peak, and umbrellas became unique handicrafts. With the passage of time, umbrellas have continuously evolved in appearance, functionality, and usage. Nowadays, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives and also possess cultural and artistic value.
In conclusion, the exact invention place of umbrellas remains uncertain, but legends related to umbrellas can be traced back to around 1000 BC in China. Lu Ban’s invention of the umbrella during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, as recorded in “Yuxie,” is one of the earliest records about umbrellas. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, umbrella-making craftsmanship saw significant development, and umbrellas became unique handicrafts. Over time, umbrellas have continuously innovated in appearance, functionality, and usage. Nowadays, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives, bearing cultural and artistic significance.
why was the umbrella invented?
The invention of the umbrella was aimed at facilitating people’s travels and protecting them from getting wet in rainy weather. According to legend, Lu Ban is credited with inventing the umbrella. He observed many children swimming in a lotus pond with lotus leaves on their heads. Intrigued, he carefully studied a lotus leaf and constructed a flexible frame based on its shape. He then covered the frame with a piece of cloth, thus giving birth to the first umbrella.
In reality, the exact time and inventor of the umbrella remain unverifiable to this day. However, what is certain is that the umbrella was invented to make people’s travels more convenient and to protect them from rain. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, umbrella-making craftsmanship saw significant development, and umbrellas became unique handicrafts. Nowadays, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives, bearing cultural and artistic significance.
where is umbrella made in China?
The production bases of Chinese umbrellas are mainly concentrated in Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Hunan provinces. Among them, Dongshi Town in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province, is known as the “Umbrella Capital of China,” Ganglie Town in Jiangcheng District, Yangjiang City, Guangdong Province, is known as the “Hometown of Chinese Umbrellas,” and Gaibei Town in Shangyu City, Zhejiang Province, is also a famous umbrella-producing area. These regions have a long history of umbrella production, exquisite craftsmanship, a wide variety of styles, and high-quality products, enjoying a good reputation in the international market.
Hangzhou Oil Paper Umbrella is one of the traditional Chinese handicrafts with a history of over a thousand years. In the past, Hangzhou Oil Paper Umbrella was a major local specialty of Hangzhou, and it was exported far and wide. Although the practical value of Hangzhou Oil Paper Umbrella has gradually diminished, its cultural and artistic value is still widely recognized.
The creation of Xihu Chousha Umbrella dates back to the early 1930s. The production process of Xihu Chousha Umbrella involves three major stages: bamboo selection, umbrella frame making, and umbrella surface assembly. During the bamboo selection process, bamboo with a growth period of over three years, a diameter of five to six centimeters, uniform color, and no blemishes is chosen. Only the middle section of 2 to 4 sections from each bamboo is used as the umbrella frame. The umbrella frame goes through more than ten steps, including polishing, splitting long bones, weaving, shaping, splitting green rattan, milling grooves, splitting short bones, drilling holes, etc. One Xihu Chousha Umbrella requires 35 bamboo ribs, each being 4 millimeters wide. The umbrella surface assembly involves 16 steps, such as sewing corners, stretching the fabric, assembling the frame, trimming the edges, threading, brush painting, folding the umbrella, applying blue dye, installing the pole, wrapping the top, attaching the head, attaching the handle, and securing the nails. The finished umbrella weighs only about half a pound. When closed, the colorful fabric is not visible, and the umbrella ribs beautifully return to form a section of elegant round bamboo.
History Of Chinese Umbrella.
The first-ever form of umbrellas was made from palm tree leaves and eucalyptus, about 3500 years ago, by ancient Egyptians who are credited as the inventors of the umbrella. China, however, is still among the earliest civilization to have adopted the use of the umbrella and is probably the first to have developed one made of silk.
The silk umbrellas were said to represent a true work of art. They had various designs of nature, writings, dragons, and other animals painted on them. Initially, aside from acting like shade, the umbrellas in China were seen as a symbol of power and prestige. That was measured by the size of the umbrella. The larger it was, the more people needed to carry it, and hence the more powerful a person was considered.
Much later, around the 1st century BC, the first paper umbrella was invented in China. They quickly became fashion accessories for the women in the royal courts. Because of their scarcity and cost, only the royal and noble families, as well as rich merchants, would be seen carrying umbrellas. But when they started to become more popular among commoners, the rich differentiated themselves by carrying yellow and red umbrellas, while the commoner was mostly seen with blue ones.
Over the passing centuries, the surrounding countries began adopting the umbrella. Royal members of Burma, Korea, Japan, and Siam took great pride in showcasing their umbrellas as a fashion statement. Soon enough, the Chinese umbrellas were adopted by the nobility in Italy, England, and France. Over time those in continental Europe at the time developed and evolved the umbrella to what we know and use today.
Who Invented the Umbrella in Ancient China?
There is a legend from Ancient China that talks about the wife of Laban, a famous craftsman in that time, who is credited for inventing the first umbrella. According to the legend, the couple was enjoying the view as they took a walk along West Lakeside when it started raining.
By the time they got home, both of them were completely soaked, which made the wife think, “What if there was a way to prevent people from being rained on when they were walking along the lake.” Laban thought that the best solution was that build many pavilions along the lake. His wife, however, disagreed, since they were unmovable, hence people would have to stop their walk to take cover from the rain.
She wanted to look for a way to protect people from the rain as they continued with their walk. She kept thinking of a solution until one afternoon, she saw children playing in the rain. They were each holding large lotus leaves above their heads and so weren’t soaked at all. That gave her the idea to make what came to be the first umbrella in ancient China.
What Were Ancient Chinese Umbrellas Made of?
The very first umbrella invented in Ancient China was made of silk. It was decorated with paintings of either, natural scenery, flowers, mythical creatures, animals, or Chinese calligraphy. Later on, was when paper umbrellas became popular in Ancient China. The frames of the umbrella were made either of mulberry bark or bamboo. The materials used ensured that the overall weight of the umbrella wasn’t heavy to carry around.
To protect the individual from rain, the silk or paper underwent a complicated treatment of wax that was applied to it, to repel the water from seeping through. While it proved effective, it made the overall made umbrellas were costly, as such only royals and those from the upper class could afford to get them.
It wasn’t until the wax was replaced with a special oil, that the cost of umbrellas was reduced. The oil was still as effective as wax at repelling the water, but also significantly cheaper. As a result, even commoners were able to afford the umbrellas. This led to royals using only red and yellow umbrellas and commoners using blue ones to differentiate their social status.
What Were Umbrellas Used for In Ancient China?
The umbrellas in Ancient China were used for more than shade and shelter from the weather. They held a lot of symbolism across the different dynasties. Emperors and senior officials at that time, for example, used them during tours as a sign of protection for the people.
Also, because they were initially costly to make, and only the upper class could afford them, they were considered a symbol of wealth and power. For example, an umbrella known as the Luo umbrella was used during official ceremonies as a symbol of the rank one held. It held as much significance as the official robe. Aside from rank, the umbrellas were also a symbol of status. The royals in the Song dynasty for example used yellow and red umbrellas which were different from the commoners’ blue ones. Additionally, during the Han dynasty, officials above the third rank were used as the only ones allowed to use green umbrellas.
What Are Oil-paper Umbrellas Used for?
Aside from being used as shade, oil-paper umbrellas were used as symbolic items on special occasions. Red umbrellas are for example used in weddings to cover the bride. This was seen as a way of wadding off the evil eye from the bride. During funerals, a white oil paper umbrella is used funerals since white is closely associated with death in the Chinese culture. Old people on the other hand would carry purple umbrellas because it symbolizes longevity.
How To Make an Ancient Chinese Umbrella?
The Chinese umbrella is made of 5 major parts. That includes, the ribs, shade, handle, head and decorations. To make an umbrella requires great skill since all the parts have to be assembled perfectly. The three most demanding parts are especially the shade, ribs, and decorations. The following is how the three parts are made:
The material used to make the ribs should be strong and pliable. The most commonly used material is bamboo. They normally have to be 5 years or older to give time to the resins to fully develop. This is what is gives the bamboo its combined strength and flexibility.
For the shade, you can use the silk material, however, the most popular material is paper. The type of paper used is thin fibrous paper. It is, however, strong and tears resistance. Tung oil is applied to the shade to make it water-resistant which makes it slightly translucent. Once it’s fully dried, the shade is ready to be decorated.
Different embellishments are used to decorate the shades. Some use solid colors, while others use different drawings of scenery, animals, or calligraphy. The decorations on the umbrella are the biggest highlights, therefore, a lot of attention is used at this stage.
how did the Chinese umbrella impact the world?
Traditional Chinese umbrellas were spread to the world through merchants and cultural exchanges. As early as 1100 BC, the Chinese began using umbrellas, and they were already using umbrellas as a symbol of identity. With the expansion of foreign trade and exchanges, umbrellas gradually spread to other countries. During the Tang Dynasty, umbrellas started to be introduced to Japan, and in 1602, they began to be popularized in Europe.
Furthermore, merchants and cultural exchanges played a significant role in the dissemination of traditional Chinese umbrellas. For instance, in 1747, an Englishman who traveled to China took an interest in the Chinese oil-paper umbrella and brought one back to his country. He then had people imitate its structure and created the silk umbrella. Subsequently, Chinese umbrellas began to circulate among the people in Europe and gradually spread to various parts of the world.
Nowadays, umbrellas have become an indispensable part of people’s lives and carry cultural significance and artistic value.
ancient Chinese umbrella drawing
Ancient Chinese umbrellas were typically made of materials like silk or oiled paper. They had a circular or octagonal canopy supported by a frame made of bamboo or other flexible materials. The canopy was often adorned with intricate paintings, calligraphy, or embroidery, reflecting the artistic and cultural elements of the time.
The handle of the umbrella was usually made of wood or bamboo and could be straight or curved. It might have been carved or decorated with ornate patterns or symbols, symbolizing the status and taste of the user.
The use of umbrellas in ancient China dates back to at least the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046–256 BCE), as mentioned in historical texts like “玉屑” (“Yuxie”). However, the exact appearance of these early umbrellas may not be precisely known, as there are no surviving artifacts from that period. Instead, our knowledge comes from textual references and later artistic depictions.
umbrella in Chinese culture
Umbrellas hold rich symbolic meanings and connotations in Chinese culture.
Firstly, umbrellas are an essential part of traditional Chinese weddings, often given as dowry or part of the bride’s dowry by the groom’s or bride’s family. In these ceremonies, umbrellas symbolize protection and blessings, signifying wishes for the newlyweds to have a happy and healthy life together.
Secondly, umbrellas are considered traditional stationery in Chinese culture. In ancient China, scholars and literati often used umbrellas as tools to shield themselves from the sun and rain while composing poems or paintings on them, thus adding a cultural touch. As a result, umbrellas also represent culture, elegance, and artistry.
Furthermore, umbrellas hold other symbolic meanings in Chinese traditional culture, such as signifying power, status, and prestige. In ancient China, emperors would use yellow silk umbrellas during their travels, symbolizing the supreme authority of the imperial power. Officials on inspection tours would carry red or black umbrellas, displaying their dignity and status.
In summary, umbrellas carry diverse symbolic meanings and connotations in Chinese culture, making them an essential component of traditional Chinese heritage.
In the birth customs, there are umbrella traditions
When a woman is about to give birth, a umbrella is placed on the bed, which is believed to be used to ward off evil spirits. According to the oral account of Shen Dingzhong, from Dongmen Youfang, Xinghua, Jiangsu (70 years old in 1987), the umbrella symbolizes longevity and good luck. After the child is born, the family members donate money to the temple, and the child’s name is written on the umbrella. When the temple fair is held, the umbrella is carried along with the procession to pray for the Buddha’s blessings for the child to live a long and healthy life.
During the Guzang Festival, the offering includes a large Guzang umbrella, with a handle over three meters high, made of bamboo and stretched to a diameter of three meters. The umbrella has paper flowers on three sides, and the top is covered with white paper. There is also a “Xiang Da,” a small white paper figure, pasted on the bamboo pole.
Chinese wedding umbrella
In most regions, it is customary for the bridesmaids to hold umbrellas for the bride during the wedding. Bridesmaids are usually the bride’s close friends, who assist her with intimate matters during the wedding, and it is natural for them to hold umbrellas for her.
On the wedding day, when the bride gets in and out of the car, holding an umbrella symbolizes “not competing with the heavens,” expressing respect for the divine. In ancient times, it was believed that the bride on her wedding day was at her peak, but nothing is greater than the heavens. To seek good fortune and auspiciousness, a red umbrella is used to avoid angering the heavens. Another belief is that the umbrella is used to pray for good luck. In ancient times, the bride’s face was covered with a red veil, and only the groom could lift the veil to see her face.
Wedding Umbrella Etiquette:
- Do not open the umbrella indoors: Opening an umbrella indoors can disrupt the harmonious atmosphere of the wedding.
- The umbrella color is preferably bright red: Red symbolizes happiness and auspiciousness, and can protect the bride from negative influences.
- Avoid using old umbrellas: The umbrella given to the bride should be new and unused, it should not be rented or borrowed. It must be a newly purchased umbrella, as this is the most precious moment in her life.
- Do not gift umbrellas to the couple: The word for umbrella sounds like “scatter” in Chinese, which implies dispersing or parting ways, so it is important to remember not to gift umbrellas to the newlyweds.
In the weddings of some ethnic minorities:
In Xiangxi Miao ethnic group, the bride is escorted during the daytime. Regardless of whether it’s a sunny day with clear skies or a rainy day, there is a designated person called the “prospective in-law escort” leading the way with a red paper umbrella bearing the word “happiness” written on it. The wedding procession includes two elder female singers, several suona players, and several pairs of bridesmaids. The bride, wearing a silver bracelet gifted by the groom on her wrist, walks joyfully in the middle, carrying a green cloth umbrella reminiscent of their courtship days.
On the day of the wedding, the groom’s family sends two beautiful young girls along with the matchmaker to welcome the bride. The bride is accompanied by dozens of female companions, each holding a paper umbrella, shielding her from being seen by others. When she arrives at the groom’s home, she is covered with a black cloth until she enters the bridal chamber, and she is not allowed to see anyone or look up at the sky during the journey. At the groom’s home, she opens and closes the umbrella three times before entering.
In the Miao ethnic group of Xiangxi, the custom of the “modesty umbrella” prevails during the wedding. The bride wears a moon-white dress and walks with an umbrella, half open and half closed, while her parents, brothers, relatives, and friends accompany her to the groom’s house. However, she enters the groom’s house through a small gate. A Miao widow is allowed to remarry, but she must obtain the consent of her deceased husband’s brothers. When the bride leaves for her new home, the umbrella she carries must be fully opened, and she enters the groom’s house through the main gate.
In the water ethnic group, the custom of “umbrella reveals the marriage” is observed. When the bride leaves her parents’ home, she covers her head with a red paper umbrella. In some places, the bride holds the umbrella herself, while in others, her brothers hold it for her. The umbrellas used are mostly new. In some cases, a small hole is deliberately torn in the red umbrella. According to the legend, this custom dates back to ancient times when the world was flooded, and only a brother and sister were left. The celestial beings arranged for the two to get married and reproduce the human race. However, the sister felt that this kind of marriage was improper, but she had no choice. Therefore, when she got married to her brother, she was extremely shy and took off the banana leaf covering her head. This later evolved into the custom of using a red umbrella to cover the head. It is said that this act also has the function of warding off evil and preventing thunder.
In the Achang ethnic group, there is an important custom called “companion groom holding the umbrella.” On that day, the groom and his gift-giving group can only enter the bride’s home after dark. When the groom enters the hall, several girls will pour water from the eaves on both sides. Therefore, the groom will have two agile and quick companions to hold umbrellas to deal with the water splashed from the sides. If the groom gets wet, the girls who splashed the water will look down on him. If he remains dry, it means that the groom and the companion groom have the upper hand and will show a pleased expression.
Umbrellas in Chinese funerals
Using umbrellas during funerals and related customs:
The act of using umbrellas during funerals and related customs has various meanings in different cultures and regions:
Symbol of Respect and Superstition: The use of umbrellas during funerals can be a symbol of respect for the deceased and a way of showing reverence to the departed soul. In some cultures, it is believed that the umbrella shields the deceased from sunlight and prevents the soul from being scattered or disrupted.
Symbolic Gesture: The act of using an umbrella during funeral processions or while paying respects to the deceased may be seen as a symbolic gesture of protecting and sheltering the soul on its journey to the afterlife.
Traditional Rituals: In certain regions, carrying umbrellas during funeral rituals is deeply rooted in traditional practices and may have specific cultural or religious significance.
In various parts of China, such as Hangzhou and Ningbo, the custom of using umbrellas during funeral-related activities is observed. For example, during the “报丧” (reporting the death) custom in Hangzhou, the person reporting the death carries an umbrella with its head facing downwards when visiting relatives and friends to inform them of the bereavement.
In Wenzhou, “买水浴尸” is a custom where relatives go to a river or well to collect water for the ritual of bathing the deceased before placing them in the coffin. During this ritual, one person carries an umbrella to provide shade while others carry water containers. The umbrella symbolizes the protection of the deceased during the ritual.
Similarly, in “烧庙头纸” custom in Shaoxing, umbrellas are used during the burning of ceremonial paper at temples. During the “五七追荐” custom, held on the seventh day after the death, an umbrella is placed on the altar, and it is believed that the deceased’s soul comes to visit on this day.
Umbrellas in Chinese Feng Shui
In feng shui, umbrellas hold significant symbolic meanings beyond their practical use for shade and protection from rain. They are believed to possess functions such as warding off negative energy, attracting wealth, promoting career advancement, and warding off evil spirits. This article will elaborate on the feng shui considerations for umbrellas based on their color, shape, material, and placement.
In feng shui, the color of the umbrella is crucial as it represents different meanings. For instance, a red umbrella symbolizes grandeur, glory, and warmth, evoking hope and affection. A golden umbrella signifies honor and happiness, suitable for attracting wealth and dispelling negative energy. On the other hand, a black umbrella represents stability and mystery, suitable for individuals who are more contemplative in their work or study. Moreover, the color should also match one’s zodiac sign and destiny.
For individuals born under the zodiac sign of Snake, they should choose green, red, or purple umbrellas to enhance wealth and improve their luck. For those born under the Rooster sign, red, gold, or purple umbrellas can boost their career and love life. As for individuals born under the Pig sign, they should opt for black or blue umbrellas to balance their financial luck.
The shape of the umbrella in feng shui also holds significant importance. In traditional culture, the umbrella represents a carrier, signifying that if good fortune arrives, one must cherish and protect it, passing it on to others.
Umbrellas with a mushroom-like shape, especially those with an exceptionally tall umbrella top, are considered inauspicious in feng shui. This shape is believed to block the flow of energy and accumulate negative energy, potentially affecting one’s career, academic pursuits, and financial development. On the other hand, regular or medium-tall umbrellas are more aligned with feng shui principles, bringing good luck, increasing oxygen intake, and improving overall well-being.
Feng shui principles also consider the material of the umbrella, as it can affect the energy field. Plush or soft material is favored as it creates a harmonious and pleasant atmosphere, promoting positive and optimistic spirits. Umbrellas with excellent ventilation, such as paper or bamboo, not only look appealing but also provide shade and cooling effects, benefiting people’s physical and mental health.
The placement of the umbrella is also essential. It is recommended to place the umbrella near the entrance or on the balcony, as this not only provides shade and protection but also serves as a ward against evil spirits and negative energy.
If the umbrella handle is placed upwards, it helps gather wealth energy and is considered an auspicious position for career advancement and salary increase. However, if the umbrella handle is placed downwards, it may form a “hooked” energy, potentially attracting negative energy and affecting the financial situation. Therefore, it is essential to choose an appropriate placement for the umbrella.
In conclusion, in feng shui, people choose umbrellas based on their color, shape, material, and placement to symbolize various meanings such as warding off negative energy, attracting wealth, promoting career advancement, and warding off evil spirits. In daily life, we should pay attention to selecting suitable umbrellas and placing them in appropriate positions to ward off negative energy, attract positive energy, accumulate wealth, and attract good fortune.
Umbrellas in Chinese Mythology
In the Four Heavenly Kings, the Northern King is Duowen Tianwang, also known as Molihong.
Molihong holds a mixed-element bead umbrella, symbolizing “rain” through the meaning of the umbrella. The umbrella is adorned with emeralds, grandmother’s seal, grandmother’s blue, night-bright pearl, blue dust pearl, blue fire pearl, blue water pearl, cooling pearl, nine-curved pearl, beauty-stabilizing pearl, and wind-stabilizing pearl. It is further decorated with pearls forming the four characters “装载乾坤” (which means “carrying the universe”). This umbrella is awe-inspiring; when opened, it darkens the sky, obscures the sun and the moon. With a single turn, it shakes the universe. Its duty is to control rain.
Umbrellas in temple fair
In the old temple fairs, there were diverse types of umbrella lanterns, among which the most prominent were the glass umbrella lanterns. These lanterns were adorned with glass beads on top and were lit with candles inside, suitable for both day and night use. The umbrella canopy was embroidered with dragon motifs, while the lower edges featured dragon and phoenix designs. During the temple fairs such as the City God Festival on the 12th day of the 5th lunar month, the Dou Tian Festival on the 16th day, the Dragon King Festival on the 20th day, and the Lesser Dragon King Festival on the 22nd day of the 5th lunar month, one could see these umbrellas carried by a person using wooden slats to lighten the load. There would also be someone at the back to guard against the umbrella suddenly collapsing. In the past, various sizes of umbrellas were also present in the processions of the trade guilds in front of the statues of deities. These included glass umbrellas, cloth umbrellas, and bamboo umbrellas, each varying in size.
“Hate Big Feet, Hate Small Feet” is a traditional folk song and dance performance popular in northern Zhejiang. In this performance, umbrellas are the main props used in actions such as raising the umbrella, spinning the umbrella, and performing flat spins, employing the traditional “Ten Scene Postures” of Chinese opera.
“The Flea Dance” is prevalent in the regions of Zhoushan and Dinghai in Zhejiang, especially in Dinghai and Putuo. This dance is performed mainly during the harvest season at the “Competition of Gods” event, which takes place on the 15th day of the third lunar month (the birthday of Dongyue Dadi). It is also performed during the temple fair on the 20th day of the twelfth lunar month as part of the “Flea Meeting.”
“The Adjudicator’s Dance” is a short and independent dance segment in the “Adjudicator Meeting” of Yuyao City’s Simen Town. It depicts the Adjudicator being led by a ghost steward to capture ghosts while walking on the road.
The above examples of umbrellas’ roles in folk customs and activities are only limited to a small survey scope. However, from these phenomena, we can observe that umbrellas, as practical tools in people’s lives, despite being unassuming, possess qualities of protection, shelter, and affinity. Being indispensable objects in daily life, over time, they have gradually evolved into symbolic objects appearing in various scenes of people’s daily activities.
Umbrella Worship and Devotion
The intimate interaction between people and umbrellas has given rise to a new understanding of the umbrellas’ affinity and functionality. Not only are umbrellas regarded for their practicality, but they have also acquired symbolic significance, leading to the frequent appearance of umbrellas in various folk customs and activities. Furthermore, this prolonged association with umbrellas has engendered a sense of devotion and reverence towards them, transforming the simple everyday item into a spiritual symbol that fulfills certain spiritual needs for many communities.
Throughout history, umbrellas have been linked to witchcraft and belief systems. In the ritual of “Ji Long,” a table behind the performers is adorned with boiled red eggs and chicken or duck meat, and a large umbrella stands beside it. During certain ceremonies, like visiting a mourning hall, people often carry western-style umbrellas to protect themselves from evil spirits. These umbrellas are believed to sway like floating lotus leaves, creating a fascinating sight during the ritual.
In the regions of Guizhou inhabited by the Miao and Dong ethnic groups, umbrellas play an essential role in religious ceremonies. As ancient people believed that the sun resided in the south during the day (at the Meridian position) and moved to the north at night (at the Midnight position), the initial ritual of worshiping the sun god consisted of performing the ceremony of walking around a large circle to represent the orbit of the sun. During the ceremony of “Lu Sheng Cai Tang,” which takes place on the first day of the lunar new year, the performers play the “Lu Sheng” reed-pipe instrument. The annual “Lu Sheng Cai Tang” ceremony involves paying homage to the Sa Tan (ancestral altar).
In the Sa Tan ritual, umbrellas and boxwood trees play essential roles. A half-open umbrella is placed on the altar with the umbrella facing downward, while a boxwood tree is planted nearby. The umbrella symbolizes the radiation of the sun and holds religious significance in providing shelter for all living things.
During the “Tong Xin Shu Ji” ceremony, mature nanmu or maple trees are uprooted and replanted on the ancestral Long Liang Mountain. Each household erects a wooden stake within the circle formed around the venue. Colorful cloths are offered by each household and attached to the wooden stakes in a way that resembles a semi-opened colorful umbrella. All the ceremonies are performed under these “umbrellas,” and they symbolize the unity of the community.
In activities like the “Wei Ye” between Dong villages and the “Zu Mu Tan” ritual, ancient people imitated the rotation of the sun. The various Sa Tan decorations differ from place to place but generally include an umbrella, a walking stick, a pair of shoes, and evergreen trees such as holly, representing the permanent residence of the Sa Shen (ancestral god).
The introduction of the Li Sect to Minhang area in Shanghai in 1912 brought about the grand annual Li Sect assembly held on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month to celebrate the enlightenment of the Buddha. The procession during this assembly prominently featured a gigantic “Wan Ming Umbrella” standing over ten feet tall with a diameter of four feet. People paid a fee to have their names embroidered on the umbrella, and as long as there was a signature from someone with the surname “Wan,” the umbrella would be considered the “Wan Ming Umbrella.” It was believed that this act could ward off calamities, and it served as a symbol of community cohesion. Thus, what initially had “Sky God Worship” elements evolved into the worship of a specific social group, with umbrellas becoming objects of veneration.
umbrella in buddhism
The umbrella, also known as “li,” “deng,” or “san,” is a practical life tool with a long history in folk tradition. Early umbrellas can be roughly divided into two types: “deng” and “li,” both used to protect against rain. The large ones with handles, held by hand, are called “deng,” while the smaller ones without handles, worn on the head, are called “li” (Book of Songs, Minor Odes). This indicates that the umbrellas held by hand are called “deng,” and those without handles worn on the head are called “li.”
There are various materials used in making umbrellas, including cloth, paper, silk, satin, leather, and synthetic fabrics for the umbrella surface, and bamboo, wood, iron, and other materials for the umbrella frame. Although materials and craftsmanship for making umbrellas have improved significantly over time, its most distinctive features have remained to this day: several umbrella ribs holding the umbrella shaft together, opening and closing in unison, symbolizing unity and harmony; it can provide shade from the sun and protect against rain and wind, faithfully caring for people. Throughout history, the common people used the “Wanmin umbrella” as a symbol of protection for the people, as a sign of gratitude to the “clean officials” who petitioned on behalf of the people.
Umbrellas are also versatile and private, serving as a medium for communication and interaction between men and women. The legendary love story of Xu Xian and the White Snake in one of China’s four major folktales, “Legend of the White Snake,” involves an umbrella as a mediator. As a symbol of auspiciousness and good fortune in daily life, umbrellas are universally respected and considered one of the “Eight Auspicious Symbols” in folk tradition. In the Buddhist world, the umbrella is considered one of the eight symbols of Buddhists and corresponds to the spleen of gods. In Buddhist temples, the umbrella is one of the essential ceremonial objects. Even the supreme ruler, the “Emperor,” uses an umbrella canopy as a symbol of imperial authority.
umbrella in taoism
In Taoist (Fu Lu Pai) culture, oil-paper umbrellas from the “Ruo Shui Tang” are commonly used for warding off evil spirits and protecting homes. Tong oil is considered a substance for driving away evil and impurity. Some Taoist scriptures mention that wild ghosts and wandering spirits will immediately retreat upon smelling the scent of tong oil.
In temple architecture, such as the Forbidden City’s Taihe Hall, tong oil is often used not only for its natural waterproof and anti-corrosion properties but also for its ability to ward off evil spirits.
In ancient times, scholars traveling to take exams or assume official positions would often carry an oil-paper umbrella, known as the “bao fu san” or “bao fu umbrella,” to seek a safe and smooth journey.
When the Hakka people migrated south from the Central Plains, they would bring oil-paper umbrellas with them and place them in their homes to ward off evil and impurity and seek blessings from the gods.
In traditional Han wedding customs, the newlyweds would cover their heads with a red umbrella, symbolizing the warding off of evil and impurity and the hope for early childbirth of noble offspring.
Wood and paper can connect the realms of yin and yang and are more likely to attract spiritual beings. Offerings and ritual items are typically made of wood or paper because wood is considered alive, and paper is made from wood pulp.
Oil-paper umbrellas, being classified as yang, are more likely to attract spiritual beings. Placing the oil-paper umbrella upright (with the top of the umbrella facing upwards) inside a house or hanging it from the roof (the specific direction should be chosen based on the homeowner’s birth chart and the current year’s influences), benevolent spirits will descend and reside on the umbrella, driving away evil spirits and safeguarding the family. It is believed that the protection of divine spirits, the banishment of evil spirits, and the blessings of heaven will lead to successful endeavors.
Ancient Emperor’s Umbrella
The umbrella used by ancient emperors for sun protection was called “Huagai” (华盖). According to “Records of the Grand Historian,” the earliest term for umbrella was “Gai,” as in “Wudafu, the Prime Minister of Qin, did not sit in a carriage or use an umbrella during hot weather.” Here, “Gai” refers to an umbrella. In ancient times, when the emperor or important figures went out, someone would hold a “Huagai” behind them. It was found that “Huagai” originally referred to the carriage canopy used by kings. The character “华” (Hua) in “华盖” (Huagai) is related to the character “花” (Hua), meaning “flower.”
What is the Red Silk Umbrella
The Red Silk Umbrella (红罗伞) was one of the ceremonial items specifically used by ancient emperors during their travels or stays. Originally designed as a sunshade and rain cover, it gradually became a symbol of the emperor’s identity and dignity. When the emperor embarked on a journey, the vehicles and entourage would be accompanied by umbrellas with red and yellow canopies, symbolizing “sheltering the people.” Therefore, this type of umbrella is also called “罗伞” (Luosan) or “万民伞” (Wanmin Umbrella), and in formal language, it is referred to as “华盖” (Huagai). Including umbrellas as part of the ceremonial entourage creates a grand and majestic atmosphere. In the Jin dynasty, Cui Bao mentioned in “Ancient and Modern Annotations” that the “Huagai” was made by the Yellow Emperor during the battle with Chi You at the Zhaolu battlefield. There were often five-colored clouds and a golden branch with jade leaves hovering above the emperor’s head, resembling the appearance of flower petals. Therefore, the “Huagai” was made based on this image.
The Umbrella on the Bronze Chariots and Horses of Emperor Qin Shihuang
The umbrella has its origins in the ancient “zhang” (障), a large shield used by emperors in ancient times to shield themselves from the sun and dust while traveling. Later, it evolved into a ceremonial item. The umbrella stand on the bronze chariots and horses of Emperor Qin Shihuang is a self-locking structure between the umbrella stand and the umbrella handle. The umbrella frame includes movable hinges and a curved crank lock with a hidden groove, allowing it to be easily locked or unlocked. To stabilize the umbrella handle, there is a locking rod with a movable buckle, resembling a modern-day round plug that can lock the middle of the umbrella handle, preventing it from breaking.
Its most important function is to protect the emperor. Emperor Qin Shihuang had undergone five journeys during his lifetime, and in one of those journeys, he was almost killed by a powerful hired thug named Zhang Liang. Hence, Emperor Qin Shihuang was very concerned about his safety. The umbrella was not opened for any other purpose but for defense. When separated, the umbrella transformed into a spear and shield. The umbrella surface could defend against enemies, while the handle could be used as a weapon to attack enemies.
Manmin Umbrella–Umbrella for the Ten Thousand People
The “Wan Min San” (Umbrella for the Ten Thousand People) was a gift given by local gentry and common people in ancient China to commend the good governance of local officials. The umbrella would be adorned with numerous small silk ribbons, each inscribed with the name of the recipient. During the Qing Dynasty, when a local official was about to leave his post, the local gentry and merchants would express their appreciation and attempt to retain the official’s services by presenting “Wan Min San.” The gesture symbolized that the departing official, like an umbrella, provided shelter and protection for the common people. The more umbrellas presented, the more esteemed the official was considered.
In instances where an official was demoted or dismissed, if the local people still sent umbrellas and even stopped the official’s carriage, it demonstrated that the official was highly regarded and respected, and the local populace had genuine affection and loyalty towards him.
In the feudal society, when a local official was leaving his post, the local populace would make efforts to retain him, and a common way of doing so was by presenting “Wan Min San.” It signified that the departing official had been like a great umbrella, safeguarding the well-being of the local people, and was a benevolent ruler. The more umbrellas were given, the more honor the official received. This practice became more prevalent during the late Qing Dynasty and eventually turned into a corrupt custom in official circles.
Thus, the “Wan Min San” was a symbol of appreciation and recognition for virtuous officials and a means for the common people to express their gratitude and admiration.
Umbrella in Chinese opera
The “Huang Luo Umbrella” is a ceremonial prop used in Chinese opera processions.
In ancient China, umbrellas symbolized the power and status of emperors, generals, and high-ranking officials. In the strict hierarchical society of ancient China, the materials, colors, and size of umbrellas were similar to the wusha (black gauze) on the head and the court attire on the body, serving as symbols to distinguish the ranks and status of officials. For example, during the Song Dynasty, only the emperor used umbrellas in red and yellow colors, while lower officials all used blue umbrellas.
During ancient times, when the emperor or high-ranking officials went on tour, their sedan chairs or carriages would have umbrellas opened to “shelter the people,” which is why this type of umbrella was also known as “Liáng Sǎn” (Cooling Umbrella), “Luó Sǎn” (Umbrella Canopy), or “Wàn Mín Sǎn” (Umbrella for the Ten Thousand People), and in written form, it was called “Huá Gài” (华盖).
This umbrella was an integral part of ceremonial processions and added grandeur to the occasion. As the yellow umbrella symbolized wealth and prosperity, the custom of carrying a yellow umbrella is still present in modern-day traditional Chinese wedding ceremonies as a symbol of joy and auspiciousness.
Umbrella Dances in Chinese Culture
“Flower Umbrella Dance” (Also known as “Beng San,” “Wan San,” “Hua Gu San”): This dance is popular in the Cao County area. It portrays various themes, such as the decadence and incompetence of feudal emperors, flirting and courtship among young men and women, and playful interactions among the elderly, young girls, and clowns. The main characters include the Old Man, Clown Girls, Foolish Boys, and Fourth Girl. The dance is performed with various props such as the Flower Umbrella (with a pole length of 1.8 meters and a diameter of 40 centimeters), bamboo baskets, colored silk, drumsticks, waist drums, and colorful fans. The dance includes over 30 different forms, such as “Opening the Door and Unfurling the Umbrella,” “Stepping through the Four Doors,” “Five Branches Piercing the Heart,” “Snatching Umbrellas Solo and in Pairs,” “Observing the Stars,” “Grand Formation,” “Two Girls Holding the Doors,” “Four Doors and Four Supports,” “Clapping Butterflies,” and “Embracing the Moon in the Arms.” It is accompanied by percussion instruments.
“Yao Ethnic Umbrella Dance”: This dance is performed by the Yao ethnic group in regions like Jianghua, Ningyuan, Lanshan, and Daozhou in Hunan province. According to legend, the Yao people commemorated the mythical figure “Pan Wang” by dancing with umbrellas. The dance includes solo, duet, and group performances, with each dancer holding a paper umbrella and executing various moves like rolling, riding, winding, turning, pushing, and rinsing the umbrella. The dancers wrap the umbrellas around themselves while performing, and the key characteristic of the dance is bending the knees and squatting while dancing. The dance is accompanied by percussion instruments and often includes singing the “Umbrella Dance Song.”
“Folk Drum Umbrella Dance in Fujian and Taiwan”: On the ninth day of the lunar month in Taiwan and the southern Fujian region, people celebrate “Tian Gong Sheng” (Heavenly Duke’s Birthday). On this day, young men and women joyously dance the “Folk Drum Umbrella Dance.” The performance involves male youth dressed in theatrical costumes with small drums hanging on their bodies, creating a rhythmic sound while dancing. Female youth hold flowered umbrellas, mimicking the role of drummers, covering them with the umbrellas. The dancers perform in pairs, moving with agility and grace, producing an infectious and lively atmosphere. The origin of this dance is believed to have originated from the Ming Dynasty hero, Qi Jiguang, and his military campaigns against Japanese pirates. The dance has a history of several hundred years.
“She Ethnic Dragon Umbrella Dance”: This dance is popular in Lianjiang County, particularly in the villages of Changlong and Pandu. It is a traditional folk dance of the She ethnic group with a history of over 300 years. The dance celebrates the victory of the She ancestors in the expedition against the barbarians, which led to their selection as imperial in-laws (驸马). In the dance, male and female dancers perform together. The male dancers wear costumes with small drums, making rhythmic beats while dancing. The female dancers carry three-tiered golden umbrellas made of golden silk with yellow silk tassels along the edges and six yellow silk ribbons hanging from the top. The dance includes movements like rolling, riding, twisting, rotating, pushing, and rinsing the umbrellas. The elder She people typically hold the umbrella handles. The dance is accompanied by traditional She folk songs, creating a festive and joyous atmosphere.
“Dai Ethnic Umbrella Dance”: This is one of the traditional dances of the Dai ethnic group. On occasions like the Dai Water-Splashing Festival and weddings, the Dai people perform the Umbrella Dance to celebrate joyous occasions.
Chinese umbrella weapon
The umbrella can serve as a weapon for self-defense to a certain extent. Although it may not be as effective as a truncheon in direct combat, it can still be wielded effectively (swinging aligns with natural instincts, while thrusting requires more technical skills). What sets it apart from a truncheon is its portability, as it can be carried anywhere and can be opened to block attacks or shield from rain and sun.
Throughout history, there is no recorded use of iron umbrellas as weapons in military settings. Few martial arts schools utilize the iron umbrella as a traditional weapon. However, in “Zhonghua Gujin Bingxie Tukao” co-authored by Pei Xirong and others, there is a record of the Shaolin Eight Treasures Avoiding Clouds Umbrella. This umbrella, also known as the iron umbrella, was practiced by Hong Rong in the Ming Dynasty and Jingxiu in the Qing Dynasty.
In the realm of martial arts, the umbrella is a rare and distinctive weapon. In the Iron Qianmen martial arts, it is known as the “Huntian Umbrella” or “Iron Umbrella.” The technique set is called “Huntian Wuying Umbrella” or “Iron Umbrella Gong.” The Huntian Umbrella consists of two parts: the upper part includes the umbrella pole, frame, fasteners, and canopy, while the lower part houses a curved handle short sword, composed of a handle, fasteners, and blade. When the short sword is inserted into the umbrella pole, the fasteners in the lower part lock automatically. When the handle of the lower part is pressed, the short sword can be drawn out.
Each part of the umbrella can be used for offensive purposes. The sharp tip of the umbrella pole can stab, jab, or strike; the canopy can act as a shield to protect the user; the edges of the frame can chop, twist, or cut; the umbrella pole can be used for blocking and defense; the handle can hook, hang, stab, or smash. When the handle is pressed to draw out the short sword, the Huntian Umbrella becomes a double weapon. With the upper part held in the left hand, the umbrella pole, canopy, and frame edges can be used for blocking, shielding, chopping, and cutting. The short sword in the right hand can be used for striking, thrusting, lifting, deflecting, blocking, framing, chopping, and sweeping.
The Huntian Umbrella appears similar to a regular umbrella in its outward appearance, with its true nature as a martial arts weapon only revealed when the short sword is drawn. Therefore, it possesses excellent concealment, is easy to carry, and is well-suited for both offense and defense.
Due to its multiple components, the Huntian Umbrella is primarily made from spring steel and stainless steel, making it heavier than conventional martial arts short weapons, with an overall weight of about 2.5 kilograms. Thus, practitioners are required to have a solid foundation in internal martial arts, and the techniques demand the use of internal energy to execute movements. The practitioner needs to maintain flexibility, naturalness, and stability in body movements, while displaying the ingenuity and versatility of umbrella techniques, creating a graceful, light, and elegant performance of the entire technique set, known as the “Huntian Wuying Umbrella” or “Iron Umbrella Gong.”
giving an umbrella as a gift
Presenting an umbrella to someone holds special meanings, as follows:
- Gifting an umbrella symbolizes sailing together through storms, facing life’s challenges together.
- Gifting an umbrella conveys warmth and care.
- Gifting an umbrella signifies protection and shelter from wind and rain.
- Gifting an umbrella between a man and a woman is believed to lead to a breakup.
what does an umbrella symbolize in a dream?
Dreaming of an umbrella signifies that positive events are about to happen in the dreamer’s life. It indicates that the dreamer’s desired outcomes will soon be realized, and good news will arrive shortly. For men, dreaming of an umbrella suggests that they will soon find their ideal partner and experience a stable and blissful family life.
For women, dreaming of an umbrella indicates that they have let go of any emotional burdens, and everything in their life is running smoothly without worrying about others. Dreaming of holding an umbrella implies that the dreamer will receive positive news and experience happiness in various aspects of life.
The Chinese umbrellas are beautiful items in Chinese traditions. If you’d like to know more about them, you can visit Fujian where they are still produced in large quantities. Despite the evolution of umbrellas, traditional umbrellas still play an important role in Chinese culture.
Do You Know How the Umbrella Was Invented? National Science and Technology Library. [Accessed on July 24, 2019]
Ancient People Have Been “Opening Umbrellas” for Many Years. National Science and Technology Library. [Accessed on July 24, 2019]
Traditional Oil-paper Umbrella. Guangming Daily. December 9, 2016. [Page 09]
China’s Products – Jingxian Oil Cloth Umbrella | Six Generations of Umbrella Makers, Elaborate 88 Process Steps. November 30, 2020.