Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ask a North Korean: what happens on your wedding day?

In North Korea, your wedding isn’t just your moment, because the government and Workers’ Party often intervene. There’s no such thing as a bouquet being thrown in the DPRK, instead newlyweds bring flowers to pay respects to the statue of Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung immediately after their official ceremony.
Wedding photos are also taken at the statue. It’s not forced upon the newlyweds, but most couples feel obligated. There’s also one very important rule: you cannot walk down the aisle on 15 April or 16 February, the birthdays of the former leaders.

Most ceremonies are still held in the traditional way, passed down for generations. If you’ve ever watched a Korean drama, most often they depict the bride and groom wearing traditional hanbok dresses, with their neighbours and relatives coming to congratulate them while enjoying food and liquor, which is true to life for most North Koreans.

For the labourers and farmers who can’t afford gifts, borrowing some food from the market is customary. They pay the vendors to rent the goods, have photos taken and return them afterwards.

For more affluent people, money is often given to the happy couple on arrival, with party officials giving US dollars, a sign of their status.

More strangely, live chickens are never left out of a North Korean wedding – it’s an old tradition to have a live hen and rooster present at the ceremony. People stick dates and flowers in the jaws of the hen and red chilli in the beak of the rooster.

For party officials, weddings are their way of demonstrating how important they are, so they often hold parties on a grand scale.

It’s not important that there are lines of BMWs outside: what matters is the number of cars parked outside the hotels or VIP lounges where elite members of Pyongyang society hold their ceremonies, and the grooms are always sure to receive a watch.

Unlike in South Korea, where newlyweds go on holiday, usually abroad, to mark their honeymoon, this is alien in the North: if you get married today, you go to work tomorrow. I didn’t know about honeymoons until I came to the South.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Clothing of Ancient Japan

Japanese ancient clothing was majorly influenced by China. Vigorous trade between Japan and its continental neighbors brought in Chinese dresses and styles into Japan during the Han Dynasty. The Tang styles and Sui dynasty from China influenced clothing in Japan while it was developing from a collection of loose clans to an Empire. All robes in Japan were to be worn from left to right just like the Chinese. Right to left was considered barbaric in China and the ‘left over right’ became the conventional rule of wearing a Kimono ever since.

During the Heian period (894 specifically), Chinese influence began dying out and Chinese characters began being abbreviated in Japanese script. The Heian court was taken to sensitivity of art and subtle beauty and wardrobe became much more detailed. Colors, combinations and fabric textures changed and separated themselves from Chinese influence.

Since the Japanese people don’t wear footwear inside their homes, tabi is still worn. These are split –toe socks woven out of non-stretch materials with thick soles. Clogs have been worn for centuries in ancient Japan and were known as Geta. These were made of wood with two straps and were unisexual. Zori was footwear made of softer materials like straw and fabric with a flat sole.

Ancient Japanese clothes, culture and footwear are slowly regaining their popularity with the western world. There is an honest curiosity in knowing more, wearing kimonos or using silk fabrics with beautiful floral prints from the ‘land of the rising sun’. Ancient Japanese clothing was majorly unisex, with differences being in colors, length and sleeves. A Kimono tied with an Obi or a sash around the waist was the general clothing and with the advent of western clothing are now mostly worn at home or special occasions. Women’s obi in ancient Japanese clothing would mostly be elaborate and decorative. Some would be as long as 4meters and tied as a flower or a butterfly. Though a Yukata means a ‘bath clothing’, these were often worn in the summers as morning and evening gowns. Ancient Japanese clothing consisted of mena and women wearing Haori or narrow paneled jacket for special occasions such as marriages and feasts. These are worn over a kimono and tied with strings at the breast level.

The most interesting piece of ancient Japanese clothing is the ju-ni-hitoe or the ‘twelve layers’ adorned by ladies at the imperial court. It is multi-layered and very heavy and worn on a daily basis for centuries! The only change would be the thickness of the fabric and the number of layers depending on the season. Princesses still wear these on weddings

The peak period of ancient Japan and its imperial court is from 794 to 1185. Art, poetry, literature and trade expeditions continued with vigor. Warlords and powerful regional families ruled ancient Japan from 1185 to 1333 and the emperor was just a figure head. By the Japanese Middle Ages, Portugal had introduced firearms by a chance landing of their ship at Japanese coast; samurai charging ranks were cut down; trade with Netherlands, England and Spain had opened up new avenues. Several missionaries had entered Japan as well.

Distinct features of the lifestyle, ancient Japanese clothing and women is difficult to decipher for the simple reason that it is super-imposed by the Chinese culture. Ancient Japan readily adopted other cultures and practices and most of its own culture is lost among these adaptations.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Chinese dress Qipao / Cheongsam


Qipao, the classic dress for Chinese women, combines the elaborate elegance of Chinese tradition with unique elements of style. The high-necked, closed-collar Qipao / Cheongsam, with a loose chest, fitting waist, and the attractive slits, is one of the most versatile costumes in the world. It can be long or short, some with full, medium, short or even no sleeves at all - to suit different occasions, weather and individual tastes.

The Qipao / Cheongsam can display all women's modesty, softness and beauty. Like Chinese women's temperament, the Qipao / Cheongsam is elegant and gentle, its long-standing elegance and serenity makes wearers fascinating. Mature women in Qipao / Cheongsam can display their graceful refined manner. A Qipao / Cheongsam almost varies with a woman's figure.
What serves as a worthy testament to the beauty of the Qipao / Cheongsam is, however, it does not require the wearer to pep up the look with accessories like scarves and belts. Designed to show off the natural softness of the female form, this kind of Chinese fashion also creates the illusion of slender legs. The overall picture: practical, yet sexy.

Because of its particular charm Qipao / Cheongsam is like a wonderful flower in the colorful fashion scene. Another beauty of the Qipao / Cheongsam is that it is made of different materials and can be worn either on casual or formal occasions.

In either case, Chinese dresses Qipao / Cheongsam create an impression of simple and quiet charm, elegance and attraction. With distinctive Chinese features Qipao / Cheongsam enjoys a growing popularity in the international world of high fashion.

The name

In Northern China, e.g. Beijing, the term "Qipao" is popular - for the term's origin please have a look at the history of Qipao. In Southern regions the Qipao is also known as "Cheongsam". Cheongsam means "long dress", entered the English vocabulary from the dialect of China's Guangdong Province (Cantonese).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tang Dynasty enchantress Yangin in cinemas in July

Fan Bingbing plays the Tang Dynasty concubine Yang Yuhuan in Lady of the Dynasty, a new movie. [Photo/China Daily]
Yang Yuhuan, a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) concubine, famed for her good looks and the attention she received from Emperor Xuanzong, is now the subject of a big-screen project.

Earlier in the year, Chinese social media was abuzz with comments on the depiction of Tang-era clothes on the small screen and the amount of cleavage shown by actresses in a Hunan TV serial titled The Empress of China, in which Wu Zetian, the empress and grandmother of Xuanzong, was played by actress Fan Bingbing.

Fan also plays the role of Yang in the upcoming full-length feature.

Late last year, authorities had asked Hunan TV to regulate the visuals of Fan and other actresses in corsets in the show by using closeups of their faces and heads in shots that required them.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the country's top media regulator, wanted the "unhealthy content" to be cut.

Now, with Lady of the Dynasty, based on Yang and the Tang era, the cleavage is back in focus, and seemingly without much ado.

In a trailer of the upcoming movie, released at the ongoing annual Shanghai International Film Festival, Fan is shown in typical Tang attire and without the restrictions previously placed on the TV show.

"Movies and TV series are different productions and they have different social influences. I don't think the movie needs such cuts," Shi Qing, a director of the movie, tells China Daily on the sidelines of the festival.

Other than Shi, the directors' team includes Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang, both top-notch moviemakers, who have earned international acclaim since the 1980s.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Fashion dynasty from Ancient China

A model shows off clothing and make-up worn during Wu Zetian's time as emperor of China (690-705). Photos: Courtesy of Zhuangshu and Yuewu
After period drama The Empress of China was re-edited because China's government watchdog deemed the clothing worn by the show's actresses was too revealing, a debate on about TV censorship of necklines spread across the Internet. With the show taking place during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a cosmopolitan period of openness that made China one of the greatest cultural centers of the world at the time, many wondered why it would be seen as inappropriate in today's modern age to show a bit of cleavage as their ancestors did.

Many of the show's viewers have seen the re-editing as a huge blow to fans of fashion, as the solution to solving the cleavage problem has been to zoom in the faces of the actresses in any seen where the offending cleavage appears. This of course makes it extraordinarily difficult for fans to appreciate the period clothing used in this costume drama, something that is actually a pretty big highlight for shows such as these. According to media reports, Fan Bingbing ¬- the actress playing Wu Zetian, China's first and only female emperor - has 260 dresses, while the number of all the costumes for other characters in the TV drama is nearly 3,000.

However, while viewers were sighing over these stunning dresses before the re-editing tookplace, historians who study the period pointed out many of the details that the show's clothing designers got wrong. According to them, while women during the Tang weren't shy about showing a bit of skin, it was nothing like the way the TV show portrays.

Teasing not squeezing

During the early days when Wu Zetian was still just one of Emperor Tang Taizong's concubines, women's dresses were still very similar to the previous Sui Dynasty (581-618): conservative with high necklines. One type of hat, called mili, had a very long veil that covered a woman's face and body, allowing the wearer to see the world while staying hidden and was once very popular among women, according to Zhang Guogang, a history professor from Tsinghua University and former director of The Tang Dynasty Institute of China.

However, things eventually changed as the atmosphere of the whole society became more open. Some outgoing women chose to no longer wear the mili as they didn't mind if strangers saw their faces and were even confident enough to wear clothing that was a bit more revealing.

Liu Shuai from Zhuangshu and Yuewu, a folk art team that has dedicated itself to recreating ancient arts such as clothing, told the Global Times that some people's ideas about the Tang Dynasty are not that accurate, such as the dynasties supposed aesthetic preference for full-bodied women."They didn't started off preferring voluptuous figures at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty. This preference only started to spread after Wu Zetian's rule and became especially prevalent during Emperor Tang Xuanzong's rule."

"We can see from wall paintings that their hair buns were tall and they displayed their necks and wore low neckline dresses, but they did not wear things that squeezed their breasts [to make them look bigger]," explained Zhang, pointing out the difference between history and the show.

Feminist time

Zhang told the Global Times that the dresses of Tang Dynasty actually incorporated a lot of elements from the ethnic Hu style, which did not focus on revealing skin but was more similar to a modern jacket. "Some fashionable girls in Tang Dynasty even wore men's clothing. The dresses in some TV dramas are designed in an exaggerated way."

When Wu Zetian reigned as emperor, ideas about female empowerment spread throughout the country and reached a peak. "There was a trend that made women feel confident enough that they decided to wear whatever they liked and reveal their skin whenever they wanted," said Liu.

Liu prefers to think of the fashion during this time as similar to a modern office lady's simplistic style as women didn't wear as much jewelry in their hair as is depicted on TV.

"It was possible that for women under Wu's rule, their destiny was no longer only decided with a dress. They started to see a promising rising social stature. The simplicity of this fashion is actually a time of feminism with strong self-respect among women."

Zhang also explained that relationships were freer during the Tang Dynasty. Women could easily remarry and society lacked the virgin complex that cropped up during later periods, and so sex before marriage was acceptable for many people. 

Looking to history

One good thing the controversy about the TV drama is that it has put real history back into center stage. Zhuangshu and Yuewu was first established in 2007. Looking to recover traditional arts, they began making clothing using traditional styles and materials while also studying the make-up used in the past. As the team's clothing designer, Liu produces clothes that he tries to make as close to the originals as possible.

Some of the photos of the team's work have shocked many people online as the depicted clothing and make-up are very different than that seen on TV.

Though many people's knowledge of ancient history and fashion comes from period dramas, Liu insisted that no TV dramas have yet to successfully depict historically accurate clothing and so urges people to turn instead to the many studies on traditional clothing written by scholars that can be found in bookstores if people truly want to know what was fashionable several centuries ago.

Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published