Combing for Ice and Jade

Combing for Ice and Jade


Publisher: Jiazazhi Press

With the lifestory of a single woman, Kurt Tong’s “Combing for Ice and Jace” traces the history of one of China’s oldest feminist movements.

“Combing up” – a ceremony involving the braiding of one’s hair and a ritual bath – for women in the Qin Dynasty meant freedom: freedom from obligations towards their parents, freedom from marriage, and freedom to earn their own living, thanks to the booming silk trade.
The silk trade lost significance in the following decades, but there were still women combing up in the 20th century. The life of one of them, his grandmother, is portrayed in Kurt Tong’s fascinating photobook “Combing for Ice and Jade.”

The book opens with the only eight photographs that she has of herself, for Tong to then explore her rich and extraordinary life. Pictures from Tong’s family archive, found photographs, magazines, propaganda leaflets and newly taken photographs weave a thick image of China’s history of the past 6 decades.

“[S]he kept her family alive through the great famine in 1950s, paid for all her nephews and nieces educations, built several houses in her home village for her aunts, brothers and nephews and supported several of her nephews businesses, one of which flourished into a very successful business employing over 350 workers. Yet through all this, she has retained a very simple lifestyle. […]
Both biographical and anthropological, her story will be the starting point to explore generations of comb up women, giving a voice to generations of unsung heroines who are might otherwise be ignored and forgotten.” (from the artist’s website)


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Book Size
175 × 245 mm
278 pages, 8 booklets and one piece of leaf
Publication Date
English, Japanese
Limited Edition

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"Dedicated to Robert Frank"




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