China produces a wide variety of transitional umbrella designs; we at Oriental Umbrellas have selected a few designs from that vast country to augment our selection of patio and garden umbrellas from the entire Far East.
There is mention of umbrellas design going back to 400 BC, a classical text describes the construction and use of a round, segmented, silk umbrella whose function was to shade ceremonial chariots.
Later reliefs illustrate such an umbrella, and archaeologists have excavated several complex brass castings used to hold the ribs of such umbrellas. This kind of royal umbrella remained a symbol of Chinese royal privilege, and it appears in countless court paintings. When Marco Polo arrived at the court of Kublai Khan in 1275, he found the Mongols had adopted many Chinese customs, including the bestowal of a special umbrella on the highest commanders in the army:
An officer who holds the chief command of 100,000 men, or who is the general-in-chief of a great host, is entitled to a [gold] tablet that weighs 300 saggi... Every one, moreover, who holds a tablet of this exalted degree is entitled, whenever he goes abroad, to have a little golden canopy, such as is called an umbrella, carried on a spear over his head in token of his high command.
From China, the royal umbrella spread to Japan and Korea. In Japan, it ceased to be a royal prerogative within a few centuries, and it found widespread use throughout society. Woodblock prints and paintings of the 18th century often feature a theme of ordinary people under umbrellas in the rain. Korea, however, could not have been more different. There the umbrella remained a strictly royal symbol. Because Korean artwork never pictured the emperor, his presence was signified by a horse with an empty saddle, shaded by the royal umbrella.