Dress accessory, toggle, in the form of bamboo stalks, glass, China, c. 1700-1940
Chinese belt toggles called 'zhuizi' are small carved ornaments used as counterweights on the cords of pipe bags and other small bags which were usually hung on men's belts.
Chinese clothes were not well provided with pockets, so bags which could be suspended from a belt were useful articles of attire. In order to fulfil its primary purpose of securing things to a belt, a toggle must have what the Chinese called a 'string eye', which could pass a string or cord.
Toggle wearing disappeared from China in the 1940s, when western style clothing replaced traditional clothing.
The bamboo, considered "the friend of China" serves as a symbolism of youth as well as humility. It is also a symbol of strength, stamina and durability because of its ability to endure harsh weather. Because the bamboo flourishes in the winter and is evergreen, it has been associated with longevity.
The bamboo's ability to bend without breaking illustrates the Confucian ideal of a virtuous "gentleman" who, no matter what befalls him, never loses his integrity.
An ancient story of filial piety tells of a man named Meng Sung whose filial devotion moved the heavens to sprout fresh bamboo shoots during winter to feed his ill mother.
Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, pp.105-107
Welch, Patricia. Chinese art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, 2008, Vermont, p.20
This toggle is part of a group that was collected in Peking by Hedda and Alastair Morrison between 1940 and 1942. Most of them were purchased from markets outside Chongwenmen Gate, and in Liulichang, a street known for its antique shops.