Berthold Laufer (1874-1934)
Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, 1925
Anthropology Design Series No. 3, 2 pages + 38 plates
- "This publication is devoted to the artistic baskets whose home is in the Yangtse Valley and the country stretching southward. Here we meet in full development the flower basket with a great variety of shapes and graceful handles, the picnic basket with padlock, the neat travelling basket in which women carry their articles of toilet, and the "examination basket" in which candidates visiting the provincial capital for the civil service examinations enclosed their books and writing-materials, also the cozy for tea-pots, more practical and efficient than our thermos-bottles, and the curious pillow of basketry weave. The basket boxes with raised and gilded relief ornaments are also characteristic of the south."
- "This publication does not aim at a scientific study of the subject, but is primarily intended for the designer, craftsman, and art student. Nevertheless it is hoped that the technical student of basketry also will find it useful and instructive, as full information as to weave and design is given in the plates for each object. The locality where each object was made is noted, and as the collection is fairly comprehensive, it gives an adequate view of what types of baskets are made in middle and southern China."
The baskets of the North American Indians have attracted a great deal of attention,
resulting in an enormous literature both technical and popular in character, which is concerned with their technique and designs. The basketry of the natives of the Philippines, Hawaii, and New
Zealand has elicited a few monographs, but, as far as I know, the baskets of China have never been studied by any one. The mere fact of their existence is not even mentioned in the current books
on China and the Chinese. Yet, since earliest times, baskets have occupied a prominent position in Chinese civilization, although naturally, owing to climatic and soil conditions, no ancient
baskets have survived. In the ancient Book of Songs (Shi king) and in the ancient Rituals occur many terms for various kinds of baskets, but contemporaneous descriptions of these are
lacking, and we hardly receive more than a very general idea of their appearance. We read of round baskets of bamboo, of square shallow baskets of bamboo or straw, or of square baskets in which
eatables or clothes were preserved. The young bride offered to her father-in-law fruit in a basket. It was a famous maxim in the good old times that men and women should not touch each others'
hands and that when a man wanted to make a gift to a woman, she should receive the object in a basket. We also hear of baskets used for specific industrial purposes ; thus, for instance, as
fish-traps set at the openings of dams, and, above all, in the silk industry, which was the main occupation of women. The tender leaves of the mulberry on which the silkworm feeds were gathered
in deep baskets, and a square type of basket served for depositing the cocoons. Even at present basket trays play an important part in the rearing of silkworms (Plate I). Baskets also were
utilized in funeral ceremonies and filled with cereals as food for the departed soul, being placed near the coffin. This custom is still perpetuated by the farmers living in the environment of
Peking, who bury with their dead an oval basket plaited of willow-twigs. In ordinary life this vessel serves the purpose of a grain-measure, holding one pint ; when used as a mortuary vessel, the
wooden hoop around the rim is removed, and food is stored up in the basket.
Plate XXVIII. SQUARE PICNIC BASKET.
Made in two compartments with shallow, wooden tray. The exterior is covered with twilled weaving and trimmed with bamboo strips painted black and carved with key patterns. Base and top of wood. The bamboo handle is carved with floral designs and the emblems of the Eight Immortals in relief and ornamented with metal fittings. Closed by metal bar with padlock attached. Four characters are painted in black on the cover : "Outdoors are the green mountains".
Height 11 inches. Each side 9 ½ inches long.
There is a certain degree of interrelation of basketry, pottery and metal vessels. In the
case just cited the mortuary basket is a substitute for a pottery urn which is usually deposited in the grave in the provinces of Chi-li, Shan-tung, and Kiang-su. There are two ancient types of
rectangular baskets known as fu and kwei and used for boiled grain at sacrifices and cérémonial feasts ; they are preserved only in pottery and bronze, which give us at least a vague idea of what
they may have looked like in basketry. On the other hand, there are ancient sacrificial vessels of tazza shape in pottery and bronze, which at present have survived in basket form in the worship
of Confucius and his disciples.
There is a fundamental difference between the baskets of northern China and those of the central and southern portions of the country. In the north they are part and parcel of the rural population, plain, practical, strong, durable, chiefly for agricultural purposes, as collecting and carrying earth and manure, winnowing, storing grain, or used as means of transportation (hamper and dossers). These being exclusively of ethnological interest have not been included in this publication, which is devoted to the artistic baskets whose home is in the Yangtse Valley and the country stretching southward. Here we meet in full development the flower basket with a great variety of shapes and graceful handles, the picnic basket with padlock, the neat travelling basket in which women carry their articles of toilet, and the "examination basket" in which candidates visiting the provincial capital for the civil service examinations enclosed their books and writing-materials, also the cozy for tea-pots, more practical and efficient than our thermos-bottles, and the curious pillow of basketry weave. The basket boxes with raised and gilded relief ornaments are also characteristic of the south.
With twisted handles. Made of brown bamboo in checker and twined weaves.
Height 3 ½, and 3 inches, respectively. Diameter 8 and 6 ½ inches, respectively.
OLD OVAL COVERED BASKET.
Made in checker, open, twilled, twined, and coiled weaves. Partially painted in red.
On cover, the two characters fu and lu ("happiness" and "prosperity") in dark brown.
Height 5 ¾ inches. Length 9 inches.
In accordance with the general interest in Chinese art and art industries in this country, there is now also a considerable interest in and
demand for Chinese baskets. They make a ready appeal to our esthetic sense on account of their elegance of shape, variety of design, and other artistic features, not to speak of usefulness of
purpose. Chinese genius has developed baskets along lines unknown in other countries ; it was not merely satisfied with creating pleasing forms and attractive decorations, but also endeavored to
combine basketry with other materials like wood, metal, and lacquer, and to enliven and embellish its appearance through the application of processes originally foreign to the industry. The
covers of many baskets display a finely polished, black lacquer surface on which landscapes or genre pictures are painted in gold or red. Others are decorated with metal fittings (of brass or
white metal) finely chased or treated in open work. Delicate basketry weaving is applied to the exterior of wooden boxes and chests, even to silver bowls and cups, as may be seen in the exhibits
(at present at the south end of the west gallery). In this association with other modes of technique Chinese basketry has taken a unique development which should be seriously studied and
considered by our own industrial art-workers.
Plate XXVII. RECTANGULAR BASKET.
Made in two compartments, with wooden base and trimmings of bamboo. Basketry of twined, checker, twilled, and coiled weaves on top, in tan and brown. Key pattern and swastika along base. On each of the small sides two ornamental forms of the character shou ("longevity"). In the lower panel of the long side the two characters man t'ang, on the opposite side (not shown in the illustration) the two characters fu lu. They form the sentence fu lu man t'ang, which means, "May your hall be filled with happiness and prosperity !" The handle is carved with floral designs.
Height 13 inches.