Open Access Articles- Top Results for Cheongsam


For the male version, see Changshan.
"Qi pao" redirects here. For the Thai television series, see Qi Pao (TV series).
A woman in a cheongsam
Type Dress
Material Silk, cotton
Place of origin China
File:HK Museum of History Cheongsam Qipao Clothing Buttons.JPG
Traditional Chinese qipao clothing buttons

The cheongsam (/ˈɒŋˈsæm/,[1] /ˈɒŋˈsæm/ or /ˈɒŋˈsɑːm/) is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women, also known in Mandarin Chinese as qipao (旗袍; pronounced [t͡ɕʰǐ pʰɑ̌ʊ̯] Wade-Giles ch'i-p'ao), and Mandarin gown in English. The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or qipao (chipao) that is best known today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and made fashionable by socialites and upper class women.[2]

Chinese language usage

Two women wearing cheongsam in a 1930s Shanghai advertisement.
File:Zhou Xuan by C.H.Wong Photo Studio.jpg
Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai

The English loanword cheongsam comes from chèuhngsāam (Simp./Trad. Chinese: 长衫/長衫, 'long shirt/dress'), the Cantonese pronunciation of the Shanghainese term zǎnze or zansae, by which the original tight-fitting form was first known. The Shanghainese name was somewhat in contrast with usage in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, where chángshān (the Mandarin pronunciation of 長衫) refers to an exclusively male dress (see changshan) and the female version is known as a qipao.

In Hong Kong, where many Shanghai tailors fled to after the communist revolution in China, the word chèuhngsāam may refer to either male or female garments. The word keipo (qipao) is either a more formal term for the female chèuhngsāam, or is used for the two-piece cheongsam variant that is popular in China. Traditionally, usage in Western countries mostly followed the original Shanghainese usage and applies the Cantonese-language name cheongsam to a garment worn by women.


When the Manchu ruled China during the Qing dynasty, certain social strata emerged. Among them were the Banners (), mostly Manchu, who as a group were called Banner People (旗人 pinyin: qí rén). Manchu women typically wore a one-piece dress that retrospectively came to be known as the qípáo (旗袍, Manchu: sijigiyan or banner gown). The generic term for both the male and the female forms of Manchu dress, essentially similar garments, was chángpáo (長袍). The qipao fitted loosely and hung straight down the body, or flared slightly in an A-line. Under the dynastic laws after 1636, all Han Chinese in the banner system were forced to wear a queue as did all Manchu men and dress in Manchu qipao instead of traditional Han Chinese clothing (剃发易服), under penalty of death (along with the July 1645 edict (the Queue Order) that forced all adult Han Chinese men to shave the front of their heads and comb the remaining hair into a queue, on pain of death). However, the order for ordinary non-Banner Han civilians to wear Manchu clothing was lifted and only Han who served as officials were required to wear Manchu clothing, with the rest of the civilian Han population dressing however they wanted. Until 1911, the changpao was required clothing for Chinese men of a certain class, but Han Chinese women continued to wear loose jacket and trousers, with an overskirt for formal occasions. The qipao was a new fashion item for Han Chinese women when they started wearing it around 1925.

The original qipao was wide and loose. It covered most of the woman's body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes. The baggy nature of the clothing also served to conceal the figure of the wearer regardless of age. With time, though, the qipao were tailored to become more form fitting and revealing. The modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the "standard" qipao, was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes. Slender and form fitting with a high cut, it had great differences from the traditional qipao. It was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time.[3] In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or "long dress" (長衫—Mandarin Chinese: chángshān; Shanghainese: zansae; Cantonese: chèuhngsāam), and it is this name that survives in English as the "cheongsam".

The controversies on the origin of Cheongsam

Usually, people take Cheongsam as adapted from a one-piece dress of Manchu women in Qing Dynasty. But debates on the origin of Cheongsam have never stopped in academic circle. There are mainly three arguments on the origins of Cheongsam: The first argument says that Cheongsam stemmed directly from the clothing of Banner People when the Manchu ruled China during the Qing dynasty. This argument was prominently represented by Xibao Zhou in his work--The History of Ancient Chinese Clothing and Ornaments.[4]

The second opinion thinks that Cheongsam inherited some features of the chángpáo of Banner people in Qing dynasty, but the origin of Cheongsam should date back to a period between the West Zhou dynasty (1046 BC-771 BC) and the pre-Qin era, which is much earlier than the Qing dynasty. According to Jieming Yuan’s book Chinese Cheongsam, the modern Cheongsam shares many similarities with the narrow-cut straight skirt that women wore in West Zhou dynasty.[5] And Chinese Professor Xinmin Bao also pointed out in his book A Real Record of Modern Chinese Costume that the Cheongsam originated from the ancient robe in Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The robe is a one-piece upper and lower connected long dress which was quite popular among ladies in Han.[6]

The third argument was raised by Chinese Professor Xiangyang Bian in his book An Analysis On the Origin of Qipao. Bian thinks that Cheongsam originates from neither the robe nor the chángpáo. It is an adaption of western-style dress during the Republican period of China when people were open to the western cultures. In his opinion, Cheongsam was a hybrid of traditional Chinese costumes and western costumes such as the waistcoat and one-piece dress.[7]

Variation through history

The modernized version is noted for accentuating the figures of women, and as such was popular as a dress for high society. As Western fashions changed, the basic cheongsam design changed too, introducing high-necked sleeveless dresses, bell-like sleeves, and the black lace frothing at the hem of a ball gown. By the 1940s, cheongsam came in a wide variety of fabrics with an equal variety of accessories.

The 1949 Communist Revolution curtailed the popularity of the cheongsam and other fashions in Shanghai, but the Shanghainese emigrants and refugees brought the fashion to Hong Kong where it has remained popular. Recently there has been a revival of the Shanghainese cheongsam in Shanghai and elsewhere in Mainland China; the Shanghainese style functions now mostly as a stylish party dress.

The popularity of Cheongsam and women’s liberation

The Republican period is the golden age of Cheongsam. In exploring reasons behind its prevalence in Republic of China, many scholars relate it to the women’s liberation movements. After the feudal Qing Dynasty was overturned, Chinese feminists called for women's liberation from traditional roles and they led several movements against the Neo-Confucian gender segregation, including a cancellation of bound feet for women, cutting off long hair which was conventionally symbolized as women's oriental beauty, and encouraging women to wear men’s one-piece clothing, Changshan or "changpao".

"Changpao" was traditionally taken as men’s patent throughout the long history since Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220) to Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). During that time, Chinese Han female’s clothing gradually developed into two pieces. Women were forbidden to wear robes as men did and instead had to wear tops and bottoms known as "Liang jie yi". After the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 (which overthrew the Qing dynasty), young Chinese people began to learn western science and cultures in order to seek a way of saving the nation. Also, the opening of several ports and ceding territories of China to western powers imported western civilization abundantly to mainland China. Among all these western thoughts, the idea of gender equality quickly gained its followers, among whom young female students became its prime advocates.[8]

In the early years of Republican period, wearing Cheongsam carried the symbol of promoting gender equality and saving the country. The color of Cheongsam were usually cold and rigid. It symbolized a silent protest,as part of the May Fourth Movement and the New Cultural Movement.

Since 1930s,Cheongsam was popularized from young female students to all women in China regardless of their ages and social status. More and more female workers and celebrities put on Cheongsam. The style of Cheongsam also varied due to western costume’s influence. It changed from a wide and loose style to a more form fitting and revealing cut, which put more emphasis on women’s body line. The length of Cheongsam was also reduced from ankle reaching to above the knee.
File:Chinese Cheong-sam of Xi.jpg
This is a Typical Chinese Cheongsam in short style above the knee
Besides, the design of Cheongsam got various inventions like ruffled collar, bell-like sleeves and black lace frothing. Staring from that, the priority of Cheongsam moved from a political expression to aesthetic and ornamental emphasis.
File:Chinese Cheongsam of Xi.jpg
This is the original collar design of Chinese Cheongsam

Fashion Timeline of Chinese Dress

In 1929, Cheongsam was decided by the National Republic of China to be one of the national dresses.

in 1930s, it was prevailed in Shanghai. Usually, they were made of silk and the whole dress was embroidered with pearls and other pretty decorations. Cheongsams draw the outline of women's body,it became closer-fitting and more practical. But sometimes people make fake ones and put then up to sell.

Throughout 1950s to 1970s, due to the anti-tradition movements in China, especially the Chinese Cultural Revolution(1966-1976), Cheongsam was deemed as the feudal dross of the ancient times. It was abandoned as daily clothing. Also, people who wore Cheongsam would be judged as being bourgeois, which was decided as a political misbehavior at that time. For example, in 1963, when then president Liu Shaoqi was visiting four neighboring countries in South Aisa, the then first lady Wang Guangmei wore a set of Cheongsam. Wang was later declared as guilty in the Cultural Revolution due to her dressing of Cheongsam.

Since 1980s, with the trend of reevaluation of Chinese traditional culture, people in mainland China started to pay attention to Cheongsam again. Cheongsam is also getting more and more popularity in films, beauty pageants, and fashion shows in both China and other countries all over the world. In 1984, Cheongsam was specified as the formal attire of female diplomatic agents by the People’s Republic of China.

Modern use

File:Cheongsam at the National Museum of Singapore - 20120406.jpg
Cheongsam belonging to the wives of past Singaporean political leaders on display in an exhibition entitled In the Mood for Cheongsam: Modernity and Singapore Women at the National Museum of Singapore in 2012

In the 1950s, women in the workforce in Hong Kong started to wear more functional cheongsam made of wool, twill, and other materials. Most were tailor fitted and often came with a matching jacket. The dresses were a fusion of Chinese tradition with modern styles. Cheongsam were commonly replaced by more comfortable clothing such as sweaters, jeans, business suits and skirts. Due to its restrictive nature, it is now mainly worn as formal wear for important occasions. They are sometimes worn by politicians and film artists in Taiwan and Hong Kong. They are shown in some Chinese movies such as in the 1960s film The World of Suzie Wong, where actress Nancy Kwan made the cheongsam briefly fashionable in western culture. However, they are sometimes used as Halloween costumes in some western countries. They are also commonly seen in beauty contests, along with swim suits. Today, cheongsam are only commonly worn day to day as a uniform by people like restaurant hostesses and serving staff at luxury hotels.

Work wear

Some airlines in Mainland China and Taiwan have cheongsam uniforms for their women flight attendants and ground workers such as China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines. They are in a plain color, hemmed to just above the knee, with a close fitting wool suit jacket of the same color as the cheongsam. The workers wear stockings and low heeled shoes. Their working places are often air-conditioned so they remain cool.

Many waitresses in Chinese restaurants over the world wear suits and skirts but some wear cheongsam. These cheongsam are long, often foot length or floor length. They have slits high to the waist or hip, and are usually sleeveless or have only cap sleeves. They are often made of brightly colored silk or satin with rich Chinese embroidery. Some nightclub waitresses, ritual girls in ceremonies, and competitors in Chinese beauty competitions wear similar cheongsam uniforms. They may wear pantyhose but not an underskirt so walking shows their legs. These uniforms are considered too revealing for casual wear so they are worn and kept at work. The waitresses change into casual clothes before going home.


A few primary schools and some secondary schools in Hong Kong, especially older schools established by Christian missionaries, use a plain rimmed sky blue cotton and/or dark blue velvet (for winter) cheongsam with the metal school badge right under the stand-up collar to be closed with a metal hook and eye as the official uniform for their female students. The schools which use this standard include True Light Girls' College, St. Paul's Co-educational College, Heep Yunn School, St. Stephen's Girls' College, Ying Wa Girls' School, etc. These cheongsam are usually straight, with no waist shaping, and the cheongsam hem must reach mid-thigh. The cheongsam fit closely to the neck, and the stiff collar is hooked closed, despite the tropical humid and hot weather. Although the skirts have short slits, they are too narrow to allow students to walk in long strides. The seams above the slits often split when walking and are repeatedly sewed. Many schools also require underskirts to be worn with the cheongsam. The underskirt is a white cotton full slip, hemmed slightly shorter than the cheongsam, and have slits at the sides like the cheongsam, although the slits are deeper. A white cotton undershirt is often worn underneath the cheongsam. The cheongsam's length, styling, color and sleeve length varies between schools. Many students feel it an ordeal, yet it is a visible manifestation of the strict discipline that is the hallmark of prestigious secondary schools in Hong Kong and many students and their parents like that. In summer wearing this for a school day would be sweaty and unhygienic. Some rebellious students express their dissatisfaction with this tradition by wearing their uniform with the stand-up collar intentionally left unhooked or hemmed above their knees. The Ying Wa and True Light Schools have sent questionnaires to their students about uniform reforms but have not altered their policies.[9] However, Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery ended their cheongsam uniform in 1990 after receiving suggestions from its student union.[10]

Cheongsam on the international stage

Sport related

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, cheongsam were the uniforms for the medal bearers. They were also worn by female members of the Swedish team and of the Spanish team in the opening ceremony, with the national colors.

For the 2012 Hong Kong Sevens tournament, sportswear brand Kukri Sports teamed up with Hong Kong lifestyle retail store G.O.D. to produce merchandising, which included traditional Chinese jackets and cheongsam-inspired ladies' polo shirts.[11][12][13]

Diplomacy related

In contemporary China, the meaning of Cheongsam was renewed again. It now embodies an identity of being Chinese ethnic, thus is used in several diplomatic occasions.

Since 2013, Peng Liyuan, the first lady of China has worn Cheongsam several times when attending foreign visits with Chinese president Xi jinping.

In November 2014, Cheongsam is prepared as the official wear for the political leaders’ wives in the 22nd APEC meeting in Beijing.

International fashion related

File:Nouveau Chinese Style Shirts.jpg
Example of a Nouveau Chinese style cheongsam top

With the rise of Chinese economy, Cheongsam also enters people’s sight in the world fashion realm. Many western designers integrated elements of Cheongsam in their costume designing. French designer Pierre Cardin once admitted that Cheongsam was his inspiration of many evening dress designing.

In more and more films and movies, Cheongsam are also used to make an exotic impression. Like in the movie One Day (2011), Anne Hathaway wore a set of dark blue Cheongsam as evening dress, which won her an extensive appreciation. Many western stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman, Paris Hilton, Emma Watson, and Celine Dion also made their public appearance in Cheongsam.

Similar garments

The Vietnamese áo dài bears similarity to the cheongsam, as does the Tibetan chuba. In the 18th century, in an attempt to separate his domain from Tonkin ruled by his rival Trịnh clan and build an independent state, lord Nguyễn Phúc Khoát forced his subjects to relinquish the traditional cross collared dress in favor of a type of garment similar to qipao. Such attire was the predecessor of the modern áo dài.[citation needed]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "cheongsam". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. 
  2. ^ "Qipao (Ch'i-p'ao)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  3. ^ 旗袍起源与哪个民族?
  4. ^ 周, 锡保 (September 1984). 中国古代服饰史. 北京: 中国戏剧出版社. ISBN 9787104003595. 
  5. ^ 袁, 杰英 (January 2002). 中国旗袍. 北京: 中国纺织出版社. ISBN 9787506417075. 
  6. ^ 包, 铭新 (December 2004). 近代中国女装实录. 上海: 东华大学出版社. ISBN 9787810388870. 
  7. ^ 卞, 向阳 (November 2003). "论旗袍的流行起源". 装饰 (11). J523. 
  8. ^ 吴, 昊 (January 2008). 中国妇女服饰与身体革命. 上海: 上海东方出版中心. ISBN 9787801867735. 
  9. ^ 旗袍维系香港女校百年情. 李气虹 (The qipao keep the affections of Hong Kong girls schools of 100 years by Li Qihong) (2003-05-16).
  10. ^ Madam Lau Kam Lung Secondary School of Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery
  11. ^ "G.O.D. and Kukri Design Collaborate for the Rugby Sevens". Hong Kong Tatler. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  12. ^ "G.O.D. x Kukri". G.O.D. official website. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  13. ^ "Kukri and G.O.D. collaborate on HK7s Range!". Kukri Sports. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 


External links