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Two women wear cheongsam in this 1930s Shanghai advertisement.

The cheongsam is a body-hugging (modified in Shanghai) one-piece Chinese dress for women; the male version is the changshan. It is known in Mandarin Chinese as the qípáo (旗袍), qípáor (旗袍儿), Wade-Giles ch'i-p'ao, and is also known in English as a mandarin gown. The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or qipao (chipao) that is most often associated with today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and was made fashionable by socialites and upperclass women.[1]

Contents

Chinese language usage

The English loanword cheongsam comes from chèuhngsàam, the Cantonese pronunciation of the Shanghainese term zǎnze or zansae (長衫, 'long shirt/dress'), by which the original tight-fitting form was first known. The Shanghainese name was somewhat in contrast with usage in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, where chángshān (the Mandarin pronunciation of 長衫) refers to an exclusively male dress (see changshan) and the female version is known as a qipao.

In Hong Kong, where many Shanghai tailors fled to after the Communist takeover of the Mainland, the word chèuhngsàam may refer to either male or female garments. The word keipo (qipao) is either a more formal term for the female chèuhngsàam, or is used for the two-piece cheongsam variant that is popular in China. Traditionally, usage in Western countries mostly followed the original Shanghainese usage and applies the Cantonese-language name cheongsam to a garment worn by women.

History

Ladies of Chinese Imperial Court in Qing Dynasty
A woman in the traditional loose fitting baggy qipao worn with an over jacket

When the Manchu ruled China during the Qing Dynasty, certain social strata emerged. Among them were the Banners (), mostly Manchu, who as a group were called Banner People (旗人 pinyin: qí rén). Manchu women typically wore a one-piece dress that came to be known as the qípáo (旗袍 or banner quilt). The qipao fitted loosely and hung straight down the body. Under the dynastic laws after 1636, all Han Chinese in the banner system were forced to wear a queue and dress in Manchurian qipao instead of traditional Han Chinese clothing (剃发易服), under penalty of death. However after 1644, the Manchu relinquished this edict, allowing the main populace to continue to wear Hanfu, but gradually even they began to wear the qipao and changshan.[2] In fact, only court officials were forbidden from wearing Ming court dress. In the following 300 years, the qipao became the adopted clothing of the Chinese, and was eventually tailored to suit the preferences of the population. Such was its popularity that the garment form survived the political turmoil of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty.

The original qipao was wide and loose. It covered most of the woman's body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes. The baggy nature of the clothing also served to conceal the figure of the wearer regardless of age. With time, though, the qipao were tailored to become more form fitting and revealing. The modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the "standard" qipao, was first developed in Shanghai after 1900, after the Qing Dynasty fell. People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes. Slender and form fitting with a high cut, it contrasted sharply with the traditional qipao. However, it was high-class courtesans and socialites in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time.[3] In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or "long dress" (長衫 = Mandarin: chángshān, Shanghainese: zansae, Cantonese: chèuhngsàam), and it is this name that survives in English as the "cheongsam".

The modernized version is noted for accentuating the figures of women, and as such was popular as a dress for high society. As Western fashions changed, the basic cheongsam design changed too, introducing high-necked sleeveless dresses, bell-like sleeves, and the black lace frothing at the hem of a ball gown. By the 1940s, cheongsam came in a wide variety of fabrics with an equal variety of accessories.

The 1949 Communist Revolution ended the cheongsam and other fashions in Shanghai, but the Shanghainese emigrants and refugees brought the fashion to Hong Kong where it has remained popular. Recently there has been a revival of the Shanghainese cheongsam in Shanghai and elsewhere in Mainland China; the Shanghainese style functions now mostly as a stylish party dress.

Modern use

In the 1950s, women in the workforce in Hong Kong started to wear more functional cheongsam made of wool, twill, and other materials. Most were tailor fitted and often came with a matching jacket. The dresses were a fusion of Chinese tradition with modern styles. Cheongsam were commonly replaced by more comfortable clothing such as sweaters, jeans, business suits and skirts. Due to its restrictive nature, it is now mainly worn as formal wear for important occasions. They are sometimes worn by politicians and film artists in Taiwan and Hong Kong. They are shown in some Chinese movies such as in the 1960s film, The World of Suzie Wong, where actress Nancy Kwan made the cheongsam briefly fashionable in western culture. However, they are sometimes used as Halloween costumes in some western countries. They are also commonly seen in beauty contests, along with swim suits. They are only common in daily living for some people as a uniform.

A modern style cheongsam

Women in video games are often in cheongsam, so cosplay showgirls may wear a cheongsam in show times. These cheongsam usually made of rubber or silk, reflective in color to catch camera focus, with short sleeves and the bottom of the cheongsam to mid-thigh. They are commonly worn with short socks and white shoes.

Some airlines in Mainland China and Taiwan have cheongsam uniforms for their women flight attendants and ground workers such as China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines. They are in a plain color, hemmed to just above the knee, with a close fitting wool suit jacket of the same color as the cheongsam. The workers wear stockings and low heeled shoes. Their working places are often air-conditioned so they remain cool.

A few primary schools and some secondary schools in Hong Kong, especially older schools established by Christian missionaries, use a plain rimmed sky blue cotton and/or dark blue velvet (for winter) cheongsam with the metal school badge right under the stand-up collar to be closed with a metal hook and eye as the official uniform for their female students. The schools which use this standard include True Light Girls' College, St. Paul's Co-educational College, Heep Yunn School, St. Stephen's Girls' College, Ying Wa Girls' School, etc. These cheongsam are usually straight, with no waist shaping, and the cheongsam hem must reach mid-thigh. The cheongsam fit closely to the neck, and the stiff collar is hooked closed, despite the tropical humid and hot weather. Although the skirts have short slits, they are too narrow to allow students to walk in long strides. The seams above the slits often split when walking and are repeatedly sewed. Many schools also require underskirts to be worn with the cheongsam. The underskirt is a white cotton full slip, hemmed slightly shorter than the cheongsam, and are slit at the sides like the cheongsam, although the slits are deeper. A white cotton undershirt is often worn underneath the cheongsam. The cheongsam's length, styling, color and sleeve length varies between schools. Many students feel it an ordeal, yet it is a visible manifestation of the strict discipline that is the hallmark of prestigious secondary schools in Hong Kong and many students and their parents like that. In summer wearing this for a school day would be sweaty and un-hygienic. Some rebellious students express their dissatisfaction with this tradition by wearing their uniform with the stand-up collar intentionally left unhooked or hemmed above their knees. The Ying Wa and True Light Schools have set questionnaires to their students about uniform reforms but not passed.[4] But Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery ended their cheongsam uniform in 1990 after receiving student unions suggestions.[5]

Many waitresses in Chinese restaurants over the world wear suits and skirts but some, especially the receptionists, wear cheongsam uniforms. These cheongsam (referred to as qipao in China) are long, often foot-length or floor-length. They have slits high to the waist or hip, and are usually sleeveless or have only cap sleeves. They are often made of brightly-colored silk or satin with rich Chinese embroidery. Some nightclub waitresses, ritual girls in ceremonies, and competitors in Chinese beauty competitions wear similar cheongsam uniforms. They may wear pantyhose but not an underskirt so walking shows their legs. These uniforms are considered too sexy for ordinary wear so they are worn and kept at work. The waitresses change into casual clothes before going home.

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, cheongsams were the uniforms for the medal bearers. They were also worn by female members of the Swedish team and of the Spanish team in the opening ceremony, with the national colors of blue and yellow.

Similar garments

The Vietnamese áo dài bears similarity to the cheongsam, as does the Tibetan national dress.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Qipao (Ch'i-p'ao)". Encyclopædia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/110067/chi-pao. Retrieved 2008-11-18.  
  2. ^ Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928 by Edward Rhoads
  3. ^ 旗袍起源与哪个民族?
  4. ^ 旗袍维系香港女校百年情. 李气虹(The qipao keep the affections of Hong Kong girls schools of 100 years by Li Qihong)(2003-05-16). http://woman.zaobao.com/pages2/woman190503a.html
  5. ^ Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery
  • Bai Yun, Zhongguo lao qipao- lao zhaopian lao guanggo jianzheng qipao de yanbian (The traditional qiapo of China: evidence of its [stylistic] changes in old photographs and old advertisements), Beijing: Guangming ribao chubanshe, 2006.
  • Bao Mingxin and Ma Li, eds, Zhongguo qipao (China’s qipao), Shanghai: Shanghai wenhua chubanshe, 1998.
  • Chang, Eileen (Zhang Ailing), “A Chronicle of Changing Clothes,” Andrew F. Jones. trans., positions: east Asia culture critique 11, 2 (Fall, 2003): 427 – 441.
  • Clark, Hazel, The Cheongsam, Hong Kong, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Finnane, Antonia, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation, Columbia University Press, New York; Hurst, London, 2007. Chapter 6, "Qipao China."
  • Roberts, Claire, ed., Evolution and Revolution: Chinese Dress 1700s – 1900s, Sydney: Powerhouse Museum, 1997.

External links


Simple English


Qipao (Ch'ipau) is one of the most typical, traditional costumes for Chinese women. Also known as cheongsam, it is like a wonderful flower in the Chinese colorful fashion scene because of its particular charm.

Qipao generally has two big slits at either side of the hem for convenient movement and display of the slender legs of women. Unlike a short-length skirt, the slits of Qipao expose a woman's legs indistinctly when she walks, as if there was a blurred emotional appeal of 'enjoying flowers in mist.'








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