Clothing Of The Chinese
( Originally Published 1928 )
THE Chinese, inhabitants of that vague land called "far Cathay," invented satin, velvet, brocade and silk of a peculiarly soft texture. Embroidery unsurpassed and of brilliant hues, was worked in prehistoric times. The discovery of the secret of silk making by Europeans is attributed to the return of two Greek priests from a pilgrimage to China, with the eggs of the silkworm hidden in their staves. The Ming Dynasty, famous for the glaze and decoration of its pottery, lasted from 1368 to 1644 A.D.
Very few historical facts are known previous to the eighth century B.C. Confucius, the great teacher, lived from 551 to 478 B.C., and the Chinese wall was begun in 221 B.C. for protection against the Huns. Ancient armor was of strong rawhide.
The Dress.—Old prints show us that the cut has altered but little. In order to prevent discomfort to the body, loose garments of light silks, gauzes and linen, the sleeves wide and hanging free of the wrist, are used in summer by the wealthy; loose cotton trousers, with an overhanging shirt and a widespreading bamboo hat—sometimes cut to the hat and trousers—constitute the peasant's costume. A raincoat made of reeds is used in stormy weather. Such cloaks are common to peasants in many countries. In winter. long robes of silk and crepe, with jackets and mantles of fur, protect the well-to-do, while the poor construct body covering from the skins of the rat, mouse, squirrel, etc.
"Sam" is the Chinese word for a short jacket; a "chang sam" is a long one. A narrow collar band of silk, or of fur in winter, finishes the neck. "Min" means top and "di" under, either being used in conjunction with "sam."
"Fo" are trousers; both the trousers and the jacket are sometimes lined, which gives us "kak fo" and "kak sam."
A tight jacket worn under the outer one in winter is called a "gun sun," and a vest used for the same purpose, a "bon sum."
"Quan" is a skirt and is used in conjunction with "di" and "min."
A full dress jacket for men is the "mar quar."
"Mo" means a hat for a man or a child. "Di mo," a large hat; "si mo," a small one. There are innumerable hat and hood styles for children, all showing a desire to entertain the juvenile mind; for instance, one suggests a lion, another a dragon with embroidered eyes ; a variety known as the "man yi mo" or pussy hat, is a caped hood with cat's ears placed each side of the head. This same idea was used in England in the Middle Ages. A style for women originating in Soo Chow, a city near Shanghai, is called the "Soo Ban" ; this is a bandeau for the head called elsewhere a "ban ton."
The official full dress of a man, a gown of much dignity, is the "po," while "lung po" means the dragon's gown, the costume used on state occasions by an emperor.
Trousers.—Female servants wear them always ; their mistresses sometimes appear so clad about the house but skirts are considered correct for more formal wear. Even the men do not think trousers gentlemanly unless camouflaged by a long gown over which a jacket is sometimes placed.
Rules for the Cut.—The jackets and trousers can be of the same cut for both sexes, the difference being that those of the women are always trimmed, even if of self material, but the men's never. The ordinary male jacket is usually fastened down the right side by means of loops caught over gilt buttons; if in mourning, the latter are of crystal. The "min sam" or top jacket, however, but-tons down the front. This would be considered most immodest for a woman; hers must always close on the side, the only exception being an intimate affair worn next to the body. All children wear trousers and jackets.
The clothes are made without pockets ; a Chinaman sticks a fan at the back of his neck, and stuffs other necessaries in his stockings, which are woven of cotton or silk.
Footgear.—Shoes are "hai" and boots "her"; when of a high cut they become "her-hai." Cloth, satin and velvet are used in their making and the felt soles, several inches thick and heelless, are finished with a strip of leather placed across the bottom. Shoes are whitened, not blacked. The Chinaman makes himself comfortable with slippers, stockings or naked feet on entering his home.
Hairdressing and Ornamentation.—The Chinaman has not been compelled by law to wear a queue since 1912. The fashion was imposed by the conquering Manchus about three hundred years ago. Two-thirds of the queue was made up of false hair, braided in. Silken cords were used in the same way. The women often place an ornament over the right ear. In Manchuria the headdresses are large and elaborate, with massed flowers and pendant pearls. Conspicuous on the modern stage are the tiaras of Jeritza in "Turandot," and Florence Reed in "The Shanghai Gesture."
Lily Feet.—In the old days all Chinese women were supposed to be frail, delicate and languid. Big feet were considered very clumsy and unladylike. Hence the fashion of binding the feet of children to arrest their growth. The smaller the lady's feet, the greater her beauty. The deformed bones she hobbled on were known as "lily feet." With the advent of athletics, they have gone out of style. The foot of a servant was never bound; in fact, some Chinamen had several ornamental consorts boasting lily feet, but secured one useful wife with undwarfed number sixes to attend to his comfort.
The Wedding Ceremony.—Red has always been the Chinese color for happiness; a bride wears a red "hong sam" with a veil of the same hue, which is lifted from her face after the ceremony by the groom; when queues were the mode, this gentleman had his braided with red cord. The bridal gown is always elaborate; a headdress has pearls hanging across the face and is of a beautiful, intricate design. The "hand quan," or skirt, is hung with bells, and a broad collar covers the shoulders.
Jewelry.—Agate and jade (the latter known as "yu") are much used on buckles, clasps and other forms of jewelry. The Chinese have always excelled as gold and silversmiths.
The first act of "East Is West" takes place on one of the so-called "flower boats," on which the professional singing girls of China, who are hired by the owners, entertain the rich men who make the boats a rendezvous. These women are dressed in gay colors, with elaborately decorated hair. During the play, the Chinese idea of what constitutes modesty is well depicted. Ming Toy, when alone on the scene, unfastens her jacket at the neck to ape American girls dancing in a cabaret, but is overcome with confusion when surprised in the act.