There are fifty-six ethnic groups in total in China. Each ethnicity has its own distinctive traditional clothing. Before we start our journey, let’s take a look at a super cool video including all the traditional clothing in China:
They are fascinating, right? Although it is hard to introduce all of these traditional Chinese dresses, we decided to show a few wonderful selections of these special garments. These sophisticated designs have passed through thousands of years and are potentially cultural treasures for the Chinese.
Hope you will enjoy learning about these traditional outfits and get inspired by the ancient beauty!
The Han ethnicity is the largest ethnic group in China, comprising about 92% of the country’s population. The history of the Han people is more than 4000 years and is still continuing. Today, the Han people are still playing a central role in China.
The Han people originated from the Yellow River Valley of northern China (the Yellow River is also called the “Mother River of China”). They made many crafting bronze and iron tools to support their lives. Besides, they were known for their advanced agricultural skills.
During the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), the Han people rose to power and established a centralized government that ruled China for over four centuries. This period is a golden age in Chinese history. The Han people developed a writing system and a legal code that served as the guideline for Chinese law for centuries.
Over centuries, the Han people have conquered numerous challenges and managed to maintain their cultural traditions.
Traditional Chinese Dress
As the traditional clothing of the main ethnic group in China, you can see Hanfu in many Chinese historical dramas, such as The Rise of Phoenixes and Ashes of Love. We also introduced it before in the article “Chinese New Year 2023: Stunning Dress & Legend”.Hanfu is famous for its elegant and refined style with complicated design details.
It consists of various garments, including tunics, jackets, robes, dresses (yes, you may need to wear more than one dress for a Hanfu), etc. Also, it is often characterized by light colors and sophisticated designs, available for both women and men. There will always be lots of embroideries, beadwork, and other decorations on a Hanfu.
In terms of occasion, Hanfu is a traditional Chinese dress suitable for both everyday and formal wear.
The Dai ethnic group, also known as the Tai or Thai, is a large ethnicity living in the Yunnan province in southwestern China. You can also find them in other parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. The Dai people migrated from Yunnan to other countries many centuries ago. Therefore, Dai culture is not rare in lots of Asian countries.
The Dai people descended from a group of ancient tribes that lived in Yunnan and surrounding areas. They lived in small villages and were organized into clans, each with its own leader. Over the years, these clans came together to form a kingdom. Because they were good at riding elephants, the Han people called their kingdom “Elephant Riding Kingdom”.
In the late 2nd century BC, the Han Dynasty conquered the Ailao mountain, where the “Elephant Riding Kingdom” was, and absorbed people there into the Han Dynasty. From the 1st century AD, the Han frequently had conflicts with the Dian Kingdom (a small country close to the Han Dynasty) in the Ailao mountain. A large number of Dian people flooded into Ailao territory and integrated with the “Elephant Riding” people. Therefore, the initial prototype of the modern Dai ethnicity had formed.
Traditional Chinese Dress
The men of Dai ethnicity usually wear a collarless, short-sleeved shirt and long fat pants. The colors of their traditional Chinese dresses are mostly white, beige, blue, and green. They also like to wear red headgear with colorful flowers. The Dai men’s clothing is relatively light and convenient for farming and labor. It is also graceful and flexible for dancing.
Young girls generally wear close-fitting short shirts and long tube skirts with exquisite embroidered waistbands. After they grow up, they will wear black hats with green silk wrapped around the edges. The upper garment will be changed to a looser shirt.
Besides the daily dress, Dai women have their traditional clothing for celebrations. They will wear broad-sleeved shirts and colorful skirts during a grand ceremony or an exciting party. The fabrics of these clothes are usually pink satin and red silk.
Water / Shui
Shui is the Chinese spelling of “water”. The Shui is a small ethnic group living in the Guizhou province of China, worshiping fish and water. The people of Shui have a unique language and writing system developed in the 13th century. Besides, they have a matrilineal society. Females are the ones taking control of inheritance and traditions in their society.
According to historical records, the Shui people are descendants of the Shang Dynasty, one of the earliest dynasties in Chinese history. The Shang Dynasty lasted from the 16th century BCE to the 11th century BCE. It was the first dynasty in Chinese history that left written records.
During the Shang, people made great strides in linguistics, metallurgy, and architecture. They developed a writing system carved on oracle bones, which was the earliest known Chinese writing. And they made produced a variety of intricate bronze ritual vessels and sculptures. In addition, the Shang people were very skilled at making large and complex buildings, such as palaces and temples. These giant structures were usually for rulers of the Shang. They were built on raised platforms to enhance their grandeur and protect them from flooding.
In general, the Shui ethnicity once created an astonishing civilization in Chinese history. They have managed to preserve their rich cultural heritage and maintain their ancient traditions.
Traditional Chinese Dress
The traditional dress for Shui men is a long-sleeved blue robe (also called Changshan) with a white shirt inside. For the lower garment, they will wear long loose pants.
Women’s dresses are much more complicated than men’s. For a formal ceremony, they will twist long hair into buns on top of their heads and secure the hair with silver hairpins. And then, they will put on crafted traditional dresses. Their shirts are full of silver floral patterns, and the buttons are also silver. After that, they will dress up in delicate blue pleated skirts. For accessories, women will wear multiple silver necklaces around their necks and waists.
The Shui ethnic group is famous for its threaded silver pieces of jewelry. Their craftsmen are skilled in making silver threads into flower-shaped decorations. Shui women wear blue clothing without embroidery but with silver jewelry, creating a stunning simple beauty.
The Uyghur ethnic group is a Turkic-speaking ethnic group native to Xinjiang, China. They are Muslim and have a unique culture combining elements from Central Asia, China, and the Middle East. The Uyghurs have a strong sense of community and place great value on family and cultural traditions.
The Uyghurs have an interesting legend about their origin:
A long time ago, there was a goddess in the universe, and she looked like a human. Every time the goddess woke up and stretched her body, she filled the entire universe. She could cover the whole universe with her arms and lighten the universe with her eyes. When she snored, the thunder echoed throughout the sky.
Later, she felt too lonely, so she gathered all her strength to take a deep breath and sucked all the dust and air in the universe into her stomach. Then, she exhaled and spat out the sun, the moon, and the earth. As she kept spitting, the sputum became stars.
However, that was not enough to cure her loneliness. The goddess wanted to create some creatures to accompany her, so she spat out all the dust. These small dirt clumps fell to the earth and turned into tiny humans. In the beginning, people couldn’t walk or talk. So the goddess spat out countless small insects to teach them. Since these insects pushed the small clay people, they all learned to walk and run. Then they could talk after the goddess blew air into their mouths. The small people laughed and sang. The goddess gently touched and pulled them with her hands, and soon these people grew taller and aged.
The goddess divided the people into men and women. Then she sent them to live in different places to reproduce. Therefore, different human ethnicities came to exist.
Traditional Chinese Dress
The clothing worn by the Uyghur ethnic group is generally loose-fitting. Men’s clothing is relatively simple. Main garments include long coats, long robes, short-sleeved jackets, shirts, undershirts, and waist sashes. Coats are typically knee-length or longer, with long sleeves that go past the fingers, no collar, and no buttons. When fastened with a waist sash, the coat becomes a form-fitting one-piece garment that is both stylish and warm. Uyghur pants were usually baggy with a simple style, made of various fabrics or leathers. Men’s pants are usually shorter than women’s, with narrower leg openings.
Uyghur women love to wear skirts with bright silk or colorful wool. They especially love a unique type of silk traditionally made by themselves. The patterns on the silk are like colorful clouds, reflecting the genius talent of the creators. Additionally, they are very fond of wearing earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry. Girls start to pierce their ears and wear earrings at age five or six, or even earlier.
This ethnicity’s name Miao is similar to a cat’s meowing in Chinese. They are native residents of southern China, particularly in Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces.
Don’t be fooled by their cute name. They are actually masters in dance and music. Also, their crafts, such as embroidery, weaving, wax printing, and jewelry making, are well-known internationally.
The ancestor of Miao is Chiyou, an evil god according to Han’s legend. However, based on Miao’s legend, Chiyou is a kind leader with powerful talent.
In Chiyou’s ninth year, he left his hometown and went to a mountain to find a master as his teacher. At the age of eighteen, Chiyou completed his studies and wanted to return to his hometown. His teacher advised him to use his knowledge to serve his people and gave Chiyou a bronze sword as a gift.
On the way home, Chiyou heard a story about the “Drooping Ear Witch”. Three years ago, an old witch with drooping ears and long hair appeared out of nowhere and attacked villages. After she entered the village, she would spit at anyone she met. The person who was spit on would immediately lose consciousness and be taken away by the Drooping Ear Witch. The witch would come to the village every few days to capture people, and almost all of the people were captured. After Chiyou heard about this misery, he decided to kill this evil being for his people.
He entered the village and started a fire to cook. The Drooping Ear Witch, who lived in the distance, saw smoke rising from the village. She thought there must be people inside, so she ran towards the village excitedly. As soon as the Drooping Ear Witch entered the village, Chiyou immediately fought with her. Chiyou avoided the Drooping Ear Witch’s saliva and dodged to her back, and with a lightning-fast movement, he cut off her head with one sword. However, the Drooping Ear Witch did not die. Instead, she picked up her head, wiped a circle of saliva on her neck, and then pushed her head back onto her alive body. The witch fled away.
Chiyou chased after the witch. He followed her for several miles and finally came to the cave entrance, where he saw three demon children come out to greet the Drooping Ear Witch. The three demon children asked the witch, “Mommy, did you catch any chickens and ducks today?” (demons call people “chickens and ducks”). The witch complained, “No. I almost got killed by someone! Fortunately, he used an ordinary sword. If he had a sword soaked in Jia Yi (a type of herb), I would not have been able to come back alive!”
Chiyou heard the witch reveal her weakness, so he soaked his sword in Jia Yi and put it in the previous sheath. The next day, the witch secretly returned to the village for revenge. When she saw that Chiyou was still wearing the same sword sheath, she relaxed and rushed out. At this moment, Chiyou pulled out the soaked sword and cut off her head.
Therefore, Chiyou defeated this witch and saved the Miao from miserable lives. After that, he became the leader of his people and helped his hometown thrive in the Yellow River Valley.
Traditional Chinese Dress
The traditional dress for Chinese Miao is known for its dazzling colors, elaborate decorations, and cultural connotations. The patterns on Miao ethnic clothing carry the important task of inheriting the culture. Although the Miao doesn’t have a unique language, the patterns on their clothing are a special kind of written language. The specific meanings of these patterns cannot be fully interpreted due to their long history. Therefore, researchers also call the traditional clothing of the Miao ethnicity the “history book without words”.
Silver jewelry and wax printing are two main features of Miao fashion. Miao people particularly like oversized silver jewelry. The Miao silver horns are almost half the height of the wearer. The processing of silver jewelry is all handmade in a family workshop. According to need, the silver craftsman first makes thin sheets or bar from melted silver, uses pressing, carving, and other techniques to create exquisite patterns, and then welds or braids them into shape.
Wax printing is another born gift of Miao women. They use a special wax knife to dot wax and paint it on white cloth with melted beeswax. After dyeing, they will remove the wax with boiling water, leaving the pattern. Miao women’s wax painting is generally small in size and doesn’t need a ruler or a compass. They paint patterns only by hand and can make sure these patterns are accurate, like computer-made. The painted flowers, birds, insects, and fish are vivid and lifelike.
After the journey to the traditional Chinese dress world, I hope you have enjoyed learning about the different ethnic groups’ fashion. These dresses are a precious cultural heritage for our world. They carry these ethnicities’ lost histories and reflect their creativity and skills.
Wish you have got inspired by these mysterious beauties! If you want more fashion ideas and shopping tips, welcome to our website. Feel free to leave a comment if you like~ We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!