Bathing Culture in Yangzhou, and how it reflects Early Migration in Ancient China


· 人类学

Throughout the history of ancient civilizations, the culture of public bathing is definitely a lifestyle pattern that deserves study in many human cultures such as Japan and Roman. Similarly, China’s public bathing culture has a long history and has been already active since Song Dynasty all around the country. However, nowadays, the public bathing culture is only active in the northern China while is rarely accepted in the southern part of China. All those make Yang Zhou, a city in the middle China which is famous for its complete and developed bathing system, a case worth further study. According to the special geographic location and also the population migration route, it could be speculated that the public bathing culture of Yangzhou was brought up during the migration.

Due to the unique geographical location, Yangzhou was the blending point in the early migration between the North and the South of China, which in return cultivated its unique public bathing culture. Locating at the point where the Yangtze River meets the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, Yangzhou, postal Romanization Yangchow, is a prefecture-level city in central Jiangsu Province, China. Yangzhou has many geographical and climatic characteristics of southern cities which are both dominated by plains, mild weather and sufficient rainfall. Compared to the relatively mild climate in southern part of China, northern part of China suffered chill climate which in return form the preference to the hot bath in the north. People in the northern part of China are used to soak into very hot water for a long time in order to dispel coldness and relax nerves. This characteristic in northern bathing culture is not as same as that in Yangzhou. With the more pleasing weather, people in Yangzhou tended to enjoy the extra service of public bathing such as back rub more instead of having time-consuming hot bath. Yangzhou residents prefer to take bath in relatively lower temperature and for a shorter time since there was no chill to be staved off. Back rub, an approach to deeply clean the skin by scrubbing down the keratin on the skin, is a popular bathing service in both northern area and Yang Zhou Since the climate in Southern China is warm and humid, it is unusual to find southern people to have the habit of back rub. The inheriting of this habit can be easily explained in the drier northern China while it looks strange and does not fit in the situation in Yangzhou where people simply do not need to remove the keratin (dead surface cells) that often. Therefore, it seems clear that the public bathing culture is originated from the North and then spread to Yangzhou through population migration.

There were several well-known migrations throughout Chinese history from the north to the south. Yangzhou’s public baths first appeared during Song dynasty. One close migration was caused by rebellion of An Lushan (d.757) and Shi Siming (d.761) in 755 against the Tang dynasty of China. This event is also known as the AnShi Rebellion or An–Shi Disturbances as it continued after An Lushan's death under his son An Qingxu and his deputy and successor Shi Siming The rebellion and subsequent disorder resulted in a huge loss of life and large-scale destruction. It significantly weakened the Tang dynasty and led to the loss of the western regions. In order to avoid wars, nearly 100,000 people migrated to the south. As one of the most significant migrations in China, the migration caused by An-Shi Rebellion had far-reaching impacts by changing China’s population distribution. The population distribution between north and south reached the equilibrium for the first time. The huge migration has also brought a large amount of labor forces which helped the development of the Yangtze River basin and raise the scale of market. Therefore, after the fall of Tang dynasty and life gradually settled down, in the upcoming Song Dynasty, the tradition brought by northern people who migrated to the south and the rapid growth of the population might both be the possible factors that help grow Yangzhou’s own public bathing culture. It is known that many significant migrations in Chinese history are moving from the north to the south. The main reason is undoubtedly the threat of frequent wars from north. Northern China’s colder, drier and bleaker environment also resulted in bad harvest and even famine, which is especially fatal to the northern people, who were dominated by small scale peasant economy or nomadic who had a relatively more fragile economic system. Thus, the attraction of rich resources and temperate climate could be another significant reason why people immigrated to the south.

However, there are some voices claiming that the public bathing culture was originated in Yangzhou, even earlier than that in the north. Since under some circumstances, southerners would also head north. Perhaps through some unknown migrations, the special culture was brought from south to north instead of the opposite direction. Several reasons can explain why Yangzhou can be a perfect place to develop the public bathing culture. Firstly, people in Yangzhou have had the tradition of bathing since ancient time. The artifacts in Guangling King (a feudatory king in Han Dynasty)’s tomb clearly proved the existence of bathing culture in the early era. In the tomb, a L-shaped bathroom contained a bathtub made of copper, clogs, small seats for bathing and pumice stones which are used to rub over skin. The finding of pumice stones clearly showed that back rub, as well as the public bathing culture in Yangzhou can be dated back to as early as Han Dynasty. Secondly, from the tomb of Five Dynasty(just after Tang Dynasty) in Xihu village in Yangzhou, archaeologists found a great dozens of seats with three or four legs for bathing which suggested that the bathing culture has already been popular among influential officials. To further illustrate, the economic boom probably triggered the development of Yangzhou’s public bating culture. In the Tang Dynasty, Yangzhou met its first peak in economy and also population. Since Yangzhou is located in the intersection of Yangtze River,it rapidly grew into the most essential economic center from Tang Dynasty to Song Dynasty. There were many materials to show Yangzhou’s superior wealth during that period. For example, according to Zi Zhi Tong Jian, a famous historical record masterpiece demonstrated that there is no doubt that Yangzhou was the most prosperous city in the Tang Dynasty during that time. As previously mentioned, public baths, providing places for bathing and restrooms or some other facilities, are perfect places to relax and socialize. Therefore, it is possible that public baths sprang up during the late Tang Dynasty to respond to the merchants’ growing need for places to discuss business and attract potential customers. Several centuries later in Song Dynasty, even though Yangzhou was not as flourish as before, it still played the role as an influential economic center. What’s more, more population accelerated the development of public bathing culture. After the rebellion of An Lushan (d.757) and Shi Siming, a great number of people rushed to the south from north. Yangzhou accepted a lot of war refugees as well. Without any relatives, most migrated northerners could hardly live a good life in a brand-new place which causes the lack of the private bathing equipment at home. The desire for a better life quality is mixed with Yangzhou’s traditional bathing culture and finally promoted the popularity of public baths. During Song Dynasty, more accurate historical materials revealed the well-developed public bathing culture in Yangzhou. A famous poet called Su Shi has visited Yangzhou for ten times and once wrote a poem describing how back-rubbers are doing their jobs in the public bath. The poem emphasized that public bathing culture was prevailing, and the skill of back rubbing became a characteristic of Yangzhou’s public bathing culture.

Those assumptions are not as plausible as they sound. Firstly, although archaeologists found abundant evidence about early bathing culture in Yangzhou, the findings cannot prove the initial origin of public bathing culture. Through the artifacts, we can only know that aristocracy in Yangzhou has developed a complete and fine early bathing system, while public bathing culture focuses more on normal people, the public. Moreover, it is more possible that the increasing northern people in Yangzhou brought the bating culture. During Song Dynasty, public bathing culture started to arise and get popular in many parts of China, including some parts of Southern China. The significant point is that in the Southern culture, people do not have things like back rub which deeply showed the strangeness of public bathing culture in Yangzhou. It seems that this culture in Yangzhou is more like a mixture resulted from the cultural shock of North and South and left out some elements (like the back rub) which did not work to satisfy people’s necessary need.

To sum up, Yangzhou has a unique public bathing culture which has apparent characteristics of blending cultures from the North and the South. A population migration is definitely a decisive factor. Although according to some vague historical materials, many people consider the initial origin of public bathing culture was in Yangzhou. Through studying the early migration pattern of China, the location of Yangzhou, and a series of documents, it can be estimated that the public bathing culture was gradually brought into Yangzhou during the migration from north to south. However, because of the lack of historical documents and archaeological evidence, the true fact of Chinese public bathing culture remains unraveled. Though the lack of key information leaves blank space in the history of this culture, I wish that later discoveries could be a turning point so that I can have more chances to research this topic in the future.


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4. https://wenku.baidu.com/view/adf726b8960590c69ec376e5.html扬州沐浴文化简史

5. http://app.myzaker.com/news/article.php?pk=5af0cc727f780b700d000054人口逆向迁移



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