Chinese Boys' Clothes: Chronology

Figure 1.--This photograph is undated. It shows a Chinese Mandrin in traditional dress and we assume his son. Notice the book, perhaps he was a tutor, but we think a father is more likely. Writing on the back is in French so we assume that the photograph was taken in or near a French mandate zone or perhaps a Christian mission. The photograph is undated, but we believe was taken in the early 20th century, probably the 1910s.

HBC is collecting information on several important periods in Chinese history. At this time we have some basic historical data, but have only begun to develop information on clothing trends in those periods. Each important dynasty in Chinese history appears to have had strict regulations on clothing. Clothing was often regulated for each strata of society, as to the color, material, and design that was permitted. Dramatic cultural, social, and political changes in Chinese society are often rekected in changes in clothing and fashion. The clothing styles according to one observer "are like markers". [Chang] This has been true through milenia of Chinese history and has proven just a true in the 20th century. Politics and fashion have always linked together and illustrated the Chinese history. There is information on those regulations for many dynasties. Often we have, however, only limited information on the regulations for children's clothing.

Ancient China

China is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Civilization appeared in China about 3,000 BC in the Yellow River valley. The eraly emperors are legendary figures. The founder of Chinese social order was Fu Hsi. Organized agriculture appears about 2737 BC under Shen Nung. Many of the invention of Chinese cultural life occur under the Yellow Emperors (2704-2585 BC) which many scholars consider the golden age of China. They were followed by the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) who are remembered for their cruelty. They were followed by the Chou Dynasty which is regarded as the classical period of Chinese history. Aguculture became universal and the arts flirished. The great sages including Confucius, Lao-tse, Mencius, abd Mo Ti appeared. The feudal system developed in China at this time. Despite the humanitarian doctrines of these sages, a devestaing series of feudal wars marched the last years of the Chou. They were replaced by te Ch'in Dynasty. The Ch'in restored order, abolished the feydal system, and drove Hun Tartars back into the Asiatic desert. They also began construction of the Great Wall. The Empire was exte nded south of the Yangtze valley. Shih Huang Ti is sometimes regaded as the "First Emperor". To symbolize a break with the past, Shih ordered the burning of all but practical books on medicine and agriculture--for which he is generally held in repriach by Chinese scholars. The first Han emperor seized power about 202 BC. The Han were the last emperors of Ancient China and ruled until 220 AD. The Mongul hordees were again driven back to Centtal Asia and Mongolia was added to thee Empire. Overland trade routes, chiefly in silks, were established with the West. Competitive examinations in the civil service were adopted. Chinese writing was standarized and printing invented. Buddhism was introduced from India, the first major foreign influence on China. We know little about historic Chinese clothing worn in the socienties of ancient China at this time, but we eventually hope to add such information to HBC. Almost as old as Chinese civilazation itself is the history odf silkm the oldest textile favric known to man. We note that the fine clothes worn by the elite often had magnificent embroidery with important imagery. One of the most important images was the dragon which came to symbolize the unity of the Chinese people.

Medieval Dynasties

The fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD was similar in many ways to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. They were not replaced by strong dynasty, many lasted only beief periods. The collapse of Han rule resulted in almost four centuries of warload rule. China split into three kingsdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu), but the idea of cultural unity persisted. China never seems to have declined to the same low cultural level as the European Dark Ages. The Medieval Chinese dynasties are some of the least remembered dynasties. While the Han fell, the ideal of the Han and unified rule never perished. Chinese to this day still refer to themselves as the "sons of Han". The short lived Shu Dynasty (589-618 AD) finally unified China again. They were replaced by tye T'ang Dynasty (618-907 AD) underwhom China regained much of its former power. The writ of the T'ang Emperors extend from the Caspian to the Pacific. Five feeble, short-lived dynasties repalaced the T'ang weakened by corruption and rebellion. They were replaced by the Sung Dynasty (960-1280-AD). The Sung are sometimes described as the Augustine Age of China. Writing and printing flourished and libraries appeared.

The Mongols

Genghis Khan, a Mongol leader from central Asia, overran northern China in the 12th century. The Mongols played an enormously important role in world history. Although a relatively small population, the Mongols established the most extensive empire in histoiry, streaching from Korea to Eastern Europe. Only the Japanese suceessfully defied the Mongols. The Mongols also conquered and influenced many of the major world powers, China, Russia, Persia, amd India. The Mongols defeated the Poles and were set to move into Western Europe. Only the death of thir great leader, Geghis Khan prevented this.

The Mongols/Yuan (1280-1368)

Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan (1280-94), established the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty in China. He established the largest empire ever created. His control reached from the Dnieper River in Russia to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic Ocean to the Straits of Malacca. Under the Mongols, law was codified and literature and public works flourished. For a brirf period there was commerce with Italy which was poised to enter the Reanaissance. Marco Polo and his two uncles then lived in the empire, in the service of the Khan, used paper money and passports, and traveled on the Grand Canal in China, at a time when paper money, passports, and canals were un-known in Europe. Commerce with the Arabs and Persians was continuous, and the highway into Europe was maintained until the Mongols in Central Asia embraced Islam. The Mongol dynasty, one of various foreign dynasties of China, ended in 1368, when the Mongol homeland withdrew obedience to a Mongol emperor at the distant court of Peking whom they had come to think of as Chinese in all but name and lacking in the expected Mongol virility. Mongol rule in China was brought to an end after civil war among Mongol princes and an increasing conversion to the sedentary Chinese way of life that robbed the Mongol military machine of much of its effectiveness. Natural disasters helped fuel a powerful peasant rebellion centered in the Yangtze valley that the weakened Yuan rulers could not contain.

The Ming (1368-1644)

The Ming were the last native Chinese imperial line. The founder, a former Buddhist priest, rose to power in a national reaction which followed the period of disorder due to the disintegration of the Mongol Empire under the successors of Kublai Khan. Repeated natural disasters accentuated popular resistance to foreign brought about a widespred peasant rebellion. Peasant leader Zhu Yuanzhang emerged as a poweful war lord. He successful eliminated rivals who also fought the Yuan and founded his own dynaty (1368). He established his capital at Nanjing and later Beijing. He is known as the Emperor Taizu. The Ming became China's last native dynasty. Taizu and his sucessors suceeded in united China after 400 years of foreign rule. The Ming reached their height of during the early 15th century. The Ming never expanded Chin'a borders to the full extent of the Yuan. Even so their military conquests were impressiive. They brought the Mongols in the north under control. They exerted ocontrol over the Western Region in the west. They overwealmed the Jurchen (Nuzhen) in the northeast. They controled Tibet in the southwest. They also set up the Jiaozhi Prefecture in the south. It was during the Ming era that the court eunuch Admiral Zheng He conduct one of the greatest voyages in history with a massive fleet beyond the potwntial of Europeans. One of the most decisive decesions in history was the Ming Emperor's decesion not only not to follow up on the voyage, but to destroy the fleet and cut China off from the outside world. China experienced unparalled prosperity during Ming rule. Neo-Confucian bureaucrats oversaw an agrarian-centered based society. It was under the Ming that the agricultural potential of south China was reached. New crops (maize, cotton, and sweet potato) were cultivated. The stability and agricultural advances brought by the Ming allowed China's population to expand to avout 100 million. This is not at impressive figure today, it was in contemprary times. The Chinese achieved impressive advances in both the sciences and arts. Chinese technology achieved advances in porcelain and textiles. The term "Ming vase" to this date brings up images of perfection in art and ceramics at a time thart Europeans did not yet have the technolgy to make porcelin. flourished. The Chinese with productive agriculture, impressive technology, and stunning art cane to believe that they had created the the perfect civilization. Perhaps this is why the Chinese did not follow up on the potential of many technological advances.The Europeans in contrast would and use technological advances to dominate the Chinese. Under Ming rule Portuguese and Spanish traderes retracing the route of Zheng He finally managed to round Africa and reach Asia by sea. These Europeans settled in various ports. Tongking (Tonkin) and Cochin China were added to the empire in the south, while in the north China was continually harrassed by the Tatars. It was pressure from the north that ultimately brought down the Ming.

The Machus/Qing (1644-1911)

The Ming in 1643 employed the warlike Manchus from the northeast to defend China from the Central Asian Tatars. A Manchu prince established himself in Peking, and, in 1644, on the suicide of the last Ming emperor, took the imperial throne, founding the last royal dynasty of China. The first Manchu emperor, Shunzhi, only 1 year after bevoming emperor in 1645 ordered that pigtails (queues) should be worn in the style of the Manchu. This was seen as a sign of submission to Manchu rule. [Chang] The enforced adoption by the Chinese of the plaited queue of the Manchus at first produced friction between the two peoples, but this gradually disappeared, and Manchus and Chinese assumed harmonious relations, but the Manchus remained a destinct warrior and official class. The huge Chinese population and culture gradually engulfed the numerically small invaders who adopted Chinese language and culture. The Manchus conqured Mongolia and ruled Manchuria. The gratest Manch emperor was K'ang Hsi (1662-1722). He conquered Tibet. He promoted sciemce and the arts. The Central Asian states of Turkestan and Kashgaria were conquered by Ch'ien Lung (1736-96). Burma was penetrated and Cochin China and Korea were forced to pay tribute. After Ch'ien subsequent Machu emperors encountered increasingly difficulty suppressing rebellions. Chinese increasing tendency to turn inward and failure to pursue modern science and industry made it increasingly difficult to contend with the growing power of European nations intent on entering the China trade. The Manchus who found it difficult to descriminate among Europeans found it difficult to understand the national rivalries as well as the avarice of the Europeans. Trade florished even under restructions imposed by the Manchus. Europeans had difficulty, however, in delivering products of interest to the Chines, until the British and other foreign merchants i the 19th century began selling increasing quantities of opium which was illegal in China. The increasing tendency of Eurropean governments to intervene to protect their traders and the desire to maintain the lucrative opium trade led to Opium War which began in 1840. A naval task force by 1842 had forced China to make major concessions including ceeding Hong Kong as a British enclave. Other European powers also demanded similar enclaves. This generally took the form of areas of cities, but the French seized Tonkin expanding control of Indo-China (1884) and Japan which did embrace modern technology seized control of Korea (1894) and Taiwan (1895). Two elements emerged in China to contend with the Europeans. The first was traditionalist reactionary force onspired by te Emperess to exterminate the foreigners. Nationalist reformers desiring to modernize China were persecuted. The Boxers with their primitives weapons and with them the Emperess were humiliated by a foreign military expediton in 1900-01. Gradually the reformers grew in strength.

Republic of China (1911-48)

Agitation for a Chinese republic was led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. A rebellion broke out ino October 10, 1911 that led to the over throw of the Manchus. The Imperial Army garrison at Wuchang rebelled on October 10, 1911, and declared China to be a republic. Other garrisons joined them. Within 2 months thirteen of China's eighteen provinces had joined the rebellion. The Imperail Government was unable to supress the rebellion as by thi time, many military commanders were allied with the republicans. The republicans occupied Beijing in 1912 and demanded Puyi abdicate. Prince Chun, the regent, was offered an arrangement that guaranteed Puyi's title, safety, income, and continued possession of the Forbidden City. The 1911 Revolution and Chinese Republic had its own fashion dictates bringing a completely new look to Chinese fashion just as previous new dynasties had done. The importance of Western clothing grew after the Nationalist Revolution in 1911 and the fall of the last Machu Emperor. Even so, it was mostly seen in the larger coastal cities. Sun set new standards for formal attire to be worn. Chinese men wore both high and flat hats were demanded for formal wear and bowler hats and western suits or traditional long gowns were for less formal occassions. Ladies forformal events might wear a traditional jacket with front buttons down to the knees, slit on both sides and back and embroidery all over, worn with a black skirt. New regulations were adopted in the 1920s. Men were to wear Chinese tunic suits and ladies were to wear qipao. [Chang] I am not sure about children. Sun founded the Kuomintang. He proved to be an idealistic, but ineffectual leader and China descended into rule by war lords and increased penetration by foreign powers. A wave of rising national sentiment spread over China in the 1920s in reaction to both the war lords the foreign concessions. This allowed a Kuomintang general Chang Kai-shek, with the assisatnce of the Communists, to defeat the warlords in the 1920s and unite China. He also seized many foreign concessions. Chang fell out with the Communists, launching a civil war (1927). Chang also had to contend with the Japanese who proved even more of a threat and in the 1930s a long war with Japan began. The Japanese inherited many of the concessions of the German and Austrains, including extensive concessions in Manchuria. The Japanese army in Manchuria seized the province (1931) Most of the information collected by HBC to date concerns the 20th century. At the beigining of the 20th century, most Chinese still wore traditional clothes, although Western dress was seen in the important Chinese cities, especially coastal cities like Hong Kong and Shangahai where European countries had carved out colonial enclaves. These cities were occupied by Japan after the Japanese invaded China proper from Manchurian bases (1937). China fought the Japanese alone for several years. American support for China was limited by isolationist sentiment and American neutrality laws. President Roosevelt guiding public opinion managed to provide some support including the Flying Tigers in 1941. It was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, however, that brought America into the War. The Japanese attacked resulted from American efforts to force Japan to end its agression in China. After America entered the War, more substantial support flowed to China. The Japanese occupied areas of China were only liberated after the Japanese surrender in World War II (1945).

Figure 2.--The victory of the Communists in 1949 brough sweeping change to China. Traditional clothing was discarded and Western styles adopted. This family in 1964 shows typical children clothes before the Culture Revolution, although I am not sure how common berets were. Note the red Young Pioneer scarves. Our Chinese consultant tells us that here there is only one boy.

People's Republic (1949- )

The success of the Communist Revolution led by Mao-Tse-Tung in 1949 brough a massive change in clothing styles. Throughout China traditional clothing was discarded for more modern Western styles approved by the Communist. European had appeared in Chinese coastal cities in the first half of the 20th century and might be worn by China's small educated middle class, but most Chinse wore largely traditiona; clothing until the Revolution. The Revolution was a thorough wide spread social revolution affecting life style and clothing in even the most remore villages of China. Boys might wear short pants in the summer and long often baggy trousers in the winter. The Young Pioneer red sacrves were everywhere. Fashion itself was looked down own as unecessary, even subversive. Contacts with the West were curtailed as China looked to the Soviet Union and state planning to run their economy. Businesses and private land holdings were nationalized. Everyone was incouraged to think alike and dress alike. The desire was to put everyone on an equal footing. Another major even more radical change occurred during the Cultural Revolutuion (1966-76), one of the most violent and tragic episodes in modern Chinese history. Major Chinese traditions such as respect for ones's elders were attacked, Red Army style uniforms became very popualar for boys. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution fashion along with a Western market economy has returned to China. Increasingly young Chinese are pursuing their on individual like styles and dressing like their counterparts in the West.


Chun Chang, January 14, 2002


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s] [The 1890s]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers]
[Blazer] [School sandals] [School smocks] [Sailor suits] [Pinafores] [Long stockings]

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Created: 9:46 PM 6/12/2010
Last updated: 9:46 PM 6/12/2010