On this dragon robe, or jifu, the three elements – oceans, mountains and the heavens – symbolize the physical order and harmony of the universe. A dragon represents the power of the emperor. The five-clawed “lung dragon” suggests it was worn by a member of the imperial family or high-ranking official. Fine slit-tapestry weaving and metal-thread embroidery further emphasize the wearer’s status.

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What was the meaning of silk and gold in 19th century China and how has it changed over time?

responded: Jan 22, 2012

Posted by Irena Yang

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Until the 19th century, China had been the largest silk producer in the world. It had the largest and most advanced economy in the world. During the Industrial revolution, many innovations in technology allowed the textile industry to boom in Europe. With the help of sewing machines and fabric looms in Europe, China slowly lagged behind in the silk industry. However, what really changed China’s status and situation in the world was the cultural stagnation as well as the rising threats by imperialism. Due to the many wars and devastating events, China was at its worst condition ever. This was gradually reflected in the dress codes; during the 1800s, courtroom (Manchu) dresses such as the jifu shown in the example were still worn by those of higher social status. Then the Qipao/Cheungsam was developed from the Manchu dress, it was more fitted and much less embellished. Silk was still used but in much lesser amount. The bigger change in fashion was seen during the turn of 20th century, when the Provisional President of the new Chinese Republic – Sun Zhongshan developed the Zhongshan fu/Sun Yat-sen suit, it was then modified by Chairman Mao during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This suit was dull in color and simple in design, mostly made from wool or cotton for cheaper production cost. Women also switched into loose fitting shirts and trousers, I think this change can be comparable to the “Utility clothing” in the western culture during the 1940s. The Mao suit was recognized as the national dress code; it represented the ideas of propriety, justice, honesty, and a sense of shame, contradicting from the Manchu dress where the silk and gold embellishments symbolized wealth and status. A good site to check out on this topic:

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