Intangible cultural heritage, made up of all immaterial manifestations of Traditional Chinese Culture, represents the variety of living heritage of Chinese as well as the most important vehicle of cultural diversity. The fascinating regional culture of Sichuan has nurtured exquisite Shu embroidery, gorgeous Yi costumes, and Qiang embroidery that blends modern fashion charm. In the long history of evolution, people of all ethnic groups in Sichuan have created the splendid and precious intangible cultural heritage with their hands and souls, inheriting and protecting the cultural treasures of this beautiful land.
Preserving intangible culture for future generations relies on innovation. Clothing is one of the most basic needs in our society. Intangible cultural heritage clothing collaborates with fashion brands, creates IP, introduce technology, and makes a new development model. The materials and skills of traditional costumes are inherited in an original way, and the integration of tradition and modernity, intangible cultural heritage and fashion has been greatly promoted.
In collaboration with Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, China Cultural Centre in Sydney launched Splendid Chinese Clothing—Sichuan Traditional Costume Online Exhibition on our official website, to showcase the development and evolution of the Chinese costumes. It also highlights the beauty of Sichuan brocade and embroidery, as well as the character of the costume culture from the ethnic minorities such as Tibetan, Qiang and Li. This exhibition would be a great opportunity for Australian audience to explore more about the innovation of Chinese traditional brocade weaving technology combining with modern fashion.
Hanfu clothing, also known as Han-style clothing, is a traditional costume of Han people. China’s 5,000-year culture has fostered different dressing traditions in different periods, and each costume code is a legacy of memories and history. The origin of Han-style clothing dated back to the periods from the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors to the Ming Dynasty, which lasted for thousands of years, and the Han people has never changed the basic code of dress. Today, Han-style clothing is neither a piece of clothing nor a style. Instead, it is a symbol of re-inheriting the Chinese culture.
Imitation of Quju (the curving-front unlined garment) of the Mawangdui Han Tombs ‒ Costumes of the Han Dynasty implemented the Shenyi (long coat) system, in which the frock and skirt were sewn together. Costumes mainly fell into two categories: Quju and Zhiju (the straight-front unlined garment).
The Wei, Jin, and North and South Dynasties'
The Wei, Jin, and North and South dynasties’ costume code implemented the “frock and skirt” system, with wrapping collar, wide sleeves, and large cuffs.
Sui and Tang Dynasties'
Costume code of the Sui and Tang dynasties ‒ During the Sui and Tang dynasties, women’s clothing implemented the Served Ru system. The Ru (the short garment), Shan (the unlined upper garment), and Ao (the lined upper garment), and skirt, mostly with waistband above the chest, were popular at the time.
Gored skirt with a flat collar and eighteen pieces in the early Tang Dynasty ‒ This is a short sleeve Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front, no button tabs, and was only tied with a strap in front of the chest. In the early Tang Dynasty, the design of costume was delicate. There were three kinds of tops: Ru (the short garment), Shan (the unlined upper garment), and Ao (the lined upper garment), which was naturally loose with wrapping the right side over before the left or with a lapel tied with a knot, and the skirt below was gathered and tied with a long skirt belt, presenting an elegant style.
Han-style clothing of the Song Dynasty ‒ The round-necked robe inherited from the Tang Dynasty was very simple and elegant, mostly with a sleeved overdress on top of a tube. The Song Dynasty’s Han-style clothing followed its original costume code, with a straight collar and button down the front and two slits from the armpit. The shortest garment was up to the waist, while the longest one was over the knee.
Stand collar cardigan of the Ming Dynasty ‒ The styles and shapes of buttons in the Ming Dynasty were mainly with vertical lapel, surplice, stand collar, and round collar. The overall look is very noble and elegant by adding a horse-face skirt to a double-breasted round neck coat, especially when matching with a cardigan.
Sichuan’s Brocade, China’s Treasure
With a history of 2,000 years, Shu brocade is a kind of colorful brocade with national characteristics and local style. It has recorded the splendid period of Chinese Han-style clothing and made a significant contribution to national culture.
Sichuan was called “Shu,” “Shu Kingdom,” and “The Kingdom of Silkworms” in ancient times. Also, it is where sericulture took its shape and one of the birthplaces of Chinese silk culture. Nowadays, Shu brocade’s beauty has been combined with contemporary concepts, thus promoting successive fashion trends with historical and cultural significance.
Shu embroidery is one of the Four Famous Embroideries in China. As early as the Han Dynasty, the handmade Shu embroidery of Chengdu, Sichuan, was famous worldwide. Embroiderers use more than 30 kinds of stitching techniques to embroider gorgeous colors on Han-style clothing to make gorgeous costumes. Combining Shu embroidery and Shu brocade, Han-style clothing presents the super workmanship and passes on the ingenuity and culture of the intangible heritage.
From the formal dress to the cheongsam, Shu embroidery is gradually coming into people’s daily life. With its diverse styles of Han’s simplicity, Tang’s grace, Song’s elegance, Ming’s dignity, and today’s innovation, Han-style clothing has been transforming over the ages, just as a Chinese verse describes:
Are you not battle-dressed? Let’s share the kilt and the rest!
“Ancient Shu Brocade” of 2020 Haute Couture Collection, in cooperation with Chengdu Ancient Shu Brocade Research Institute, uses Shu brocade garment fabric with a yellow five-starred pattern. Its design combines Chinese cheongsam and traditional horseshoe sleeves with exquisite tailoring to present haute couture with Chinese characteristics and the flavor of Shu brocade culture, reshaping the style of Shu brocade.
“Ancient Shu Brocade” of 2020 Haute Couture Collection, in cooperation with the Chengdu Ancient Shu Brocade Research Institute, uses the ancient Shu brocade garments fabric, with symmetrical birds and sheep, as well as flower and tree patterns.
Combining traditional Chinese brocade craft culture and modern fashion, with large volume decorative sleeves and flared pants, it shows a bold innovation with a modern sense of the famous classic pattern of traditional craftsmanship.
This design is one of the “Huatuan Jinxiu” series of Shu Brocade. With the combination of “floral and deer pattern” of the Tang Dynasty and silk gauze, the fabric is thick, flexible, crisp, and elegant. Its design combines Chinese and Western styles by applying the current internationally popular ruffle wave, highlighting women’s softness and slenderness. It embodies the different ways in which Shu brocade is used in the internationalization of fashion.
Ethnic Costumes Shared by the World
The costume is a bond that connects the imprint of history and excellent traditional craftsmanship. Innovative Han-style clothing is more than just for wearing traditional clothes to renovate the state of ceremonies. Moreover, it is about the inclusion and inheritance of multi-ethnic cultures in all aspects. The pleated skirts in blue or white with totems of ethnic symbols make Han-style clothing more fashionable.
Yi Traditional Costume 彝族传统服饰
Intangible Cultural Heritage Clothing Show ‒ “Fantasy Clouds of Yi Mountain” series
Tibetan Mountain Costume 藏族山服饰
Qiang Embroidery by Luo Renjie 《羌绣》罗仁杰
The neckline is decorated with frog twined by colorful silk threads, representing the fusion of contemporary style and the ancient Qiang robe. Qiang costumes vary in different historical periods. Whether it is the Faqiang (one of the tribes ancient Qiang people), or the creator of the Tibet and Yi cultures, all of them have their own cultural beliefs and totems. Embroidering totems and presenting the natural features with costumes, different ethnic groups have a different cultural hearth. Numerous ancient ethnic groups have been flourishing over thousands of years.
Yi-style cloak (Cha’erwa) and felt overcoats have been developed into a new style of the cape, and its beige totem is pleated and graceful. The distinctive black decorations show solemnness and elegance. As the most distinctive handicraft of the Yi people, Yi silver jewelry’s unique pattern is a depiction of Yi culture and history and a commemoration of ancestral worship. With the change of time, the thousand-year-old silver refining skill has been innovated by more craftsmen in making Yi silver headwear and silver shapes, and the Cha’erwa seems like a wing with the dazzling light of silver.
Han-style clothing with different forms and craftsmanship is the inheritance of clothing skills and the fusion of ethnic cultures. With every stitch and thread passing down national culture, the Han-style clothing connects the present and the past of various ethnic groups.