Chinese incense culture has a long history. As an important part of incense culture – Chinese traditional scented sachet culture, it also carries a large amount of cultural information, reflecting the aesthetic concepts and social customs of people in different periods, as well as the achievements of Chinese textiles and fine manufacturing.
Nowadays, due to the emergence and use of aromatherapy, perfume, and other items, incense sachets have rarely been used except on specific festivals and occasions, but they have left a strong mark in the history of incense used in China.
The History of the Traditional Sachet
Scented sachet (香囊, Xiangnang) is a folk embroidered craft created by ancient women, originally developed from Peinang (佩囊), a small cloth pocket used by the ancients to hold small objects. There were no pockets on the clothes of the ancients, so some portable necessities, such as seals, hand towels, coins, etc., were stored in this kind of pouch, and when they went out, they put it on their waist, so it was called “Peinang”. Scented sachet belongs to a kind of Peinang, which is named after the spices stored in the sac.
According to the literature, the history of wearing scented sachets can be traced back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties. According to the ritual records, underage men and women at that time had to wear “Rongxiu (容臭)” as a token of respect to their parents and elders, and the “Rongxiu” mentioned here is probably the earliest form of scented sachets.
During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the custom of wearing sachets became more and more popular. The ancients attached importance to the collection of fragrant flowers and herbs, and wore them on their bodies in order to make their living environment and people cleaner and more fragrant. In most cases, people dried herbs in a beautiful silk bag, wear around, both to give off the fragrance, but also as an ornament.
During the Han and Wei dynasties, the name “Xiangnang” formally appeared in the literature, and there were many records of wearing sachets. At that time, sachets were worn under the arm and hidden in the sleeve, and the fragrance was emitted through the sleeve. The Tang dynasty sachets were easy to carry and exquisite, and were worn by both men and women in high society and hung on carriages. During the Song dynasty, the sachets were more diversified. In addition to the traditional silk sachets, gold and silver sachets with exquisite ornaments were also made on the basis of the traditional sachets.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the sachets were at their heyday and could be carried by both men and women. At this time, there were many kinds of fragrant sachets, and in Li Shizhen’s “Compendium of Materia Medica” of the Ming Dynasty, there were records of treating diseases with sachets, and in the novel “Dream of the Red Chamber”, there are many references to fragrant sachets, which shows that it was very common to wear fragrant sachets at that time.
However, a slight difference between men and women when it comes to the wearing habits of the sachet.
- From a man’s point of view, the sachet is a tool for incense and a ritual, most often worn around the waist.
- From the women’s perspective, the sachet is a necessary Hanfu accessory in life. Women were more flexible and ingenious in their use of the sachet and were better at using it to show their feminine charms and emotions. If a woman wore a sachet on her skirt or belt, her gracefulness and gracefulness would be magnified. Sometimes, they would hang the sachets on their chests or under their arms according to the style and color of the clothes they were wearing, just like contemporary women wear jewelry with their clothes.
Chinese Traditional Scented Sachet, a Token of Love
In addition, sachets were also an important object for ancient women to express their feelings. In some Chinese costume dramas, we usually see the plot that if a woman likes a man, she will embroider sachets and give it to him as a way to express her feelings. This is a true reflection of the way women expressed their feelings in ancient times.
Although the plot is a bit old-fashioned, but because of the constraints of traditional rituals, the ancient women usually do not express their feelings frankly, and the sachets are a personal object, so it becomes one of the best tokens of love.
Patterns and Styles of the Chinese Traditional Scented Sachet
Chinese traditional scented sachet have many kinds of patterns, each pattern has a different meaning.
For example, tigers, leopards, and other vivid beasts often appear on children’s sachets. That’s because parents want their children to grow up vigorous, lively, and healthy, so mothers would embroider lively and powerful animals on the sachets and then fill them with herbs for strengthening the body to pray for their children’s well-being. Unlike children, the greatest blessing for the elderly is longevity, so scented sachets to elderly parents embroidered with pine and cypress or crane motifs.
Newly married couples or married women usually wear scented sachets with designs of plum blossoms, peaches, lotus flowers, both as a wish for a happy marriage and as a good wish for the woman.
With the development of silk fabric and embroidery, not only the variety of designs and patterns, but also the variety of textures, from the original brocade material derived from gold silk, silver silk, Diancui material, and jade carving material.
The most special one is the Tang Dynasty openwork scented sachet. It is special not only because of its unique and exquisite shape, but also because of the special manufacturing process. This sachet is different from the usual silk sachets. Firstly, it is made of silver with an openwork design and adopts the gyroscopic principle to burn the incense in the middle. The best part is that the incense burner remains horizontal at all times during use, with no sparks or ashes.
Throughout thousands of years of history, the culture of Chinese traditional scented sachet has developed from a simple way of carrying objects to a culture of the sachet with Chinese characteristics. Although it is no longer hung on the body as an accessory, it has never left people’s lives. For example, the derivation of modern perfume, aromatherapy, and other incense products, and the various types of beautiful incense bags hanging in the car, all contain the shadow of the Chinese traditional scented sachet.