Stability and change in China

Though dynasties changed over the thousands of years of Chinese history, many of the elements of Chinese life remained the same. The Chinese had a deep respect for tradition, and this respect meant that many of the elements of culture endured throughout history. Respect for elders, the religion of Buddhism, and certain clothing customs lasted for many years. Also enduring was the rule by emperors, aided by a vast bureaucracy that saw that the emperor's will was followed.

Much of what we know about Chinese costume comes from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.). The leaders of the Qing dynasty were not Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, but Manchus, members of people native to Manchuria. The Manchus adopted many of the Han customs and instituted other customs of their own. Their reign lasted several hundred years and featured the first significant contact with the West in Chinese history. They tried to keep Western influence out of China, but increasing trade with European nations brought much change to China. That change culminated in 1911 C.E. with a revolution that brought an end to imperial rule in China. The leader of the revolution, Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925 C.E.), hoped that all Chinese could vote and enjoy access to the country's riches. His revolution did not entirely succeed, however, and a long period of conflict and civil war ended in 1949 when Communists, lead by Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976 C.E.), took control in China. (Communism is a system of government in which the state controls the economy and


Samurai (SAM-er-eye) were Japanese warriors who were revered for their skills as warriors, but also for their distinct influence on Japanese fashion. Samurai first appeared in Japan as early as the eighth century C.E., but they truly rose to power in the eleventh century as elite warriors in service to their feudal lords, or daimyos. Other samurai served as guards of the imperial palace. The samurai were accorded special status after about 1600. They alone had the privilege of wearing two swords, they married only among their own class, and they passed their privileges on to their children. The word samurai literally means "to be on one's guard."

The samurai, or warrior class, replaced the court nobles who had once surrounded the ruler. These nobles had always worn ceremonial clothing and lived a very formal existence within large castles. The rulers understood that the samurai were strong and wise and capable of forming their own armies and taking control of the country. To keep the power of the samurai in check, the rulers encouraged the samurai to live by elaborate rules about dress and behavior. Samurai lived by a code of honor known as Bushido, the way of the sword. Loyalty, truthfulness, sincerity, and readi ness to die for honor were its main attributes. The samurai also became very dedicated to ceremony and to acquiring and displaying meaningful colors, fabrics, and styles.

Samurai were dressed for speed and travel. Their basic uniform had wide hakama trousers, open halfway down the leg and ending above the ankle. The under-kimono of the samurai could be slipped off for a sword battle, while remaining secured at the waist by the hakama's hard waistband and ties. The overvest had impressive winged shoulders and was sleeveless, so that the samurai looked both grand and dangerous and was able to swing his arms around with his two swords.

Historically, samurai and geishas have been the two greatest influences on Japanese fashion and taste. Both had the status, visibility, and intelligence to cultivate distinctive colors, fabrics, and styles, changing them regularly to keep the public enthralled, much like today's rock stars or actors and actresses.

Among the fashions that were developed by samurai in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the hakama, or trouser, and kataginu, a ceremonial ensemble with winged shoulders, are the most distinctive. In recent times, samurai fashions all property and wealth are shared equally by the people.) Chairman Mao, as he was known, brought dramatic changes in Chinese life and again closed his country to the West. He also changed Chinese clothing styles dramatically in an effort to make everyone dress the same. Today, China is still a Communist country, but it is slowly opening to Western influence and fashion.

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