Who Wore Purses in Ancient China?

During the Qing Dynasty, Chinese robes and garments did not have pockets; therefore purses allowed users to carry small essential items within reach. They would hang from a belt or girdle around the waist of mainly men – as women typically did not move far from their quarters and had no reason to wear one. Purses were popular and acceptable gifts at the time and were given by women to their loved ones or even by the Emperor to reward his courtiers and officials (although the purses he gifted were filled with jewels). Flat rectangular purses, like the one in the photo, were used to carry money as there was a hidden pocket inside.

The Mactaggart Art Collection is composed of over 1,000 rare works of art, including textiles, costumes, paintings, handscrolls, albums, engravings and many other artifacts from ancient and modern East Asia. 

Photo Credit:

Embroidered Silk Purse, n.d.
silk satin embroidered with silk floss and gold wrapped silk thread
Mactaggart Art Collection (2005.5.87.5)
University of Alberta Museums
Gift of Sandy and Cécile Mactaggart

Fast Facts:

  • Collected over 40 years by Drs. Sandy and Cécile Mactaggart 
  • One of the world’s finest privately held collections 
  • Works of art in the collection date back to the Song dynasty (960-1279) 
  • Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Seven: Wuxi to Suzhou (1698) a scroll depicting scenes from the Emperor Kangxi's 1689 inspection tour from Wuxu to Suzhou and Tiger Hill is 22 metres long