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A Qing-Dynasty two-wheeled carriage in the Royal Ontario Museum

Klaas Ruitenbeek, Louise Hawley Stone (Toronto, Canada)

Transport and travel were of paramount importance in imperial China. It is only fitting that in the newest volume of The Cambridge History of China, The Ming Dynasty, Part 2 (1998), an entire chapter is devoted to the subject, written by Timothy Brook. The author does not tell us what the vehicles used for transport and travel looked like, however. Joseph Needham's treatment of the subject is equally brief. In fact, not much is known about the carts and carriages of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. There is no archaeological evidence, since carriages were no longer buried in tombs, as was usual in the period from the Shang to the Han. Neither are there pottery models, as they are commonly found in tombs from the Han to the Tang. Finally, realistic painting, which tells us much about carts in the Song Dynasty, virtually ceased to exist after the Yuan Dynasty.

An actual example of a two-wheeled, mule-drawn carriage (jiaoche) from North China, ca. 1800 AD, presently in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, is therefore of particular interest. My paper deals mainly with technological and constructional aspects, but the development of carts from the Han to the Qing will also be addressed. Some observations which can be made are:

  • The body of the carriage is much narrower than the body of similar carts used in the Sui and Tang, but

    the length of the axle is not correspondingly shorter. The wheels still had to fit the existing, ancient

    ruts.

  • The construction of the wheels, which are extremely heavy and perforated by hundreds or iron nails and

    rivets, is entirely different from Western wheels. X-rays of the felloes and the hub show this very clearly.

  • Woodblock prints and ancient photographs show that the jiaoche-carriage adhered to the same

    standard design all over North China. At what time it became the most common type of carriage is not known,

    however.

The paper will be illustrated with slides.

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