Traditional Locks

The lock (suo in Mandarin) is a device that holds a desired space. It consists of three basic parts: the body, bolt and key. It’s mainly used to lock doors, cabinets, chests, boxes, drawers, torture instruments, etc. The lock is operated by a key or combination code. Locks play the role to “constrain” in human society, and are largely used for security purposes.

The history of locks in China originated from the Yangshao Culture over 5,000 years ago. The wooden locks on wooden architectures are claimed to be the oldest lock in human history. Metal locks made of bronze with a simple pin mechanism were invented in the Han dynasty. Iron locks were widely used in the Song dynasty. By the Ming and Qing dynasties, copper locks with sophisticated pin mechanism became a family utensil and all types of locks made of different materials were developed. The traditional locks were replaced by the cylindrical locks using hollowing coding in the mid of 1950s.

The traditional Chinese locks fall into two major categories in terms of material, wooden or metal and in terms mechanism, hollowing coding and combination coding. The former can be divided as guang, huaqi, jewelry and torture instrument locks, whilst the latter is also called the coded lock.

Rusty and weathered as they are, traditional Chinese locks as a daily necessity in the ancient life of the Chinese still retain the messages from their times long gone, a fascinating portrait of the economic development and social customs. It is a precious part of the memory of the Chinese civilization.

The items we presented here covers a wide range of the object, i.e., wooden, guang, huaqi and jewelry locks from the Ming dynasty to the 20th century, for a time span of more than 500 years. The items were collected from areas or provinces of Beijing, Yunnan, Zhejiang, Henan, Heilongjiang and Xinjiang.

Location: 2nd floor, Bai Branch Museum, South Park