Artist not known, China
1900-1911, Qing dynasty
Width: 12 in. Height: 8.5 in.
Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mrs. Carrol B. Malone, 1973.258
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2011. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
This hat belonged to a civil official of the third rank (the smaller the number, the higher the rank). Such a man might have been a provincial judge, director of banqueting, or a salt controller. The owner would have ordered his hat made to exact specifications that followed the imperial rules about what rank person could wear what kind of hat.
This is a summer hat. Making summer hats was a highly skilled craft. In certain provinces, such as Sichuan and Shandong, the craft was passed down from generation to generation. It usually took two days to weave the bamboo framework.
Most important for the owner would be the color of the bead at the top since this indicated his rank among other officials.
What Inspired It
Hats were an integral part of Chinese clothing, worn on all public occasions. Hats were strictly regulated as far as rank, occasion, and time of year. Not only did officials wear different hats in the summer and winter, but everyone changed their hats on a specific day announced by the emperor!
This hat is a summer hat because it’s made of bamboo (winter hats were made of fur, velvet, or satin). Summer hats were worn from the middle of the third month until the middle of the ninth Chinese month, according to the lunar calendar.
Rank was granted to a man by the emperor. A person proudly signaled his rank by wearing the correct hat. By changing hats for specific occasions and time of the year the owner demonstrated his respect for imperial rule.
The round glass bead on top of the hat is called a “hat sphere” and indicates the wearer’s rank. Civil officials of the third rank wore transparent blue spheres.
Peacock feathers were originally bestowed by the emperor for commendable service and, therefore, were a sign of honor. However, by the early 1900s when this hat was made, officials might purchase feathers directly or bribe higher-ranking officials to obtain them. The more “eyes” the feather had, the higher the status it conferred. Some officials wore feathers with two or three eyes.
The feather attaches inside a green glass tube in much the same way that a brush tucks into a handle. A loop at the other end of the tube secures it to the hat. This tube was probably meant to imitate a more precious material like jade.
People treated their hats with great care. At home, officials kept their hats on special stands usually made of bamboo or ceramic. When it was time to put a hat away for the season, they used boxes custom-made for just this purpose.
The underside of the hat is lined with red silk. Where the hat would sit on the official’s head is a stiffened sweatband. Strings tied under the chin kept the hat securely on the head.