Wearing the Cheongsam: Dress and Culture in a Chinese Diaspora

by Cheryl Sim

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Associations between the cheongsam dress and Chinese cultural identity are well known but what are the meanings of the cheongsam for members of the Chinese diaspora? In a study grounded in first-hand accounts of wearing, Cheryl Sim explores the practices and experiences of women in Canada, a major Chinese diaspora, and carries out the first in-depth study of the cheongsam from this critical point of view.

Questions explored over the course of 20 interviews, as well as during personal reflections on the author’s own experiences of wearing, include: is there a desire to re-claim or appropriate the cheongsam? Does this desire risk perpetuate stereotypes of Asian women? Does it undermine one’s identification with one’s host country? Can erased heritage(s) be accessed through dress? And how does wearing the cheongsam interact with the male gaze? Revealing feelings of repulsion and attraction, Sim combines personal stories with an authoritative use of theoretical frameworks such as feminism, post-colonialism, and autoethnography.

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