Ch'ing Dynasty Men's Wear
In 1644, the Dragon Throne of the Chinese Ming Emperor fell to a band of nomadic warriors from the northern steppes known as the Manchu. A people both culturally and ethnically different from the Chinese, the Manchu brought many changes to the society established during the Ming dynasty, which had lasted for 250 years. The Manchu called their dynasty Ch'ing, meaning clear or pure; it, too, was long-lived, continuing until the Cultural Revolution of 1911 and the beginnings of modern China.
The Manchu government attempted to forestall their cultural assimilation by the Chinese, a tendency witnessed by previous foreign rulers of the vast nation, through the implementation of a military and political structure that ensured the separation of conqueror and conquered, while maintaining the Confucian-based Chinese bureaucratic system already in place. The Manchu also emphasized the obvious cultural attributes that denoted their ethnic difference, such as language and custom, but among the most visible distinctions were the changes they made in court costume. By changing court attire from cumbersome, flowing robes and slippers that turned up at the toes--the style of dress for the Ming court--to more functional wear based on the riding coats, trousers, and boots of the nomadic steppes, the new rulers established their national dress as a visual symbol of authority that celebrated their origins. The selection of robes, coats, and accessories from the RISD Museum's costume and textile collection on display here is intended to represent both the Ming and Manchu styles of Ch'ing Dynasty men's wear, and includes both secular and religious garments.
The Manchu government included many Chinese officials, but by establishing a complex bureaucracy, the position of the new foreign Dragon Throne Emperor was securely fixed at the head of a strict hierarchy based on clan affiliation and educational elitism. Distinctions of rank, title, and status were underscored by prescribed costumes and accessories for metropolitan, provincial, and military officials in the service of the Ch'ing government, who were also made to wear the long pigtail hairstyle of the Manchu, known in English as queue. Just as the Ch'ing political and social structure represented a long and rich history of native and nomadic traditions--of which the Manchu were the last in a series of foreign conquerors--so does the clothing of the upper ranks of Ch'ing society show this diversity. The organizing principle of the attire for each officer, courtier, and official, however, was its relationship to that worn by the emperor.
In 1759, a set of regulations decreed by the emperor established official costume and guarded against misuse of individual status. Known as the Huang-ch'ao li-ch'i t'u shih or Illustrated Catalogue of Ritual Paraphernalia of the Ch'ing Dynasty this code also urged resistance to the restoration of nataive Chinese costume. The preface reveals the motive behind this attitude:
We, accordingly, have followed the old traditions of our dynasty, and have not dared to change them fearing that later men would hold us responsible for this... and thus we would offend our ancestors... Moreover, as for the Northern Wei, the Liao, and the Chin as well as the Yuan [previous foreign rulers], all of which changed to Chinese robes and hats, they all died out within one generation. Those of our sons and grandsons who would take our will as their will shall certainly not be deceived by idle talk. In this way, the continuing Mandate of our dynasty will receive the protection of Heaven for ten thousand years. Do not change our traditions or reject them. Beware! Take warning!