Hu or Court Tablet

What are those stick-like objects that court officials sometimes hold in Shen Yun dances?  Those were imperial tablets, not unlike today’s tablets employed in office meetings, used to record notes and memos from the boss—in this case the emperor.

These slender tablets were known as hu, and were often held in (both) hands of state officials during the emperor’s assembly. Courtiers used hus to record the emperor’s commands or report memoranda.

The classic Book of Rites was very precise about the hu’s specifications. Made of jade, ivory, or bamboo, the tablet’s material reflected the rank of the official using it. It had to be exactly two feet six inches long, and three inches wide (these were ancient Chinese measurements, with a “foot” roughly 23 cm, about 7 cm shorter than today).  

The tablet’s form was rectangular with either a wide top and narrow bottom or round top and rectangular bottom. The tablet’s body was also slightly curved from top to bottom.

The hu’s days came to an end during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911/12), when the Manchurian emperors abandoned it.  

Its legacy continues, though, not only in Shen Yun dances, but also in Daoist lore, which tells of immortals wielding a hu as a magical instrument.

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