Sedan Chairs, Funny Way to Travel

The sedan or sedan chair (Jiaozi), a traditional vehicle of transportation carried by bearers, was called at the beginning jianyu (shoulder carriage), being a carriage that traveled on human shoulders. Jiaozi is its comparatively modern name.

In old times, sedans fell into two major categories: the guanjiao (official sedan) and the minjiao (private sedan).Those of the former type were used by the royal family and government officials, and they varied in elaborateness according to the status of the person carried inside, following strict rules laid down for different levels of the hierarchy.

Even for the emperor himself, he was to sit in palanquins of different grades on different occasions: the ceremonial palanquin to go to a formal court of audience, the sedan chair when he made rounds of inspection inside the Forbidden City, the light sedan for hunts and excursions outside the capital, and finally the casual litter, a spare sedan accompanying him on his trips, into which he might want to change at any moment. For his everyday use in the palace, it was usually the casual litter.

Sedan chairs for the ministers and lower officials varied in grandeur with their ranks. In all cases, an official sedan out in the street was heralded by the beating of gongs to clear the way and surrounded by a number of attendants. Common people meeting such a procession must keep quiet and step aside. The higher the official, the greater the number of followers and sedan bearers. 

Private sedans were of simple make, yet they were owned only by the landed gentry or urban rich. Built of wood or bamboo, they could be carried either on flat roads or along mountain paths. Some of the self-pampered potbellies inside, like the officials were also accompanied by bodyguards walking by the side of the sedans.

There was yet another type of sedans for hire to the common people for use on weddings. They were called huajiao (flowery sedan) or xijiao (happiness sedan). The deluxe model of this type was covered by bright-colored silks embroidered with gaudy designs of good luck and even decorated with sparkling gems. The run-of-the-mill model was also bedecked with colorful silk ribbons.