Search by School Name     
  Home > China Feature  

Sedan chair: the most popular vehicle in ancient China

A sedan chair is a human or animal-powered transport vehicle for carrying a person, once popular across China. It has different names like “shoulder carriage”, “sleeping sedan” and “warm sedan” etc due to the time, location and structural differences. The sedans familiar to modern people are warm sedans that have been in use since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The sedan body is fixed in the wooden rectangular frames on the two thin log poles. The top and four sides of the seat are enclosed with curtains, with a chair blind that could be rolled open in the front and a small window on each side. A chair is placed inside the enclosed space.

According to historical books, the precursor of sedan chairs appeared way back in the Xia Dynasty. The earliest sedan was called “shoulder carriage”. The scene of Emperor Cheng of the Western Han Dynasty riding in a shoulder carriage was featured in the painting Admonitions of the Instructress to the Palace Ladies (Nvshi Zhentu) by the great Jin-Dynasty artist Gu Kaizhi. And the scene of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty riding in a sedan also featured in the painting Imperial Carriage (Bunian Tu) by the painting master Yan Liben of the Tang Dynasty. However, the sedan chair was not a commonly used transport vehicle in the Tang Dynasty. It was in the Song Dynasty that sedan chairs were popularized and served as usual vehicles.

In the world-famous painting of Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival, there are lots of sedan chairs in the streets of the capital city of Bianliang in the Northern Song Dynasty. Those sedan chairs are almost the same as modern ones. In the Southern Song Dynasty, sedan chairs were more widely used. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, four-person or eight-person carried sedan chairs were developed. And riding in a sedan chair became a fairly usual way to get around. Sedan chairs most commonly used by the people were sedans with plain-color curtains and those with bright-color curtains. The former were for women to travel outdoors and the latter were exclusively for brides to get to the wedding ceremony.

Nowadays, sedan chairs are mostly used in the tourism industry. Bridal sedan chairs are usually placed in tourist attractions to reenact the ancient Chinese wedding ceremony or to be used as a photo prop. And sedans with plain-color curtains still function as a traditional transport vehicle in mountainous areas in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces for carrying tourists.

Ұ̳ й ʺׯ