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Material Life of the Chinese Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2019


Literal works often reflect various perspective of a society. A person can get an insight into a society by reading such literal pieces. Nonetheless, to understand a certain perspective of a society from literature requires a critical mind to piece together small hints to build a complete component of the society.

This paper evaluates the material life of Chinese from novels and stories written during the Qing, Ming, and Yuan era.



Chinese people celebrate important occasions in life of their cherished ones with niceties that comprise of fruits, sweetmeats, wine, noodles and silk clothing. It appears that Chinese people used best foods to express their appreciation of their significant others.

Food for the Chinese people plays a very significant role of expressing good will. Tea particularly is a symbol of hospitality as it is a drink that Chinese offer to their visitors in accompaniment of some delicacies (Trans, Chapter 15 298).

In addition to use of food as a gesture of goodwill, silver and silk hold a significant position with regard to expression of courtesy for an act of appreciation of ones life. In respond to the birthday presents from Hsi-men Ch’ing, Li P’ing-erh sends “two maces of silver and a handkerchief of shot silk …” (Trans, Chapter 15 299).


Chinese people marked the celebration of important events in a life of a persons or people by feast. During Ning’s wedding to Little Beauty, a feast was held to celebrate the occasion, where his relations were invited to celebrate.

The occasion highlighted the significance Chinese people attached to beauty. The attendants of the wedding expressed attraction to the beauty of Little Beauty. Her splendor won the hearts of Ning’s relatives.

In addition, this scenario reveals the habits of Chinese to use presents to cultivate friendship and trustworthiness through presents (Songling 178).


Wine in Chinese civilization denotes a sense of positive relationship between friends, as a friendly aura was often epitomized by wining and dining.

The friend of Mr. Lu from a certain village on learning that he was taking a leave to go home invited him for a feast at his home as a gesture of friendship that exists between them. Although Mr. Lu declined the offer, the villager send the feast to him, which he later had with the Lau brothers he met on his course to his home village.


The size and the compartments of a house portrayed the degree of affluence of a person. Li P’ing-erh’s house had a frontage that had a breath of 24 foot and three courtyards in the inside that receded along a vertical axis. The houses of rich Chinese had compartments.

Li P’ing-erh’s house comprised of a two-story with windows on the top floor facing the street. A sequence of three rooms situated on either side of a second courtyard that led to a reception hall (Trans and Tod, Chapter 15 299).

A passageway was a prominent feature in the homes of affluent Chinese. A third courtyard often contained a kitchen and bedrooms. An open space was included in the architecture of affluent Chinese.

Gold and Precious Items

Chinese used gold to win favors from strangers. In the story of Ning, after the Little beauty attempts to coax Ning to have sex her fails, she offered him a lump of gold hoping that he will agree to her pleas, which he did not (Songling 170).

Leather bag had great significance for Chinese. It was used to keep important possessions. In his encounter with Yan at the temple, Ning learns that Yan kept a magic sword in a leather bag. The sword had very great significance to Yan, which was to fight evil spirits and prevent them from harming him.

Later, Yan offers Ning an old leather bag in recognition for the friendship they developed during their short stay in the temple (Songling 174). Giving a person an item that one treasures, such as a leather bag, signified great friendship between two people in the context of peasant Chinese.

Paintings are one of the major Chinese articles during these eras. The popular portrays of orchids and plum-blossom. Little Beauty, later, became a skilled painter of the mentioned portrays. These portrays were used as items for presents to give to significant others. Poor Chinese treasured presents in form of beautiful portray.


In Chinese civilization, a popular means of transportation was by boat, horse and sedan chairs.

Sedan Chairs

Sedan chairs were very useful effects of affluent Chinese. These were chairs with wheels that could be dragged by servants to allow their masters to move from one place to another without dirtying their feet and to escape the rays of the sun. Sedan chairs were pooled by servants while their owners sat in them (Trans, Chapter 14 288).

Sedan chair s symbolized prestige and affluence. When rich people interacted between each other, they tend to present themselves in a way to reflect their material possession.


Some Chinese owned boats for ferrying people from a town or village upstream to another downstream or vice versa. Such an asset was owned by people who held a high position in the society, such as people who run a business of instructing people on karate or judo.

Ning after exhuming the remains of the Little Beauty, he hires a boat to take him with the remains to his home. He pays for the transport with money.

Members of families who owned boats often could go on excursion in rivers (Ching-Tzu 112). In addition, people who owned boats employed servants to attend to them on junks when journeying from one town or village to another (Ching-Tzu 111).

Some of these boats were used for private purpose while some owners used them for commercial purposes to transport passengers from one village to another.


The Chinese domesticated horses for use to send servants on errands, and as means of transporting people from one place to another. Servants employed in affluent homes often used horses to carry out their errands and drive their masters wherever they wish to go.


A garden was also an important asset of Chinese. His-men Ch’ing had a big family comprised of five wives, had a garden in his resident (Trans and Tod Chapter 12 224).

The purpose of a garden in Chinese people was for recreation purpose as it gave an aesthetic touch to the setting of homes. A person will retreat to a garden to get solace from the daily worries of the world and pass time.


Chinese were also in the habit of giving clothing to their close friends and relatives. His-men Ch’ing asked Tai-an, upon arrival at the Liu’s apartment, of the outfit they had prepared for Aunt Kuei-chieh (Trans and Tod 226).

Flowers and classical clothing had an important implication in the setting. These items signified prestige in the society. Blossoms and brocade in Chinese send out a message of people enjoying life. Often, it characterizes an environment in which people are feasting, and having great time wining and dining.


Chinese men with plenty of money used to obtain anything they wanted. They used it to have as many concubines as they please. Money gave them power in the society. An affluent individual with plenty of money was able to pay other people to work for him.

His-men Ch’ing has a personal accountant, who is answerable to him regarding all the bills he and the people he hosts incurs, and those that accrues from his expenditure on regular feasting that His-men Ch’ing funds.

People of class in China used money to bail out friends and relatives, who were arrested under the laws of the country. Li P’ing-erh asked His-men Ch’ing to help her use his influence to establish the amount of money she could pay as bribe for the release of her husband, Hua Tzu-hua (Trans and Tod, Chapter 14 277).


The Chinese people also kept precious items in their homes. These items could be used when their money depleted, as a result of mindless spending on pleasures.

A man, who had made enough fortune during his life, could pass down this precious to someone he trust among his relations. A woman, such as Li P’ing-erh, could feel insecure to keep four chests of precious items with her against her husband’s relations, who had issues with him (Trans and Tod, Chapter 14 … 278).

Chinese people kept treasures in lacquer chests which are often decorated in gold tracery. The items that were regarded to be of very high value include python robes, bracelets, pendants, precious jewels, and chatelaines. A person in possession of these items could sell them and obtain money for upkeep or pleasure, when there liquid cash finishes.


The material life of Chinese is varied as depicted by many items and habits they portray. Essentially, the material life of a Chinese revolved around other people and mainly depended on his or her socioeconomic position.

Thus, the material life of a Chinese is a reflection of his background. Rich folks had a complex material life while poor folks had a meager material life.

Works Cited

Ching-Tzu, Wu. The Scholars. Foreign Language Press Peking , 1973. Print.

Songling, Pu. The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag. Cambridge [eng.] : Proquest LLC, 2011.

Trans. Roy, David Tod. “Chapter 12 Pan Chin-Lien Suffers Ignominy for Adultery with A Servant; Stargazers Liu Purveys Black Magic in Pursuit of Gain”. In The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993. 225-52. Print.

Trans, Roy, David Tod. “Chapter 14 Hua Tzu-Hsu Succumbs To Chagrin and Loses His Life Li Ping-Erh Invites Seduction and Attends A Party.” In The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei. Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press, 1993. 274-297. Print.

Trans, Roy, David Tod. “Chapter 15 Beauties Enjoy The Sights in the Lantern-Viewing Belvedere Hangers-on Abet Debauchery in the Verdant Spring Bordello.” In The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P’ing Mei. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993. 298-315. Print.

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