Yangzhou’s “Mondernity”: Fashion and Consumption in the Early Nineteenth Century

by Antonia Finnane


What does it mean to talk about “fashion” in a Chinese context? Presented with Chinese fashion magazines and fashion shows, we can be confident that the term is meaningful, but these are phenomena of the twentieth century. For earlier times, the temptation may be to agree with Quentin Bell when he wrote, “No doubt there were variations in Chinese dress from dynasty to dynasty of a kind that Western eyes would hardly notice…but [change there] occurs at the speed of a rather hesitant glacier.” Correspondingly, Chinese diplomat Zhang Deyi, on tour in Europe in the 1860s, remarked in astonishment on foreign women “changing their makeup by the week and their style by the fortnight.” And it must be admitted that the vicissitudes of the shift in European women’s dress from empire line in the early nineteenth century to the bustle at the century’s other end, the crinoline coming in between, has no compare in China prior to the twentieth century.

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Antonia Finnane

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China, Consumerism, Fashion history, Modernity