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Textual Criticism about the Little Shirt

November 20, 2010

“Textual Criticism/Research about the Little Shirt” (关于小衫的考据)
Beiyang Huabao (北样画报)
May 25, 1927
By: Wan Xianggezhu (绾香阁主)

A preoccupation with when, how, and why breast-binding began is an issue that comes up quite a bit in the materials I recently finished reading. The same author responsible for the “Illustrated History of the Development of the Little Shirt” and the other articles about breast-binding in Beiyang Huabao also wrote a piece about the origins of the little shirt. The article lists source after source and traces the references to undergarments in Chinese literature/history. Listing and cataloging every known source on a topic is a method of argumentation and writing that is common in traditional Chinese learning and it something that will I will have to discuss more at a later point. The sources the author quotes are in Classical Chinese so I had to enlist some help and my work on this article is VERY ROUGH. If you see mistakes or have insights, please add them in the comments! This article isn’t the most rousing thing, sorry…

Wan writes that the earliest written record of the little shirt is in the Zuo Zhuan (Zuo commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, from the 4th Century BCE):

“Duke Ling of Chen along with Kong Ning and Yi Hangfu had affairs with Lady Xia; they all made a game of wearing her undergarments to court.”
(This translation and translations of the other two classical sources immediately below were done by Ariel Fox, thanks!)

Wan explains that from ancient times to present, women have used “many colored cloth/silk” on their waist. The so-called “stomach stockings” (wadu 袜肚) and “abdomen stockings” (wafu 袜腹) in ancient texts are actually the moxiong (抹胸), a tight undergarment used by women to bind their breasts (shu ru 束乳). Wan then quotes a poem from Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (which was between 581-618 CE) to prove this: “Treasured stockings adorn the Chu Palace waists.”

The doudu, also known as the dudou (兜肚), was not only used by women but by men for added warmth during the winter. Wan quotes the biography of Zhou Di in the History of the Southern Dynasties which says, “He had a simple disposition and didn’t affect an impressive manner. In the winter he would wear a short cloth gown and in the summer a purple gauze undergarment covering the chest and stomach.” The men’s wafu (袜腹) can not be called the same thing as a woman’s moxiong.

Wan quotes from Chai Xiao Fan (not sure what it is, here is the original text in the article that introduces him: 柴小梵所者梵天庐丛录卷三十五载襴裙花样). Chai writes that since the Song beautiful women have used namely the lanqun (襴裙) or the moxiong (抹胸). He (?) adds that women think large breasts are shameful so they use these tight covers on their breasts. Here, lanqun (襴裙) is used to describe a breast-binding garment. This is the first time I have seen this term and the Taiwan Ministry of Education provides a shockingly thorough description of it:

An undergarment that cover the chest and abdomen. In the Tang Dynasty, it was called the “Moxiong,” in the Song and Ming dynasties it was called the “Xiong,” in the Qing Dynasty it was called the “Doudu.” In Astonished Slaps Upon the Desktop also known as Amazing Tales – a short story collection by Ling MengchuChapter 17 (of the original stories): “Koulizhoudao (口里诌道): ‘Little madam mentioned lanqun,’ what Fujianese call ‘Women’s moxiong’ has become lanqun. (覆蓋在胸腹的小衣。唐時稱為「抹胸」,宋、明時稱為「胸」,清時稱為「肚兜」。初刻拍案驚奇˙卷十七:「口裡謅道:『小娘子提起了襴裙』,蓋是福建人叫『女子抹胸』做『襴裙』。)
(found HERE)

It is also the first time I have seen 嬭襴 (nailan – breast robe/gown) used. About halfway through the article I started to lose sense of what was going on, so my plan is to return to it once I have some more practice with Classical Chinese or when I can convinced someone to help me! Also, I have seen the first character of the author’s name (Wan in my work) translated as Guan – the print I saw of the works looked like Wan but I could be wrong! The joys of being a baby scholar…

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