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"Qipao" of different eras on display at Museum of History (with photos)

     From tomorrow (June 23) to September 13, more than 270 "qipao" of different styles and eras will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of History along with some 400 pictures and nine multi-media programmes, giving the public an opportunity to have a full picture of the development of the "qipao" and to appreciate its classic beauty.

     Entitled "The Evergreen Classic - Transformation of the Qipao", the exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Institute of Textiles and Clothing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and organised by the Museum of History in association with the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. The exhibition illustrates the origins of the "qipao" and its relationship with society and culture. It also analyses how the "qipao" has constructed a cultural symbol from a piece of clothing, and how contemporary fashion designers have continuously transformed it into the fashion icon of today.

     The fabulous, colourful exhibits on display cover a wide range from women's long gowns dating back to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) to the "qipao" worn by the Beijing Olympics ceremony hostesses in 2008 as well as that worn by Mrs Gwen Kao, wife of Nobel Laureate Professor Charles Kao, at the Nobel Prize Award ceremony in 2009. There are also "qipao" worn by celebrities and actresses, such as Lin Dai, Josephine Siao Fong-fong, Loletta Chu, Christina Lee Look Ngan Kwan, Vera Waters, Michelle Yeoh Choo-kheng and Nansun Shi. The "qipao" uniforms of local chain restaurants run by Tao Heung Holdings Ltd, "qipao"-style school uniforms worn by girls, designs from Chinese Arts and Crafts (HK) Co. Ltd and other two fashion brands, "SHIATZY CHEN" and "Blanc de Chine" are also featured. The teaching staff of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University also has been invited to design "qipao" for this exhibition, giving new perspectives on how a contemporary training institute of fashion design interprets the "qipao" tradition.

     The term "qipao" originally referred to the long gowns worn by Manchu women of the Qing dynasty. Manchu gowns featured a tighter fit that suited this people's nomadic and hunting lifestyle. As lifestyles changed after the mid-Qing dynasty, the gown was ankle length and featured a loose, straight cut and wide sleeves. Embellishments and details were especially important in Qing dynasty attire.

     After the 1911 Revolution, education became widely available to women in China. With schooling and active participation in social affairs now available to women, they began to wear plain and simple clothes which were more practical and allowed them to move around more easily. It was against this backdrop that the "new civilised outfit", which featured a blouse and a skirt, emerged. Initially this style of clothing was worn by students and thus gained popularity among educated women, which in turn led to it becoming fashionable among urbanites, who wore it to come across as modern. Consequently, the "new civilised outfit" became the predominant clothing style in the 1910s and 1920s.

     In the 1920s, an early form of the "qipao" re-emerged that traced its origins back to the gown of the Manchu women of the Qing dynasty but also incorporated contemporary fashion elements. Like the Manchu gown, it was cut wide and straight, but it had also been modernised with the skirt shortened to the calf to reveal the ankles; the sleeves shortened to elbow or wrist length; and the cuffs, collar and front-flap adorned with simple bindings. This style formed the prototype for the modern "qipao". When the Republican government promulgated "Attire Regulations" in 1929, it recognised the "qipao" as ceremonial dress. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education reinforced the increasingly dominant position of the "qipao" by making it one of the few school uniform styles that girls could wear.

     The "qipao" saw its heyday during the 1930s. Women of all ages and from all walks of life wore it on a daily basis. Influenced by Westerners' appreciation of slenderness, the skirt was extended down to the ankles. The garment became longer and slimmer, but was given higher slits to allow convenient movement. Contemporary fashionable women often wore their "qipao" with high heels to accentuate their slim figures, grace and femininity.

     Shanghai was the centre of China's fashion industry and entertainment industry in the 1920s and 1930s. The calendar posters that were hugely popular in this period often featured attractive women wearing "qipao", while the most celebrated film stars, including Hudie and Ruan Lingyu, also loved the dress. These models and celebrities set the fashion trends that other women of the time were quick to follow, and this contributed to the diverse and colourful development of the "qipao".

     After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, very few women on the Mainland wore the "qipao". This was especially true from the 1960s, when manufactured garments in a wide array of styles became easily available at much cheaper prices than the tailor-made "qipao". However, public figures or the wives of leaders wore it as ceremonial attire on diplomatic occasions. These women of high status in socialist China confirmed the "qipao's" role as ceremonial dress.

     While the "qipao" fell from grace on the Mainland, it remained common attire for Chinese women in Hong Kong where it was seen regularly in a number of different ways: as a uniform for students and waitresses, a wedding dress and the national costume for Hong Kong representatives in world beauty pageants. Today, the "qipao" is a symbol for Chinese women. On special occasions where one's Chinese identity is to be emphasised, the "qipao" is the obvious choice of dress for many Chinese women.

     The "qipao" retired from public consciousness for two decades in the 1970s and 1980s, but it rose to popularity once again in the mid-1990s, especially in the run-up to Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997. By that time, Chinese styles were making their mark on the international fashion scene, with many top designers often incorporating features of the "qipao" to give their designs an oriental aura. The "qipao" is, without doubt, a classic. Having survived the ever changing currents of fashion, it has provided long-lasting inspiration for designers and has been interpreted and re-presented by generations of creative talent. The process of interpretation creates and recreates vibrancy, as traditional form is passed down from generation to generation and generation to come.

     Those who wish to learn more about the "qipao" should not miss the series of lectures and workshops to be organised by the museum. On June 26, a lecture introducing the exhibition will be given by the Assistant Curator of the Museum of History, Mr Cheung Yui-sum. Another lecture, "'Qipao' is a Many Splendoured Thing" by renowned image consultant, Ms Tina Liu Tien-an, will be held on July 17. The lectures, conducted in Cantonese, will be held in the museum's Lecture Hall from 3pm to 5pm. Admission to the lectures is free and seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis. For details, please call 2724 9082.

     The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission for the museum is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's website at or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Issued at HKT 18:59


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