A/ Chinese and
One guy talked about Bruce Lee and kung-fu movies, so obviously the teacher didn't feel like restricting us to traditional topics like silk painting or porcelain. Knowing this, I decided to talk about the cheongsam, the signature Chinese dress of the 20th century.
Here's the outline of my talk:
Traditional Chinese Dress
The cheongsam is an iconic dress worn by Chinese women. The term is Cantonese - “cheongsam” means "long dress". The Mandarin term for the dress, "qipao", means "banner gown" and reflects the dress' evolution from the traditional dress of the Manchu.
The dress is descended from the informal changyi dress worn by noblewomen during the Qing/Manchu dynasty. The Manchu were an equestrian culture; they modified their own national dress for court robes after overthrowing the Ming in the 17th century. The changyi had the mandarin collar, asymmetrical opening at the neck, and side-slits that came to define the cheongsam.
The cheongsam first took off in Shanghai in the 1920s, which was known as the “Paris of the East”. The city had a lot of contact with the West, and it was European womens' fashion that changed the changyi into the cheongsam. The dress became much more form fitting to mirror contemporary fashions in the West. It featured prominently in printed advertisements that were posted throughout the city; these images were mailed throughout the country, helping to spread the new look.
The dress was also spread through the medium of film, first in China and then throughout the world. In the West, it became linked with Chinese women since actresses like Anna May Wong and Nancy Kwan wore the dresses in some of their best known roles and helped popularize the dress in the States. Due to the sorts of roles that Asian actresses were usually cast, the dress also became linked to 'night women' or 'dragon ladies', which eventually led to the decline of the dress in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Although the dress was familiar to all, it never caught on outside of China's urban centers because of its impracticality. for daily wear. But by the 1940s, it had become the standard formal dress for Chinese women. Older women could have it tailored conservatively, while younger women could show more skin by raising the hemline or eliminating sleeves. In China, the dress was discouraged by the Communist Party because it was too bourgeoisie and decadent. Early in the regime, female government officials wore them when they went abroad, but in 1966 the dress was outlawed in the Cultural Revolution. The style continued to flourish in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and in Chinatowns around the world.
East Meets West
Western designers first picked up cheongsam in the 1960s. Yves San Laurent became one of the first haute couture designers to incorporate it into his collections. As China began to ease restrictions in the 1980s, the cheongsam began to appear once again, often with Western-influence changes, like non-traditional cuts or fabrics. In the 1990s, the cheongsam dominated several Parisian design collections, and has sporadically enjoyed Western revivals every few years.
Today, China embraces the cheongsam as its national dress. Frequently, women wear them in customer service jobs at hotels, restaurants, and trade shows. Fancier red cheongsam are used as wedding dresses. In 2008, the medal bearers at the Beijing Olympics all wore white cheongsam, showcasing just how integrated the dress had become in Chinese culture. Although the popularity of the dress rises and falls over time, its significance to Chinese fashion remains as powerful in the 21st century as when it was first created.