Ladies and children | China | Qing dynasty (1644–1911), 19th century | Silk, panel | 179 x 126.7 cm | HKU.T.2005.1595

Ladies and children

TitleLadies and children
PeriodQing dynasty (1644–1911), 19th century
MediumSilk, panel
Dimensions179 x 126.7 cm
CollectionUniversity Museum and Art Gallery, HKU
ProvenanceGift of Virginia and Wellington Yee

The designs on this panel illustrate a peaceful landscape of noble ladies and children playing, each with a different character and facial expression using a range of coloured threads. A pavilion, fences, ornamental rocks and trees create a typical Chinese garden scene often found in paintings and illustrations that reveals the leisurely life of wealthy women in ancient China.

The choice of decoration is complemented by the work’s medium; embroidery, also known as nugong (‘women’s work’) was an important pastime for wealthy young women in dynastic China. In her Xiupu (Treatise on Embroidery, 1821), the noted artisan Ding Pei, active during the reigns of the Jiaqing (1796–1820) and Daoguang (1821–50) Emperors, recognised embroidery as the feminine art of writing, with the needle serving as one’s brush, the silk as paper and the floss as ink. The production of such works was thought to cultivate the moral character and technical skill of young women, and embroidered handkerchiefs, sashes and shoes were also popular items for a women’s trousseau.