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Click to enlargePerfume Pouch

Many traditional and folk customs are related to the Duanwu Festival, or the Dragon Boat Festival which falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. One of them is making the perfume pouch (commonly called Xiangbao, Xiangnang, Xiangdai or hebao). The custom has been practiced from early times. It is said that people in ancient times used to carry a medicine bag when went hunting to drive out poisonous insects. Today we still find some old men carry on them a bag in the shape of calabash, a custom that can probably be traced to the old tradition.

Another old saying goes that when Qu Yuan, a great poet of the Chu state in the Warring States Period, drowned himself in Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, people in the neighboring Qin, out of sympathy for and to cherish the memory of him, made and carried on them the Xiangbao stuffed with the sweetgrass and perfumes that he had loved. Some people say it is a long-standing custom of the Han people; its origin can be traced to the Tang Dynasty when women in the rural areas would in the 4th lunar month each year begin to make Xiangbao with colored silk, silk threads and gold and silver beads. By the Qing Dynasty, Xiangbao was carried by people not only on the Dragon Boat Festival, but every day, because the Manchus had long had the custom. According to the Qing custom, emperors and empresses were required to carry Xiangbao on them all the year round and at the end of every year, or on important festivals, the emperor would award the princes and ministers each a Xiangbao to show his favor for them. More interestingly perfume pouches were used by Emperor Tongzhi and Emperor Guangxu in choosing their empresses: the girls were line up to be examined by the emperor, who would hang a perfume pouch on the button on the dress of the girl whom he took a fancy to.

The common people make an even more extensive use of the perfume pouch. They -- men and women, old and young -- all can carry one on them and can present it to others as a gift. There are many descriptions of such practice in the Chinese classical novel "Dream of the Red Mansion". Some young men and women often use it as a token of love. There is a Yu opera, "Story of a Perfume Pouch", which tells the story that a married couple who have been separated and have had no news of each other for years finally come together and are reunited - with the help of a perfume pouch. Of course, with the development of human society and the advance of science, the perfume pouch has long lost such functions. But it remains in the favor of many. It takes a wide variety of shapes, but whatever shape it is always small and exquisite and has a pleasing fragrance. It is not only a delicate work of art, but it also has some preventive power against diseases. Among the young country folks, it is still a valued gift to be exchanged between lovers. Decorations range from floral and small animal (such as bird and fish) designs to patterns of musical instruments, books, utensils and romantic figures, depending on the maker's aesthetic taste.

In Qianyang area, an old custom has still been kept up that the door curtain of the bridal chamber is adorned with perfume pouches.

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