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Early 20th Century Changes in Chinese Apparel


The first ten years of the 20th century coincided with the last decade of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Boxer Uprising in 1900 against the foreign allied forces prompted the Qing government to make changes in its politics but not in the apparel of state officials. This featured the queue, or pigtail, which all Chinese men wore as a sign of allegiance to Qing rule, and the peacock feathers in officials' hats that gave Westerners such an eccentric impression of people in China and the Far East.

A long gown was a main garment in both the Han and Manchurian costume, and the common people generally wore skullcaps and Indian topi-style hats. Short mandarin jackets with wide sleeves suitable for horse riding, known as magua, became popular during China's last dynasty. Men and women alike also wore the long sleeveless, vest-like garments ornamented with exquisitely embroidered borders that were popular through to the end the dynasty.

Fewer demands were made on women than men to signify through dress their subservience to the Manchu Court. The jewelry and aesthetic tastes of Manchurian and Han women inevitably evolved over the centuries into a Qing women's costume, which was a departure from the Ming mode of surcoat and trousers. There was a custom at that time whereby women from illustrious families wore red and widows and common-born women wore black, embroidered with animal and flower designs. The mandarin stand-up collar also became popular during the 1900s.

The traditional long gown which Manchurian women wore bore similarity to that worn by Han women, but with narrower sleeves and more ornate lace, embroidery and border ornamentation. There were also distinct differences in the hairstyles that Manchurian and Han women wore and in their style of embroidered shoes, as it was not the Manchurian custom to bind women's feet.

Sewing and embroidery skills, featuring more elaborate borders and lace decoration had achieved a delicacy and elegance by the end of the Qing dynasty that compared with the European Rococo style.

History, however, shows that this obsession with richly ornamented apparel reflected the decadence which marked the decline of the Qing and all preceding Chinese dynasties.

Editor: MetalAllen