Chinese Clothing by Hua Mei


Chinese Clothing
By Hua Mei

Chinese Clothing

◎ Shenyi and Broad Sleeves/9
◎ Royal Ceremonial Wear/15
◎ Introduction of Ethnic Minority Styles/19
◎ The Elegant Wei and Jin Period/23
◎ The Thousand Faces of the Tang Costume/29
◎ Silk, the Silk Road and the Art of Embroidery/39
◎ Beizi: a Song Style Garment/51
◎ Ming Garments as Seen in Classical Portraits/55
The Official Uniform/59
◎ Ancient Armor Suits/67
◎ Qi Costumes – a Combination of Manchu and Han Nationality’s Clothes/77
◎ Civilized New Clothes and Improved Cheong-sam/87
◎ Farmer & Worker Uniforms and Service-dresses/95
◎ Professional Image and Professional Dresses/105
◎ Adornments and Fairy Tales/109
◎ Hats with Meanings/119
◎ Shawls and the Back Wrapping Cloth/125
◎ A Silhouette of Tibetan Costumes/131
◎ Countless Ornamental Objects/139
◎ Keeping Pace with the World Fashion/151

From the day garments became part of people’s lives, they have been given different significance of social status, lifestyle, aesthetics and cultural concepts. Garments have always been the truest and most straightforward reflection of the social and historical scenes of any given time. In this sense, the history of garments is at the same time a vivid history on the development of civilization.

In the Chinese way of describing the necessities of life, clothing ranks at the top of “garments, food, shelter and means of travel.” In this country with a long history of garments and ornaments, there is a wealth of archeological findings showing the development of garments, as well as their portrayals in ancient mythology, history books, poems and songs, novels and drama.

The development of the Chinese garments can be traced back to the late Paleolithic age. Archeological findings have shown that approximately 20,000 years ago, the primitives who lived in the now Zhoukoudian area of Beijing were already wearing personal ornaments, in the form of tiny white stone beads, olive-colored pebbles, animal teeth, clam shells, fish bones and bone tubes, all meticulously perforated. Archeologists have a ributed these to be body ornaments. Aesthetics might not have been the only concern when people wore ornaments at that time – ornaments were used as a means of protection against evil. The unearthed bone needles were still intact with oval shaped needle hole, a sign that people at that time were no longer satisfied with utilizing animal and plant materials. They already learned the technology of sewing together animal skin.

Over 1,000 archeological sites of the Neolithic age (6,000 B.C.-2,000 B.C.) have been found in China, geographically covering almost the entire country. The major means of production have transformed from the primitive hunting and fishing to the more stable form of agriculture, while division of labor first appeared in weaving and po ery making. Ancient painted po ery pots from 5,000 years ago were found in Qinghai Province of western China, decorated with dancers imitating the hunting scene. Some dancers wear decorative braids on their heads, while others have ornamental tails on the waist. Some wear full skirts that are rarely seen in traditional Chinese a ire, but more similar to the whalebone skirt of the western world. In the neighboring province of Gansu, similar vessels were excavated, with images of people wearing what the later researchers called the “Guankoushan,” a typical style found in the early human garments: a piece of textile with a slit or hole in the middle from which the head comes through. A rope is tied at the waist, giving the garment a dress-like appearance. Another vessel portrays an image of an a ractive young girl, with short bangs on the forehead and long hair in the back. Against the delicate facial features and below the neck a continuous pattern is found with three rows of slanting lines and triangles. It may well have been a lively young girl in a beautiful dress with intricate pa erns on the mind of the po ery maker. In addition to the clay vessels, images of primitive Chinese garments were found in rock paintings of the early people wearing ear ornaments. In the Daxi Neolithic site of Wushan, Sichuan, historical artifacts were found including ear ornaments made of jade, ivory and turquoise in round, oblong, trapezoid and even semi-circle shapes.

Along with the establishment of the different social strata, rituals distinguishing the respectable from the humble came into being, leading eventually to the formation of rules and regulations on daily a ire. The Chinese rules on garments and ornaments started taking shape in the Zhou Dynasty (1,046 B.C.-256 B.C.), regulating the royalty down to the commoners, and these were recorded in the national decrees and regulations. As early as in the Zhou Dynasty, garments were already classified into sacrificial a ire, court a ire, army uniform, mourning a ire and wedding a ire. This tradition was once broken during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C.-476 B.C.) and the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.), in which numerous war lords fought for power and a hundred schools of thoughts contended. As a result, rigid rules on garments and ornaments were replaced by diversity of style, and the aristocratic class went a er extravagance.

The rulers of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) used the Zhou Li – book on Zhou Dynasty Rituals as the blueprint and promulgated categorical rules on garments and ornaments. Dress colors were specified into spring green, summer red, autumn yellow and winter black to be in harmony with the seasons and the solar calendar, all in a style of sober simplicity. Women’s upper and lower garments became the model for the Han ethnicity of later generations.

The Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern Dynsties (220-589) was a period of ethnic amalgamation with, despite the frequent change in power and incessant wars, ideological diversity, cultural prosperity and significant scientific development. In this period, there was not only the Wei and Jin aristocratic style that the intelligentsia took delight in talking about, but also the shocks and transformations on the traditional Han culture brought about by the northern nomadic tribes when they migrated into the central plains. These ethnic minority people se led down with the Han people. As a result, the way they dressed influenced the Han style, while at the same time it was influenced by the Han style.

When China was reunited in the Sui Dynasty (581- 618), the Han dress code was pursued again. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that followed, the strong national power and an open social order led to a flourishing of garment and ornament style that is both luxuriant and refreshing, typically with women wearing low cut short shirtdress or narrow-sleeved men’s a ire. By Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Han women developed the habit of chestbinding, giving popularity to the popular overcoat beizi, whose elegant and simplistic style was favored by women of all ages and all social strata. Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) was established by the Mongols when they unified China. As Mongols at that time wore maoli or triangular hat, and men commonly wore earrings, the official dress code became a mixture of the inherited Han system with the Mongol elements. When power again changed hands to the Han people, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) rulers promulgated decrees prohibiting use of the previous dynasty’s Mongol a ire, language and surnames, returning to the dress style of the Tang Dynasty. The official uniform of the Ming Dynasty was intent on seeking a sense of dignity and splendor, as shown in the complex forms, styles and dressing rituals of the emperor down to officials of all levels.

This book is US$10
To get free sample pages OR Buy this book

Share this Book!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.