古人真会玩系列之一:唐代裙幄宴 Ancient Chinese Pastimes 1: Tang dynasty Ladies’ Picnic



Chinese New Year is over. Spring has come. And the lovely ladies of the Tang dynasty are determined to make the most of this long awaited day.

唐朝人最喜欢在上巳节出门玩,而且根据传统,还要找个靠水的地方,欣赏春色。 这冬天闷在家里久了,怎样都要趁着大好春天出门透透气。

“What festival is this?” You, a 21st century time traveller, asks. It is the third day of the third month (of the lunar calendar), and it was a big deal for the ancient Chinese. Centuries ago, it was customary to undergo a ritual cleansing bath , but our Tang dynasty ladies no longer practiced public swimming. Rather, they put on their finest, packed their picnic boxes, and sought out a nice riverbank to make the most of the festival.


However, even the open-minded Tang dynasty folks considered it unseemly for highborn young ladies to picnic in public. So the ladies, not wanting to miss out on the fun, draped their skirts on poles and branches, effectively forming a makeshift screen. Then they would feast in privacy, safe from prying eyes. (On a side note, there’s a Tang dynasty mural of a group of men feasting in public while people gathered to watch…I suppose our ladies wouldn’t have appreciated being stared at while digging into their packed lunches!)


据《开元天宝遗事》记载,“长安士女游春野步,遇名花则设席藉草,以红裙递相插挂,以为宴幄。其奢逸如此也”。 虽然典籍里写的是“红裙”,但我已将人物色调设定为暖色,为了突出人物,就将背景的裙子涂成冷色调。

We know of these activities thanks to a book “Tales from Kai-Yuan and Tian-Bao Regime”. (a.k.a a historical/novella/gossip column about the period spanning 713-756 A.D.) I have taken liberties with the colours of the skirts here, depicting them as blue-green instead of the red described in the book.


So what did our ladies pack? The book gives no clue (apart from the fact that feasting was involved), so I’ve drawn some easy-to-pack baked goods, using some ancient pastry samples excavated from the Astana tombs in Xinjiang.

说起唐代的点心呢,和我们现代名媛们崇尚的法式下午茶不太一样, 黄油、砂糖这种东西太名贵,大部分人都吃不上。但唐朝吃货们发展出一套自己的方法,他们很喜欢吃烤饼和煎饼,有些上面撒有芝麻,有些里面包着馅料。而且根据出土的文物,这些面饼有些带着用模具印出样纹,有些这被扭成各式各样的形状,视觉上有点像德国的pretzels。(这里多加一个冷知识点:唐代人称一切面食食品为“饼”,所以我们现代认知中的面条、饺子、馒头、包子,统统称为“饼”)

Butter and refined sugar were expensive in the Tang dynasty. So the Tang dynasty folks had to improvise — and the result was an astonishing variety of roasted, steamed and deep-fried wheat-based pastry. (Now ‘pasty’ or ‘bing’, is a very generic term for anything made with wheat flour).

Some were stuffed with a variety of fillings, while others were topped with sesame seeds. And the Tang dynasty bakers took great care to make them aesthetically pleasing too. The excavated pastries from the Astana tombs come in various interesting forms, some twisted into pretzel-like shapes, and others pressed with decorative patterns.


Of course, there’s quite a distance between Xinjiang and Chang’an, so there may have been regional variations. And the Chang’an ladies did not necessary have pastries during their picnics. It is just imagination on my part.


The people of the Tang dynasty also loved fruits. They had a habit of dipping cherries into cane syrup and refined cream. As the poet Bai Juyi describes it, the end result is both sweet and sour. I’ve taken another artistic liberty here — cherries were only in season at the end of spring, and the ladies enjoying their early spring excursion would not have feasted on it. As a modern person who has no concept of seasonal fruits, (apart from the durian), I beg pardon for this mistake.


The Tang dynasty folks also enjoyed a range of desserts with poetical names. Let me attempt to translate a few – “Scarlet Consort”, “Crystal Dragon and Phoenix Cake”, “Jade Dew Ball”. Here I’ve included the “Consort Pastry” (the white things with red dots) as featured on the series “A Bite of China”. It is said to have originated from the Tang court cuisine, but truth to be told, we have no idea if the pastries actually looked like this, or if they tasted the same as their modern counterpart.


So I guess Tang dynasty food culture is enough to satisfy the modern foodie, despite the lack of chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and whatnot. Provided, of course, you are financially able to splurge on these delicacies! #古人真会玩#裙幄宴#唐代风俗#历史#插画#AncientPastimes#xlnyeong