The Evolution of Clothes in China from the 19th Century to the Middle 20th Century

Researchers have explicitly noted that clothing or the mode of dressing signifies or illustrates an understanding of modernity as an extension of ancestral tradition. Over 100 years ago, the people of China clothed in outfits that were very different from those dressed nowadays (“Clothing,” 2020). Chinese men are normally robed in a short coat and long free-moving garment. The upper-class females, who were hardly ever seen in public, dressed in a long coat over a pleated skirt. It is not always simple to differentiate between ordinary clothes and stylish clothes. Particularly, these days, couturiers repeatedly use cheap and well-designed clothing materials for creativity.

This paper will concentrate on the features of qualitative changes in Chinese clothing and their connection with Imperial, Socialist and Republican Eras. Further, the paper will discuss how clothes connect with important cultural matters like the edge between custom and transformational mode of dressing. A narrative report on the past events in China illustrated that clothes served as a symbol in social relationships to denote social class, political loyalty, and, ironically, individual personality. Next, the study will address the aspects of transformation and persistence in the Chinese mode of dressing from Imperial to Republican China. In what follows, the paper will discuss how dress expresses important cultural matters like the line between folklore and transformation, East and West, global and local.

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Clothing conveys a certain message, different from that in verbal communication or writing. What it expresses has, as a rule, to do with the self, primarily social identity, as it is shaped by assessments of cultural attitude to sexual category, social ranking, and age (Finnane, 1996). Clothing historiographers outline the history of clothes by examining various sources. These sources signify that though daily outfits do not transform as fast as trendy dresses, they still change constantly.

Brief History of China
In Chinese history, clothes act as a sign of social grading, class, political commitment, and personal identity as well. From the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, China experienced a social structure transformation from a feudal society to a democratic one. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was the last imperial dynasty in China (Hucker, 1995). Established by the Manchus, it was the succeeding non-Han Chinese empire. The country kept its unique minority lifestyle (Perkins, 2000). During the 19th century, the territory was changed from within and posed to danger by imperialism. The earliest Opium battle (1840) led to the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) that forced China to open doors to the rest of the world (Polachek, 1992). Before the revolution in 1911 that overthrew Qing’s imperial rule, the empire had faced challenges not only from the western world but also from the violent movements within the empire, such as the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), the Self-Strengthening movement, and the Hundred Day’s Reform (1899).

Traditional Chinese Clothing
The mode of clothing in China could not merely change over a long period of time, but it regularly changed drastically due to Dynastic occurrences or the Imperial ruling of a new sovereign. In prehistoric feudal culture, the Chinese social status could simply be discerned from their everyday dressing code, particularly for the common people and the highborn. Among the people with the high status, only the monarch was allowed to wear the yellow color of dress with the dragon badge.

The Roles of Clothing
Since the ancient period, the clothing style of Chinese people has changed beyond recognition. Many questions have been raised as to why humans began to wear clothes. One of the primary theories is called the supposed diffidence or infamy theory. This hypothesis is based on the biblical story of the beginning of human existence. In the first book of the Bible, the first inhabitants of the earth, Adam and Eve, found out they were unclothed after the serpent had tricked them to eat an apple from the tree of knowledge (Ashelford, 1983). 

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