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Chinese lanterns have reinvented themselves over the past few years and have found their place in contemporary décor both indoor and out. As bright and chic as they are today, their humble origin is a story of innovation dating back almost two thousand years. The idea behind them remains the same and has not changed much through the decades.

This well known symbol of Chinese heritage is now a popular decorative trend worldwide. The classic bright red tone decorated with golden tassels, while still popular, is just one design in a sea of colours, bright or subdued. The traditional rounded shape has been evolved into a variety of geometric forms to modern design tastes and they’re at home, and even at the forefront of contemporary architecture and design.

History of Chinese Lanterns

Chinese lanterns were created out of necessity rather than aesthetics. While China lead the way in so many technologies, including some of the most important contributions to our contemporary society, they lacked one vital building material, glass. This meant no light bulbs and windows. The unlikely replacement? Paper. So advanced was China’s papermaking technology that it could be made thin enough as to let light pass through a window. So strong that it could sport the richest colours, designs and embellishments and so beautifully fine that it could become the world’s fist source of portable light, the lantern.

Being light enough to carry and to float, the Chinese used lanterns for lighting homes, public places and even battles! One of the first recorded uses of floating Chinese lanterns was by military strategist Zhuge Liang. Under Liang, Chinese Hanging Lanterns enabled Chinese armies to march by night, advancing the country’s warfare capabilities.

The first lantern is said to be designed after the shape of Liang’s hat. He made it out of oiled rice paper and fitted it with a bamboo frame and a lighted candle to illuminate and produce hot air, which allowed the lantern to float in the night sky.

During the time of the Yuan dynasty, this battlefield beacon turned into a symbol of hope and well wishes. This tradition is still carried on today in civilisations worldwide as we float lanterns into the sky to mark special occasions.

The ancient European civilisation too is said to have adopted the system of lighting public squares and streets after the Chinese invented their Chinese Hanging Lanterns to illuminate their entrances and public spaces.

Tradition of Using Chinese Lanterns

Apart from being used in weddings and other such special occasions, Chinese Hanging Lanterns have also found their place in festivities to mark the Chinese New Year and spring/summer celebrations. In ancient times, people believed they could send messages to the gods, and consequently even today, many lanterns come with printed messages on them.

The inscriptions, paintings and calligraphy constantly reflected the changing trends in the country. The lantern came to be used as a form of artistic expression for the entire nation. Royalty and the rich began to fashion their lanterns out of expensive materials like silk with intricate detailing in the hands of skilled artists.

Foreign trade introduced the Chinese lantern to the world. Since then, although they have been adapted into a myriad forms, they have managed to retain their original designs and remain a source of lighting regardless of modern electrical systems.

JJ Stranan provides multicultural teaching aids to schools and early childhood learning centres to help them embrace and celebrate diversity. Global Kids Oz provides a selection of free cultural fact sheets, toys, boys, classroom mats and learning materials on the history and traditions of indigenous people from all over the world, from Chinese crafts to Fijiian food, Indian weddings and Carnivale! She has very kindly provided us with informational guest post!

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 24th, 2013 at 9:53 AM and is filed under General News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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