THE main ITEMS OFCHINESE COSTUME are very simply cut, and the material used for them is varied accordingto the seasons. The cloth that rich people prefer in summer is a type of linenknown as ko-pou. This is an extremely light fabric. In spring and autumn aheavier material called siao-kien is favoured. This material is not dyed andcomes from silkworms in their natural state. In winter touan-tse is used - a type of satin muchstronger than that found in Europe.
When children, Chinese girls wear their hair loose. Onbecoming young adults, they put their hair in a plait, either leaving ithanging or tying it up on top of the head. Once married, though, women alwayskeep their plait coiled up, usually held in place by two ivory needles.
Beyond these basic rules there are many refinements inhairstyl - ing and many regional differences. In Shanghai, for example, womenwear a diadem of velvet and black silk as in 1.1, 2, 3 and 5 and 2.2 and 3.In 1.3 can be seen the cushion of cardboard backed with black silk and placedon the nape of the neck, over which the married lady's plaits are rolled.
Chinese girls wear make-up from the age of about seven oreight. They paint their faces white and their lips pink. "Her face is aswhite as flour, her mouth is a cherry", in the words of a Chinese song. Eyebrows are blackened, and a small red dot is painted in the middle of thebottom lip and on the chin. The height of fashion is to paint a small stripe ofcrimson between the eyes and to colour the temples green, black or blue. Elegant Chinese women wear nail-covers, often finely engraved.
Manchu women retain a different appearance to that oftheir Chinese counterparts, both in their hairstyles and in their clothing. Young Manchu girls plait their hair in the usual way, but married women have astyle that is unique
- they parttheir hair down the middle of their heads and knot it over each ear, as in 1.4 and 5.
Manchu women also wear shorter dresses than Chinese women, and their single plaits fall down over a jacket or a waistcoat that isdecorated with elaborate embroidery. The clothes are generally brightlycoloured and have wide, embroidered borders.
Women commonly carry smoking materials in a pouch hangingfrom their belts: a strange contrast to the delicate fans and otheraccessories. Well-to-do women also carry sachets of perfume.
Another peculiarity of Chinese society is theirappreciation of tiny feet; at one time children's feet were mutilated ininfancy as a matter of routine.
Nowadays, the practice is less common than it might appear, as a result of the influence of the Manchu emperors. Its incidence variesaccording to class and above all to area. In many provinces, a Chinese woman ofgood family still believes herself to be dishonoured if her parents have nothad the operation performed, since normal sized feet - apart from being thoughtunattractive - signify that a girl has been born to work and not as an idlemember of high society.
A Manchu marrying a Chinese girl, though, would not wishher to have deformed feet. Thus both Manchu and Chinese women of the imperialcourt, as well as the wives of numerous officials who reside in the capital, have kept their natural feet.
Nevertheless, all women of high rank, whether Manchu orChinese, wear a boot specifically designed to make the foot look smaller.
1 A detail from a superbly embroideredpiece of Chinese cloth.
2.1 An empress, wearing a crown with long pendants. She is holding a sceptre surmounted by amythical beast called a fotig. Her haol, or under-garment, is made of satin lame, and is covered bya ma-coual of red silk, decorated with embroiderydepicting a five-clawed dragon entwined with a phoenix. It ends in a stripedborder lined with gold brocade. Her earrings and bracelets are made of jade.
The raised throne on which the empress is sitting is drapedwith a green cover rather than padded, following the Chinese custom. Shecarries a gold scale and a Yu stone, both of which are used to authenticate imperialdecrees.
Her status means that she can never be seen by the public, but only by the emperor and her personal attendants. In many ways, therefore, her regal position is more or less akin to slavery.
2.2 and 3 An imperial wife of secondrank and her servant. The Li-Ki, the fourth of a series of books that define the protocolsof the imperial court, gives the emperor the right to have to 300 concubines, all of whom wear a standard costume.
The emperor's wives are classified as follows: first, three wives have the title of fou-gin and are considered to be true wives of the second rank. They are referred to as "queens" and their status places them abovethe other women of the palace, but they are never allowed to aspire to thestatus of the empress, the premier wife. Their costume is decorated withfeathers of five colours.
Next, nine wives have the name of pin and are princesses of the second rank - theywear yellow dresses. Then, 37 wives bear the title of chi-fou, women of the third rank, whodress in white. Finally, 80 are called yu-tsi, imperial concubines, who dress in black.
The various clothes - uniforms, almost - are made in palaceworkshops, according to patterns fixed by the imperial tailors at the start ofthe Manchu dynasty.
Here, the princess - in a yellow dress with goldembroidery, worn under a strikingly colourful outer - garment - obviouslybelongs to the pin class of imperial wife. Her hairis lifted back in a typically Chinese fashion, and is covered with a delightfulcap decorated with pearls and artificial flowers. A large hairpin holds thehairstyle in place.
Her servant's hairstyle is more original: the hair andsmall cap have been arranged in a phoenix style to represent the shape of thebird. She is dressed in a short sleeveless jacket, worn over a ma-coual of blue cotton; her haol allows us a glimpse of green sleeves. She isholding a needle used for picking up opium. This is heated over a lamp andplaced in the bowl of the opium-pipe.
There were vast numbers of servants in the imperialresidences, employed to perform all manner of tasks. Some did hard manuallabour, while others were involved in knitting and small domestic chores.
The rich spent most of their lives inside the imperialchambers in total indolence, smoking opium. This helped to maintain the semi-somnambulant monotony of their existence.
Reclining on their kans, that is, pieces of furniture that served asbed, sofa and chair, they did not even need to trouble to extend their hands inorder to smoke the opium pipe; servants were always there to assist them inthis dubious practice, seizing the moment when their masters and mistressesdozed off to lift the stem to their own lips.