The sedan or sedanchair (jiaozi), a traditional vehicle of transportation carried by bearers, was called at the beginning jianyu (shoulder carriage), being a carriage that travelled on human shoulders. Jiaozi is its comparatively modern name.
In old times, sedans fell into two major categories: the guanjiao (official sedan) and the minjiao (private sedan). Those of the former type were used by the royal family and government officials, and they varied in elaborateness according to the status of the person carried inside, following strict rules laid down for different levels of the hierarchy.
Even for the emperor himself, he was to sit in palanquins or sedanchairs of different grades on different occasions: the ceremonial palanquin to go to a formal court of audience, the sedanchair when he made rounds of inspection inside the Forbidden City, the light sedan for hunts and excursions outside the capital, and finally the casual litter, a spare sedan accompanying him on his trips, into which he might want to change at any moment. For his everyday use in the palace, it was usually the casual litter. Then the furnishings also differed with the seasons: the warm sedan for winter and the cool type for summer.
The two sedanchairs now on display in the Hall of Complete Harmony (Zhonghedian) of the Forbidden City are the casual litters used by the emperor for everyday purposes.
Sedanchairs for the ministers and lower officials varied in grandeur with their ranks. In all cases, an official sedan out in the street was heralded by the beating of gongs to clear the way and surrounded by a number of attendants. Common people meeting such a procession must keep quiet and step aside. The higher the official, the greater the number of followers and sedan bearers. The latter might vary from two for a petty official to eight for a very eminent personage. The emperor himself might have as many as sixteen carriers.
Private sedans were of simple make, yet they were owned only by the landed gentry or urban rich. Built of wood or bamboo, they could be carried either on flat roads or along mountain
paths. Some of the self-pampered potbellies inside, like the officials, were also accompanied by bodyguards walking by the side of the sedans.
There was yet another type of sedans for hire to the common people for use on weddings. They were called huajiao (flowery sedan) or xijiao (happiness sedan). The deluxe model of this type was covered by bright-coloured silks embroidered with gaudy designs of good luck and even decorated with sparkling gems. The run-of-the-mill model was also bedecked with colourful silk ribbons. In feudal times a bride was not to be seen by outsiders, so there was an elaborate "double-sedan" with a small one inside the outer one so that the bride could get into (or out of) the inner sedan indoors and then be carried into the outer sedan without exposing herself to public view.
Wedding sedanchairs continued to be in vogue for some time in certain regions after the founding of New China in 1949. Nowadays young people prefer the motorized sedan for their weddings, and the sedanchair has been elegated to the realm of history.