An exquisite Chinese trousse set | Mandarin Mansion

An exquisite Chinese trousse set

Sets with a knife and chopsticks -and sometimes some other utensils- were common all over the Qing empire. The various cultures that coexisted within this realm gave their own twist to the design. Under the Qianlong emperor the wearing of these sets became mandatory for all Manchus and Mongols. The rationale was that these knives facilitated the traditional nomad style of meat eating, cutting it straight from the bone. This was in contrast to the Chinese method of eating, where the food was pre-cut into bite sized pieces that could be eaten with chopsticks. In an attempt to preserve the rough outdoor nature of the Manchu and Mongol lifestyles under the Qing, it was illegal for them to have their meat pre-cut. And so, all Manchus and Mongols were required to wear these trousse sets to eat their meat in a traditional way.

Overall length: 28.3 cm / 11.1 inch
Blade length: 17.8 cm / 7 inch
Thickness: forte 6 mm, middle 4 mm
Blade width: forte 15 mm, middle 14.5 mm
Weight: 89 grams

This high quality trousse set comes in an emerald green rayskin covered scabbard that holds the knife and two bone chopsticks. The bronze fittings still have some of their original gilding intact. The knife consists of a quality piece of steel with clear lamellar structure with a hard high-carbon edge coming out of softer layers of iron and steel. It is not overly sharpened like many of these tend to be.

The bone handle is carved with floral motifs on one side, and the other with a figure of the Daoist immortal Han Xiangzi. Among his abilities were the gift of being able to make flowers bloom instantly (hence the flowers on the reverse side of the handle) and he was able to soothe wild animals. The latter might be quite handy when travelling back in a time when nature was still winning, and many dangerous animals roamed China freely. Han Xiangzi is also the patron saint of musicians.

What is extremely rare among antiques is that this knife comes in its original silk carrying case. The black case is decorated with fine patchwork of flowers in various colors of silk. The rim is intricately woven in white, blue and light blue. One side of the case has a cord with two pink glass beads. The string, however worn, retains the original white, blue and light blue wrappings. These wrappings are typically seen on pouches and sword lanyards associated with the imperial court in Beijing.

Some losses to the silk case, including some loose seems and a missing bottom, as can be expected from a practical item that is well over a century old . The knife in very good conditoon. No over-grinding on the blade, a small loss on the bone handle, as shown in the picture. Scabbard in excellent condition, no losses to the ray-skin.

A very nice example of a Chinese trousse set, of good quality and in excellent condition and retaining its very rare original silk carrying case. The workmanship on the case suggests it was used by someone belonging to the Beijing elite of the late Qing.


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