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Chinese Culture and Art in Movie: The Past and Present of Cheongsam (Qipao)


Few who have seen the film Lust, Cautionwould deny the beauty of lead actress Tang Wei. The cheongsams worn by her character were in perfect harmony with her figure and temperament. These elegant, refined and sexy garments originally enhanced the grace of Chinese women during the 1930s and 1940s. Initially, cheongsam was a traditional long gown worn by the Manchu people in northeast China, regardless of their age, gender and social status. The Manchu ethnic group is also known as qiren, and in the Han language their clothing, cheongsam, is known as qipao (literally “qiren’s gown”). Prior to commencing their rule over China in 1644, Manchu people lived in northeast China and subsisted on grazing, fishing and hunting.

Modern Chinese ladies wear fashionable cheongsam (qipao)

An ethnic group known for expert horsemanship, they engaged in frequent wars with other ethnic groups and led a nomadic life. To protect themselves from gale, sand, and scorching sun, they wore loose and straight garments, quite different from the long gowns of the Han, whose culture centered on farming. During their rule, the Manchu drew more on Han styles as time went on and their garb gradually segregated by genders. Menswear evolved into long gowns, mandarin jackets and trousers. Women’s clothing during this time were still mainly loose-fitting straight dresses. These were the predecessors of the cheongsams.

Ladies of Chinese Imperial Court in Qing Dynasty wear Cheongsam

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