Reasons for the Popularity of Northeast Pearls in the Qing Dynasty

Reasons for the Popularity of Northeast Pearls in the Qing Dynasty

From ancient times to the present, pearls have been important adornments. There are many types of pearls. Based on their geographical origin, pearls can be classified as Dongzhu (Eastern Pearl) and Nanzhu (Southern Pearl). Pearls come in various colors such as black, green, blue, brown, and more.

 

Nanzhu refers to pearls produced in the southern regions. These pearls have a smooth and lustrous surface, with a transparent and sparkling color. Dongzhu, on the other hand, refers to pearls produced in the northeastern region. Compared to Nanzhu from the southern regions, Dongzhu from the northern regions is slightly inferior.

 

However, during the Song Dynasty, Dongzhu had already become a significant tribute. In the Qing Dynasty, Dongzhu became the preferred choice for the imperial family. Let's explore the significance of Dongzhu during the Qing Dynasty.

 

Reasons for the Qing Dynasty's Emphasis on Dongzhu

 

Dongzhu symbolized the yearning for the homeland of the Manchu people

Just like all people, the rulers of the Qing Dynasty had a longing for their native land and hometown. The northeastern region served as their place of origin and homeland.

 

Although life in a foreign land was pleasant, they still longed for their homeland. Thus, they desired to see the special product of their hometown - Dongzhu.

 

Dongzhu originated from the homeland of the Jurchen people (also known as the Manchu). In the Jurchen language, Dongzhu also symbolized power and status. Therefore, Dongzhu represented not only a special product from their hometown but also a manifestation of their yearning for the homeland.

 

Dongzhu symbolized status and rank

Perhaps because Dongzhu was a unique product of their homeland, the Qing government had strict regulations regarding Dongzhu. From the initial extraction to the final usage, the Qing imperial family had direct control over every step of the Dongzhu process.

 

The high requirements placed on Dongzhu were due to its symbolic status and significance. The control over Dongzhu played a vital role in maintaining court order.

 

Thus, this pearl, which could only represent the status and position of rulers, was only worn by a small number of rulers in the Qing Dynasty. Not all palace nobles had the privilege of enjoying this honor.

 

At the same time, during the Qing Dynasty, the quantity of Dongzhu worn varied among individuals of different ranks. According to historical records, even for simple ear adornments worn by the imperial consorts, there were specific requirements.

 

For example, there were guidelines on the number of Dongzhu to be worn by the Empress Dowager and Empress, which side to wear them on, and the number of pearls to be worn on each side. In addition to the hierarchical differences in jewelry worn by the rulers of the harem, there were also variations in the accessories worn by other concubines and noble officials.

 

Through this series of measures, the wearing hierarchy of Dongzhu was controlled, while simultaneously maintaining the order of the ruling class.

 

Methods of controlling the Dongzhu hierarchy

The Qing Dynasty had stringent control over Dongzhu, as evidenced by an imperial order issued by the Emperor. Pearl harvesters were prohibited from hoarding pearls privately. Anyone found to be hoarding pearls would not only face physical punishment but also be exiled three thousand miles away. A famous corrupt official named Heshen was charged with "private hoarding of Dongzhu" when his home was confiscated and he was exiled.

 

Pearl Situation in the Late Qing Dynasty

 

Decline in Nanzhu production

Nanzhu refers to pearls produced in the surrounding waters of Hepu County. Pearls from this region have a long history of production. According to the historical records we have, pearl harvesters specifically dedicated to Nanzhu collection existed as early as the Qin Dynasty. During the Tang Dynasty, the pearl industry expanded on a large scale within the country.

 

In the Qing Dynasty, although Dongzhu was highly regarded, the rulers also attached great importance to Nanzhu production. Additionally, "Compendium of Materia Medica" documented that Nanzhu had an important medicinal use.

 

However, during this period, Nanzhu production encountered difficulties. The pearl harvesting industry in Hepu and its surrounding areas gradually declined during the Qing Dynasty.

 

Difficulty in obtaining Dongzhu

In the Qing Dynasty, aside from privileged individuals and nobles, some people could obtain Dongzhu through monetary means, but they also had to pay additional taxes. The rulers dispatched numerous people to search for and collect Dongzhu.

 

Given the cold weather in the northeast, the growth of Dongzhu was relatively slow. However, the demand from the country increased each year. As a result, the excessive harvesting of Dongzhu became an extravagant and wasteful practice.

 

Furthermore, excessive extraction of Dongzhu could also cause damage to the local ecological environment and pose a threat to the survival conditions of local species.

 

The development of Dongzhu during the Qing Dynasty was facilitated by the rulers' preference and the hierarchical needs of the ruling class. From this, it can be observed that the Qing Dynasty was a dynasty attached to the past and marked by a strict hierarchy.

 

However, the development of the pearl industry during this period also had its drawbacks. The monopolistic demand led to imbalanced development in the Dongzhu industry, and an excessive pursuit of Dongzhu resulted in certain negative consequences.

 

 

 

References: "Qing Shi Gao" (The Draft History of Qing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to blog

Featured collection