Arts, Exhibitions & Performances, Hong Kong, New Territories

Exhibition: Wearable blessings at the HK Heritage Museum in Sha Tin

I am always surprised that there are some really good current exhibitions that are often overlooked. One of them is the ‘Wearable Blessings’ exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

The museum is in Sha Tin, so it is a little journey away from the Island but it is so worth it! I have been there a few times now and I always enjoyed their special shows – which ranged from a Fabergé egg exhibition to a great fashion show by Eddie Lau exhibition. And of course, there is the ongoing Bruce Lee: Kung Fu Art Life exhibition, which runs until 2020, and every so often new artefacts are added to the show.

Anyway, this time I went to see the small but very interesting exhibition called “Wearable Blessings: A Traditional Chinese Children’s Clothing Exhibition” – it runs until March 21, 2016. It is only one room, but a big room that showcases about 200 pieces of fabrics dedicated to Chinese’s children’s clothing.

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-2 Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-1

The birth of a child is one of the most important events in traditional Chinese society (well in any society I would say!). Even today, all families hope that their children will stay healthy as they grow up, but in times when medical science was not that developed, child mortality rates were very high. The older generation would dress babies and toddlers in clothes and accessories with auspicious patterns would protect them from evil spirits and bless them with a happy future.

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-3 Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-6

More than 200 items of children’s clothing are on show and these are grouped into different sections, such as headwear, clothing, accessories such as bibs, dudous (an undergarment covering the belly), longevity locks, earmuffs and then a whole section on shoes and boots.

I found it very fascinating to learn that babies in China were made to wear animal-head shoes as they were believed to help eliminate disasters, avoid mishaps and ensure the child’s healthy growth (given that livestock could easily survive and ferocious beasts represent vitality).

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-10 Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-9

The items date from the late Qing dynasty (19th Century) to the Republican period (20th Century). They are all handmade by members of the family to keep the new arrival safe – and they combine the fashion trends of their times with auspicious symbols, which are often animal figures.

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-4

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-5

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-12

The animals symbolises virtues and blessings that the old generation wishes to impart to the new one. For example, tigers or the dragons are embroidered on the baby’s clothes, in order to prevent him or her from harm and to bless him with virtues of strength, courage and longevity. A cat is a symbol of longevity, while bats mean fortune.

For example, this dudou on the left shows the face of an artemisia tiger to protect its wearer.

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-7

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-8

There is also a modern-day section that features children’s wear designed by the Institute of Textiles & Clothing of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The designs combine traditional auspicious patterns with modern styles and craftsmanship to give visitors new insights into Chinese children’s wear.

Wearable Blessings exhibition Jan 2016-11

It is a great little show – I learnt so much about the old Chinese traditions and I admired the beautiful craftsmanship and colourful designs. It is definitely worth travelling to Sha Tin just to see these items that survived so many years (and judging by how well they are preserved, the babies and toddlers wore them only on festive days or they were not allowed to play/eat!).

The show runs until March 21, 2016 and you can visit it every day except on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays it’s free admission for everyone.

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