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Ancient Chinese Dress Revived
Couture Design Competition to Open This Weekend
Katy Mantyk, The Epoch Times
10/14/2008

NEW YORK—This weekend, the Global Han Couture Design Competition will debut in New York. Opening up a lost world of couture fashion from China’s 5,000-year-old culture and civilization, it is set to completely blow out of the water the stereotypical “Chinese style” that most people today, including Chinese themselves, are used to.

The Hanfu (Chinese wear) competition is one in a series of culture and arts events sponsored by New York-based, independent Chinese media network New Tang Dynasty Television(NTDTV) that explore and promote traditional Chinese culture.

For New York—a city that now hosts so many fashion events it even has a Pet Fashion Week—the Hanfu show will be a complete breath of fresh air and inspiration.

At the heart of the Han Couture Competition are some big questions. Other than those exotic oriental icons like calligraphy, dragons, the Chinese dress (slim, with a slit way up the side and a high cross over Asian collar), or kung fu outfits and shoes, what do traditional Asian style and design have to offer a modern world? Can traditional oriental culture bring a new spirit to contemporary fashion? This is what organizers expect the competing designers to answer.

“Through the competition designers will research and redevelop their tastes…We want to let them try and experiment with it, try to launch it to the market as well,” said Alice Yim, the competition’s producer.

According to event organizers, the goal of the Han Couture Competition aims at bringing out practical designs that will meet the needs of modern people and are inspired by the depth and inner meaning of 5,000 years of Chinese apparel.

Yim says some of New York’s elite from the fashion industry will attend the competition, including fashion designers, editors, buyers, and enthusiasts.

Chinese Fashion History Runs Deep

China is comprised of many different ethnicities, but Han culture has been the most prevalent since ancient times. Han couture consists of the clothing worn by ethnic Hans, as well as those whom they inspired, from thousands of years ago up until the end of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century. For example, today’s Japanese kimono and Korean hanbok still retain features of Tang Dynasty dress.

“The ‘Shen Yi’ is a kind of long robe with a crossed collar, which symbolizes that the Dao of the Earth is square,” said Lily Yan Zao, vice chairwoman and one of the judges. “Meanwhile, the robe’s sleeves are circular symbolizing that Heaven’s Dao is round. Then there is a straight seam running along the back of the garment from the top to the bottom, symbolizing that the Dao of humanity takes the middle path. There is also a sash in the middle of the Shen Yi robe which, when properly tied, forms a one-piece outfit by connecting the shirt on the top with the skirt below. This sash represents the idea that human beings need be balanced, unbiased and upright, and so it plays an extremely important role.”

In terms of the garment’s cut, a Shen Yi robe is usually made from four pieces of fabric, which embody the four seasons of the year. The skirt is usually formed by twelve pieces of fabric, representing the twelve months of the year.

Thus, after one puts on the Shen Yi, this person will not only be motivated to follow the rules of heaven, earth and human society, but will have to pay attention to being balanced, unbiased and upright while doing anything, and to following the natural patterns of life contained by the four seasons. In this way, the individual establishes harmony with nature.

“During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it (Hanfu) was really all wiped out,” explains Zao. “I think women nowadays don’t know what is really traditional. And I think that everything the communist party bought in, everything is red. Everything is forceful. They had women’s liberation, instead of in the old days, when a woman was more reserved, soft, with inner strength. All of that is all gone since the Cultural Revolution in China.”

Yan Zao says that the straight, tight Chinese dress (qipao) was promoted by the Communist Party, and is only a couple hundred years old, not real traditional Chinese attire.

“We are trying to reintroduce real ancient Chinese clothes (Hanfu) into the real world, instead of qipao, which the Communist Party promoted.”

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