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Museum Tells History of Chinese Costumes

Curious about Chinese costumes and amused by the qipao, erect collars and cloth buttons that can be curled into the shape of flowers?

The Ningbo Costume Museum might be the ideal place to trace the history of Chinese fashion trends.

Surrounded freshly spray-painted brick walls, the renovated museum, the first of its kind in the country, stands on the northern bank of Moon Lake embraced by lush trees and water.

Down a stone bridge across the Pingqiao River leading to the north gate of the museum, you will see a horizontal board inscribed with four Chinese characters "To Clothe and Shelter the Masses (yibei cangsheng)" and a fair-sized mural painting in which people are dressed in dazzling, colorful clothes of different dynasties.

At the entrance to the exhibition halls are pictures displaying costumes of different dynasties since the pre-Qin Dynasty period (before 221-206 BC).

The People of Hemudu, then a highly developed matriarchal community settling in present Zhejiang Province about 4,000-5,000 years ago, are seen spinning and weaving by balustraded buildings.

In the display windows are various items of clothing, including the erect collar; duijin (a kind of Chinese garment with buttons down both halves of the front); pankou (cloth buttons that can be curled into the shape of flowers); embroidery; parts of a helmet; a dragon robe; bufu (a ceremonial costume of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) officials); and an embroidered quilted jacket.

These items embody the essence of stunning fashion characteristics of the period from the Qing Dynasty through the early 20th century, and the exhaustive display windows reveal costumes in vogue throughout the period, museum staff said.

Silk is widely known as an important and long-used costume material dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

The museum features a display of silkworm rearing columns, reeled silk, a spinning machine, cylinder stove, silk slips and silkworm cocoons - items used to make silk garments during the Qing Dynasty and early 20th century.

Visitors may experience a strong sense of nostalgia, feeling themselves transported back to the remote past after roaming from one hall to another to examine a variety of costumes. The qipao is a snugly fitting woman's dress with a high neck and slit skirt, displayed in different styles, with long or short sleeves, high or low collars, and made of various materials such as machine-made cloth, soft silk fabrics or velvet, and with various linings made from camel hair or gambiered Guangdong gauze.

The qipao finds its origin in the gown worn by Manchu ethnic females. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, this full-length gown was loose-fitting and straight-bottomed, researchers at the museum said.

In the early 1920s, the qipao became popular among both Manchu and Han women.

Influenced by Western designs in the late 20th century, the qipao became shorter in length and its waistline was redesigned to be more figure-hugging. The dress perfectly captures the elegance and serenity of Oriental beauty.

The Hongbang (red band) Tailors, an outstanding branch of Western suit design in the history of Chinese garments, demonstrate their works in the museum.

The Hongbang Tailors have enjoyed fame for initiating "Five Firsts" in the development of modern Chinese garments - the first Western suit shop, first homemade Western suit, first Chinese tunic suit, first theoretical concepts for a Western suit and the first school of Western suit design.

The museum also displays other costume-related items, including the monthly publication of the Shanghai General Trade Union issued in 1921 and the dual-purpose iron and gauze that local dwellers bought from the market near the Fenghua River in Ningbo a century ago.

These items are ample evidence confirming that the shore land along Fenghua River is the very birthplace of the two-century-old Hongbang Tailors, experts said.

In a photo taken in 1923 on Shanghai's Bund, six eye-catching Western suit boutiques on Nanjing Road highlight the glorious past, a time when Hongbang Tailors rose to fame in the metropolis and lorded themselves over their less fashionable peers on bustling Nanjing Road.

In the renovated Dr Sun Yat-sen residence in Shanghai, the superb craftsmanship of the Hongbang Tailors is demonstrated in the statue of the famous leader dressed in a Chinese tunic suit tailored by Hongbang.

The advent of the Chinese tunic - a creative blending of fashion elements from the East and West, and a milestone in the history of Chinese garment design - was hailed as the "State Suit."

In the North Hall, visitors will find themselves on an old Shanghai street transformed from a long and narrow yard.

Lined up along either side of the flagstone lane are boutiques and shops selling shoes, buttons and foreign goods, with colorful shop signs swinging in the breeze.

The last hall records a time when the Hongbang Tailors moved to Beijing after the founding of New China in 1949.

The seemingly ordinary notebook on display turns out to be a record of the clothing sizes of more than 30 state leaders.

There are two large courtyards to the east of the museum, and with the use of modern scientific equipment, the courtyard mirrors the current development of the Ningbo garment industry.

It also displays 15 famous garment brands in Ningbo such as "Shanshan," "Youngor" and "Romand."

The last courtyard is designed as an exhibition hall for Korean costumes, where over 20 Korean costume designers are featured.

Since it reopened to the public last October, the museum has received about 10,000 visits by costume designers and tourists from home and abroad -- and as word spreads about the many historical fashion treasures displayed at the museum, many more are expected.

(China Daily February 6, 2002)

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