The Han Dynasty

Under the Qin (221-206 b.c.e.) and the Han (206 b.c.e.-7 c.e..; restored 25-220 c.e.), dynasties, China was unified under imperial rule for the first time, expanding to incorporate much of the territory within China's boundaries today. The famous underground terra-cotta army of the First Emperor of Qin gives vivid evidence of the clothing of soldiers and officers, again showing the basic theme of long gowns for elites, shorter jackets for commoners. One sees also that all of the soldiers are shown with elaborately dressed hair, worn with headgear ranging from simple head cloths to formal official caps. Cavalry warfare was of increasing significance in China during the Qin and Han periods; in funerary statuettes and murals, riders are often shown wearing long-sleeved, hip-length jackets and padded trousers.

The well-preserved tomb of the Lady of Dai at Mawangdui, near Changsha (Hunan Province, in south-central China) has yielded hundreds of silk dress items and textiles, from spiral-wrapped or right-side-fastening gowns, to mittens, socks, slippers, wrapped skirts, and other garments, and bolts of uncut and unsewn silk. The textiles show a great range of dyed colors and weaving and decorating techniques, including tabby, twill, brocade, gauze, damask, and embroidery. Textual evidence from the Han period shows that government authorities attempted through sumptuary laws to restrict the use of such textiles to members of the elite landowning class, but that townsmen including merchants and artisans were finding ways to acquire and wear them also.

The period 220-589 c.e. (that is, from the fall of the Han to the rise of the Sui Dynasty), was one of disunity, when northern China was frequently ruled by dynasties of invaders from the northern frontier, while southern China remained under the control of a series of weak ethnically Chinese rulers. Depictions of dress from northern China thus show a predominance of styles suitable for horse-riding peoples. Elite men are sometimes shown wearing thigh-length wrapped jackets over skirts or voluminous skirtlike trousers. In southern China the traditions of colorful Yangtze River Valley silks predominated (though with a discernible trend toward plainer everyday clothing for elite men). Buddhism arrived in China via Central Asia during the late Han period, prompting the production of typical patchwork Buddhist monks' robes, as well as more formal embroidered or appliqué ecclesiastical garments.

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