Due to the enormous amount of different ethnicities in China there are a lot of different traditional clothing. Clothes and fashion have always been a prominent part to display your wealth or lack of it in China. The more money the more ornate the clothing. Even showing off your profession through fashion was done a lot in these times. We’ll be looking at 3 different styles out of many: the Hanfu, the Qipao and Changshan.
The Hanfu is traditional garment worn by the Han people. It was very influential for the Japanese Kimono and the Korean Hanbok. Hanfu means ‘Dress of the Han People’ though the name was never found in historic records. This name was created in 2003 by supporters of Han Revivalism to promote traditional clothing and the supremacist agenda.
From the start of Hanfu’s history, around the Shang Dynasty, Han clothing was developed and the material was made of silk depending on your status in society. Your hanfu would get more, or less intricate. The higher your rank the wider the sleeves, the length of your skirt and the amount of jade decorations on the sash.
Among different cultures, different records exist. Some say Manchu’s Qipao is the official attire, others name the Han.
A complete Hanfu is made out of the following:
- Yi (衣): Any open cross-collar garment, a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash.
- Pao (袍): Any closed full-body garment, worn only by men in Hanfu
- Ru (襦): Open cross-collar shirt
- Shan (衫): Open cross-collar shirt or jacket that is worn over the yi
- Qun (裙) or chang (裳): Skirt for women and men
- Ku (褲): Trousers or pants
Men usually wore hats while women wore headpieces. The difference between these hats were usually distinguished by their social rank or profession. The typical types of male headwear are called jin (巾) for soft caps, mao (帽) for stiff hats and guan (冠) for formal headdress. Officials and academics have a separate set of hats, typically the putou (幞頭), the wushamao (烏紗帽), the si-fang pingding jin (四方平定巾; or simply, fangjin: 方巾) and the Zhuangzi jin (莊子巾). A typical hairpiece for women is the ji (笄) but there are more elaborate hairpieces.
During the Chinese’s 15 to 20th birthday a coming of age ceremony is performed, their mark of adulthood usually meant they stopped cutting their hair.
This was due to Confucious’ teaching:
“身體髮膚，受諸父母，不敢毀傷，孝之始也” – which can be roughly translated as ‘My body, hair and skin are given by my father and mother, I dare not damage any of them, as this is the least I can do to honor and respect my parents”.
This meaning that cutting hair was a proper punishment to give to criminals, just as facial tattoos.
Unlike shown in many modern Chinese dramas or movies, men always had to wear their hair in a bun. Which was then covered up with different headresses or hats. Females could still style their hair as they pleased, male and female fashion was different.
In the dynasty following the Ming Dynasty men were forced to adapt the Manchu hairstyle where they would shave the front of their heads and leave just the ponytail.
Qipao and Changshan
The original Manchu clothing, in which men and women wore similar robes, introduced the Changshan and Qipao during the Qing dynasty. The Qipao was worn by women in the a-like loose fitting style. It covered most of the body, but not the head, hands and tips of the toes.
The version of the Qipao we know these days is the modern version popularized in Shanghai in the 1930’s to 1950’s adaptation of the loose fitting Qipao worn in Beijing. Changshan were worn by men. It was a dress, robe, long jacket or tunic. The western style suits were adopted as the formal wear after the Changshan had been it’s formal wear for a long time.
During the time of Mao Zhedong’s revolution many of China’s fashion was viewed as bad and bourgeois. Anything seen as traditional Chinese culture was seen as dangerous, so were jeans, heels and ties. Citizens seen wearing or even owning them would suffer serious consequences. Torture, beatings and public shaming were punishments given by Mao’s guards. Zhongshan/Mao suit was what was worn back then.