Locks have been widely used in daily life for thousands of years . The development of locks aroused psychologically from practical needs of safety for individual, groups, and individual within groups. The history of lock is in close association with the materials available, tools and cultural background of a specific time. Contemporary art-craft technology, the cultural phenomenon in society and the economical development can be observed through the development and application of locks in different dynasties.
With the progressive development of science and technology, the functions of locks get more and more complete. They not only show versatility in forms of design, but also the more precise manufacturing of the locks. Furthermore, the usage of locks expanded from the locks on doors, chests, boxes, to the desks, the safes, even the vehicles nowadays. However, more often than not people ignore the common device while using them. The beauty and the historical background of these ancient valuables are much neglected.
Though with a long history, the perseverance of the ancient Chinese locks and related document are quite insufficient. Over the centuries, through dynasties, this art-craft technology and manufacturing were strictly confined to locksmiths who were base in their social status; so even there are a good number of very delicate ones been preserved, the authors were mostly not acknowledgeable because their names were never mentioned. Ancient Chinese locks are treasures of the Chinese civil culture, but for its hardly noticeable nature, very few curio collectors set their eyes on locks. Locks that attached themselves faithfully to boxes, closets, houses and castles were often the first to be hacked open to get what was inside. Locks were hardly ever considered collectable or worthy of researching upon. Their numbers were ignored, and no one ever noticed the beauty and significance of these age-worn ancient locks.
Locks have been drifting in the current of time and the amount of ancient Chinese locks which are well preserved and well taken care of gradually decreases.
Ancient Chinese locks, mostly key-operated bronze padlocks with splitting springs and a number of letter-combination padlocks. Major features of ancient locks can be described as follow: types of the locks, structure of the locks, material of the locks, size and shape of the locks, engravings on the lock-body, etc. There are also the following topics with splitting spring locks: configuration of the splitting springs, the location and shape of the keyholes, the shape of key-heads and the number of keys, the unlocking methods, etc. Typical ancient Chinese locks are splitting spring locks opened by keys. The lock-body and sliding-bolt were mostly made of bronze or iron and several splitting springs were attached to the sliding-bolt. Once the key is inserted, the splitting springs were squeezed down and the sliding bolt could be released from the lock-body.
Comparing with western locks, the major difference shown by ancient Chinese locks is that it is not always easy to insert the keys into the keyholes. In some cases, one could hardly find the keyholes in a short period of time.
Prof. Yan published the book "The Beauty of Ancient Chinese Locks" based on his collection and research on ancient Chinese locks for over a decade. Together with the established of this "Web Museum of Ancient Chinese Locks", he hope to introduce systematically the development and characteristics of the ancient Chinese locks to the public and fill in the gaps in history and culture. And most important of all, it allows the readers a glimpse at the beauty of ancient Chinese locks.