Academic journal article Hecate

Thecolonialyoke

Academic journal article Hecate

Thecolonialyoke

Article excerpt

My grandmother left me a collar ghostly with age. She discarded her keepsakes before going into the Old People's Home where the senile have greeted her and made her one of their own. She had a clear mind, my grandmother, brittle with images of her travels and battles. But now the good times as well as the bad have been replaced with living in the eternal present.

The collar is from pre-revolutionary China. The Chinese, in order to thwart the invading Japanese, gave and sold cheaply to the foreign residents their valuables, crafts and personal treasures.

The collar has four cloud shapes sitting on the shoulders, back, and coming together at the front. These shapes have a bridge at the neck where there is a narrow band of floral braid. It is trimmed with celestial blue piping. The background, once white, has now become an exhalation of cream, a sigh of age. The embroidery is not symmetrical. It flowers and shoots into the four corners. There are faint dressmaking lines as well, that the needle had not yet covered. However incomplete, it has a story in each of its quadrants.

Around the neck there are temples and mountains and trees and bridges. They stand out separately from each other. Only the stitching over the man-made constructions gives an intricate impression. The images from nature, the flowers and butterflies are simple and plainly done.

On the right shoulder a figure with blue robes walks with a stick. To me it represents my grandmother venturing into the Forbidden City, alone and alive with interest for the foreign culture in which she lived, fascinated by the people and places, and things to which the British Army had brought her. Though on the whole, the British Army prefered to stay indoors with its cards and tea parties.

There is a connection also to the miles that she prefered to walk in the Australian industrial suburb to the centre of town, briskly buying her ham and tea and vegetables for boiling.

At the back there are two figures. A woman with a fan and a man with a parcel. Their clothes are silken green, or pink or blue, with the trousers marlined. It reminds me of a story she told me of going to a Chinese official's house at the time of the Japanese invasion. Of the official's wife in her finery, her bound feet, her hair braided, speaking behind a fan to her servant who collected treasures from the walls, unpicked clothes for embroidered sleeves and collars, took out boxes of jade and trays of turned turquoise and wrapped them in a bundle for 'missy' to take back to England for safekeeping. …

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