qipao, cheongsam


qipao, cheongsam
The silk dress with frog-button closures and high collar known as the qipao or cheongsam assumed the status of the Chinese national dress during the twentieth century. Derived from the Manchu banner gown, the qipao in the early twentieth century was a loose-fitting gown worn by emancipated female students, who adopted it as an indigenous alternative to Western school uniforms, thus associating the qipao with demands for gender equality. During the Nanjing decade (1927–37), the qipao gained in popularity, but was linked to a fitted sleek image. Promoted through Shanghai calendar posters and associated with Western fashions, including high heels, make-up and permanent waves, the qipao redefined 1930s Chinese modernity as ‘cosmopolitan’.
Through the circulation of such images abroad, the qipao became identified internationally as the typical Chinese dress, while also producing a sexualized and feminized representation of China. In 1950s Hong Kong, local beauty pageants promoted the cheongsam as the signifier of Hong Kong cultural identity, strengthening its popularity. The Miss Asia contest (since 1988), in which wearing a qipao is a required segment, has furthered the qipao as national dress. (The PRC had outlawed the qipao during the Cultural Revolution decade as signifier of bourgeois decadence.)
Intrinsically related to understandings of cultural identity, modernity, and femininity in China, the qipao functions as a contested symbol of ‘Chineseness’ and femininity throughout greater China. Moreover, in the 1990s, with global fashion often focused on Asia, with designers like Vivienne Tam (see fashion designers—Hong Kong), and with the packaging of Shanghai nostalgia by Shanghai Tang, the qipao emerged as an international fashion item.
Clark, Hazel (2001). The Cheongsam (Images of Asia). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
TINA MAI CHEN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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