A Visual Feast of Haute Couture from Ancient China
Shen Yun displays exquisite culture of fashion 5,000 years in the making
Fashion was serious business in ancient China. The right clothes gave off an aura of refinement and dignity. Traditional clothing embodied the virtues of Chinese antiquity and contributed to the culture’s perception of self.
For thousands of years, generations of designers made fashion a fine art, and their creations also became an important component of Chinese culture.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based group that tours globally each season, showcases not only the dance and music of 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture, but also features the art of fashion. Each dance is a veritable fashion show in and of itself, consisting of the handmade haute couture reaching across China’s vast geographies and throughout its periods of history.
Dressing for Harmony
Hanfu, the clothing of China’s ethnic majority, consisted of hundreds of variations. The garments were characterized by loose gowns, wide sleeves, and flat, open collars folded over to the right. Rather than using buttons or strings, most were kept in place by a sash belt. High hats and wide belts were distinguishing marks of scholars and officials.
In “The Book of Changes,” or “Yijing,” a passage praises the three sovereigns—the Yellow Emperor, Yao, and Shun—for “ruling with their arms hanging in their sleeves.”
These early rulers valued harmony between heaven and earth. As a result, the country stayed largely peaceful, and they governed without worries, their hands literally tucked away as they watched the years pass.
Ethnic attire is as diverse as Chinese culture itself, with great disparities based on region or ethnicity. The 55 ethnic minorities located throughout the country display a multitude of styles and an extensive range of colours. Historically, the country’s vastness, along with the great contrasts in geography and climate, led to the various groups developing very different forms of dress and adornment. For example, the Tibetan people adapted to their environment with warm and insulating clothing that is also suitable to their itinerant lifestyle.
The symbolic Tibetan chuba, made from sheepskin, is a long coat that is both practical and fashionable. The coat is large and loose with big open sleeves that can be rolled up in the heat of the day and used as a bedcover at night.
Traditional Manchurian Apparel
Around the world, one of the garments most often associated with Chinese dress is the qipao. Also called the cheongsam or Mandarin gown, it is distinguished by its high collar, narrow waist, and slit skirt. It can be worn long or short.
But actually, the qipao is not a Han Chinese invention—it is the traditional apparel of the Manchurian people, who ruled China during its last dynasty, the Qing. Manchu qipaos favoured hues of blue and pink, with hems and borders in auspicious white.
These costumes and many more can be seen in a Shen Yun performance. Shen Yun’s costume artists collect countless designs of traditional attire and recreate hundreds of new pieces each season, all in an array of eye-catching colours. Every detail is given meticulous attention and is a result of artistic inspiration and careful polishing.
The designers stress harmonic balance and contrast. Their objective is an authentic presentation of the attire that comes from China’s divinely inspired traditional culture, and a consummate stage effect.
Shen Yun returns to Toronto in February 2017 for its 11th season, gracing the stage for the first time at the acclaimed Four Seasons Centre. As part of the Canadian tour, it will also perform in Kitchener, Hamilton, and Mississauga in the GTA starting Dec. 29. For more information, visit ShenYun.com/GTA.
Ascene from Shen Yun’s “Ladies of the Manchu Court,” reflecting imperial women’s fashion during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Adancer in elegant Tang Dynasty (618-907) attire emanating grace and refinement.