Watched by Heaven, Tied to Earth:
Summoning Animal Protection for Chinese Children

Opened March 8, 2006 and extended to October 7, 2007

For centuries, animal symbols have been used as protectors for Chinese children on shoes and garments. Featuring over 200 exquisite shoes, elaborate sets and beautifully crafted garments, this dazzlingly colourful exhibition invited visitors to wander through the temple-inspired gallery and enter a charming world ruled by sewn, painted, appliquéd and embroidered animals.

Visitors learned about the myriad hidden meanings and symbolism of the Chinese zodiac and the reasons why children have been dressed in these images, symbolically tying them to earth while providing heavenly protection.

Many of the items in Watched by Heaven were generously loaned from the collection of Mr. Glenn Roberts, and have rarely been on display.

Images

image of Chinese child's bib

Infant's tiger bib
Embroidered and appliquéd silk satin, late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
Rooster is the zodiac sign for children born in year 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 and 2017. The rooster motto, "I am resilient", reflects their optimistic and determined nature. Roosters are eccentric and full of romantic ideas. They are perfectionists and leave no room for error. Roosters can be blunt and brutal. Their direct approach to life makes them poor diplomats. Roosters are good at handling money and their self-control with keeping budgets is phenomenal.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's dog booties

Infant's dog booties
Embroidered silk satin, late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
Dog is the zodiac sign for children born in year 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006. Their motto, "I am loyal", reflects that they are extremely protective of themselves and their loved ones. Dogs are honest and straightforward. They are intelligent, well-balanced and make good counselors or psychologists. Dogs always defend what is theirs and have a high sense of value. Home and family come first, and dogs will work to see that they have the best.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's tiger shoes

Toddler's tiger shoes
Embroidered and appliquéd silk, late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
Tiger is the zodiac sign for children born in year 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, and 2010. The tiger motto, "I have courage", reflects that tigers are often rebels. They love to be the center of attention and seldom go unnoticed. They can be impatient, speak their minds when upset and have suspicious natures. They are intense individuals, especially when upset and angry, but are famous for their ability to influence others and sway crowds.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's rabbit shoes

Toddler's rabbit shoes
Appliquéd and embroidered silk, late 19th century
Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Rabbit is the zodiac sign for children born in year 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 and 2011. The rabbit motto, "I am discreet", is associated their quiet and determined nature. Rabbits symbolize long life and possess the powers of the moon. They are sensitive to beauty, gracious and soft-spoken; hence rabbits are often diplomats and peacemakers.
Image credit: Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's wind bonnet

Child's wind bonnet with the 12 zodiac animals
Embroidered silk satin hat with ribbon detailing, mid 19th century
Collection of Nancy Murphy
This charming hat evokes one of the zodiac legends. When the animals learned that the Jade Emperor, the most important Chinese god, wanted to name each of the 12 years of the zodiac years for an animal, they began to squabble. To resolve the dilemma, the Jade Emperor devised a contest. He lined up the twelve animals who presented themselves along a river bank and gave them the task of getting to the other side. The year cycle was set by the order in which the animals reached the other bank. The cunning rat, who was afraid of water, requested a ride on the back of the ox in exchange for helping guide the poor-sighted beast. Just as the ox came ashore, the rat jumped off and finished the race first, thus becoming the sign for the first year in the cycle, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Image credit: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's waist pocket

Waist pocket
Embroidered silk satin, late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
Designed to be tied around a woman's waist, the pocket would have been used to carry necessities and valuables. The decoration features a number of protective animals. The "Five Poisons"—variously depicted as spider, scorpion, snake, centipede, tiger, lizard, crab or toad—serve as a prophylactic to ward off evil. Liu Hai, the popular Daoist god of wealth, holds a string of coins and sits on the back of a three-legged toad, which could transport him in a flash to any place he wished. The toad, a moon symbol, was known to disappear down wells and Liu Hai would lure him out with the gold coins threaded on a string.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's tiger bonnet

Infant's tiger wind bonnet
Appliquéd and embroidered silk satin, late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
An appliquéd tiger pelt sits atop an infant's wind bonnet, symbolizing protection. From ancient times in China, tiger and dragon have represented yin and yang, the two primal opposing yet complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Tiger symbolized yin, which is passive, feminine, downward-seeking and corresponds to the night. Yang, the brighter element, is symbolized by the dragon. It is active, masculine and upward-seeking. Dragon and tiger booties for infants and tiger shoes for toddlers are the most popular animal garments worn by Chinese children, helping protect their tiny lives by bring yin and yang into balance.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

image of Chinese child's phoenix coat

Girl's embroidered phoenix coat
Late 19th century
Collection of Glenn Roberts
While boys were often the most favoured children in a family, little girls were also dressed in special clothes with animal symbols. The phoenix, representing the empress, symbolized the bride and on her wedding day a young woman would wear phoenix hats, shoes and robes that transformed her into an "empress for a day". Girls were also dressed in phoenix attire in anticipation of this most important event in their lives.
Image credit: Collection of Glenn Roberts. Photo: Hal Roth

Images on this site are at web resolution. High-quality versions of selected images are available for media for pieces which review and/or promote the Museum. To request images for these purposes, please contact Rosmarie Gadzovski, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, telephone 416.979.7799 x225. For information about image permissions and licensing, please visit our IMAGE PERMISSIONS section.

Media Information

Bata Shoe Museum Opens Exhibition Exploring Animal Power and Protection in Chinese Footwear and Costume
March 7, 2006
Adobe PDF file, 1Mb, 4 pages, prints onto letter-sized (8 1/2 x 11") paper. You may need to download and install the free Adobe Reader to view PDF files.