The History of Chinese Clothing — The Times of Classical Empires

Qin First-Emperor

The picture is a still from the movie “The Emperor and the Assassin” (荆轲刺秦王), and the man in this picture is Qin First-Emperor, who was the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The Qin State was created feudally in 770 BC, because Qin Xiang-Gong (秦襄公), the chief of Qin tribe, escorted Zhou Ping-Wang (周平王) to migrate the east. In the Warring-States Period, the Qin State attached importance on military development, and became the strongest country militarily. In the 3rd century BC, the Qin State annexed other six states and built the Qin Empire in 221 BC. Ying Zheng (嬴政), the king of the Qin State, became the first emperor of China. He abolished the system of conferring posthumous titles (谥号) that were used to evaluate monarches by ministers. He called himself the First Emperor (始皇帝), and he hoped his empire would descend to all generations of his offsprings. In order to resist the Huns, he ordered several hundred thousand people to build the Great Wall in 214 BC. He sent an army of three hundred thousand men to capture the Great Bend of the Yellow River, a very fertile area from the Huns. He ordered several hundred thousand people to build the Epang Palace (阿房宮) and his mausoleum. The Great Wall and the Bingmayong (兵马俑, pottery figures of warriors and horses buried with this emperor) are famous all over the world.

Dou Taihou
Han Wu-Emperor

The two pictures are stills from the TV drama “Han Wu The Great” (汉武大帝).

In the upper still, the old woman is Dou Taihou (窦太后), the mother of Han Jing-Emperor (汉景帝) and the grandmother of Han Wu-Emperor, an important character of the early days of the Western Han Dynasty. In the picture, Han Jing-Emperor is helping his mother.

In the lower still, the young man wearing cream-coloured clothing is Huo Qubing, who was an excellent general of the Han Dyansty. In the picture, he is talking with Han Wu-Emperor (汉武帝).

Han Wu-Emperor reigned from 141 BC to 87 BC. He was the fifth emperor of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) and one of the greatest emperors in China. He launched wars on the Huns, Joseon (朝鲜, a country in the north of the Korean Peninsula, which was built by a general Wei Man (卫满) of the Yan (燕) State in the early days of the Western Han Dynasty), Dayuan (大宛, in modern-day Fergana), Yue (越, a nation in the south of modern-day China) and Qiang (羌, a nation in the west of modern-days China). This emperor paid much attention to establish friendly relations with nations of the Central Asia and the West Asia such as Persia, Daxia (大夏, Bactria) and Dayuezhi (大月氏, Yueh-chih, which built the Kushan Kingdom later in the first century AD. The Silk Road was cleaved onto the land, and it was safeguarded. The empire established hegemony in the East Asia and the Central Asia, and the Huaxia nation gained great honor. Since then, Huaxia has been called Han by other nations.

The Huaxia nation started to plant cotton and produce cotton fabrics in the Western Han Dynasty. Silks were exported to the West. During the reign of Han Huan-Emperor (汉桓帝) who was the eleventh emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, some Westerners arrived in the Rinan region (日南郡, an area in modern-day Vietnam, which was ruled by the Han Dynasty) by sea in AD 166. They visited local officials and said that “Andun, the King of the Great Qin” (“Andun” should be the transliteration of “Antoninus”. And the king is generally regarded as Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius) sent them to present Chinese emperor with western treasures. However, Han Huan-Emperor was not impressed by the gifts, and there was no direct relationship between the two empires.

Dance of the Eastern Han Dynasty
Zhang Heng

The two pictures are stills from the movie “Zhang Heng” (张衡). Zhang Heng was an outstanding writer, astronomer and inventor in the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the left picture, there is an ancient dance, which was recovered from a mural of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the right picture, Zhang Heng and his good friend Cui Yuan (崔瑗) is celebrating an invention with a lot of colleagues.

The Eastern Han Dynasty was a period from AD 25 to 220 with glorious achievements of culture, literature and technology. A eunuch named Cai Lun (蔡伦) developed the technology of papermaking with cheap materials, and made it possible to use paper widely. Buddhism was introduced into China, and was going to deeply influence all aspects of Chinese society in later centuries. Taoism, the first native organized religion of Han Chinese people, also appeared in this period.

In the Eastern Han Dynasty, Confucian education was flourishing. Confucian scholars and students tried to follow Confucian spirit. As public intellectuals, they often criticized current affairs and politicians in their parties, and they were fearless to meet for rescuing someone that they admired. As officials, they were courageous to resist improper orders of their superiors and express their own voices. They did their best to improve the empire, and tried to weaken the power of eunuchs. In AD 166 eunuchs persuaded Huan Huan-Emperor to persecute the intellectuals. In 168, a new emperor called Han Ling-Emperor ascended the throne, and the conflict between intellectuals and eunuchs became a matter of life or death. Eunuchs controlled the emperor through a palace coup. They brutally persecuted and killed lots of intellectuals and officials. Survivors were exiled to remote areas and blacklisted until Taoist rebels in yellow turbans brought a great threat to the empire.

Cao Cao and Liu Bei
Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang
Zhou Yu and Xiao Qiao
Zhou Yu and generals

The pictures are stills from the TV drama “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (三国演义). In the first picture, Cao Cao (曹操) invites his future opponent Liu Bei (刘备) to drink, and they talk about who are heroes. In the second picture, Liu Bei meets Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮), a legend with incredible wisdom, who would be the most important strategist of Liu Bei and his son in the next decades. In the third picture, Zhou Yu (周瑜), a resourceful general of the southern regime, is sitting with his beloved wife named Xiao Qiao (小乔). In the fourth picture, Zhou Yu meets generals for discussing how to resist the army of Cao Cao.

In the later days of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the imperial government was very corrupt, and lost the public trust. The influence of the royal family gradually became weak. In AD 184, peasants in yellow turbans staged violent uprisings in many regions. They were called “the forces in yellow turbans” (黄巾军). The Han Empire, which had lasted more than four hundred years, was in serious disorder. Han Ling-Emperor (汉灵帝), the father of Han Xian-Emperor, hastily massed a large number of troops to suppress rebellions. In these troops, there were many up-and-coming officers who later became famous heroes such as Yuan Shao (袁绍), Cao Cao, Sun Jian (孙坚) and Liu Bei. The emperor also released the men who were persecuted in prison or in exile. Later, most of the forces of Yellow Hood were annihilated, and the rest surrendered themselves to the government army. In AD 192, in the Qing Zhou (青州, where is in the north of modernday Shandong Province), three hundred thousand rebels surrendered themselves to Cao Cao, and Cao Cao enlisted the elite warriors in his army, so the influence of Cao Cao was much strengthened. In AD 200, in the battle of Guandu (官渡), Cao Cao utterly defeated Yuan Shao who was his playmate of childhood and now his strong opponent. And then Cao Cao became the man of strongest influence.

In AD 208, Cao Cao, the ambitious prime minister of the Han Dynasty, massed about two hundred thousand troops on the northern shore of the Long River (長江) and wanted to control the south of China. At the critical moment, with the suasion of Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, two famous heroes, became allies. They only had about five ten thousand troops, but they had a natural barrier, the Long River. The troops of Cao Cao were mainly from the north, and they were not adapted to fighting afloat, so Cao Cao had to order to connect warships via iron chains and boards. The connected warships were very smooth, so it was very advantageous for the troops from the north to fight afloat. However, the southern alliance set fire to the fleet of Cao Cao in the area named Chibi (赤壁, the textual meaning of this word is “red cliff”), and destoryed all warships of Cao Cao. Then the army of the southern alliance disembarked at the northern shore of the Long River, and pursued the army of Cao Cao. Cao Cao was panic-stricken, and led the remnants of his army to flee back to the north. The south was defended successfully. This famous battle is called “the battle of Chibi”. Since then, Cao Cao had no enough forces to attack the south. Liu Bei led his army to capture the region named Shu (modern-day Sichuan Province), and the region Shu became his base.

In AD 220, Cao Pi (曹丕), the son of Cao Cao, forced the last emperor of the Han Empire to abdicate, and he ascended the throne and established the Wei (魏) Empire. In AD 221, Liu Bei set up an empire called “Han” as the successor of the Han Empire, and the later people called his state “Shu” (蜀) or “Shu-Han” (蜀汉). In AD 222, Sun Quan founded the Wu Empire. The Times of Three Empires started. Liu Bei and his prime minister Zhuge Liang devoted themselves to the restoring of the Han Empire. However, the Shu Empire and the Wu Empire were at a disadvantage all along. The Wei Empire tried to subjugate the other two empires. There were many battles among the three empires. In AD 263, Liu Shan (刘禅), the son of Liu Bei, surrendered himself to the Wei Empire. In AD 265, the last emperor of the Wei Empire, abdicated, and Sima Yan (司马炎) founded the Jin (晋) Dynasty. In AD 280, the army of the Jin Empire defeated utterly the army of the Wu Empire. Sun Hao (孫皓), the last emperor of the Wu Empire, had to surrender himself to the Jin Empire.

There was a romance of heroes. Sun Ce (孫策), the older brother of Sun Quan, was famed for his valiancy. The historical work “The History of Three Kingdoms” (三国志) said that, Sun Ce was a handsome and optimistic man and treated his friends and followers sincerely. He gained the esteem of the southern people. He had a good friend named Zhou Yu who was accomplished in music. They set up an army and started their ambition. After a battle, the two young men went to the countryside for sightseeing. They met a pair of sisters who were peerlessly beautiful. The two girls were from the Qiao family. The older sister was called Da Qiao (大乔), and the younger sister was called Xiao Qiao. The two beautiful women fell in love with the two heroic men. Later, Sun Ce married Da Qiao, and Zhou Yu married Xiao Qiao. They seemed to be perfect pairs at that time. However, in AD 200, Sun Ce was assassinated by his enemies. He died with an unfulfilled ambition, and he was only 25 years old. At the last moment of his life, he entrusted his younger brother Sun Quan to his friends and followers. In the battle of Chibi, Zhou Yu was at the zenith of his fame. Later, he planned to march into the Central Plains. But his health was seriously damaged by overwork. In AD 210, when he was 35 years old and was preparing a northern expedition, he suddenly died.

Romance of a Calligrapher
Romance of a Calligrapher

The two pictures are stills from the movie “Romance of a Calligrapher” (笔中情). The characters in the movie are fictitious, but we can easily associate some characters of the story with the historical figures who lived in the Eastern Jin (东晋) Dynasty.

Wang Xizhi (王羲之) was a famous calligrapher in the fourth century. One day, he walked in a mountain, and met an old woman who were selling fans. The fans were made of bamboo and each one had six angles. Wang Xizhi decided to help her. He wrote five characters on each fan. The old woman didn’t know the calligrapher, and she thought that the man just wanted to have fun by dirtying her fans. She felt angry. Wang Xizhi said to her, “Just telling others that the characters were written by Wang Right-Army, you may sell each fan at the price of a hundred coins.” The old woman then did so, and people rushed to buy the fans. Wang Xizhi once got a title named the General of the Right Army, so he was called Wang Right-Army. But he didn’t like wars.

In the movie, there is a middle-aged woman called the Oldest Princess who was married into the Huan family. In the Eastern Jin Dynasty, the wife of Huan Wen (桓温) was called the Oldest Princess. Huan Wen was an ambitious general, but he feared his wife. When he defeated a country and got a beautiful princess, he had no courage to take her home. He hid her in a house. Later, the Oldest Princess knew what her husband did and she was enraged. She and dozens of maidservants held knives and went to the residence of the woman. The young woman was combing her hair, and had no fear. Her long black hair approached the ground, while her skin was white and flawless. She said to the Oldest Princess, “My country was destroyed and my family was lost. I am not willing to come here. If I get killed, it is my will.” The Oldest Princess felt ashamed, and threw away her knife. She embraced the young woman and said, “Dear lady, I have been sympathetic to you since I saw you, not to mention the old man.”

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