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Not currently on display at the V&A

Hairpin
1100 BC - 1046 BC (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This bone hairpin (ji), carved with the figure of a stylised bird, is one of the oldest hair ornaments in the V&A. Although men and women wore hairpins, its original owner was probably a woman. Numerous similar hairpins have been found in the tombs of aristocratic women in Anyang, the capital city of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC), the earliest recorded dynasty in China's history. This is also when the earliest form of Chinese writing developed, and silk use was widely distributed throughout China.
Hairpins crafted from animal bones such as cattle, pig and deer were luxury items produced by local workshops for elite use. In ancient China, such hairpins symbolised an important rite of passage for young women, indicating they were ready to marry. Marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, girls began to style their hair in buns with a pair of hairpins from the age of fifteen.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Titles
  • 骨笄 (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Carved bone
Brief description
Hairpin (ji), carved bone, China, Shang dynasty, 1100-1046 B.C.
Physical description
Hairpin of carved bone, one end decorated with a stylised bird.
Dimensions
  • Length: 10cm
  • Width: 2.5cm
Style
Credit line
Purchased with Art Fund support, the Vallentin Bequest, Sir Percival David and the Universities China Committee
Object history
Formerly Eumorfopoulos Collection (RF1937/5674)
Subject depicted
Summary
This bone hairpin (ji), carved with the figure of a stylised bird, is one of the oldest hair ornaments in the V&A. Although men and women wore hairpins, its original owner was probably a woman. Numerous similar hairpins have been found in the tombs of aristocratic women in Anyang, the capital city of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC), the earliest recorded dynasty in China's history. This is also when the earliest form of Chinese writing developed, and silk use was widely distributed throughout China.
Hairpins crafted from animal bones such as cattle, pig and deer were luxury items produced by local workshops for elite use. In ancient China, such hairpins symbolised an important rite of passage for young women, indicating they were ready to marry. Marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, girls began to style their hair in buns with a pair of hairpins from the age of fifteen.
Bibliographic reference
Clunas, Craig. Chinese Carving. London: Sun Tree Publishing Ltd in association with the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996. p. 10, fig 1.
Collection
Accession number
A.51-1938

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Record createdJune 25, 2009
Record URL
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