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Shanghai Museum of Textile and Costume

December 16, 2010

Photographs in the Modern China, Women’s Clothing (女装) section

Today I made a trip to the Shanghai Museum of Textile and Costume (上海纺织服饰博物馆), located at Donghua University. The museum is only a few years old and has all kinds of cool interactive exhibits about contemporary textiles (and textile production) and clothing on the first floor. Unfortunately when I went to print out the little paper doll I had made, it didn’t work. I was a little scared to touch the contemporary weaving, printing, and embroidery machines but I do believe you are supposed to play with them. So much of the world’s textile and clothing production happens in China, so I really liked the display of techniques and equipment used and felt that it was thoughtful, although there wasn’t much mention of the (often) less than ideal conditions in clothing/textile factories.

Silk jacket and shoes for “natural feet” in the Modern China section (all of my photos are from this section of the museum)

I trotted through the first floor and made my way to the second, which has the history of Ancient Chinese textiles. While there was some interesting information about the formation of Chinese (meaning, Han) dress and how it changed with expanding trade, culture, and interaction and invasion from other ethnic groups like the Mongols and the Manchus. Textile wise, anything prior to the late Qing is hard to preserve because of the dyes used (anything prior to a certain point in the late Qing will be totally faded) and the natural degradation and wear of cloth, but it was a bit of a bummer to see a lot of replica fabrics and static images on the wall.

Qipao, embroidered shoes for natural feet, and portrait

The third floor is split in two, one side for minority clothing and the other an exhibit on Modern China (and its textiles.) The English translation on the opening placard for the women’s exhibit wasn’t great but the Chinese offered some interesting contrasts. It says that after the 1911 Revolution, Chinese clothing westernized and clothes went from “obliterating the characteristics and differences of the human body” (由抹杀人体特征和差异) and gradually changed to “consciously display the characteristics of the human body” (有意识地去表现人体特征.) Clothes went from being large and loose (宽大 kuan da) to fitting the body, from heavy and complicated (繁复 fan fu) to becoming concise. The material (面料 mian liao) went from thick and heavy (厚重 hou zhong) to light (轻薄 qing bo.) Lastly and most interestingly, the introduction says that clothes also emphasized the use of overhanging sex? The original is: 注重悬垂性的使用. Is this saying that clothes began to emphasize sex/gender? Or sexuality?

Top – Qipao, Bottom – Silk Pants

There are only a few historical/thematic notes through the exhibit and one of them is about the Qing Dynasty version of (something similar to) a Qipao (旗女之袍) and the Qipao (旗袍.) The card says that there were a few major differences between the two: 1. The Qing version was heavy and didn’t reveal the figure while the Qipao started to reveal posture (体态 ti tai) and women’s curves (女性曲线 nvxing quxian.) 2. The Qing version had long pants (长裤 chang ku) underneath, which could be seen from the long slit in the garment, while the Qipao had these pants or silk stockings, which could reveal the legs.

Early 20th Century sewing machine and thread

I wish there was more discussion of how clothes were made and marketed. The above photos are of an early 20th century sewing machine (for home use) and thread and the below photos show mass-produced and mass-marketed items but little is said of these changes. I think I am just projecting my own hang ups on the museum (which I thought was really well done) because production and women’s labor is the piece of my research puzzle that is still conspicuously missing.

Top – Machine made embroidery, Bottom – Mass-produced cotton stockings

Embroidered women’s silk vest

And here is a doudu, found in the children’s section:

No mentions of undergarments or breast-binding in the museum, sigh.

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