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Cheongsam vs Qipao: Origins & Hidden Histories

Have you ever marveled at the elegance of the traditional Chinese dress and been confused about its name, Cheongsam or Qipao? Actually, these two names point to the same exquisite Chinese garment nowadays. But why does one dress have two distinct names? Join us as we unravel this intriguing cultural puzzle, exploring the history, traditions, and regional variations that have led to this fascinating duality.

Feature Cheongsam vs Qipao


Manchu clothing in the Qing Dynasty
Manchu clothing in the Qing Dynasty

The term ‘Qipao’ is directly translated from Mandarin. ‘Qipao’ means ‘the robe of Manchu people’ in Mandarin Chinese (Manchu people are also called Qi people in Mandarin). The earliest record using the term ‘Qipao’ is the book ‘Xue Huan Xiu Pu Tu Shuo.’ The authors of this book are all Han persons, not the Manchu people. Manchu people called their clothing ‘Yijie.’ However, China is led by the Han ethnicity right now, so this term keeps alive.

The traditional Manchu attire in the Qing Dynasty was characterized by a round neckline, narrow sleeves, a right-tightened front, and slits on the sides of the bottom hem. As the Qing Dynasty approached its later years, some changes began to appear in Manchu clothing. The round collar evolved into a standing collar, which was the precursor to the modern Qipao collar.

Manchu Clothing in the late Qing Dynasty and the modern Qipao
Manchu clothing in the late Qing Dynasty and the modern Qipao. We can see their collars are pretty similar.


Changshan and its cuff comparison with Manchu Clothing‘Cheongsam’ is the Cantonese transliteration of ‘Changshan,’ meaning ‘long dress.’ It was developed from the Shanghainese’ zansae.’

Changshan was previously a kind of male scholar’s clothing in the Qing Dynasty. It has a standing collar, and its cuff is straighter than the one of traditional Manchu clothing. The concept of Cheongsam for women first appeared in early Republican China. Influenced by female revolutionary figure Qiu Jin and ideas of republicanism and democracy, progressive women (especially students in Shanghai) began to embrace and recreate this kind of clothes. This adoption was an act of rebellion against traditional gender norms and a symbol of the pursuit of independence and equality.

Externally similar to the Qipao, Cheongsam gets its additional name Shanghai Qipao.

Students wearing Cheongsam in the Republican China
Students wearing Cheongsam in the Republican China

Where Use Which

Now that we know their origins and hidden symbolizations, where should we use Cheongsam or Qipao? Is there any specific occasion that we need to differentiate them? Well, the answers are pretty straightforward:

Cheongsam: Historically originating from the Cantonese language, the term ‘Cheongsam’ is more commonly used in Hong Kong, Macau, and among overseas Chinese communities. Besides, its origin ‘Changshan’ can be used to present traditional Chinese male clothing.

Qipao: The term ‘Qipao’ is more prevalent in Mainland China and Mandarin-speaking regions. Strongly connected to the Manchu-originated women’s garments of the Qing Dynasty, it is mostly solely for women.

Summary Table of Cheongsam vs Qipao


Different Names for The Same Dress




Root Language




Changshan, a kind of male scholar’s clothing in the Qing Dynasty

The robe of Manchu people in the Qing Dynasty

Historical Meaning

A sign of women’s rebellion against traditional gender norms and their wish for independence

Traditional clothing of Manchu people

Speakers’ Area

Hong Kong, Macau, overseas Chinese communities, etc.

Mainland China and other Mandarin-speaking regions

If you want to learn more about Chinese traditions, welcome to our ‘Chinese Dress’ and ‘Historical Fashion’ channels. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or ideas~ We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!

Have a good day

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