The qipao (or cheongsam) is one of the most symbolic garments of Chinese fashion. Although some earlier examples survive, the qipao denotes the glamorous style of “Old Shanghai” in the 1910s–30s. During the Republican era, it became a tool of resistance that allowed women to negotiate with institutional repression through their sartorial practices. And, throughout its history, it has indexed shifts in the balance of power between China and the United States, at times perhaps even mediating relations between the two countries. This reading list offers five perspectives on the qipao historically and aims to show why this style is still relevant to our contemporary sensibilities.

Black and white photo of Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong (1905–61) wearing a black qipao with a dragon motif in a publicity shot for ‘Limehouse Blues.,

Chinese-American film star, Anna May Wong (1905–61) wearing a qipao with a dragon motif in a publicity shot for ‘Limehouse Blues’, directed by Alexander Hall, in 1934. Photo via John Kobal Foundation.