Ancient Chinese clothing refers to the historical clothing styles of China, particularly those before the Qing dynasty. The Han Chinese historically wore a robe or a shirt for the upper garment, while the lower garment was commonly a pleated skirt. Since the Han dynasty, Chinese clothing had developed varied styles and exquisite textile techniques, particularly on silk, and absorbed favorable elements in foreign cultures. Ancient Chinese clothing was also influential to other traditional clothing such as the Japanesekimono, yukata, and the VietnameseÁo giao lĩnh.
The style of historical Han clothing can be summarized as containing garment elements that are arranged in distinctive and sometimes specific ways. This is different from the traditional garment of other ethnic groups in China, most notably the Manchu-influenced clothes, the qipao, which is popularly considered to be the de facto traditional Han Chinese garb. A comparison of the two styles can be seen as the following provides[original research?]:
Consist of "yi" (衣), which have loose lapels and are open
Consist of "pao" (袍), which have secured lapels around the neck and no front openings
Poet Li Bai in Stroll (李白行吟圖). A "減筆畫" (lit. minimalist painting) by Liang Kai (梁楷) of Southern Song dynasty. Note that Li Bai is depicted with his bun exposed, possibly due to the poet's heavy Taoist influence. The painting is currently kept in Tokyo National Museum.
On top of the garments, hats (for men) or hairpieces (for women) may be worn. One can often tell the profession or social rank of someone by what they wear on their heads. 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.
In addition, managing hair was also a crucial part of ancient Han people's daily life. Commonly, males and females would stop cutting their hair once they reached adulthood. This was marked by the Chinese coming of age ceremony Guan Li, usually performed between ages 15 to 20. They allowed their hair to grow long naturally until death, including facial hair. This was due to Confucius' 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'. In fact, cutting one's hair off in ancient China was considered a legal punishment called '髡', designed to humiliate criminals, as well as applying a character as a facial tattoo to notify one's criminality, the punishment is referred to as '黥', since regular people wouldn't have tattoos on their skin attributed to the same philosophy.
Children were exempt from the above commandment; they could cut their hair short, make different kinds of knots or braids, or simply just let them hang without any care, especially because such the decision was usually made by the parents rather than the children themselves, therefore, parental respect was not violated. However, once they entered adulthood, every male was obliged to tie his long hair into a bun called ji (髻) either on or behind his head and always cover the bun up with different kinds of headdresses (except Buddhist monks, who would always keep their heads completely shaved to show that they're "cut off from the earthly bonds of the mortal world"; and Taoist monks, who would usually just use hair sticks called '簪' (zān) to hold the buns in place without concealing them). Thus the 'disheveled hair', a common but erring depiction of ancient Chinese male figures seen in most modern Chinese period dramas or movies with hair (excluding facial hair) hanging down from both sides and/or in the back are historically inaccurate. Females on the other hand, had more choices in terms of decorating their hair as adults. They could still arrange their hair into as various kinds of hairstyles as they pleased. There were different fashions for women in various dynastic periods.
Such strict "no-cutting" hair tradition was implemented all throughout Han Chinese history since Confucius' time up until the end of Ming dynasty (1644 CE), when the Qing Prince Dorgon forced the male Han people to adopt the hairstyle of Manchu men, which was shave their foreheads bald and gather the rest of the hair into ponytails in the back (See Queue) in order to show that they submitted to Qing authority, the so-called "Queue Order" (薙髮令). Han children and females were spared from this order, also Taoist monks were allowed to keep their hair and Buddhist monks were allowed to keep all their hair shaven. Han defectors to the Qing like Li Chengdong and Liu Liangzuo and their Han troops carried out the queue order to force it on the general population. Han Chinese soldiers in 1645 under Han General Hong Chengchou forced the queue on the people of Jiangnan while Han people were initially paid silver to wear the queue in Fuzhou when it was first implemented.
A Taoist soothsayer advising a woman. Note that his hair is tightened into a bun on his head, a surviving example of the previous commonly adopted male hairstyle of Han people. Photo taken in 2008 outside the Changchun Temple (長春觀) in Wuhan, China.
Putou (襆頭), lit. "head cover" or "head wrap". An early form of informal headwear dates back as early as Jin dynasty that later developed into several variations for wear in different occasions.
Zhangokfutou (展角幞頭), lit. "spread-horn head cover", designed by the founder of Song dynasty, with elongated horns on both sides in order to keep the distance between his officials so they couldn't whisper to each other during court assemblies. It was also later adapted by the Ming dynasty, authorized for court wear.
Zhan Chi Fu Tou (展翅幞頭), lit. "spread-wing head cover", more commonly known by its nickname Wu Sha Mao (烏紗帽), lit. "black-cloth hat", was the standard headwear of officials during the Ming dynasty. The term "Wu Sha Mao" is still frequently used in modern Chinese slang when referring to a government position.
Yishanguan (翼善冠), lit. "winged crown of philanthropy", worn by emperors and princes of the Ming dynasty, as well as kings of many of its tributaries such as Korea and Ryukyu. The version worn by emperors was elaborately decorated with jewels and dragons, while the others looked like Wu Sha Mao but with wings folded upwards.
Another type of Han Chinese Shenyi (深衣) commonly worn from the pre-Shang periods to the Ming dynasty. This form is known as the zhiju (直裾) and worn primarily by men
Han Chinese clothing had changed and evolved with the fashion of the days since its commonly assumed beginnings in the Shang dynasty. Many of the earlier designs are more gender-neutral and simpler in cut than later examples. Later garments incorporate multiple pieces with men commonly wearing pants and women commonly wearing skirts. Clothing for women usually accentuates the body's natural curves through wrapping of upper garment lapels or binding with sashes at the waist.
Types include tops (yi) and bottoms (divided further into pants and skirts for both genders, with terminologies chang or qun), and one-piece robes that wrap around the body once or several times (shenyi).
Zhongyi (中衣) or zhongdan (中單): inner garments, mostly white cotton or silk
Shanqun (衫裙): a short coat with a long skirt
Ruqun (襦裙): a top garment with a separate lower garment or skirt
Kuzhe (褲褶): a short coat with trousers
Zhiduo/zhishen (直裰/直身): a Ming dynasty style robe, similar to a zhiju shenyi but with vents at the side and 'stitched sleeves' (i.e. the sleeve cuff is closed save a small opening for the hand to go through)
Daopao/Fusha (道袍/彿裟): Taoist/Buddhist priests' full dress ceremonial robes. Note: Daopao doesn't necessarily means Taoist's robe, it actually is a style of robe for scholars. The Taoist version of Daopao is called De Luo (得罗), and Buddhist version is called Hai Qing (海青).
Two traditional forms of ruqun (襦裙), a type of Han Chinese clothing worn primarily by women. Cuffs and sleeves on the upper garment may be tighter or looser depending on style. A short skirt or weighted braid (with weight provided by a jade or gold pendant) is sometimes worn to improve aesthetics or comfort of the basic ruqun.
A typical set of clothing can consist of two or three layers. The first layer of clothing is mostly the zhongyi (中衣) which is typically the inner garment much like a Western T-shirt and pants. The next layer is the main layer of clothing which is mostly closed at the front. There can be an optional third layer which is often an overcoat called a zhaoshan which is open at the front. More complicated sets can have many more layers.
For footwear, white socks and black cloth shoes (with white soles) are the norm, but in the past, shoes may have a front face panel attached to the tip of the shoes. Daoists, Buddhists and Confucians may have white stripe chevrons.
A piece of ancient Chinese clothing can be "made semi-formal" by the addition of the following appropriate items:
Chang (裳): a pleated skirt
Bixi (蔽膝): long front cloth panel attached from the waist belt
Zhaoshan (罩衫): long open fronted coat
Guan (冠) or any formal hats
Generally, this form of wear is suitable for meeting guests or going to meetings and other special cultural days. This form of dress is often worn by the nobility or the upper-class as they are often expensive pieces of clothing, usually made of silks and damasks. The coat sleeves are often deeper than the shenyi to create a more voluminous appearance.
In addition to informal and semi-formal wear, there is a form of dress that is worn only at confucian rituals (like important sacrifices or religious activities) or by special people who are entitled to wear them (such as officials and emperors). Formal wear are usually long wear with long sleeves except Xuanduan.
Formal garments may include:
Xuanduan (玄端): a very formal dark robe; equivalent to the Western white tie
The most formal dress civilians can wear is the xuanduan (sometimes called yuanduan 元端), which consists of a black or dark blue top garment that runs to the knees with long sleeve (often with white piping), a bottom red chang, a red bixi (which can have a motif and/or be edged in black), an optional white belt with two white streamers hanging from the side or slightly to the front called peishou (佩綬), and a long black guan. Additionally, wearers may carry a long jade gui (圭) or wooden hu (笏) tablet (used when greeting royalty). This form of dress is mostly used in sacrificial ceremonies such as Ji Tian (祭天) and Ji Zu (祭祖), etc., but is also appropriate for state occasions. The xuanduan is basically a simplified version of full court dress of the officials and the nobility.
Men and women in xuanduan formal wear at a Confucian ceremony in China
Those in the religious orders wear a plain middle layer garment followed by a highly decorated cloak or coat. Taoists have a 'scarlet gown' (絳袍) which is made of a large cloak sewn at the hem to create very long deep sleeves used in very formal rituals. They are often scarlet or crimson in color with wide edging and embroidered with intricate symbols and motifs such as the eight trigrams and the yin and yang Taiji symbol. Buddhist have a cloak with gold lines on a scarlet background creating a brickwork pattern which is wrapped around over the left shoulder and secured at the right side of the body with cords. There may be further decorations, especially for high priests.
Those in academia or officialdom have distinctive gowns (known as changfu 常服 in court dress terms). This varies over the ages but they are typically round collared gowns closed at the front. The most distinct feature is the headwear which has 'wings' attached. Only those who passed the civil examinations are entitled to wear them, but a variation of it can be worn by ordinary scholars and laymen and even for a groom at a wedding (but with no hat).
Highest rank official's Mang Pao (蟒袍, lit. "The Python Robe", named so because only royals could wear dragons, thus the modified 'pythons' [with four claws instead of a dragon's five] for prestigious officials.)
Official's Changfu (Ming dynasty)
Lower rank official's Changfu (Ming dynasty)
Official dressed with different colored Changfu. (Ming dynasty)
Court dress in a court assembly during the Wanli Era (Ming dynasty)
Court dress is the dress worn at very formal occasions and ceremonies that are in the presence of a monarch (such as an enthronement ceremony). The entire ensemble of clothing can consist of many complex layers and look very elaborate. Court dress is similar to the xuanduan in components but have additional adornments and elaborate headwear. They are often brightly colored with vermillion and blue. There are various versions of court dress that are worn for certain occasions.
Traditional Han clothing comprises all traditional clothing classifications of the Han Chinese with a recorded history of more than three millennia until the end of the Ming Dynasty. From the beginning of its history, Han clothing (especially in elite circles) was inseparable from silk, supposedly discovered by the Yellow Emperor's consort, Leizu. The Shang dynasty (c. 1600 BC – 1000 BC), developed the rudiments of historical Chinese clothing; it consisted of a yi, a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash, and a narrow, ankle-length skirt, called chang, worn with a bixi, a length of fabric that reached the knees. Vivid primary colors and green were used, due to the degree of technology at the time.
The dynasty to follow the Shang, the Western Zhou dynasty, established a strict hierarchical society that used clothing as a status meridian, and inevitably, the height of one’s rank influenced the ornateness of a costume. Such markers included the length of a skirt, the wideness of a sleeve and the degree of ornamentation. In addition to these class-oriented developments, Han Chinese clothing became looser, with the introduction of wide sleeves and jade decorations hung from the sash which served to keep the yi closed. The yi was essentially wrapped over, in a style known as jiaoling youren, or wrapping the right side over before the left, because of the initially greater challenge to the right-handed wearer (people of Zhongyuan discouraged left-handedness like many other historical cultures, considering it unnatural, barbarian, uncivilized, and unfortunate).
Han Chinese clothing has influenced many of its neighbouring cultural costumes, such as the Japanesekimono and yukata, and the VietnameseÁo giao lĩnh. Elements of Han Chinese clothing have also been influenced by neighbouring cultural costumes, especially by the nomadic peoples to the north, and Central Asian cultures to the west by way of the Silk Road.
The Tang dynasty represents a golden age in China's history, where the arts, sciences and economy were thriving. Female dress and personal adornments in particular reflected the new visions of this era, which saw unprecedented trade and interaction with cultures and philosophies alien to Chinese borders. Although it still continues the clothing of its predecessors such as Han and Sui dynasties, fashion during the Tang was also influenced by its cosmopolitan culture and arts. Where previously Chinese women had been restricted by the old Confucian code to closely wrapped, concealing outfits, female dress in the Tang dynasty gradually became more relaxed, less constricting and even more revealing. The Tang dynasty also saw the ready acceptance and syncretisation with Chinese practice, of elements of foreign culture by the Han Chinese. The foreign influences prevalent during Tang China included cultures from Gandhara, Turkistan, Persia and Greece. The stylistic influences of these cultures were fused into Tang-style clothing without any one particular culture having especial prominence.
Song and Yuan dynasty
Han clothing in Yuan dynasty
Some features of Tang clothing carried into the Song dynasty such as court customs. Song court customs often use red color for their garments with black leather shoe and hats. Collar edges and sleeve edges of all clothes that have been excavated were decorated with laces or embroidered patterns. Such clothes were decorated with patterns of peony, camellia, plum blossom, and lily, etc. Song Empresses often had three to five distinctive jewelry-like marks on their face (two side of the cheek, other two next to the eyebrows and one on the forehead). Although some of Song clothing have similarities with previous dynasties, some unique characteristics separate it from the rest. Many of Song Clothing goes into Yuan and Ming.
One of the common clothing styles for woman during the Song dynasty was Beizi (褙子), which were usually regarded as shirt or jacket and could be matched with Ru or Ku. There are two size of Beizi: the short one is crown rump length and the long one extended to the knees.
According to the Veritable Records of Hongwu Emperor (太祖實錄, a detailed official account written by court historians recording the daily activities of Hongwu Emperor during his reign.), shortly after the founding of Ming dynasty, "on the Renzi day in the second month of the first year of Hongwu era (Feb 29th, 1368 CE), Hongwu emperor decreed that all fashions of clothing and headwear shall be restored to the standard of Tang, all citizens shall gather their hairs on top of their heads, and officials shall wear the Wu Sha Mao (black-cloth hats), round-collar robes, belts, and black boots." ("洪武元年二月壬子...至是，悉命復衣冠如唐制，士民皆束髮於頂，官則烏紗帽，圓領袍，束帶，黑靴。") This attempt to restore the entire clothing system back to the way it was during the Tang dynasty was a gesture from the founding emperor that signified the restoration of Han tradition and cultural identity after defeating the Yuan dynasty. However, fashionable Mongol attire, items and hats were still sometimes worn by early Ming royals such as Emperors Hongwu and Zhengde.
The Ming dynasty also brought many changes to its clothing, as many dynasties do. They implemented metal buttons and the collar changed from the symmetrical type of the Song dynasty (960-1279) to the main circular type. Compared with the costume of the Tang dynasty (618-907), the proportion of the upper outer garment to lower skirt in the Ming dynasty was significantly inverted. Since the upper outer garment was shorter and the lower garment was longer, the jacket gradually became longer to shorten the length of the exposed skirt. Young ladies in the mid-Ming dynasty usually preferred to dress in these waistcoats. The waistcoats in the Qing dynasty were transformed from those of the Yuan dynasty. During the Ming dynasty, Confucian codes and ideals were popularized and it had a significant effect on clothing.
Ten Officials Who Passed The Imperial Exam In The Same Year of 1464 (甲申十同年圖), painted in 1503 during one of their reunions. The presence of yapai (牙牌, lit. 'Tusk Card' or 'Ivory Plaque')—the rectangular device hanging from each official's left waist, made from ivory, engraved with the wearer's department, position, rank and instructions, worn by officials who were granted passage into the Forbidden City to have an audience with the emperor, similar to a visitor's badge—implies that this scene was painted shortly after such a meeting had taken place.
During the Ming dynasty, both civil and military officials were divided into nine Ranks (品), each Rank was further subdivided into Primary (正) and Secondary (從) so there were technically eighteen Ranks, with First Rank Primary (正一品) being the highest and the Ninth Rank Secondary (從九品) the lowest. Officials of the upper four Ranks (from First Rank Primary to Fourth Rank Secondary) were entitled to wear the red robes; mid-Ranks (Fifth Rank Primary to Seventh Rank Secondary) to wear blue robes and the lower Ranks (Eighth Rank Primary to Ninth Rank Secondary) to wear green robes. In addition, each exact Rank was indicated by a picture of unique animal (either real or legendary) sewn on a square-shaped patch in both the front and back of the robe, so fellow officials could identify someone's Rank from afar. (Use the chart below for comprehensive facts; for more information see Mandarin square)
A yapai (牙牌) from the Ming dynasty as mentioned in the painting above, this is the side engraved with instructions: the smaller text on the right reads "Officials who come to pay tribute [to the emperor] shall wear this card, those found without one will be prosecuted by law. Those who borrow or lend this card will be punished equally." The larger text on the left reads "Not required [to be checked] when outside the capital [Beijing]."
Chief Servant at the Ministry of Royal Theatres 教坊司奉鑾 Chief Officer at the Headquarter of Official Travels 會同館大使
Ninth Rank Secondary 從九品
Warden 司獄 Marshal 巡檢
Han and Manchu clothing coexisted during Qing dynasty
Han Chinese clothing in early Qing
When the Manchus established the Qing dynasty, the authorities issued decrees having Han Chinese men to wear Manchurian attire and shave their hair into pigtails. The resistances against the hair shaving policy were suppressed.
Some Han civilian men also voluntarily adopted Manchu clothing like Changshan on their own free will. By the late Qing, not only officials and scholars, but a great many commoners as well, started to wear Manchu attire. As a result, Ming dynasty style clothing was even retained in some places in China during the Xinhai Revolution.
During the Qing dynasty, Manchu style clothing was only required for scholar-official elite such as the Eight Banners members and Han men serving as government officials. For women's clothing, Manchu and Han fashions of clothing coexisted. Throughout the Qing dynasty, Han women continued to wear clothing from Ming dynasty. Neither Taoist priests nor Buddhist monks were required to wear the queue by the Qing; they continued to wear their traditional hairstyles, completely shaved heads for Buddhist monks, and long hair in the traditional Chinese topknot for Taoist priests. To avoid wearing the queue and shaving the forehead, the Ming loyalist Fu Shan became a Daoist priest after the Qing took over Taiyuan.
It was Han Chinese defectors who carried out massacres against people refusing to wear the queue. Li Chengdong, a Han Chinese general who had served the Ming but defected to the Qing, ordered troops to carry out three separate massacres in the city of Jiading within a month, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. The third massacre left few survivors. The three massacres at Jiading District are some of the most infamous, with estimated death tolls in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.Jiangyin also held out against about 10,000 Qing troops for 83 days. When the city wall was finally breached on October 9, 1645, the Qing army, led by the Han Chinese Ming defector Liu Liangzuo (劉良佐), who had been ordered to "fill the city with corpses before you sheathe your swords," massacred the entire population, killing between 74,000 and 100,000 people.
Han Chinese soldiers in 1645 under Han General Hong Chengchou forced the queue on the people of Jiangnan while Han people were initially paid silver to wear the queue in Fuzhou when it was first implemented.
Taoist priests continued to wear Taoist traditional dress and did not adopt Qing Manchu dress. After the Qing was toppled in the 1911 Xinhai revolution, the Taoist dress and topknot was adopted by the ordinary gentry and "Society for Restoring Ancient Ways" (Fuguhui) on the Sichuan and Hubei border where the White Lotus and Gelaohui operated.
During the late Qing dynasty, the Vietnamese envoy to Qing China were still wearing the official attire in Ming dynasty style. Some of the locals recognised their clothing, yet the envoy received both amusement and ridicules from those who didn’t. The "Vietnamese" envoy sent to the Qing was an ethnic Chinese descended from Minh Hương (Ming loyalists) who settled in Vietnam when the Ming ended.
^Shaorong Yang (2004). Traditional Chinese Clothing Costumes, Adornments & Culture. Long River Press. p. 7. ISBN978-1-59265-019-4. Men's clothing in the Qing Dyansty consisted for the most part of long silk growns and the so-called "Mandarin" jacket, which perhaps achieved their greatest popularity during the latter Kangxi Period to the Yongzheng Period. For women's clothing, Manchu and Han systems of clothing coexisted.
^Trần Quang Đức (2013). Ngàn năm áo mũ(PDF). Nhã Nam. p. 31. Retrieved 1 January 2018. 清朝承平日久…唯衣服之製度不改，滿俗終乏雅觀…自清朝入帝中國，四方薙髮變服，二百年來，人已慣耳目[…]不曾又識初來華夏樣矣。我國使部來京，穿戴品服，識者亦有竊羨華風，然其不智者，多群然笑異，見襆頭網巾衣帶,便皆指為倡優樣格，胡俗之移人，一至浩歎如此