Culture Insider: The evolution of pillows in ancient China

By Bi Nan | | Updated: 2023-06-06 09:38
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A Song Dynasty ceramic pillow, depicting a toy puppet show, which is housed in the Henan Museum. [Photo/Official Weibo account of Sichuan Museum]

Pillows have been used in China for thousands of years and hold a significant place in Chinese culture. In modern times, we enjoy a wide range of pillows filled with synthetic fibers, down, feathers, or latex. However, it is intriguing to explore what ancient Chinese people used as pillows. Let's delve into their practices and discover more.

1. Evolvement of pillow

Based on historical records and unearthed artifacts, the development of pillows in China can be traced through various materials such as stone, jade, wood, bamboo, lacquer, leather, copper, pottery, porcelain, silver, and silk fabric. Pillows were categorized into hard and soft types, with stone and wooden pillows appearing earliest in history.

The origins of pillows can be traced back to the middle Paleolithic period based on archaeological evidence. During that time, people unconsciously used objects like stones, sticks, bundles of straw, or pieces of animal skin as head support, serving as the earliest prototypes of pillows.

References to pillows can also be found in historical documents from the pre-Qin period (before 221 BC) in ancient China. For instance, a stanza of Shijing (The Book of Songs), the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry (11th to 7th century BC), mentions a pillow, describing how a melancholic beauty finds it difficult to sleep while burdened with a heavy heart.

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