The History of Chinese Clothing — The Age of Feudal States

Qi Huan-Gong and Guan Zhong
Jin Jing-Gong

These pictures are the stills of the TV drama “States of the Eastern Zhou” (东周列国). In the first still, the men are the two preeminent statesmen of ancient China, Qi Huan-Gong (齐桓公) and Guan Zhong (管仲). They were golden partners, and we can know about some details from a great book “Guanzi” (管子). The man in the second still is Jin Jing-Gong (晋景公), the monarch of Jin (晋) State. At the times(599 BC-581 BC) of Jin Jing-Gong, Jin State defeated two strong states, Chu (楚) State and Qi (齐) State. Then Jin became the strongest country and controlled the hegemony in a long time.

Qi State was created as the fief of Jiang Tai-Gong (姜太公) who was a great statesman and strategist in 11th century BC. Qi State was near the sea, and it attached great importance and significance to trade. The hard-working people of this open country built the Silk Road by the sea. Qi State executed democratic policies so there were many different thoughts and systems of pluralism within the country. Qi State became the most accessible and wealthiest one of Huaxia states. In this state, there was the first hegemon, Qi Huan-Gong, in the Spring-Autumn Period. During the long times of the Warring-States Period, Qi was only country which Qin (秦) State was friendly with. In 288 BC, Qin Zhao-King (秦昭王), who was the king of Qin, called himself “Western Di” (西帝) (the term “Di” was the greatest title that a person could have in remote antiquity), and Qi Min-King (齐闵王) who was the king of Qi called himself “Eastern Di” (东帝).

In the early days of the Spring-Autumn Period, Qi Huan-Gong upheld the principle of respecting Zhou King and repelling other ethnic groups (尊王攘夷), and assembled many states of Huaxia nine times. In the times of Qi Huan-Gong, the Huaxia states united as one. Differing from other hegemons, he had an imposing reputation because of his virtues and contributions. After his death, Qi State lost hegemony. In order to recapture hegemony, Qi State which was a state of the Eastern Xia waged long-term wars against the states of the Central Xia (中夏). In the times of Qi Jing-Gong (齐景公), Qi State was supported by many states of Central Xia becasue of the brilliant diplomacy of Qi Jing-Gong. After Jing-Gong’s death, there were civil strifes in Qi State, and Qi lost hegemony again. In the early days of the Warring-States Period, there were upheavals in the Central Xia and the Eastern Xia. In Central Xia, Jin (晋) State, which was the largest state and the long-term hegemon, separated into three countries in 403 BC. In the Eastern Xia, the Jiang family which had ruled Qi State for 700 years lost sovereignty and the Tian (田) family became the ruler of Qi in 386 BC. Qi State started the period of Tian-Qi (田齐). This family established the Academic Palace of Jixia (稷下学宫) and encouraged contention of different schools of thoughts. So Qi became the most democratic state at that time. In the later stage of the Warring-States Period, Qi executed a policy towards peace. The army of Qi hadn’t fought for 50 years. When the army of Qin State attacked Qi, the several hundred thousand armymen of Qi State were routed quickly. Cherishing the memory of their own motherland, the people of Qi State wrote a poem named “The Song of Pines and Cypresses” (松柏之歌).

The people of Qi State enjoyed dressing in beautiful clothing. Because of this tradition Qi State came to be known as “the Land of Beautiful Clothing”. Nowadays, as a way to honor the traditions of their ancestors, Shandong Province holds the Festival of Qi Culture. The beautiful clothing of the Eastern Xia of the past reappears onto the old and great land.

The wedding of Confucius
The wedding of Confucius

The pictures are the stills about the wedding ceremony of Confucius from the TV drama “Confucius”.

The formal name of Confucius was Kong Qiu (孔丘), and he was also called Zhongni (仲尼). He was born in 551 BC in the Lu (鲁) State (This state was in the south of modern-day Shandong Province) in the later days of the Spring-Autumn Period. Confucius was from a warrior family. His father Shulianghe (叔梁紇) was a famous warrior who had military exploits in two battles and got a feoff. But Confucius lost his father when he was three years old, and then his mother Yan Zhengzai (顏徵在) took him and left the feoff because as a concubine (妾) she wanted to avoid the mistreatment of Shulianghe’s formal wife. So since childhood Confucius lived in poverty with his mother. With the support and encouragement of his mother, Confucius was very diligent in his studies. When Confucius was seventeen years old, his mother died of illness and overwork. Three years later, Confucius married a young woman who was from the Qiguan family (亓官氏) of Song (宋) State. Though he had a mild wife who loved him, he still left his family and strived for his ideals.

Kong Li was the son of Confucius. When he was born, the monarch Lu Zhao-Gong presented a red cyprinoid to Confucius, so Confucius gave his baby the formal name “Li” (the Chinese character is “鲤” which means “cyprinoid”), and gave another name (In Chinese, such name is called “字”) “Boyu” (伯鱼)(the Chinese character “鱼”[Yu] means “fish”) to the baby.

In the TV drama “Confucius”, you may watch some details of a wedding ceremony in the Zhou Dynasty. The scenes are based on ritual records of the Zhou Dynasty.

In the Zhou Dynasty, a wedding ceremony was not carousing and hilarious, but placid, graceful and happy. It was a holy time for a man and a woman. The bridegroom drove a carriage and went to the home of the bride. The bride’s father held his daughter’s hand and gave the hand to the bridegroom, and then the bridegroom held the bride’s hand and got on the carriage. The bridegroom drove the carriage with his bride and returned to his home. The new couple did obeisance to the bridegroom’s parents, and then the new couple did obeisance to each other. The behaviors of the new couple were harmonious and graceful, and the wedding ceremony meant the couple would have a harmonious family. In the future days, the couple treated each other with respect. Even in difficult circumstances they still were loyal and faithful to each other. They encouraged and helped each other. Years have passed with generation after generation, but their romantic and touching stories are memorable forever.

Confucius met Laozi
Duanmu Ci went to study from Confucius

The first picture is a still from the TV drama “States of the Eastern Zhou”, and the second picture is a still from the TV drama “Confucius”.

The first picture is the scene that Confucius met Laozi. As we know, both of Confucius and Laozi were the greatest thinkers of China. Confucius wanted to revive the perfect virtue of Huaxia and the classical proprieties of the Western Zhou Dynasty for building a great harmonious and humanistic society. He met many frustrations, but he was never shaken in his beliefs, even if he was amid dangers and difficulties that threatened his life. Confucius died in 479 BC. We still remember his great words, “A white orchid doesn’t abandon its fragrance, even though it is in a remote mountain where no one can see it. A gentleman who respects virtue doesn’t change his beliefs, even though he is in terrible poverty.”

The second picture is the scene that Duanmu Ci (端木赐) wanted to be the student of Confucius. Duanmu Ci was also called Zigong (子贡). Zigong was one of the famous students of Confucius. He was very good at business. Zigong often gave financial assistance to Confucius, and the assistance was very advantageous for Confucius to visit many states and spread his thoughts. Monarchs respected Zigong and regarded him as a friend. This also showed the importance of trade and businessmen at that time.

Confucius visited Laozi
Mengsun Heji
Mengsun Heji
Mengsun Heji

The pictures are stills from the TV drama “Confucius”.

The first picture is the scene that Confucius and his students were listening to the words of Laotze who was the creator of the Taoist school. In this picture, the left man is Zilu (子路), the middle man is Confucius, and the right man is Nangong Jingshu (南宫敬叔).

Nangong Jingshu (“Jing”[敬] was his title after his death) was the younger son of the Mengsun family (孟孙氏). The Mengsun family was one of three families in power in Lu State, and this family was also called the Meng family (孟氏) or the Zhongsun family (仲孙氏). Nangong Jingshu and his older brother Mengsun Heji (孟孙何忌, or called Zhongsun Heji[仲孙何忌]) studied proprieties from Confucius. Nangong Jingshu was more loyal than Mengsun Heji to Confucius. He gave Confucius not only moral support but also political support. This young man had noble virtue, so Confucius let his niece (the daughter of his older brother Mengpi[孟皮]) marry him.

Zilu was another famous student of Confucius, and his formal name was Zhong You (仲由). He was a brave warrior, and he believed in the Shi-Principles (士道) (“Shi”[士] was a group of people including warriors, junior officials, family-ministers (家臣) and other common citizens who were qualified for military service) which included loyalty (忠), faithfulness (信), propriety (礼) and righteousness (义). Zilu was a very straightforward man, and he often argued with Confucius. Though he did so, he still deeply respected his teacher, and earnestly practiced what his teacher advocated. At the last moment, though Zilu was seriously wounded, he still placidly faced death and wore his cap correctly, and then he died as a noble gentleman (君子).

In the other pictures, the man is Mengsun Heji (孟孙何忌). Mengsun Heji and Nangong Jingshu were from the Mengsun family, and they were the sons of Meng Xizi (孟僖子) whose formal name was Mengsun Jue (孟孙貜, also called Zhongsun Jue[仲孙貜]). About the birth of the two men, there was a story. One day, a young woman dreamed that she used her curtain to cover the ancestral temple of the Mengsun family. She regarded this dream as the Heaven’s inspiration to let her be the Mengsun’s woman. So the woman went to visit Meng Xizi, and her intimate friend followed her. In a divine shrine (社), the two women made a pledge, “If any one of us has children, don’t leave the other out in the cold!” Both of the two women became the favorites of Meng Xizi. Later, the woman who had that divine dream gave birth to two sons, Mengsun Heji and Nangong Jingshu, but her friend didn’t have a child. So the young woman let her friend adopt Nangong Jingshu with the permission of Meng Xizi. Mengsun Heji became the heir of Meng Xizi. Meng Xizi had once been derided by others because he didn’t know some proprieties, and he regarded this experience as a disgrace. At the last moment of his life, he told his two sons to study proprieties from Confucius. Mengsun Heji became the master of the Mengsun family. For keeping his family’s interests, Mengsun Heji abandoned the principles what his teacher Confucius taught him. In 517 BC, when Lu Zhao-Gong (鲁昭公), the monarch of Lu State, led his army to punish the family of the prime minister Jisun Yiru (季孙意如), Mengsun Heji actually led his family’s army to support the Jisun family (季孙氏) and attack the monarch’s army, and then Lu Zhao-Gong had to leave Lu State in anger. In 498 BC, Confucius let his student Zilu help the monarch Lu Ding-Gong (鲁定公) to demolish the city walls of the three influential families’ feoffs for weakening the bases of the three families. The city walls of the Jisun’s and Shusun (叔孙)’s feoffs were demolished. But Gonglian Chufu (公敛处父), the seneschal (宰) of the Mengsun family, led the Mengsun’s army to resist the government army with the connivance of Mengsun Heji for keeping the city wall of the Mengsun’s feoff. Confucius tried to weaken the three families in power for returning the power to the monarch, but his student Mengsun Heji dashed his hope.

In the third picture, you may find a special style of garment which was worn by Mengsun Heji. The main feature of the special style is that the front of the garment is rectangular. Such special style was found in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, but disappeared in later dynasties. In this TV drama, some people wear such kind of garments. It shows the producers of this TV drama really considered the different features of the culture in the times of Confucius.

Yang Hu
Gongshan Buniu and other family-ministers

These pictures are the stills from the TV drama “Confucius”. The man in the left still is Yang Hu (阳虎) who is intimidating his master Jisun Si (季孙斯). In the right still, Gongshan Buniu (公山不狃) is consulting with other family-ministers (家臣) about rebellion. Both of Yang Hu and Gongshan Buniu were the family-ministers of the Jisun (季孙) family in the Lu (鲁) State.

Family-ministers were the characteristic group of people in the Pre-Qin Era. They were only loyal to their master, and they led the warriors of their master’s family. The political organization of a family was similar to the state’s political organization, so the master of a family was similar to the monarch of a state, and the seneschal (宰) of a family was similar to the prime minister of a state. In 517 BC, when the monarch Lu Zhao-Gong (鲁昭公) led his army to attack the Jisun family, the military minister (司马) of the Shusun (叔孙) family consulted with other family ministers how they treated the event. He said, “We are family-ministers, and we don’t dare to consider the country. Which choice can we benefit from, the Jisun family is in existence or out of existence?” Other family-ministers said, “No the Jisun family, and no the Shusun family.” So they led the Shusun’s warriors to aid the Jisun family. They breached the encirclement of the monarch’s army, and many of the government army surrendered.

At that time, the Jisun family was in power, and the monarchs of the Lu State had no real power. The Jisun’s family-ministers also wanted to model themselves after their master. In 530 BC, Nan Kuai (南蒯), the seneschal of the Jisun family, rebelled against his master Jisun Yiru (季孙意如), because Jisun Yiru was disrespectful to him. Nan Kuai wanted to give the Jisun’s property to the monarch and be the state minister who governed the city Fei. But later he was afraid that his force was not able to defeat the Jisun family, and he actually proclaimed that the city Fei became the city of the Qi (齐) State in order to get the Qi’s reinforcement, so the people of Fei started to dislike him. Two years later, two family-ministers forced Nan Kuai to abandon the rebellion, and Nan Kuai had to run away to the Qi State. The two family-ministers returned Fei to the Lu State, and the Qi State also announced that Fei belonged to the Lu State. One day, Nan Kuai attended the banquet of Qi Jing-Gong (齐景公) who was the monarch of the Qi State. Qi Jing-Gong was in drink, and made fun of Nan Kuai. He pointed to Nan Kuai and said, “A rebel!” Nan Kuai felt a grievance and said, “I want to strengthen the influence of our monarch’s family.” Zihan Xi (子韩皙), a minister of the Qi State, said sneeringly, “A family-minister actually wants to strengthen a monarch’s influence, and no crime is more serious than doing so.”

Yang Hu was the Jisun’s seneschal after Nan Kuai and followed his master in the capital of the Lu State. Gongshan Buniu was the governor of the city Fei (费) where was the feoff of the Jisun family. In 505 BC, Jisun Yiru died, and later Yang Hu forced Jisun Si, the heir of Jisun Yiru, to give the power to him. Yang Hu even requested Confucius to help him, but Confucius refused him politely and cleverly. In 502 BC, Yang Hu plotted to kill Jisun Si, and intimidated the monarch and the Shusun family into supporting him to attack the Mengsun family who took Jisun Si in. Gonglian Chufu (公敛处父) led the army of the Mengsun’s feoff to reinforce the Mengsun family and defeated Yang Hu. The next year Yang Hu ran away to the Qi State and suggested the Qi State to annex the Lu State. But Bao Guo (鲍国), the Qi’s minister, advised Qi Jing-Gong not to accept the suggestion of Yang Hu, and said, “The Jisun family treated Yang Hu very well, but Yang Hu actually wanted to kill his master. Now in order to be accepted by our Qi State, he is even against the Lu State. You, our monarch, is richer than the Jisun family. Our Qi State is larger than the Lu State. Aren’t you worried that Yang Hu is plotting against your country? Now the Lu State has avoided suffering from Yang Hu, but you actually want to accept him. Isn’t it a bane?” So Qi Jing-Gong ordered to arrest Yang Hu. Yang Hu escaped and ran away to the Jin (晋) State. In 498 BC, with the suggestion of Confucius, the Jisun family decided to demolish the city wall of the feoff Fei for removing the shelter of family-ministers. Of course, the Jisun family didn’t know this was a stratagem that Confucius wanted to weaken the base of the Jisun family. As the governor of Fei, Gongshan Buniu didn’t want his force to be weakened. So he and his follower Shusun Zhe (叔孙辄) led the Fei’s army to attack the capital of the Lu State. They pierced into the capital and besieged the Jisun’s residence. The people of the capital were offended. Confucius let Shengou Xu (申句须) and Yue Qi (乐颀), two ministers of the Lu State, lead the people to attack the Fei’s army. The Fei’s army was defeated soon. Gongshan Buniu and Shusun Zhe had to run away to the Qi State.

Sun Tzu
Helu and Wu Zixu

The two pictures are stills from the TV drama “Sun Tzu” (孙子). In the first still, the man who is sitting in the middle is Sun Tzu who was a well-known strategist of ancient China. In the second still, the left man is Wu Zixu (伍子胥), and the middle man is Helu (阖庐). In the picture, they are plotting with an assassin named Zhuan Zhu (专诸), in order to make Helu become the king of Wu State.

Wu State was in modern-day Jiangsu Province, and Yue State was in modern-day Zhejiang Province. In the later days of the Spring-Autumn Period, Wu State learned to use chariots in battle, and quickly became a very strong country. This state was very combative and was close with Jin State because both of them belonged to the Ji clan. Under instigation of Jin State, Wu State almost captured the whole of the Chu (楚) State. In the battle of Ailing (艾陵), the army of Qi State was almost completely annihilated and most of their senior officers almost died. Yue State was close with Chu State, so Wu and Yue were enemies. In a battle, Helu, the king of Wu was hurt seriously by the army of Goujian, and eventually died. Fuchai, the son of Helu, revenged his father’s death and seized Yue State. In order to restore Yue State, Goujian slept on brushwood and tasted gall in order to make himself strong. He often flattered Fuchai. Fuchai thought he was trustworthy, and restored Yue State. When Goujian returned to his country, with the help of Fan Li, he drilled the troops with excercises of great exertion. In order to disorganize Wu State, Goujian gave a very beautiful woman to Fuchai. The woman was Xishi who loved Fan Li deeply. For her motherland, she willingly went to Wu State. By her beauty and cunning, Xishi caused Fuchai to distrust Wu Zixu who was a wise and loyal minister, and eventually Wu Zixu was forced to kill himself. Since then, Fuchai trusted a treacherous minister with an important position. Xishi colluded with this minister, and Fuchai was hoodwinked by them. Soon, Fuchai’s ambitions grew higher and higher. He actually wanted to take the place of Jin State and become the hegemon. In order to realize his goal, during a meeting of Huangchi (黄池), Fuchai took his elite army and forced Jin State to recognize his hegemony. But at that time, Yue State attacked Wu State suddenly, and Taizi You (太子友), who was the heir of Fuchai, was killed. In later battles, the army of Fuchai was often defeated. After nine years, Wu State was captured by Goujian, and Fuchai eventually killed himself. At this time, the mission of Xishi was complete eventually, but she couldn’t meet her true love again. Goujian was a guileful and cruel man, and he worried that Xishi knew too many important secrets. Because of that, he killed Xishi. Goujian said that Xishi was a baleful woman who could cause a state to perish and he must revenge Wu Zixu and Fuchai. Since then, Yue State became a very strong country which was respected by many states of the Central Plains. After the death of Goujia, his sons contended for the throne, and Yue State became very disorganized.

Wei Wen-Hou
Wei Wen-Hou

The pictures are stills from the TV drama “States of the Eastern Zhou”. In these pictures, the sitting man is Wei Wen-Hou (魏文侯), the first monarch of the Wei (魏) State, and the woman is his wife, named Ziyi (子夷) in this drama. In early days of the Warring-States Period, Wei State separated from Jin State which was the largest country in the Spring-Autumn Period. In 403 BC it was recognized as a feudal state by Zhou Weilie-King (周威烈王), the supreme monarch of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

In the Pre-Qin Times, clothing was generally made from kudzu (葛) cloth or hemp (麻) cloth. Silks were too expensive, and they were considered luxuries. In the Lu (鲁) State of the Spring-Autumn Period, Jisun Xingfu (季孙行父) was the minister in power, but his concubines didn’t dress in silks. A minister said, “You have been the minister in power in the times of two monarchs, but your concubines don’t dress in silks. This is not honorable for the state.” Jisun Xingfu answered, “The honor of the state is by way of its virtues, it isn’t that its concubines dress in silks.”

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