Hanfu of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties

By Jocelyn Neo | Epoch Times Staff

Many people assume qipao (cheongsam) to be the quintessence of traditional Chinese dressing, but qipao is actually the traditional clothing of the Manchus, not the Chinese.

The Han Chinese – the largest ethnic group in China – had their own traditional clothing for more than 3,000 years, and that was called “Hanfu”.

Hanfu started from the ancient China and its style changes every dynasty, more notably in the Tang, Song and Ming, due to the differences in cultural ideas and values.

Tang Dynasty

In China’s history, the Tang dynasty (618 – 906) was considered a golden age where the arts, sciences and economy were flourishing. Due to its immense wealth, Tang-style garments were mostly bright, colourful and made of silk. On this account, many Western sources cited Hanfu as Chinese Silk Robes.


Also, “the dresses of Tang dynasty are more majestic and they reveal more flesh,” says Mr Michael Jow, the acting president of the Singapore Han Cultural Society.


One of the outfit Qi Xiong Ru Qun (齊胸襦裙), as explained by Mr. Jow, is a shirt jacket is tucked inside the skirt and the skirt is tied very high up on the chest and under the armpits. This outfit was very popular among women, from the ordinary households to the court ladies as it makes women appear slender and feminine.

One of the most popular Tang-style dresses –“Qi Xiong Ru Qun (齊胸襦裙)”, in which the short shirt jacket is tucked inside the skirt, and the skirt is tied very high up on the chest and under the armpits. (Designed by Zhaoqing Wang, NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition) (Edward Dai/The Epoch Times)
One of the most popular Tang-style dresses –“Qi Xiong Ru Qun (齊胸襦裙)”, in which the short shirt jacket is tucked inside the skirt, and the skirt is tied very high up on the chest and under the armpits. (Designed by Alecia Allan Vanderbilt, NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition) (Edward Dai/The Epoch Times)

Other than that, there were several choices of outfits for women, such as a loose-sleeved shirt with long skirt and long shawl, or low-cut gown with high waistband and full flowing skirt.

Other than Qi Xiong Ru Qun (齊胸襦裙)”, there were several choices of outfits for women, such as low-cut gown with high waistband and full flowing skirt. (Designed by Sinchang Lin, NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition) (http://hancouture.ntdtv.com/)

Another popular style was the big-sleeved shirt – the trademark of traditional Chinese clothing.

Tang-style dresses can be seen in drawings of Chinese fairy maidens.

Song Dynasty  

Fashion styles changed in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), influenced by Confucian ideas of propriety. As people were more conservative, they preferred reserved, elegant and delicate styles with narrow sleeves.


“Song Dynasty clothing includes the skirt 襦裙 (ruqun consisting of a blouse (襦, ru) and a wrap-around skirt (裙, qun; also called 裳, chang), and the long jacket 褙子(beizi),” shares Mr Jow.


The style is also simpler.

An example of Song-style dress, ruqun (襦裙). In the Song Dynasty, people were more conservative as they were influenced by Confucian ideas of propriety, so they preferred reserved, elegant and delicate styles with narrow sleeves. (Designed by Elsie He, NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition) (http://hancouture.ntdtv.com)

Common men wore plain robes and shirts with either a diagonal or straight collar and had a simple silk head covering called “Dongpo Wrap”. The name was derived from the famous Chinese poet, Su Dongpo.

Su-chih Chang from Taiwan won the gold award with her Song Dynasty scholar’s ensemble, topped with a classic “Dongpo Wrap”, at the 4th NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition held in New York. (Dai Bing/Epoch Times)

The “Beizi style”, which consists of a knee-length outer jacket with straight collar, narrow or wide sleeves and cut through over two feet long under the armpits, was a common style worn by every lady in Song Dynasty.

The “Beizi style”, which consists of a knee-length outer jacket with straight collar, narrow or wide sleeves and cut through over two feet long under the armpits, was a common style worn by every lady in the Song Dynasty. (Designed by Elsie He, NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition) (http://hancouture.ntdtv.com)

On the other hand, upper class women preferred grand sleeves that were worn with a long skirt and a coloured silk shawl with a hanging jade piece.

The skirts had many styles, such as the tulip skirt dyed from tulip grass, the hundred pleated skirt (百摺裙) and the horse face skirt (马面裙).

Ming Dynasty


The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) favoured dignified, subdued fashion, and pleated skirts.

In addition, “Ming Dynasty clothing was influenced by the Mongols due to a Yuan dynasty between the Song and Ming dynasty. Hence, the more prominent dressing of the Ming Dynasty is the Ao (襖 or襖裙),” says Mr Jow.


The Ao (襖) – the top shirt – is tucked outside the skirt, unlike in the previous dynasties. Generally, loose and billowing clothes were preferred.

The more prominent dressing of the Ming Dynasty is the Ao (襖), in which the top shirt is tucked outside the skirt, unlike in the previous dynasties. (epochtimes.com)

There was also an elaborate clothing system in place for formal and daily wear for the different classes.

For instance, officials wore robes and gowns with circle collars, and have wide sleeves and black edges with a black hanging belt. The patterns embroidered vary according to social classes – embroidering of birds for civil officials and mammals for military officials. Needless to say, the Emperor wore embroidered dragon.

Official wear of Ming Dynasty with black silk hat, round collar with embroidery at front. (http://hancouture.ntdtv.com/en/)

On the contrary, common men wore plain and straight long gowns, without any embroidery.

The court ladies wore big sleeves, short tops, decorated crowns and long shawls with phoenix and flower embroidery, with gold or jade hanging down.

In the Ming dynasty, the skirts were usually pleated, light-coloured and simple. They had designs and embroidery at the bottom two inches of the skirts. (Internet Photo)

Meanwhile, the common women wore a skirt and paddy robe, which is a rectangular piece of fabric spliced with other pieces of fabric, resembling a paddy field. The skirts were usually pleated, light-coloured and simple. They had designs and embroidery at the bottom two inches of the skirts. The decorations increased in the later Ming period. One example was the popular “Moon flower skirt”, a  skirt spliced with 10 pieces of fabrics.

READ Singapore Han Cultural Society: Reviving Chinese Han Couture (Hanfu), visit http://epochtimes.today/news/site/article/18027/singapore-han-cultural-society-reviving-chinese-han-couture-hanfu/

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