The longevity lock, also known as the "Baijiabao lock", which a baby wears on
its hand or neck, expresses people's good wishes that the lock will bring health
and good luck to the child.
The history of the longevity lock
The predecessor of the longevity lock was the "Longevity thread", which can
be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). According to historical
records, every household hung silk thread of five colors on the lintel (upper
door post) to ward off bad luck during the Dragon Boat Festival .
During the Wei-Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasty period (403BC-581AD),
the silk thread as the accouterment worn on the arms of women or children,
appeared not only during the Dragon Boat Festival but also during the Summer
Solstice (10th seasonal division point, marking the sun's position at 90¡ãon the
ecliptic). At that time, people thirsted for peace because of frequent wars,
diseases, calamities and shortages. So they knitted the five colored silk thread
into a rope, then put it around their wrists to keep away evil and illness in
the hope of prolonging life expectancy. The colorful threads were given various
names such as "longevity thread", "five-colored thread", "prolong life thread"
and so on.
This custom continued to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Not only did it prevail
among the people, but also was introduced to the court. Besides women and
children, men also wore it. On the eve of the Dragon Boat Festival, the emperor
would personally award longevity threads to the ministers for them to put on
during the festival. Called "bead knot" or "colorful thread knot" in the Song
Dynasty, they were more complex because the maker added a pearl and other things
to the accouterment apart from the colorful threads. At that time, a lot of
shopkeepers made a living by selling such accouterments in Beijing .
The custom changed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as there were few
adults adorning themselves with the ornament and it was regarded as an ornament
mainly to be worn by children who were one year old. Gradually, the longevity
thread developed into the longevity lock.
The early longevity lock was mostly made of silver into the shape of Yuanbao
(shoe-shaped gold or silver ingot used as money in feudal society) which was
used to symbolize wealth and honor. There were also longevity locks in the shape
of circular bucket, arris and fire-cracker, etc, with inscriptions of Chinese
characters on the front side, such as "Chang Ming Fu Gui (longevity, fortune and
honour)" and "Chang Ming Bai Sui (long life of 100 years)". On the back side,
pictures of Kylin (Chinese unicorn), or characters of "Long (dragon)", "Hu
(tiger )" and "Shou (longevity)" are sometimes carved on the back. These
calligraphic inscriptions, with their infinite lasting appeal, is simple,
beautiful, and smooth while the pictures, which includes the freehand brushwork
and fine brushwork, is exquisite and ingenious.
The ropes, which are used to hang the lock, can be as simple as a red ribbon
or as complex as a golden or silver chain or a bunch of pearls or precious
stones. Children wearing The longevity locks which stand for good luck and
longevity are believed to be able to bring good luck, longevity and a bright
future to the children who wear them.