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History of Chinese Traditional Clothing: Green Design

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3296 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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China is a multi-ethnic country that had approximately 5000 years history. Clothing manufacture in China dates back to prehistoric times, at least 7,000 years ago. According to the findings of 18,000 year-old artifacts by the archaeologists. They found the bone sewing needles and stone beads and shells with holes bored in them attest to the existence of ornamentation and of sewing extremely early in Chinese civilization.

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For thousands of years, China has experienced many dynasties from first Xia Dynasty (BC 2100) to the last Qin dynasty (AD 1911), the generations of clothing designers created different style of garments. The meaning of garments from cover the human body into an important component of Chinese culture. The progress of nation can be seen through its changes in clothing styles.

However, with the development of the social and economic, at the same time of pay more attention on the styles and effect of the garments, the fashion designers ignored the materials what they have used whether it is good or bad for our environment. That is “Green design” which was the popular points of view in recent years.

The purpose of my research is to appeal more and more Chinese fashion designers begin to focus on the green design throughout the long history of Chinese traditional clothing.

Part 1: The history of Chinese traditional clothing

The symbol of colors during the Chinese history

During the approximately 5000 years of Chinese history, color had it own particular meanings. Stringent rules are made for the color of ancient dress and adornment. Yellow is the most valuable color as a symbol of center. It is reserved for royalty and emperor. Although each dynasty designates their own color in each official rank, clothing and objects that are yellow in color still resemble a higher social status. Yellow also is the main color of Buddhism, thus it represents being free from worldly cares. Red is used for happiness and joy such as births, weddings holidays and so on. In fact, after the Ming Dynasty, only the Emperor’s close relatives could have homes with red walls and yellow roof tiles. Peasants could only live in homes made with blue bricks and roof tiles. White is a symbol of the unknown and purity. It is white is the color of mourning, death, and ghosts. Therefore Chinese people will wear white during a funeral or while summoning ghosts. What’s more, green, red, white and black symbolize the East, the South, the West and the North respectively. These four colors also associate with four specific seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. In general, Green, red, black, white and yellow are pure colors applied by the emperors and officials. The common people could only apply the secondary colors. Darker colors were favored over lighter ones in traditional Chinese clothing, so the main color of ceremonial clothing tended to be dark while bright, elaborate tapestry designs accented. The common people for everyday and around the house use wore lighter colored clothing more frequently. (Amaranthine, 2007)

Clothing styles and the usage of fabrics in different dynasty

According to the Chinese long history, each dynasty in China had its own memorable culture and style of garments. The costumes of ancient China were emblems of Chinese tradition, as well as an essential element in the history and culture of each dynasty. Costume maintained an important role in Chinese culture for more than three thousand years. The culture of China is ancient and well established, brilliant and resplendent. The costumes are likewise magnificent and colorful. There were many dynasties throughout China’s history, each having its own unique style of garments. And each style would change or disappear as its dynasty changed, declined, or was replaced. With the advent of each new dynasty and the progression of time, costumes were revolutionized. The style was classical and conservative in the Qin and Han dynasties, luxurious and glamorous in the Tang dynasty, delicate and exquisite in the Song dynasty, graceful and magnificent in the Ming dynasty, and very intricate in the Qing dynasty.

China’s complete code of costume and trappings was established in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD).

(Shenyi in Han Dynasty)

The yarn-dyeing, embroidering and metal-processing technologies developed rapidly in the period. Han dynasty also was the first time in history that China had contact with the West through the Silk Road. “Shenyi” or deep garments was most famous in Han dynasty. The shenyi is made up of the upper and lower garment, tailored and made in a unique way. It has to be long enough not to expose the skin, but short enough not to drag on the floor. The forepart is elongated into a large triangle; with the part above the waist in straight cut and tile part below the waist bias cut, for ease of movement. The frock and skirt were sewn together in the “Shenyi” system. People worn in black would like to match purple silk adornments. It implied that silk started to be used in the garments.

The unified and prosperous China was established in the Tang Dynasty (AD618-AD907). In China’s history, the Tang Dynasty was a period when the polity and economy were highly developed and the culture and art were thriving. In general, the Tang women’s dresses can be classified into three categories: the hufu, or alien dress that came from the Silk Road, the traditional ruqun or double layered or padded short jacket that was typical of central China, as well as the full set of male garments that broke the tradition of the Confucian formalities. The Tang women inherited this traditional style and developed it further, opening up the collar as far as exposing the cleavage between the breasts. This was unheard of and unimaginable in the previous dynasties.

In the early years of the Qing Dynasty (AD1644-AD1911), long gowns featured collarless, narrow cuff in the shape of a horse’s hoof, buttons down the left front, four slits and a fitting waist. Wearers usually coiled up their cuff, and put it down when hunting or battling to cover the back of hand. In winter, the cuff could serve to prevent cold. The gown had four slits, with one on the left, right, front and back, which reached the knees. It was fitted to the body and rather warm. Fastened with a waistband, the long gown could hold solid food and utensils when people went out hunting. Men’s long gowns were mostly blue, gray or green; and women’s, white. Another feature of Manchu cheongsam was that people generally wore it plus a waistcoat that was either with buttons down the front, a twisted front, or a front in the shape of lute, etc.

When the early Manchu rulers came to China proper, the capital was moved to Beijing and cheongsam began to spread in the Central Plains. The Qing Dynasty unified China, and unified the nationwide costume as well. At that time, men wore a long gown and a mandarin jacket over the gown, while women wore cheongsam. Although the 1911 Revolution toppled the rule of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, the female dress survived the political change and, with succeeding improvements, has become the traditional dress for Chinese women. After the 1940s, influenced by new fashion home and abroad, Manchu men’s cheongsam was phased out, while women’s cheongsam became narrow-sleeved and fitted to the waist and had a relatively loose hip part, and its lower hem reached the ankles. Then there emerge various forms of cheongsams we see today that emphasize color decoration and set off the beauty of the female shape. Why cheongsam was more popular at that period of time? The main reason is that it fits well the female’s body, although it only shows the simple lines, it looks elegant and well fitted.

The cheongsam can either be long or short, unlined or interlined, woolen or made of silk floss. Besides, with different materials, the cheongsam presents different styles. Cheongsams made of silk with patterns of floweret, plain lattices or thin lines demonstrate charm of femininity and staidness; those made of brocade are eye-catching and magnificent.

The earliest known silk textiles excavated in China dated to about 3630 BCE. Fabrics made of silk consist of many types: Brocade, satin, silk fabric, etc. This variety of fabric is due to different kinds of weaving skill and silk fabrics. Some are lined, some are unbleached, some are heavy, and some are thin. Silk- knit goods is one of great Chinese products in the world. The weaving skills emerged in the primitive society. They can demonstrate the culture tradition of one nation. Except the different kinds of silk, cotton, flax, voile, jute and satin were commonly used in the garments as well.


5,000+ BC


Generally considered to be the oldest natural textile fiber.

3,000+ BC


Earliest use estimated between 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC.

Worn by Egyptians earlier than 2,500 BC.

Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the processing of cotton.

The development of the power loom in 1884 brought significant improvements and variations to cotton fabrics.

Major producers: United States, Soviet States, Chinaand India.

Lessor producers include Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico Iran and Sudan.

3,000 BC


Used by people of the Late Stone Age,

There are 40 different breeds of sheep, which produce approximately 200 types of wool of varying grades.

Major producers include: Australia, New Zealand, Soviet States,

China, South Africa, and Argentina.

2,600 BC


Believed discovered by a Chinese princess.

Silk is made from two continuous filaments cemented together and used to form the cocoon of the silkworm.

Silk culture began about 1725 BC, sponsored by the wife of China’s emperor.

Secrets of cultivation and fabric manufacturing were closely guarded by the Chinese for about 3,000 years.

There is a story that two monks smuggled seeds of the mulberry tree and silkworm eggs out of China by hiding them in their walking sticks.

India learned of silk culture when a Chinese princess married an Indian prince.

Part 2: Green Design

What is green design?

Green design, also known as eco-design, uses design to include economic, social and ecological sustainability. Green design can be used for the microcosm and macrocosm in the scheme of daily living. Green design uses renewable resources. It reminds people about recycling to save the environment. Green design is sustainable design as materials that can be recycled sustain it. It is beneficial to recycle material as it reduces the wastage of new resources.

Green design can be also explained as design for the environment. Protecting our environment, and its present and future inhabitants, is the essential and important goal of sustainability. This large and complex field looks at our marketplace, at the way we grow, make and consume products, and strives to incorporate an awareness of the impact of our choices at every stage of the process. There is no one “right” way to be environmentally responsible, but there are a growing number of intelligent choices and best practices.

The concept of sustainability combines concern for the well being of our planet with the needs of continued human development. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. When the design process is informed by this imperative, the central concern is to assess the consequences, both short and long-term, of any transformation of the environment. Design must also aim to eliminate waste, to use renewable energy, to reduce toxic emissions and to leave as light a “footprint” on the environment as possible.

What is “green fabrics”? These fabrics, without any additional backings or chemical finishes, utilize post-consumer and post-industrial recycled polyester, and are themselves recyclable. The American mills that weave these designs have programs to minimize and recycle selvage waste and shipping materials, assess dye protocols and reduce energy use. The materials are typically harvested within a 10-year or shorter cycle. These natural fibers include cotton, sisal, flax, ramie, hemp, jute, wool, silk, mohair and bamboo.

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The Market of Green design in China

There are a large amount of wasted materials can be recycled in the textile industry. China is a big textile country. The production of cotton gauze is ranking first in the world so as to the textile wastes resources are also very rich in the process of production. The consumption of textile fabric is about 5 million tons per year. With the continually increase of textile consumption; the textile wastes are also keep growing. On the other hands, China has a huge population. The textile recourses are inadequate, it cannot satisfy the needs of textile industry production. Strengthen the textile waste recycling, waste to treasure, it is not only has a huge effect on making up for the shortage of textile raw materials, but also a new industrial projects for low cost, high benefits and adequate recourses. Thus the recycle textile fabrics have a broad prospects development in the Chinese market.

It is estimated that more than 1 million tones of textiles are thrown away every year, with most of this coming from household sources. Textiles make up about 3% by weight of a household bin. At least 50% of the textiles we throw away are recyclable.

(Analysis of household waste composition and factors driving waste increases – Dr. J. Parfitt, WRAP, December 2002)

Although the majority of textile waste originates from household sources, waste textiles also arise during yarn and fabric manufacture, garment-making processes and from the retail industry. These are termed post-industrial waste, as opposed to the post-consumer waste, which goes to jumble sales and charity shops. Together they provide a vast potential for recovery and recycling. Recovery and recycling provide both environmental and economic benefits. Textile recovery:

Reduces the need for landfill space. Textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic (man-made fibres) products will not decompose, while woollen garments do decompose and produce methane that contributes to global warming.

  • Reduces pressure on virgin resources.
  • Aids the balance of payments as we import fewer materials for our needs.
  • Results in less pollution and energy savings, as fibers do not have to be transported from abroad.

At present the consumer has the option of putting textiles in ‘clothes banks’, taking them to charity shops or having them picked up for a jumble sale. Recycled, a scheme run by the Textile Recycling Association in conjunction with local authorities and charities provides textile banks for public use. The Salvation Army, Scope, and Oxfam also use a bank scheme in conjunction with other methods. Scope, for example, runs a national door-to-door textile collection service. There are about 3,000 textile banks nationwide, but clothes banks are only operating at about 25% capacity. The Salvation Army is the largest operator of textile banks in the UK, with over 2,000 banks nationwide. On average, each of these banks is estimated to collect about six tones of textiles per year. Combined with door-to-door collections, The Salvation Army’s textile recycling operations account for the processing of in excess of 17,000 tones of clothing a year. Clothes are given to the homeless, sold in charity shops or sold in developing countries in Africa, the Indian sub-continent and parts of Eastern Europe.Nearly 70% of items put into clothing banks are reused as clothes, and any un-wearable items are sold to merchants to be recycled and used as factory wiping cloths. Thus for the Chinese market, we also can set more “clothes banks” in order to recycle more clothes.

It is fortune that there is a lot of Chinese fashion designers begin to focus on the green design. For example, the Chinese fashion designer Yichao Zhang, he won the Creative award in 2009. He uses “kong and Yu” as his inspiration to show the new collection in the 2010 Chinese international fashion week-Autumn/Winter. He said, the meaning of Chinese word “kong” in English is sky, natural, and the space that human beings belong to. “Yu” means the space that human beings live to. He want to express that natural is the best living space for the human beings, thus people needs to love our natural and environment. All the garments were be made by the natural fabric, it reflect the green design obviously.

What have I plan to do in the next step?

Make more research about the fabric about Chinese traditional clothing, the news and report about green design in china and green fabrics.

Make a questionnaire to survey the target customers, to get some information about what their opinion and their understanding of the green design.

Make an interview to a Chinese fashion designer or some factories that prefers green design or product green fabrics.

Make some market analysis about how popular will green design have in china.


I am the student from Northumbria University in Newcastle. Can you help me to finish some questions about the “Green Design” as follow?

Gender_____ Occupation_____


1. Have you heard about the “Green Design”?

___Yes ___No

2. When you buy a piece of garments, will you concern about the fabrics whether it was made in natural fabrics?

___Always ___Sometimes ___Never

3. Do you know the difference between natural fabrics and man-made fabrics?

___ Yes, I know

___Yes, I know a little bit

___No, I don’t know

4. What will you do to deal with your old clothing?

___Throw away

___Recycle the clothing to the related department

___Keep it

5. Do you agree to advocate the fashion designers to use natural fabrics for making the garments?

___Yes I agree.

___It’s up to the fashion designers, I never mind.

___I prefer the designers to use man-made fabrics.


CHUEN-FANG, L. (1991). Chinese decorative design. Taiwan, Republic of China, SMC Pub.

Lü, H., & Ma, C. (1980). Traditional Chinese textile designs in full color. Dover pictorial archive series. New York: Dover Publications.

POOLE, B. (2006). Green design. New York, N.Y., Mark Batty Publisher.

YANG, S. (2004). Traditional Chinese clothing: costumes, adornments & culture. San Francisco, Long River Press.

Chinese Clothing – Five Thousand Years’ History http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/yanglu/ECC_CULTURE_CLOTHING.HTM (no date) (Accessed at 21 April 2010)

DESIGN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. http://www.pollackassociates.com/fabrics/info/green-design.cfm (no date) (Accessed at 21 April 2010)


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