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Ivory Sleeping Mat

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Period: Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: ivory
Dimensions: length: 216 cm, width: 139 cm

Although slightly worn, the ivory mat is still in good condition. It has chevron patterns composed of ivory strips that are 0.2 cm wide. The mat is soft and smooth because of its close texture, making it easy to roll up. Covering the back is red satin with a black satin border. The ivory mat is cooler and more comfortable than those made of grass or bamboo.   
  The technique of weaving ivory mats was prevalent in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) in China's southern Guangdong province. It is thought that ivory mats already existed in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220A.D.). According to Biography of Han Wu in the History of the Wei Dynasty (386-534) (Weishu, Han Wu Zhuan): "Han Wu [ca. ?-after 519] presented a bed with seven treasures as well as an ivory mat". Zhu Yunming (1460-1526) in the Ming dynasty introduced the process in his Unofficial Record (Ye Ji) as follows,   
    "The internal structure of an ivory tusk is arranged lengthwise. A whole ivory tusk is made soft by some method and cut into strips. Craftsmen weave mats from the strips which are as soft and smooth as thread."   
  High-quality ivory mats were made in the Qing dynasty and by the mid-eighteenth century they had become tribute. Craftsmen, who were mostly from Guangdong province, treated ivory with pharmaceuticals, slivered it into pieces which were polished till the ivory turned white. Finally, they made mats with many patterns.   
  Because an ivory mat requires this complex process, consuming materials and money, the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-1735), a thrifty ruler, forbade the production. His decree reads,   
    "...I told officials and others that I favor simple and practical furnishings, not luxurious ones. I have repeated my opinion many times. Officials of Guangdong province once presented an ivory mat; I did not appreciate their gesture. However, since it did not often happen, I did not demand that they abstain. Now more and more officials present ivory objects. It is definitely not my intention. Some objects like fans are not very big, but a mat consumes more ivory and manpower. It is too extravagant. Thus, I order the Civil and Military Governor of Guandong province to supervise this issue. As Guangdong craftsmen are producing all of the ivory mats, they must cease. Overseas purchase of ivory must be stopped so as to prevent the resurgence. Prohibit common people from producing ivory mats in Guangdong province, and prohibit the purchase or use of them."   
  According to Handicrafts Files (Huoji Dang) by the imperial household, there were five ivory mats in the imperial collection, two of which are in the collection of the Palace Museum now (one is in Shandong province). This ivory mat is significant for the study on the history of producing ivory objects because so few mats survive and the technique of striping ivory is lost.

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