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Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 19:30

Shanghai Fashion and the Origins of the Qipao

Antonia Finnane

Professor of History,
University of Melbourne, Australia


The qipao is sometimes referred to in English by its Cantonese name, cheongsam (in Mandarin, changshan). It is the closest thing to national costume that Chinese women have at their disposal – unless, of course, they are minority women, in which case they will wear something quite different on national day.

How did this rather modern-looking garment – close-fitting, tailored, often worn at knee-length – come to play the role of “traditional” dress in China? A foray into the world of fashion in early twentieth century Shanghai provides a partial answer.

Antonia Finnane, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne, Australia, is currently living in Beijing and teaching at Peking University. She is the author of Changing Clothes in China (London: Hurst; New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), a study of fashion in late imperial and modern China.