Category Archives: The Modern – Qipao

Gendered Authority in the Imperial Qipao

Although Western powers were able to secure enormous concessions from the Qing emperor during the latter part of the 19th century, there was no doubt among the Chinese people in the preceding years that absolute authority rested with the imperial state. For much of the Qing dynasty, power rested in the hands of an emperor, not an empress. His clothing, the dragon robe, was replete with cultural symbols that signified his absolute sovereignty over the state. However, power shifted from men to women during the reign of the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors because both of them ascended while still children. Real authority rested with their mother and aunt respectively: Empress Dowager Cixi. This paper will compare the robes of earlier emperors and empresses with the qipao worn by Cixi to reveal how cultural symbols reserved for the male emperors came to be incorporated in Cixi’s robes.

Emperor's Dragon Robe Artist/maker unknown, Daoguang Period (1821-1850), c. 1840, reproduced from ArtStor.

Emperor’s Dragon Robe
Artist/maker unknown, Daoguang Period (1821-1850), c. 1840, reproduced from ArtStor.

This first image is a picture of the emperor’s dragon robes. When comparing them with the empress’s dragon robes below, one can immediately note the color difference. Culturally, yellow is associated with the earth and symbolizes the center of everything. It is fitting, therefore, that the male emperor of China be clad predominately in yellow. His dragon in the center of his chest is one of nine that harken back to the Huangdi Emperor, also known as the Yellow Emperor, who brought order to China through literacy. While the individual characters may say longevity or judgment, together they refer to the imperial literary tradition of enlightened rule inherited from Huangdi. The prominent number of clouds, as well as the sun, stars and moon symbolize his connection to the heavens as the Son of Heaven, tianzi.

Artist/maker unknown, Qianlong Period (1736-1795), c. 1740, reproduced from ArtStor.

Women’s dragon robe.
Artist/maker unknown, Qianlong Period (1736-1795), c. 1740, reproduced from ArtStor.

In contrast to the emperor’s dragon robe seen above, the female dragon robe makes limited use of imperial symbology. Most prominent is the limited use of the color yellow, which underscores that it was a color out of reach of even the most powerful woman in China. Furthermore, her dragons are brown rather than yellow. This underscores that men, not women, were the only ones who could claim affiliation with the great Huangdi. She has far fewer clouds on her robes than a male emperor, which signifies her distance from the heavens as only men can hold the Mandate of Heaven. Lastly, her robes lack the writing seen on the emperor’s robes. Recalling that this writing had three connotations – judgment, longevity and enlightenment – their total absence suggests imperial disregard for those three virtues even for an empress.

Oil painting of Express Dowager Cixi by Hubert Vos, 1906.

Oil painting of Empress Dowager Cixi by Hubert Vos, 1906.

As this painting of Empress Dowager Cixi by Hubert Vos in 1906 demonstrates, Cixi’s robe is a dramatic departure from those of preceding centuries, which symbolizes her transcending traditional gender norms. It is important to note that Hubert Vos was tasked with making official portraits of Cixi, one of which still hangs in the palace. Therefore, his paintings are intended to be faithful portrayals of her likeness. It is also worth emphasizing why it is more appropriate to refer to her garment as a qipao rather than a dragon robe: there is not a dragon on it. Furthermore, it lacks the many of the traditional symbols – clouds, stars, mountains, sacrificial cups, among others – that characterized centuries of imperial robes. Wearing a qipao in this style rather than the dragon robes appropriate to an empress during the Qianlong era symbolized her autonomy over her clothing and China by extension.

Nevertheless, Cixi did clearly appropriate elements of the male dragon robe for her qipao to underscore her authority. The most striking comparison with the dragon robe worn by most empresses is the enormous use of yellow in her qipao. Her symbolically appropriating the color of earth, over which a man normally reigned, illustrates her supremacy over the state. Furthermore, her robe prominently features characters symbolizing longevity. As illustrated in the previous dragon robes, writing – which connoted judgment, longevity and enlightenment – was reserved exclusively for men. By incorporating them on her robe, she stakes claim on those three connotations as though to say that her reign is one characterized by enlightenment, justice and stability. However, the sheer number of the symbols of longevity on every portion of her robe symbolizes her desire to reign as long as possible to ensure a stable, prosperous China. 

Her renewing the traditional qipao rather than the dragon robe might also have historical significance when one considers the events during her reign. During this time, the dynasty was forced to make more and more concessions to foreign powers at gunpoint. They introduced opium to the population, which crippled their ability to resist. These foreigners secured extraterritoriality, allowing them to evade imperial justice for their crimes. In these times of weakness for the Chinese state, wearing a cheongsam might have been Cixi’s longing for the era where Manchu women were the foreigners who were conquering a weak Chinese empire rather than being the ones conquered by foreigners.

nice work, the claim is well supported.

Altering the Qipao In Order to Sell Products

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The image above is a calendar poster that is advertising Grande, Price, and Co. from 1934. This calendar poster shows a middle-aged woman sitting on a couch dressed in a white, sheer qipao. The woman also has a smile on her face, something rare during this time period especially when the woman would have to stay in a pose for a long period of time. The woman also is covered in fancy jewelry, from her diamond earrings to her bracelets and rings. Perhaps this represents high class.

introduce a thesis statement righter after the brief image description, which will lead both the writer and the reader for the reading of this poster

Focusing primarily on the nature of the specific qipao in this photo, you can see many features that stand out. To begin, you can see that the slit is very high, displaying a much more sexualized form of the qipao. This high slit shows much more skin and contradicts the usual lady-like nature of this Chinese dress.

Another feature of the qipao that contradicts its usual classy nature is it’s sheer quality. Because of this, the undergarments are all visible. This shows a very provocative form of the qipao that serves the purpose of sex.

The last feature that stands out is the woman’s pose. The female’s crossed legs and arm on her head looks like she is waiting for a sexual partner. As we learned in class, it is “improper for a lady to sit with her legs crossed” according to a 1930 article in the magazine, The Modern Lady. When learning about the history of the qipao in class, we were shown images of woman with emotionless faces in simple stances. For those examples, the qipao was the primary focus of the photos. However, in this image, the qipao is not the focal point and is just helping contribute to the sexualized message of the advertisement.

Digging deeper into this image, we can see how the female body is clearly being used to sell the product being sold, in this case alcohol. The sexually inviting pose, as discussed before, as well as the two empty glasses beside the woman further indicates the sexualized intention of this poster.

this idea could serve as the thesis: sexualized female body and sold commodities

This poster sparked a lot of thought when looking at how it connects to our society today. Even though this calendar poster was from 1934 in China, we still are using women’s bodies to sell products. How can our society shift from relying on female bodies to sell a company’s product? Furthermore, how can we go about doing this without tainting such a national figure as the qipao?

the post could center on the argument of “sexualized female body and advertisement of commodities” and find visual evidence to support it


Transformation of the Qipao

These three images were found in Professor Tsui slide show presentation. By displaying them together we can start to understand the transition from the traditional robe, to the qipao, to the westernized qipao. In the first picture we see cixi empress Dowager of china in a traditional Manchu robe, also in platform shoes, indicative of a Manchu women who wanted to emulate aspects of the bound foot. These traditional robes were loose, had baggy sleeves and were long. As time progressed and western fashion influence was brought forward through the port at shanghai there started to emerge the original qipao. The qipao had a high collar, slits, and knot buttons. As seen in the middle picture of the qipao, they resulted in a more sexualized view of the entire female body as compared to just the feet in earlier times. The qipao displayed in this picture is see-through, not the case for all qipao at the time, however this further sexualized the garment. The qipao was shown to the western world through calendars, ads and movies. Westerners were intrigued by the design and emulated it in their high fashion runways. We see in the 3rd picture a white woman wearing a qipao looking dress. The dress she is wearing has the same high neck and buttons of the qipao but its bright colors and pattern relate more to the 70s fashion style of the time. The Qipao has greatly changed over time and shows china’s connection to west through its transitions. Now matter what, the qipao is a beautiful garment that shows the great

culture of china.


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the idea of transition sounds, but the question of how the transition is made in terms of qipao denotations are not sufficient, persuasive enough.

Western Perspective of Qipao


This photo is a screenshot from the 1960’s American film, “The World of Suzie Wong.” This film tells the story of an American artist, Robert, and a Chinese prostitute, Suzie, who fall in love. The photo above features Suzie in Robert’s bed, posing for him as he paints her. This movie envelopes and further perpetuates the stereotype of a hyper-sexualized Chinese woman who needs to be saved by a Western man. In the 1960’s the qipao shifted from a Chinese symbol of national pride into an article of clothing that enveloped Western stereotypes of Chinese sexuality and femininity.

In this photo Suzie is dressed and positioned to invite a Western male gaze. She is being  filmed from the perspective of a Western male who is painting her. This invites the audience, who is primarily a Western audience, to also observe her and prescribe our own interpretation of who she is onto her. Her body is turned to the audience and she is positioned in a way that exposes her womanly shape, furthering the invitation to stare, fantasize and orientalize Suzie. This photo exemplifies how in the 1960’s the qiapo began to be viewed in a Western world. This photo invites Westerners to gaze upon Suzie as an Oriental woman, and it also invites Westerners to prescribe sexual stereotypes unto the Oriental women. good point which needs explanation of how qipao generates invitation of gaze?

Throughout this film, Suzie and all Chinese woman are hyper-sexualized and exist only in relation to a Western man’s sexual desires. This photo demonstrates the sexualization  of the qipao in Western culture. This qipao is extremely form-fitting with a high slit that exposes most of Suzie’s leg. This sexualizes Suzie by placing the importance of her worth on her body. She is also positioned in a sexual manner on a bed, furthering the pairing of sexuality with the qipao. Her leg is completely exposed and both her breasts and and hips are facing the camera. This photo sexualizes both Chinese women and the qipao. refine writing

This film also focuses on the femininity of Asian woman. Although Suzie is portrayed as hyper-sexualized, she is also feminized. Suzie is portrayed as weak and as needing the intervention of an American men and this can be seen in the photo. The qipao is lavender colored, a color that represents subdued femininity. Although she is positioned in a sexual manner on a bed, she also covers some of herself with her arm. This shows that although she is a sexual being, there is also an aspect of innocence here. Her face appears worried or scared invoking feelings of her helplessness. As an audience we are meant to pity her, and therefore want her to be saved from this life absent of Western morals.

focus on the color

This photo symbolizes the Western view of a sexualized and feminized Chinese woman and it connects these stereotypes with the qipao. In the 1960’s the qipao began to become popular in Western culture. However, in China the qipao declined in popularity in 1960’s. This demonstrates how Western perspective can take aspects of other cultures and use them to develop false notions of these cultures.

focus on the relation between female body and qipao in terms of design, color, and significance

Qipao and Over-Sexualization of Women

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Liu Jianhua: Game Series (image taken from Qipao PowerPoint slides)

This photo, taken from artist Liu Jianua’s “Game Series” shows a woman’s body, dressed in qipao, on a plate. From this image, we can see that the woman is on a plate, with no arms or head. She is only wearing one shoe, and her body language appears to be sexually inviting, but helpless because of her inability to move without a head or arms. Her dress is very revealing and shows the entirety of both of her legs, and she is placed in the middle of the plate. She also appears to be slightly cross legged, however, not in the way one would expect to see a woman sitting cross legged. This image, created by a man, shows how the sexualization of women in qipao can become a disturbing obsession by men, where the focus becomes less about the woman’s identity and more about her body, in order to please men regardless of her will to. 

sound thesis statement

The qipao was representative of the modern woman, the opposite of foot binding, where concealment was the thing most valued. The qipao was much more revealing in that it had slits in the legs, was tight to the body, and was sometimes sheer, showing off women’s bodies, almost as if to tease. This artist, however, takes this sexualized style to an extreme, almost as if he is exploiting the woman, leaving her helpless as if she was attacked. The first thing that leads the observer to think this is the woman’s body position. She is on her back, but without arms and a head there is no way for her to move herself from that position. She also only has one shoe on, which can imply a sign of a struggle. Additionally, she the way she is placed is in a sexual position, very inviting to men who find the feminine body attractive.

Another reason that this image could be indicative of a disturbing, sexual obsession of men is the fact that the woman does not have any distinctive characteristics that show her identity. Her face is not present, which shows that the artist and some of the observers do not necessarily care about the woman, herself, but rather only care about her body. This creates a selfish ideal where the woman is not valued for anything other than the pleasuring of men. The other important part of this image to recognize, as well, is that the artist does not indicate a specific man for whom this woman is to pleasure. She is placed on a plate as if she is food for any man to consume, regardless of if they know her or not. Her legs are also slightly cross-legged, which was usually associated with the modern woman, however, these women’s legs were usually tight together and while a woman was sitting in a chair. This woman’s legs, however, are somewhat crossed, potentially representing the modern, but they are also open and inviting, overly sexualizing her, especially with the way she is laying.

The way that the dress falls on the woman leaves her exposed and helpless in this picture. It appears as though she had been attacked from the way she is laying to the helplessness caused by her immobility and her lacking of one shoe. Although the qipao was a way for women to express themselves sexually and embrace their femininity, it is unfortunate that artists like this take this sexuality that comes from the qipao fashion and disempower women by exploiting them for a man’s pleasure. 

 nice work and could even be stronger should you reorganize the analysis in terms of denotation-connotation structure, focusing on one element at a time. 

Selling Soap and Women: Qipao Advertisements in 1930s Shanghai

Two women wearing cheongsam in a 1930s Shanghai advertisement.

Two women wearing cheongsam in a 1930s Shanghai advertisement.

The cheongsam or qipao has been present in China’s fashion scene for centuries. Although it became muted post 1930’s, leading cultural authorities including world renowned fashion designers, like Oscar de La Renta and Valentino, as well as Chinese art, film and television  resurrected the qipao from an article of service wear to a product of high end fashion in the early to late 1990s. Although the qipao has persisted throughout history, it is important to recognize that the meaning of the qipao has never been static. The qipao holds distinct cultural, social, and symbolic values unique to each of its various time periods.

The image above is an advertisement for Victorian Soap and was published in 1930’s Shanghai. At the center of the photo are two young women. The backdrop is a traditional Chinese garden. One woman wears a red and white floral printed qipao while the other’s is black and white. The two girls have short western hair styles and shoes as well as red lipstick. Both are also holding golf clubs. The women on the left prepares to swing. Around the image is a floral border with inscriptions lining the sides. In the foreground are enlarged versions of the Victorian Soaps advertised. need a thesis statement right here

This advertisement is a classic example of the type of photo calendars typically distributed during this era. In the 1930s, the urban center of Shanghai was the metropolitan capital of China. When situated in its unique historical context, we can understand the picture of the two females as representative of the newly gained independence women had found in the public landscape at the time. The fact that the women are depicted outside in a garden landscape signals to this new sense of freedom. The two women are also holding golf clubs. Previously sports and outdoor activities traditionally reserved for men, like golfing, began to allow female participants in the 1930s.

Western influence from the ongoing colonial era is also signified by their bob hairstyle and red lipstick. Instead of the bound feet of the previous era, the women have natural feet adorned with western style shoes that were more practice for outdoor activities. Although the long qipao’s have traditional floral patterns popular at the time, their short sleeves make them much more revealing that the conservative dress of the 1920’s. In order  to make the clothing distinctly feminine, the qipao’s are form fitted. Before, the qipao was seen as a distinctly male form of dress because of its rather shapeless figure. By this time however, western fitted elements were added to emphasis sexuality and gender norms.

Although central to the poster, the advertisement is not for the qipao but rather for Victorian Soap. By associating the two however, it connotes to the viewer that the stylish and modern Chinese woman is a consumer of this product. In a way, this type of association works to sell not only the soap but the women. If one uses the soap, they too can achieve the sense of sexuality and modernity portrayed in the picture. Although the women in the poster are shown enjoying new social independence, their highly sexualized depiction as well as the manor in which they are sold beside the product, reminds us of that despite the era’s progress, the patriarchy and its objectification of women still dominates.

the thesis came finally at the end of your post, which could be introduced at the beginning

Repetition of the Iconic Qipao

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Source: Wong, Wesley Thomas: “China Stories- Greeting Girls,” 2013, Hangzhou, China

The image above, titled “China Stories- Greeting Girls” portrays three young, beautiful Chinese women in Hangzhou China sporting Qipao dresses. The symmetry and simplicity of this image initially caught my eye, in which the three women of equal stature stand in a similar stance in a neat row. The color of the women’s Qipao dresses are red and of an elegant and traditional style, and their hair is styled in a neat and sophisticated bun. The photographer, Wong, explains how this photo was taken at a Comic-Con Anime festival in Hangzhou, China in which the three women acted as hostesses and “greeting girls” to guests at the event.

The image exemplifies how the Qipao has become an iconic garment in Chinese society and a stylistic trend that has been embodied as an archetype of Chinese femininity. When viewing “China Stories- Greeting Girls,” one can observe various signs upon conducting a deep connotative analysis of the image:

Repetition: In the image, 3 women are standing in a row. In their identical outfits, the women create a sense of repetition and duplication. The theme of recurrence is evident in the image, showing how the Qiapo has been reproduced and “cloned” throughout Chinese society. This reproduction of the dress has resulted in the garment becoming an iconic symbol of feminine Chinese fashion. One can also consider how, within the Chinese context, the garment has created a “standard” of feminine beauty, confining and restricting the Chinese woman to a definitive national style.  These women pictured in the image appear to represent a narrow standard of Chinese feminine fashion.

how about the qipao for those three “greeting girls” speaks for their social/gender identity: insignificant female other dressed for advertisement

Color and Style: The style of the Qipaos in this image can be viewed as being of a more traditional nature than what has come to represent the Qipao in later years. The neckline is high, and the adornments are simple, yet intricate. Where in later Chinese fashion following the 1980s, the slit rising up the side of the dress transformed to become more revealing, the slit on the dresses these women wear appear to be conservative and small. The fabric used in these Qipao dresses is red with a delicate flower design in gold. The aim of these particular Qipao dresses is not for sexualization of the feminine body, but a straightforward depiction of classic Chinese fashion, instead.

again their social status and gender identity: “greeting girls”

Embodiment of “Chinese-ness”: It is important to consider here the context of the image.   The women who are portrayed in the image are known to be “greeting girls,” for both a Chinese-speaking and English-speaking audience. It is noteworthy that the hostesses of this large event have been dressed in the Qipao outfit. The women appear to be a tool for marketing Chinese culture to the event’s guests. It is important to consider how the women are being Orientalized or exoticized to a greater mass of people through the “Chinese-ness” of the Qipao. The outifts of these “greeting girls” were intentionally chosen as a representation of Chinese femininity. a strong paragraph

The image ultimately shows how the Qipao style has not only been reproduced and repeated as an archetypal Chinese dress, but has been used to display and represent a Chinese feminine identity.

Qipaos forgotten behind Western Femininity

PFH1187079 China: Three fashionable young women at a Shanghai International Settlement tennis match, c. 1935; ( International attention to Shanghai grew in the 19th century due to its economic and trade potential at the Yangtze River. During the First Opium War (1839-1842), British forces temporarily held the city. The war ended with the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, opening Shanghai and other ports to international trade. In 1863, the British settlement, located to the south of Suzhou creek (Huangpu district), and the American settlement, to the north of Suzhou creek (Hongkou district), joined in order to form the International Settlement.); Pictures from History;  out of copyright

PFH1187079 China: Three fashionable young women at a Shanghai International Settlement tennis match, photograph (1935)  Pictures from History. Bridgeman Education. Accessed March 1, 2016.

In the photograph China: Three fashionable young women at a Shanghai International Settlement tennis match (1935) by an author who is unknown but provided through Bridgeman images, the audience can see that the qipao because of the strong Western influence it was receiving in the early twentieth century, it was difficult for the qipao itself to represent femininity[1] instead a Western definition was needed as well.

need a thesis statement

As described by the description that accompanies the photograph these three women are attending a tennis match which included the presence of Americans and the British.[2] The environment that these Chinese women are in, is similar to the way the Western influences of the qipao dresses changed how it was designed and how it was worn. These Chinese women are wearing qipaos to this event when in the background of the photo there are people in white shorts and pants, which looks like Western clothing. They all have qipao’s made of cotton and are decorated with checkered, striped and flowered pattern designed much more differently during this time.[3] Their hairstyles and the sunglasses one of them is wearing are from Western influence. In this environment these Chinese women look Western, but they stand out because they are wearing qipaos.

Apart from the dresses and hairstyle, the photographer took a picture of the women seated and enjoying their liesure activity, without capturing the slit of a qipao dress. Again during this time women were wearing qipaos that weren’t as conservative as they were before. They shaped the body and had slits where was best seen on women of calendar posters and represented femininity.[4] By not choosing to picture these women with the slit of their dress was another way of ignoring the style that was providing Chinese women a bit more freedom physically after always wearing conservative clothing and Chinese femininity. The audience is seeing femininity by the way they are eating their food. Their index and middle finger are being used to carefully hold the plates, which is displaying their daintiness and their class.

From this photograph I see a different view of the Chinese woman wearing the qipao than that was being made in calendar posters also during this time. The Chinese women were wearing outfits with a lot of Western influence. These Chinese women were photographed so people could see their femininity through a Western perspective not Chinese regardless of the fact that they were wearing qipaos.

sounds that western perspective and influence are the potential thesis. If so, introduce it at the beginning of the post and allow it to guide your analysis and reader’s perception

[1] Ellen Johnston Laing. “Visual Evidence for the Evolution of ‘Politically Correct’ dress for Women in Early Twentieth Century Shangai,” Nan Nu-Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 5, no.1 Edited by Leiden Brill (April 2003): 108, 114

[2] Bridgeman Education. “China: Three fashionable young women at a Shanghai International Settlement tennis match.” (1935) Pictures from History. Bridgeman Education. Accessed March 1, 2016.

[3] Ellen Johnston Laing. “Visual Evidence for the Evolution of ‘Politically Correct’ dress for Women in Early Twentieth Century Shangai,” Nan Nu-Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 5, no.1 Edited by Leiden Brill (April 2003): 104

[4] Ellen Johnston Laing. “Visual Evidence for the Evolution of ‘Politically Correct’ dress for Women in Early Twentieth Century Shangai,” Nan Nu-Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 5, no.1 Edited by Leiden Brill (April 2003): 108

Sexualization of the Qipao



1999. Liu Jianhua “The Painted Sculpture Series: the Memory of Infatuation and Merriment.”

The photograph above depicts a sculpture of give figurines of female bodies, exposed in sexual positions in the Chinese traditional qipao. The artist, Liu Jianhua, is a Chinese male who created a whole series of sculptures similar to this from 1999-2000 called “The Painted Sculpture Series: the Memory of Infatuation and Merriment.” The picture above is a sample sculpture from the series.  The little figures on the sculpture have clear female anatomy, but they lack heads and arms. Some of them are also lacking shoes. The qipao-dressed figurines are sprawled in many sexual positions, some of which exposing their entire legs and undergarments. The sculptures are laid on an intricately decorated plate in blue and white.

Based on the photo’s depiction of hypersexualized women in a demeaning way, the artist challenged China’s standards of women and the social implications of the qipao. This provocative piece, and its entire collection, does not leave room for interpretation or consideration of other viewpoints, besides an offended one. Although it is very possible to assume that the artist truly viewed women in this misogynistic light, I believe that the message of this piece is deeper than surface level–to provoke the audience to consider a more nuanced view of the qipao and its negative influence on women’s roles and respect in Chinese society.

The first detail of the sculpture that stood out to me was the array of provocative positions the female bodies lay in. The qipao is an indication of femininity, but it often still relied on keeping the mystery of the female body under the clothes without much skin exposure. The sculptures revealed skin exposure as well as undergarments, as if to mock the illusion that qipaos actually promoted society to respect women more. The artist shows his discontent with female portrayal in society by highlighting the real crime against women–the belittlement and hyper-sexualization. He is criticizing the dominant society by exposing the real problems of eroticisation that are hidden under gender norms.

i am trying to understand the idea of exposing the female body and respecting women

The decision to remove the heads and arms from the sculptures further dehumanize the female bodies, as if to reduce them from real women to the easily sexualized parts of them. It gives the impression that women do not have the ability to run away from the male gaze or protect themselves from the possible harm they could endure when wearing provocative clothing. The artist indicates another level of subjectivity the female body endures when in the famous qipao clothing.

A subtle, but important aspect of the sculpture is the fact that the figures are on an intricate place with dragons. Dragons on a qipao indicate adaptability and are an important aspect of respectability. However, this beauty distracts from the issue that the female bodies are being served on a plate, as if they are ready for anyone to take and use them. In further imagery, the female bodies are visualized as objects, with no form of choice to resist manipulation. The artist’s creativity in providing commentary on the degrading representation of Chinese women in qipao’s is provocative, but blatant.

There are many aspects of this artwork that could be analyzed, but I chose to focus on the aspects of this representation of the qipao that I thought were the most prominent. The artist made a statement that cannot easily be ignored that comments on the hyper-sexualization of Chinese women, specifically in the qipao. The tradition of the qipao started in a more conservative light, but the modern qipao was used to eroticize and feshize the Chinese woman, especially globally. This was an attack on the Chinese female dignity and respect. If society were able to acknowledge and address the prevalent degradation of women in a more straight forward way like this piece of artwork, then perhaps the qipao would symbolize the cultural aspects of fashion more and less of a sex-symbol for women.

suggestion: good work, but clarify the argument and adjust the organization

Historical Qipao, Popular Qipao, and Revitalized Qipao: The Importance of Patterns

The qipao as we know it has existed for the better part of century. However, long before that, the qipao was a standard item of dress and fashion. The oldest version of a qipao that is still visibly connected to what modern fashion gurus would consider a qipao dates back to the 1890s. This type of robe was made of brightly colored yellow silk and had the same high neck we see in modern qipaos. It also had intricately embroidered floral accents to give the gown dimension and make it more beautiful. The buttons used to fasten the robe closed are made of silk cord knots. The embroidery we see in this early qipao are of flowers and vines, they are traditional and beautiful and reflect even older fashion trends from previous dynasties.

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1890s Ladies Silk Robe

If we skip forward only 40 years, the qipao is much changed. This 1930’s qipao looks much more like what we expect with its capped sleeves and form fitting cut. The same standard features of the older qipao are present with silk cord buttons, high collar, and intricate design. Yet, it is a much changed dress. The pattern on this qipao is modern and printed. It reflects a change in the direction of a more industrial process for making clothing. It also is a simple pattern of one image repeated over and over again. In the earlier qipao robe, the illustration is more like a scene with a continuous vine running through the robe. Here the pattern is a distinct and intentional detachment from the older more traditional design of embroidery.

1930s Printed Silk Qipao

1930s Printed Silk Qipao Artist/maker unknown, (1930s) Reproduced from ArtStor.

In a photo from the 2010s the famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing is shown wearing a modern qipao. The gown she wears in this image is clearly a modern adaptation of a historical fashion item with its statement one-shoulder and trailing train cut. Though, despite its being modern in style, the dress itself is more true to the historical roots of qipao than even the dress from the 1930s shown above. Here Bingbing’s gown is the historically relevant color of yellow which is an extremely honorable color used in pre 1900s Chinese fashion. Furthermore, the embroidery is similar to gowns from the Manchu time period when the embroidery was meant to show a scene and not a pattern.

Actress Fan Bingbing

The important of the patterns here is historically relevant. If we take the first silk robe in this post to reflect the historical values and role of fashion in politics, then the comparison to the qipao from the 1930s is clear. It is far more reflective of a more democratically based government and shows a shift into the industrial age of machine made fabrics. Then, ultimately the shift back to more historically respectful trends in qipao are seen in the last photo. Here the qipao is being used to reflect the history of Chinese fashion. It is a modern cut, but with historical embroidery and design. This is an interesting arc in the qipao’s fashion resurgence, that in order to re-emerge as a fashion trend in the 2000s, it has to be even more historical than the qipao from 1930.

the post could be much more persuasive should you address the question of what the change/transformation of qipao suggests and make an argument at the beginning