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Introduction of Chinese Clothing

By Jiang Yike

The authour is webmaster of "Oriental Style"


The Chinese style of Clothing has a long history going back several thousand years. According to legend, Leizu(嫘祖), the wife of Huang-Di(黃帝), started raising silkworms in captivity and invented a way to produce silk cloth. Huang-Di designed a beautiful type of clothing with the silk cloth. This style of clothing became the national garments of Huaxia(華夏). The garments became known as Chinese Clothing.

In the Zhou(周) Dynasty which existed from the 11th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C., Chinese Clothing took on different appearances according to different social status. Qi(齊) State was an affluent country and the people loved beautiful clothing, so Qi became known as “the land of beautiful clothing”(冠帶衣履天下).

In the Tang(唐) Dynasty, the Chinese style of clothing was very popular at the time because of the great power of the Tang Empire. Ancient Chinese clothing had a direct effect on the clothing of other Oriental cultures. The Korean style of clothing was modeled from the court style of the Tang Dynasty. The Japanese Kimono was modeled after the normal national clothing of Han(漢) Nation. Wang Wei(王維), a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, said the origin of Japanese-style clothing was the clothing style of the Han Dynasty, a great dynasty of ancient China.

Huaxia Clothing (華夏衣冠, or called Han Clothing, 漢服) has been known as the Chinese style of clothing for several thousand years. This kind of garments were representative of ancient Oriental Civilization spanning millenniums. In the 17th century, the Ming(明) Dynasty (the last empire of Han Nation), was destroyed. With that destruction, came the demise of Huaxia culture which included Chinese styles of clothing, Huaxia hairstyles, Huaxia and Huaxia Soul.

In China, there are so many beautiful things of antiquity that can only be known from the study and research of these ancient times.

This is a painting about a tribal meeting of the primeval Huaxia Nation. When Egypt and Babylon created illustrious civilizations, our nation was still uncivilized. However, the heroes of our nation led their people to strive for living, and the dawn of the Oriental Civilization was coming.

I'd like to recall the history of the Jiang(姜) Clan, because my surname is Jiang. Jiang is one of the earliest surnames of Huaxia. Yan-Di(炎帝) was a great chief and the brother of Huang-Di. He lived by the Jiang River(姜水), so he adopted Jiang as his own surname. Yan-Di was the first ancestor of Jiang Clan. During the times of the five Di (帝, Di was the titile of the respected chiefs of tribal alliances in the far remote times, and the title of the supreme god in Huaxia myths), the Jiang Clan and the Ji(姬) Clan (which was the clan of Huang-Di) often fought for the authority of tribal alliances. Many Chinese myths were produced during this time of ancient history, such as Gonggong(共工) indignantly lamming his head against Mount Buzhou(不周山), and Xingtian(刑天) whirling his shield and broad ax. Gonggong and Xingtian were tragic heroes of Jiang Clan. The Jiang, Ji and other clans are what formed Huaxia Nation. In the Xia(夏) and Shang(商) Dynasties, the heroes of the Jiang Clan ruled many tribes of Huaxia Nation. In the last days of the Shang Dynasty, the Jiang and Ji Clans forged an alliance against the Shang Dynasty. When the Ji Clan created the Zhou Dynasty, the kings of Zhou feoffed the statesmen and generals of Jiang Clan for their great achievements. Qi, Lv(呂), Shen(申), Xu(許), Xiang(向) and Ji(紀) were the six states of Jiang Clan.

In the days of the Zhou Dynasty, there was the Qi State in the east of the Central Plains(中原), which was called the Eastern Xia(東夏). In China today, this area is known as the north of the Shandong(山東) Province. There is a city named Zibo(淄博), which was then called Yingqiu(營丘), had been known as Linzi(臨淄) since the last days of the Spring-Autumn(春秋) Period. This city was the capital of Qi in the Pre-Qin(先秦) Period. The city of Zibo is proud of their Qi Culture. So much so that the city celebrates two festivals, the Festival of Qi Culture and the Sacrificial Ceremony for Jiang Clan. Both festivals reflect the people's pride in their rich and glorious heritage.

These pictures are the stills of the TV drama “States of the Eastern Zhou”(東周列國). In the left still, the men were the two preeminent statesmen of ancient China, Qi Huan-Gong(齊桓公) and Guan Zhong(管仲). They were golden partners, and we can know about the details from a great book "Guanzi"(管子). The man in the right still is Jin Jing-Gong(晉景公), the monarch of Jin(晉) State. At the times(599 B.C.-581 B.C.) of Jin Jing-Gong, Jin State defeated two strong states, Chu(楚) State and Qi(齊) State. Then Jin became the strongest country and controlled the hegemony in a long time.

Qi State was created as the fief of Jiang Tai-Gong(姜太公) who was a great statesman and strategist in 11th century B.C.. Qi State was near the sea, and it attached great importance and significance to trade. The hard working people of this open country built the Silk Road by the sea. Qi State executed democratic policies so there were many different thoughts and systems of pluralism within the country. Qi State became the most accessible and wealthiest one of Huaxia States. In this state, there was the first hegemon, Qi Huan-Gong, in the Spring-Autumn Period. During the long times of the Warring-States(戰國) Period, Qi was only country which Qin(秦) State was friendly with. In 288 B.C., Qin Zhao-King(秦昭王), who was the king of Qin, called himself "Western Di"(西帝) (the term "Di" was the greatest title that a person could have in remote antiquity), and Qi Min-King(齊閔王) who was the king of Qi called himself "Eastern Di"(東帝).

In the early days of the Spring-Autumn Period, Qi Huan-Gong upheld the principle of respecting Zhou King and repelling other nations(尊王攘夷), and assembled many states of Huaxia nine times. In the times of Qi Huan-Gong, the Huaxia states united as one. Differing from other hegemons, he had an imposing reputation because of his virtues and contributions. After his death, Qi State lost hegemony. In order to recapture hegemony, Qi State which was a state of Eastern Xia waged long-term wars against the states of Central Xia(中夏). In the times of Qi Jing-Gong(齊景公), Qi State was supported by many states of Central Xia becasue of the brilliant diplomacy of Qi Jing-Gong. After Jing-Gong's death, there were civil strifes in Qi State, and Qi lost hegemony again. In the early days of the Warring-States Period, there were upheavals in Central Xia and Eastern Xia. In Central Xia, Jin(晉) State, which was the largest state and the long-term hegemon, separated into three countries in 403 B.C.. In Eastern Xia, the Jiang Family which had ruled Qi State for 700 years lost sovereignty and the Tian(田) Family became the ruler of Qi in 386 B.C.. Qi State started the period of Tian-Qi(田齊). This family established the Academic Palace of Jixia(稷下學宮) and encouraged contention of different schools of thoughts. So Qi became the most democratic state at that time. In the later stage of the Warring-States Period, Qi executed a policy towards peace. The army of Qi hadn't fought for 50 years. When the army of Qin State attacked Qi, the several hundred thousand armymen of Qi State were routed quickly. Cherishing the memory of their own motherland, the people of Qi State wrote a poem named "The Song of Pines and Cypresses"(松柏之歌).

The people of Qi State enjoyed dressing in beautiful clothing. Because of this tradition Qi State came to be known as “The Land of Beautiful Clothing”. Nowadays, as a way to honor the traditions of their ancestors, Shandong Province holds the Festival of Qi Culture. The beautiful clothing of Eastern Xia of the past reappears onto the old and great land.


The two upper photos are stills from the TV drama “The Legend of Contending for Hegemony”(爭霸傳奇), and the two lower photos are stills from the TV drama "Goujian, The King of Yue"(越王勾踐). The man in the left upper photo is Fan Li(范蠡) who was a famous wise minister of Yue(越) State during the final days of the Spring-Autumn Period. On the right upper photo, is a man named Fuchai(夫差), the last king of Wu(吳) State. The woman beside him is Xishi(西施), one of the four most famous beauties in ancient China. The man in the left lower photo is Goujian(勾踐), the king of Yue(越) State. On the right lower photo, the left woman is Xishi, and the right man is Goujian. In modern times Wu State is Jiangsu(江蘇) Province, and Yue State is Zhejiang(浙江) Province. In the later days of the Spring-Autumn Period, Wu State learned to use chariots in battle, and quickly became a very strong country. This state was very combative and was close with Jin State because both of them belonged to the Ji Clan. Under instigation of Jin State, Wu State almost captured the whole of Chu(楚) State. In the battle of Ailing(艾陵), the army of Qi State was almost completely annihilated and most of their senior officers almost died. Yue State was close with Chu State, so Wu and Yue were enemies. In a battle, Helu(闔廬), the king of Wu was hurt seriously by the army of Goujian, and eventually died. Fuchai, the son of Helu, revenged his father's death and seized Yue State. In order to restore Yue State, Goujian slept on brushwood and tasted gall(臥薪嘗膽) in order to make himself strong. He often flattered Fuchai. Fuchai thought he was trustworthy, and restored Yue State. When Goujian returned to his country, with the help of Fan Li, he drilled the troops with excercises of great exertion. In order to disorganize Wu State, Goujian gave a very beautiful woman to Fuchai. The woman was Xishi who loved Fan Li deeply. For her motherland, she willingly went to Wu State. By her beauty and cunning, Xishi caused Fuchai to distrust Wu Zixu(伍子胥) who was a wise and loyal minister, and eventually Wu Zixu was forced to kill himself. Since then, Fuchai trusted a treacherous minister with an important position. Xishi colluded with this minister, and Fuchai was hoodwinked by them. Soon, Fuchai’s ambitions grew higher and higher. He actually wanted to take the place of Jin State and become the hegemon. In order to realize his goal, during a meeting of Huangchi(黃池), Fuchai took his elite army and forced Jin State to recognize his hegemony. But at that time, Yue State attacked Wu State suddenly, and Taizi You(太子友), who was the heir of Fuchai, was killed. In later battles, the army of Fuchai was often defeated. After nine years, Wu State was captured by Goujian, and Fuchai eventually killed himself. At this time, the mission of Xishi was complete eventually, but she couldn’t meet her true love again. Goujian was a guileful and cruel man, and he worried that Xishi knew too many important secrets. Because of that, he killed Xishi. Goujian said that Xishi was a baleful woman who could cause a state to perish and he must revenge Wu Zixu and Fuchai. Since then, Yue State became a very strong country which was respected by many states of the Central Plains. After the death of Goujia, his sons contended for the throne, and Yue State became very disorganized.


These pictures are some stills from the TV drama “States of the Eastern Zhou”(東周列國). In these pictures, the man on the left is Wei Wen-Hou(魏文侯), the first monarch of Wei(魏) State, and the woman on the right is his wife, Ziyi(子夷). In early days of the Warring-States Period, Wei State separated from Jin State which was the largest country in the Spring-Autumn Period. In 403 B.C. it was recognized as a feudal state by Zhou Weilie-King(周威烈王), the supreme monarch of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

In the Pre-Qin Times, clothing was generally made from kudzu(葛) cloth or hemp(麻) cloth. Silks were too expensive, and they were considered luxuries. In Lu(魯) State of the Spring-Autumn Period, Jisun Xingfu(季孫行父) was the minister in power, but his concubines didn’t dress in silks. A minister said, “You have been the minister in power in the times of two monarchs, but your concubines don’t dress in silks. This is not honorable for the state.” Jisun Xingfu answered, “The honor of the state is by way of its virtues, it isn’t that its concubines dress in silks.”

In the picture above is the famous Korean actress, Kim Hee-sun(金喜善). She wore Chinese Clothing in the movie "Myth"(神話). This movie is about the mystery of the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin(秦) Dynasty. Qin State was created feudally in 770 B.C., because Qin Xiang-Gong(秦襄公), the chief of Qin tribe, escorted Zhou Ping-Wang(周平王) to migrate the east. In the Warring-States Period, Qin State attached importance on military development, and became the strongest country militarily. In the 3rd century B.C., Qin State annexed other six states and built Qin Empire in 221 B.C.. Ying Zheng(嬴政), the king of Qin State, became the first emperor of China. He abolished the system of conferring posthumous titles(謚號) that ministers evaluated monarches by. He called himself the First Emperor(始皇帝), and he hoped his empire would descend to all generations of his offsprings. In order to resist Hun(匈奴), he ordered several hundred thousand people to build the Great Wall(長城) in 214 B.C.. He sent an army of three hundred thousand men to capture the Great Bend of the Yellow River(河套), a very fertile area from Hun. The right picture is a still from the TV drama "Qin First-Emperor"(秦始皇). The man pictured is Qin First-Emperor. He commanded several hundred thousand people to build Epang Palace(阿房宮) and his mausoleum. Nowadays in the square that is in front of his mausoleum, performers re-enact the memorial ceremony for the first emperor every day. Performers wear the authentic clothing of Qin Dynasty, and reappear in the martial style of Qin. The Great Wall and the Bingmayong (兵馬俑, clay figures of warriors and horses buried with this emperor) are famous all over the world.


These pictures are stills from the TV drama "Han Wu The Great"(漢武大帝). In the upper left still, the man is Han Wu-Emperor(漢武帝) who was regnant from 140 B.C. to 87 B.C.). The upper right picture is the still of the ceremony that Han Wu-Emperor conferred the title "Empress" to his wife Wei Zifu(衛子夫). In the lower left still, the woman is Pingyang-Princess(平陽公主), the elder sister of Han Wu-Emperor. In the lower right still, the old woman is Dou Taihou(竇太后), the mother of Han Jing-Emperor(漢景帝) and the grandmother of Han Wu-Emperor, a important character of the early days of the Western Han(西漢) Dynasty. Han Wu-Emperor was the fifth emperor of Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) and one of the greatest emperors in China. During his reign, the Central Nation(中國) became one of the most powerful countries in the world. He unleashed wars on Hun, Joseon (朝鮮, this country of the north of modern-days Korea Peninsula was built by a general Wei Man(衛滿) of Yan(燕) State in the early days of the Western Han Dynasty), Dawan (大宛, modern-days Fergana), Yue (越, a nation in the south of modern-days China) and Qiang (羌, a nation in the west of modern-days China). The armies of Han Empire subjugated the latter four ones and weakened Hun seriously. This emperor pay much attention to establish friendly relations with nations of Central Asia and Western Asia such as Persia, Daxia (大夏, Bactria) and Dayuezhi (大月氏, Yueh-chih, which built Kushan Kingdom afterwards in the first century A.D.. By way of wars, the Silk Road was cleaved onto the land, and it was safeguarded. By wars and deterrence, the Central Nation established hegemony in the Eastern Asia and the Central Asia.

In Han Dynasty, the Huaxia Nation gained great honor. Since then, Huaxia(華夏) has been called "Han"(漢) by other nations. Though Korean and Japanese learned from the post Southern Dynasties(南朝), Sui(隋) Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, they modeled themselves more on the styles and systems of the Han Dynasty. So the civilization of Han Empire, Korea and Japan is known as the Civilization of Eastern Asia.

Huaxia Nation started to plant cotton and produce cotton fabrics in the Western Han Dynasty. Silks were exported to the West. And in the Eastern Dynasty, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius sent envoys to present Han Huan-Emperor(漢桓帝) with many western treasures by way of the sea in A.D. 166. This indicated that a relationship of the two great empires was established.


These pictures are stills from the TV drama "the Times of Zhenguan"(貞觀之治). "Zhenguan"(貞觀) was the year-title(年號) of the reign of Tang Tai-Zong(唐太宗) who was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty and an excellent statesman. This TV drama is about the history of the reign of Tang Tai-Zong.

In the Sui(隋) and Tang Dynasties, the round-neck garment(圓領袍) became the habiliment of officials. The round-neck garment was from the Middle Asia, and it started to be introduced to Chinese people in the Northern Dynasties(北朝) which were built by foreign nations. Yang Jian(楊堅), who belonged to Huaxia Nation but became the prime minister of the Northern Zhou(北周) Dynasty, dethroned the last emperor of the Northern Zhou, and built the Sui Dynasty in A.D. 581. In 589, the Sui Dynasty annexed the Chen(陳) Dynasty which was the last one of the Southern Dynasties(南朝) which were built by Huaxia Nation. In 618, the Tang Dynasty took the place of the Sui Dynasty. In the north, because of the long time(A.D. 317-581) of the reign of foreign nations, the northern people of Huaxia were influenced by many customs and cultures of other nations such as round-neck garments, chairs and tall-footed beds(床). However, in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the orthodox culture and customs of Huaxia Nation remained mainly as before such as kneel-sit(跪坐) and low bed(榻). Nowadays, Japanese still keep kneel-sit and low bed, because they learned them from the Tang Dynasty.

Many things of the Civilization of Tang Dynasty were different from the Civilization of Han Dynasty, because the Tang Empire imported and accepted many foreign things. From tri-colored glazed pottery, we can see many pottery figurines wearing western style clothing. Foreign sports were welcome by the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty. Noble ladies liked polo matches. Yang Yuhuan(楊玉環), a famous beautiful but tragic woman, was a excellent polo player. The Civilization of the Tang Empire is regarded as the Civilization of Central Asia. Japan and Korea learned from the Central Nation, mainly from the Tang Dynasty, but many of the things they learned were styles and systems of the Han Dynasty. I believe this shows the Civilization of the Han Empire had greater charm to the nations around it.


These pictures are stills from the movie “The Night Banquet”(夜宴). This movie is set in the period of Five Dynasties and Ten Countries(五代十國). From A.D. 907 to 979, was a time that was very tumultuous, with many wars. Many families became glorious during this time, but declined soon afterward. This period was between the preceding Tang Dynasty and the following Song(宋) Dynasty. The people of this period kept the clothing style of Tang Dynasty and its many customs. Just as the empress in this movie, the noble women during this time liked to play polo. They also enjoyed riding horses and taking a leisurely stroll. Middle Asian cultures and customs influenced them very deeply. But, there weren’t such women around any longer because Confucianism's views had been hardened into stone, and a woman’s individuality was purposely oppressed. This hardened trait became obvious since the Song Dynasty. Confucian classic works include Poetic Classics(詩經), a collection of 305 poems of Zhou Dynasty. Many of these poems show open and amorous feelings. The Song Dynasty’s Confucianists though, couldn’t accept these feelings and they distorted the meanings of these lines. Because of the natural romantic character of the Huaxia people, the women in the Pre-Qin Period could show themselves openly and could love bravely without worry. But the Qin Dynasty oppressed and destroyed this type of open thought and feeling. The women in Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties were influenced by foreign nations, so they had different customs of open thoughts and free feelings.

The two pictures above are stills from the TV drama “The Uncanny Cases of Song"(大宋奇案) (Part I). This drama is about a well-known uncanny case of the Northern Song(北宋) Dynasty. In the TV drama, Song Zhen-Zong (宋真宗, the third emperor of the Northern Song Empire, who was on the throne from A.D. 997 to 1022) loved a young beautiful woman named Li Yu(李玉). Song Zhen-Zong let her be one of his concubines. One of Song Zhen-Zong's concubines was Liu E(劉娥), a very influential concubine. She couldn’t bear a son for the emperor, so she was worried that she would be replaced by Li Yu. Yet though she thought this way, the emperor didn’t dislike Liu E any less. They actually loved each other deeply even before Song Zhen-Zong became the emperor. But Liu E couldn’t understand the emperor’s heart. When Li Yu was pregnant, Liu E pretended to be pregnant. The day that Li Yu gave birth to a child, Liu E sent her trusted subordinates to get the child by machinations and bribes. They purposely wrapped a dead cat in swaddling clothes, and slandered Li Yu to be connected with misfortune. Song Zhen-Zong was a superstitious emperor and thought this misfortune was bad luck, but he didn’t have the heart to punish Li Yu. Liu E sent subordinates to try to assassinate Li Yu. Upon hearing of this attempt on her life, Li Yu had to leave the imperial palace secretly. Now Liu E wrongly thought Li Yu was dead. Liu E wanted a maidservant to put the son of Li Yu to death, but the maidservant was kind and gave the child to an old minister who was righteous and kind. Liu E pretended to give birth to a child, but in fact, the child was the son of the emperor and a woman who was trusted by Liu E. Because of Liu E's deception, Song Zhen-Zong wrongly thought Liu E bore him a son, so he let Liu E become an empress and the child become his heir. Many years later, the child died accidentally, so ministers suggested to select a royal child to be an heir. With the help of Bao Zheng(包拯) who was a famous upright official, the old minister persuaded a royal member to send the son of Li Yu to the imperial palace as the son of the royal member. The son of Li Yu was a clever boy, and the emperor liked him very much. The child was ordered to be the heir of the emperor. Bao Zheng then told the truth to the emperor. The emperor was very angry, and went to blame Liu E. When the emperor met Liu E, he was angrier and spit blood. Finally, the emperor died, and he never met Li Yu again. The new emperor finally met his real mother Li Yu, and he decided to punish Liu E. But Li Yu was a kind and gentle woman. She forgave Liu E for her evil ways. Liu E didn’t want to live alone and in shame any longer, and she eventually killed herself. For the past thousand years, many people often talk about this story. They remember how some in this beautiful story extolled righteousness and kindness, and condemned evil. They wish all kind persons would have a happy ending.


These pictures are photos of young Chinese people who recognize the importance of restoring authentic Chinese Clothing in modern China. Since the APEC meeting in 2001, more and more young Chinese people have started to think about the kind of clothing that is representative of the great Chinese culture. They have found by exploring the ancient history of the past several thousand years, that their ancestors had the most beautiful clothing. It is this clothing that is called Huaxia Clothing or Han Clothing, which in fact is the authentic and beautiful Chinese Clothing. Recently, young Chinese people started to wonder why there isn’t this kind of clothing being worn and enjoyed in modernday China. By their studies, they became enlightened as if they have been awoken from a deep sleep. In the beginning of their quest, they only knew to how to complain verbally about the absence of this truly important and beautiful part of the own grand history. Gradually they began to think that action works best. So they try their best at publicizing the beauty and importance of Han Clothing. They begin to wear the styles of Han Clothing personally, and enlighten other people including their relatives, friends, schoolmates and others of this important and overlooked part of their history. More and more of the mass media begin to pay attention to the actions of restoring authentic Chinese Clothing. In some local areas, some traditional ritual actions which are held by Chinese officials start to use Han Clothing again. It seems that the restoring of authentic Chinese Clothing will soon be realized to all of China and the world. However, the way to realize authentic Chinese Clothing successfully and completely can have many hardships and dangers because many people of our Han Nation don’t understand the positive actions of restoring authentic Chinese Clothing. Oddly enough, most of the opponents to this important restoration belong to Han Nation herself! Why? They have lost the soul of their ancestors, so they don’t want to accept the style of their ancestors. They aren’t brave enough to know and realize that the real history and culture of China should change their rigescent and unchanging thoughts and ideas. If their ideas can’t be softened and corrected by education, authentic Chinese Clothing won’t be restored successfully and completely. But it is very difficult to change a person’s heart. Therefore, all people who are loyal to our culture of Han Nation must try our best by education and proclaimation, to further the restoration of the pride, the wisdom and the sheer beauty of all aspects of the culture and history of the great Han Nation, especially, her clothing. May our ancestors bless us in our efforts!


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