Tobacco pouch

Certain Qing dynasty (1644-1912) robes lacked pockets, making pouches useful accessories. But the opening of this tiny tobacco pouch is stitched closed, indicating it was purely ornamental. Chinese “double happiness” characters appear on the tassels, and both sides are embroidered with phoenixes (symbolizing the Han empress) and lotuses (symbolizing purity), suggesting it was worn by a woman.

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What does this purely ornamental pouch tell us about the value of tobacco (or the practice of smoking) in early 20th century China?

responded: Mar 29, 2012

Posted by Mahmood Husain

Recommend this Response
As tobacco cultivation grew to different areas, tobacco traders started importing new varieties of tobacco from different parts of the country. The spread of tobacco to urban areas resulted in what we can call fashionable tobacco smoking. Chinese tobacco was never one unitary commodity but rather it had several different varieties and grades. During the Qing dynasty, tobacco smoking had become a popular phenomenon and was taken up by rich and poor alike. The elite class’s anxiety over the popular nature of tobacco smoking lead them to fashionable tobacco smoking which included expensive equipment and pouches like this one. The developments in the early 20th century also lead to the branding of tobacco. Tobacco which was of higher quality was sold at very high prices. The high quality domestic tobacco and those varieties imported from Europe, Japan and Korea might have lead to the consumption of tobacco as a symbol of one’s wealth and status. Consumption tastes and choices changed over the years as the lower classes tried to emulate the elite. There is a book titled Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, written by Carol Benedict. It’s a good resource for those interested in exploring the subject further.

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