Modern Fashion Traditions Cover Image

Modern Fashion Traditions

Negotiating Tradition and Modernity through Fashion


M. Angela Jansen and Jennifer Craik (eds)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

“Fashion” in the Chinese Context

Christine Tsui

Book chapter

DOI: 10.5040/
Pages: 51–70


Christine Tsui adopts a textual analysis framework to explore the history of the concept of fashion in China. Undertaking a detailed and comprehensive analysis of dictionaries and other linguistic sources, Tsui argues that the adoption of an expression to refer to fashion dynamics in China long predated cultural interactions with Europe. Whereas the concept of fashion was not used in Europe until the sixteenth-century, several words were used in Chinese as early as the eighth century. By the eleventh century the word, Shiyang, was commonly used to refer to ‘the prevalent style fit for the time’. While Japan and Korea borrowed a transliteration of the English term ‘fashion’, China preferred the Chinese characters, shi zhuang, meaning clothing (zhuang) that fits the time (shi) to refer to the fashion impulse.


The objective of this chapter is to examine the connotations of the term “fashion” in the Chinese context. The term “fashion” itself is complex and in this chapter it is used to refer to “clothing-fashion.” In this sense, the popular explanation for the equivalent Chinese term shizhuang[2] is “a prevalent new clothing style that fits the time.”[3] This chapter primarily explores the following questions: What is the origin of the Chinese term for “fashion,” shizhuang? What is the Chinese definition and perception of shizhuang? What are the primary differences between shizhuang in the Chinese context and “fashion” in the English context? What are the differences between fuzhuang (clothing) and shizhuang in the Chinese context? Do Chinese and Western scholars share the same understanding of “fashion”? Does fashion play the same role in Chinese and Western contexts? In this chapter, the latter, particularly, refers to the English discourse.

In order to provide a more comprehensive study of “fashion” in the Chinese context, this chapter also explores the differences between “fashion” and “clothing” in Chinese discourse. The Chinese translation for “clothing” is fuzhuang[4] or yifu.[5] The two words have little difference in connotation. Fuzhuang is more formal, and is normally used by working professionals, for instance, as in fuzhuang chang (clothing factory); fuzhuang gongsi (clothing company). Yifu is mostly used in daily life communication: for instance “please wear more yifu today because it is cold.” I use shizhuang and fuzhuang for the Chinese terms and “fashion” and “clothing” for the English terms.

The “Chinese” in this chapter is constrained to simplified Chinese only, the common language used by mainland Chinese. In some cases, simplified Chinese may be different from the traditional Chinese used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and/or overseas Chinese. I argue that fashion in Chinese academic discourse enjoys a less prestigious position. Research on fashion in China still mainly focuses on its material aspects. Fashion in the West is the focus of a more abstract discourse and involves a vaster scope of disciplines.

Notion of “fashion” in ancient Chinese

According to the The Barnbart Dictionary of Etymology (1988), a “sense of style, fashion, manner of dress” was first recorded in the year 1300. The word “fashion” itself did not come to signify “a popular style of clothes or way of behaving” until the sixteenth century (Cresswell 2009).[6] In Chinese, there are several ancient terms that signify something similar. Based on the Etymology of Chinese (Ciyuan 1983),[7] shishizhuang[8] was first introduced by the famous Chinese poet Bai Juyi (772–846),[9] and initially meant a particular makeup style for women that was in vogue at the time. The word shiyang[10] first appeared in a poem by Chen Shidao (1053–1102),[11] and referred to “the prevalent style fit for the time.” The words shiyang and shishizhuang reveal that the Chinese people were making a distinction between “prevalent” stylish clothing, and ordinary clothing much earlier than the West.[12]

Besides the notion of a “prevalent style fit for the time,”[13] “fashion” has two other popular meanings in a Western cultural context: fashion changes,[14] and fashion as a social phenomenon[15] (social class, psychology, modernity, capitalism, identity, etc.). Although many scholars believe that fashion is a Western phenomenon (e.g. König 1974, Wilson 1985), Finnane (2008: 9) affirms that “Chinese dress in the sixteenth to nineteenth century […] shows evidences of short-term changes in urban fashions” in China. Chen (2013) argues that in Tang dynasty (618–907), both women of the royal court and outside of court used luxury silk fabrics to compete for “power” and “social status” in a period when the empire was declining and silk production expanding. In other words, “fashion” was not only a “material” but also a “social phenomenon” in the history of China. Both the explanations of the ancient Chinese words and the two cases presented by Finnane and Chen substantiate that China has had its own notion of changing trends in clothing styles for many centuries. Such a notion complies with Kaiser’s argument (2012: 173) that “fashion has been historically located all around the world and that “the fact that these historical traditions of fashion are not as well-known or advertised as the European one should not diminish their value” (Riello and McNeil 2010: 4).

The origin of shizhuang

Shizhuang in Chinese consists of two characters, shi and zhuang. The character shi has been used for thousands of years and appears in the oldest set of Chinese characters available today in archeological relics (JiaguWen)[16] (Wei 2010). The character generally relates to “timing” or “times,” “season,” “on time,” “immediately,” “something that happens often,” “fit for the time” (Zhang et al. 1996; Chi, Song, and Lu 1998: 947; Zhu 2000). It is still an active character and retains a similar meaning in China today. The Chinese character zhuang historically refers to clothing, traveling packages, and makeup (Gu 2003: 725; Fei and Qiu 2002), and today (when used as a noun), it denotes clothing. Therefore, the juxtaposition of shi and zhuang means “clothing fit for the time.”

However, the two characters (shi and zhuang) did not converge into one word until the mid to late nineteenth century. The Chinese Etymology Dictionary Ciyuan collects words that were in use before the mid-nineteenth century, and shizhuang is not among them. Of course, the emergence of a particular word does not mean that the phenomenon did not exist—it was referred to with another term (as became clear in the paragraph “Notion Of Fashion In Ancient Chinese”). The increased use of the word shizhuang in the Chinese fashion industry affirms that the word emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was a result of Western influences during this period.

Documents from the Shanghai Historical Archive Center (Shanghai Lishi Dangan Guan) identify a “Father of Fashion” (shizhuang zhifu) in China—a man by the name of Zhao Chunlan.[17] Mr. Zhao traveled to the United States[18] and studied Western cutting technology[19] for women’s clothing in the mid-nineteeth century. On his return to China, he cultivated a group of Chinese apprentices to continue this style. Designating Mr. Zhao as the “Father of Fashion” implies that there was no shizhuang before him, and, furthermore, establishes a close correlation between shizhuang and “Western dress.” Shizhuang was a term that described a particular type of fashion, and it emerged at this time to describe a phenomenon peculiar to Western women’s clothing styles, as they came to be adapted and created in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That is to say, the relatively recent historical emergence of shizhuang as a term is not a result of the relatively recent emergence of the concept of fashion per se, but rather the result of the emergence of a new branch of clothing that became fashionable as a result of China’s interactions with Western modernity.

Zhao’s influence continued through his students as they went on to form Hong Xiang—the first store[20] using the word shizhuang (fashion) in its name in China. It started out as “Hong Xiang Ladies’ Tailor Shop” (Hongxiang Nüzi Caifen Dian) in 1917.[21] Its founders were fourth-generation students of Zhao Chunlan. The term “ladies’ tailor” was used to distinguish it from “men’s tailor,” as well as from “traditional Chinese tailors.” Traditional Chinese tailors cut men’s and women’s wear in similar forms and, as a result, all historical Chinese costumes for both men and women look flat.[22] However, Zhao was not alone in introducing Western cutting techniques in China. Starting from the mid–1900s (the first Opium War 1840–2), flocks of Western merchants migrated to Shanghai. Some of them opened tailor shops that introduced new cutting technologies to Chinese tailors. The basic difference between the two cutting forms[23] at the time was that the Chinese form was flat, while the Western one hugged the wearer’s body by reducing the volume differences between bust, waist, and hips. Eventually, some of the Chinese tailors switched to Western cutting methods and they were among the founders of Hong Xiang. In 1928, the shop changed its name to the “Hong Xiang Fashion Company” (Hongxiang Shizhuang Gongsi), while still only providing women’s wear. When I asked Mr. Jin, the son of one of the founders, what made Hong Xiang choose the word shizhuang for the shop name,[24] he replied that the name was given by a literary friend of his father’s, who understood it to mean “clothing fit for the time.” This case demonstrates, again that shizhuang was particularly related to women’s wear in its westernized form.

The nomenclature of the Chinese clothing industry from the 1920s to the 1950s[25] provides further evidence of the application of shizhuang in China. The Shanghai Historical Archives show that the clothing industry in Shanghai was segmented into different genres, including “new clothing” (xinyi zu), “normal clothing” (yizhuo zu), “Western men’s suits” (xifu zu), “fashion” (shizhuang zu), “machine-sewn clothing” (jifeng zu) and “leather garments” (qiuyi zu). The taxonomy was based on the category of the garments and their business model.[26] Again, shizhuang in this context is also peculiar to “Western women’s clothing” (nüzi yang fu[27] or xishi nüzhuang).[28]

From the 1950s to the 1970s, during Mao’s era, shizhuang gradually became taboo because of its association with “bourgeois style.” The word was completely eradicated from Chinese publicity during the radical Cultural Revolution (1967–76). The period in which the use of this particular word was forbidden underscores the aforementioned findings that shizhuang has a strong association with Western fashion. Therefore, although China possessed the notion of “popular styles or wear” 1,000 years ago, the word shizhuang currently used as the equivalent of “fashion” in Chinese, was a result of the gradual influence of Western fashion, starting from the middle of the nineteenth century. Shizhuang was initially a peculiar name for Chinese women’s wear in Western form. The correlation between “women’s wear in Western form” and the connotation of “clothing fit for the time” reveals that “Western women’s clothing” was widely regarded as “clothing fit for the time.”

Research method

To answer the research questions, I collected the definitions of “fashion” as defined by the words fuzhuang and shizhuang from three different sources: dictionaries, academic journals, and fashion textbooks, and then conducted a textual analysis of these resources and definitions.


The introduction of e-libraries has facilitated quick research into the meaning of any term from numerous dictionaries. I located three popular English and two primary Chinese online resources that allow access to the multi-entries of dictionaries: Oxford Online Reference,[29] Gale Virtual Reference Library,[30] Blackwell Reference Online,[31] (Chinese),[32] and (Chinese).[33] From the Chinese dictionaries, I collected the definitions of shizhuang, the English–Chinese translations of “fashion” and “clothing,” the Chinese–English translations of fuzhuang and shizhuang. I then compiled the meanings of “fashion” from the English dictionaries. The search eventually identified twenty-two definitions of shizhuang and the same number for “fashion,” dating from 1970 to 2011.[34] There are forty-five Chinese dictionaries in total that include 192 translations for the four terms. The genres of these dictionaries include general interest: TV/Film, Culture, Education, Agriculture, Military, Medicine, Accounting, Business/Trading, Economy, Politics, Clothing, Industry, Gender, Science, and Psychology.

Academic journals

I selected two academic journals to study the definitions and role of fashion in each of the two cultural discourses. The English journal Fashion Theory was chosen primarily because of its prestigious position in the international academic field of fashion. Although there is no equivalent of Fashion Theory in Chinese which concentrates on the social-cultural-theoretical aspect of clothing-fashion, the most relevant Chinese journal is Zhuangshi,[35] because it underpins “Chinese contemporary design practice and theory.”[36] It was founded in 1958, making it the oldest academic journal in the field of Chinese design since the establishment of PRC, in 1949. It is also the core journal listed in the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index. In order to make the research manageable, I searched the terms “fashion”/shizhuang, “clothing”/fuzhuang respectively, in the titles (as opposed to key words), then compiled the titles of the articles, their key words, abstracts, authors and years of publications into one Excel file. Zhuangshi has provided English translations for titles of its articles since 2002, so I used these translations to supplement my own dictionary-based translations.

By January 2014, I had located sixty-four Chinese titles that contain the word shizhuang, thirty-three of which have English translations; and 372 titles carrying fuzhuang, 239 of which have English translations. Fashion Theory turns out to feature fourteen titles that include the word “clothing,” and 218 that use the word “fashion.” After reading through the titles, abstracts, and key words of each article, I identified a list of articles that potentially included discussions of the definition of the terms. In analyzing these, I located twenty-two definitions from twenty full papers, published between 1958 and 2012 from Zhuangshi, and thirty-five definitions from eight papers, spanning 1998 to 2004, from Fashion Theory, including the citations of definitions from other resources.


A selection of textbooks was initially based on a search of in English and[37] in Chinese, according to the relevance and popularity of the topic. I chose eight books in each language according to the prominence of the authors in the field, the standing of the publishers and the edition of the book (more editions usually indicate greater popularity). All of the English books had indexes, which helped me to easily locate the definitions. I also examined the introduction and/or the first chapter, as authors typically conceptualize the terms within these sections. None of the Chinese books provided an index, so I had to scan the contents of these books, then locate the sections related to connotations of shizhuang or fuzhuang. The search turned up eight Chinese definitions and eighteen English ones, including citations from other resources.

Findings from the research

Background of the authors

The English-language authors who write about fashion cover a wide spectrum of disciplines, including fashion research, sociology, art history and criticism, cultural studies, literature, psychology, consumer studies, and behavioral science. The Chinese publications, on the other hand, reveal that only researchers in fashion institutions are publishing on fashion topics. This implies that in the West, there is a much more diversified scholarly interest in the subject of “fashion.”

The subjects

The English dictionaries cover a range of subject categories, including General, Arts and Crafts, Aesthetics, Clothing/Fashion, Body, Business, Children, Communications, Dance, Diet, Film, Sociology, World Origin, History, Literature, and Culture. In contrast to this diversity, the Chinese dictionaries converge in the General category: fifteen of the twenty-three target general readers. Additional disciplines include Arts and Crafts, Light Industry, Silk, Yu Opera,[38] and Aesthetics. Although the Chinese dictionaries also have volumes on Culture, Literature, History, Sociology, Film, Dance, Communication, Children, and Business, none of them feature the term shizhuang.

Findings from the textbooks demonstrate a similar outcome: a narrower range of topics in Chinese and a much wider range in English. The Chinese fashion textbooks only include Aesthetics, General Introduction of Fashion,[39] and Design Theory of Practice.[40] The English textbooks range from Fashion Communication, Cultural History of Fashion, Fashion and Identity, Fashion and Social Agenda, general Fashion Studies, and Social Theory. The variety affirms that “fashion” has much more diversified facets in the Anglophone source material. Consequently, the background of readers/authors of shizhuang is much narrower and unified than that of the readers of “fashion,” reflecting its more specific connotations. Although Zhuangshi claims to be a journal of “design theory and practice,” the focus of the majority of its articles is “practice” rather than “theory.” Of the 1,794 key words from the 372 papers, the top-ranked 1,000 key words are almost all about the “how”—how to teach, how to cut, how to design, how to be more creative, etc. This difference reveals that Chinese scholars value “practical” components more than the “ideological” facets of fashion. A review of the full articles confirmed this result.


In the Chinese dictionaries, fourteen of the twenty-two definitions listed define shizhuang as “clothing or styles fit for current time,” or something equivalent. The most common adjectives used to describe shizhuang include “prevalent,” “new,” “fit for the time,” “latest,” “trendy,” and “vogue.” The data shows a high degree of consistency in the words selected to describe shizhuang. The form of the definition consists, in general, of repeated adjectives plus concrete nouns, of which, “clothing” and “style” are the most frequent. The results suggest that shizhuang has a fairly unified meaning in China and is more likely to be viewed as a material object. The English descriptions include much more conceptual diversity. Besides defining fashion as “a popular style in vogue,” or something similar, these dictionaries also interpret fashion as “attitude,” “communication code,” “ideal,” “desire,” “awareness,” “expression,” “statement,” “belief,” “system of meaning,” and so on. Most of the nouns used in the English dictionaries are abstract, perceptual, and spiritual. The contrast between the “concrete” and the “abstract” nouns echoes the fact that Chinese scholars attach more weight to “material” and “practical, functional, technical” than “symbolic” and “theoretical, ideological, and cultural” aspects of fashion.

The definitions offered in Chinese journal articles are also very consistent. Of the twenty-two Chinese articles reviewed, nearly half of them define fuzhuang as “culture” (wenhua), including, in one instance, amplifications of that noun: “material culture” (wuzhi wenhua), and “spiritual culture” (jingshen wenhua). Other commonly repeated definitions encompass “arts,” “decorations” (of body) and “history.” Not surprisingly, the English journals produce no overlaps—”fashion” means “individual freedom” (Paulicelli 2004: 4), “metaphysical overtones and aesthetic considerations” (Saisselin 1959 cited in Kim 1998: 53), and “passion for the artificial” (Baudrillard 1990 cited in Wilson 2004: 382).

Although both journals show a certain degree of resemblance or sameness, such as defining fashion as “spirit,” “decoration,” “economy,” “language,” “aesthetic,” “society,” “culture,” “modernity,” and/or “capitalism,” the comparison between the two reveals that the Chinese definitions are general, vague, and highly consistent and undifferentiated, while the English ones are specific, exact, passionate, recounted, diverse, and variegated. For instance, some of the Chinese journals define fuzhuang as “society” or “culture,” while the English ones, instead of defining “fashion” in a general way, use the expressions “character of the age” (Haas-Heye 1916, cited in Simmons 2000: 75), “the law and the codification of manners and style” (Paulicelli 2004: 4), and “dream energy of society” (Benjamin 1999 cited in Wilson 2004: 383) to paint a more elegant and delicate picture. To cite another example, some Chinese papers define fashion as “life” and/or “a lifestyle,” while the English ones use “the materiality of our thoughts and memory” (Paulicelli 2004: 30) and “remembrance of its presence” (Martin 1988: 15–16, cited in Wilson 2004: 375) to specify what fashion means to “life.” The variety reveals that although the Chinese researchers in the field of fashion try to entrench the symbolic meanings of fashion, their understanding of “fashion” is still of a general and undefined nature.

Vocabulary and tone

The wider choices of vocabulary demonstrate the advanced skills of Anglophone academic criticism. In addition to adopting a variety of abstract nouns, the English writers also choose metaphors and active verbs to personify fashion and endow fashion with an indispensable and polyvalent power over the gamut of daily life. When reading the English texts, I encountered active and powerful verbs like “communicate,” “colonize,” “construct,” “deconstruct,” “infiltrate,” “organize,” “pervert,” “sweep,” and “unite” next to fashion, which makes fashion appear animate and omnipotent. An example is “fashion sweeps imperiously on, conquering, infiltrating and colonizing all areas of social, cultural and (lest we forget) academic enterprise” (Radford 1998: 162). Sociology scholar Diana Crane (2000: 248) defines the role of fashion as follows in her book Fashion and Its Social Agendas:

Fashion and clothing, like litmus paper, offer clues to discerning links between social structure and culture and to tracing the itineraries of material cultures in fragmented societies. In the increasingly multicultural society of the twenty-first century, clothing codes will continue to proliferate as a means of expressing relationships within and between social groups and segments and of indicating responses to even more conflicted hegemonies.

Corresponding to the English texts, almost all the Chinese texts define fashion or its role in a form of “to be” verbs, i.e. “fuzhuang is …,”, “shizhuang is …” Of all the Chinese primary data that I collected, the one example that endorses fashion in the most versatile way states:

Fuzhuang is a material cultural phenomenon. It needs material […] Fuzhuang is an inorganic component of the human body […] Fuzhuang is the external “expression” of the human heart […] Fuzhuang is also for self-protection […] Fuzhuang is also about creativity, it does not always succumb to the body, (it) can quasi-modify the natural shape of the body (translation, Xu and Guan 2007: 2–3).

The use of the word “is” makes fashion feel stagnant and inanimate. Christopher Breward (2003: 9) argues that “fashion not only is something, but also functions in many ways.” The “is” statement confirms that fashion for Chinese authors is a static substance and/or a passive reflection of society, rather than something that can actively shape or function in the social community. Their tones are also very different. The English papers often use “[one of] the most” to amplify fashion, for example “the most appropriate form for,” “the most compelling,” “the most destructive,” “the most personal and most elementary,” and “the most fundamental.” The use of “[one of] the most” creates a determinative tone. The Chinese texts reveal very little emotion because of the use of static, plain and inanimate vocabulary. Fashion in English functions as an energetic, powerful, protean “person” that struts across a wide spectrum of fields: sociology, anthropology, politics, religion, etc., while the Chinese fuzhuang and shizhuang are banal, dull and inanimate objects.

Western scholars use the instrument of language to endow fashion with an elegant dignity. Their language use testifies to their tremendous passion and respect for fashion. Their meticulously choreographed writings elevate fashion from “material” to “spiritual,” or “symbolic” levels—which makes fashion and/or clothing a “symbol” rather than a material object. As a consequence, their writings upgrade fashion in the minds of Anglophone audiences and readers. I argue that Chinese fashion researchers have not yet mastered the tactics of powerful writing; although they are aware that fashion is more than just “material,” the “symbolic,” or “spiritual” aspect of fashion still remains a vague concept in their minds.

Today, fashion and/or design in the West are perceived as trivial compared to other fields (Barnard 2002). However, compared to China, fashion in the West has attained a higher position in the social system as demonstrated by the increasing numbers of academic publications on fashion from different disciplines (Breward 2003: 9). Fashion in the Chinese context is usually perceived simply as a material object rather than a symbolic one. Although some of the Chinese fashion scholars agree that fashion has spiritual values, I believe the spiritual connotations remain vague in the mind of these scholars.

Differences between fuzhuang and shizhuang

Research on the translations of the four terms and applications of the two Chinese terms indicate that fuzhuang has a much broader usage than shizhuang. While fuzhuang has a larger scope that includes clothing, dress, fashion, costume, and garment, shizhuang is just a facet of fuzhuang which particularly means clothing that is “high-end,” “in vogue/trendy,” “modern,” “European,” “Western,” “international,” or “capitalist.”

The following findings support how fuzhuang differs from shizhuang. By reviewing all of the translations, it is evident that fuzhuang translates into apparel, clothes, clothing, costume, dress, fashion, and garment.

Of all the English translations, “apparel” and “clothes” are used the least frequently. In some cases “apparel” is interchangeable with “garment,” but “garment” is a more popular translation than “apparel.” “Garment” is more commonly associated with “manufacture” and “technology”—for instance, “garment factory,” “cutting of the garment” and so forth.

“Clothing” is the most widespread translation of fuzhuang. “Clothing” is often applied in a general context, i.e. “clothing and textiles,” and in expressions such as “clothing, food, house, traveling” (yishi zhuxing), “daily clothing,” and functional or special clothing like “safety clothing” and “protective clothing.” “Dress” is another common English translation for fuzhuang. This study has revealed that the English translations “dress” and “clothing” are used interchangeably, for the most part, for fuzhuang. “Dress” is also used in combination with “one-piece clothing” (lianshenqun), “women,” and “evening, party, ceremony,” which is close to the English usage. “Costume” is most commonly used in association with “historical,” “ethnic,” “movie/film,” and “opera.”

“Fashion” is associated with “design” or “designer,” although the Chinese version is fuzhuang sheji(shi) (designer) instead of shizhuang sheji(shi). I ascribe this to the difference in cultural systems. In English, people speak of “fashion design(ers)” more often than “clothing design(ers)”; however, in China, the nomenclature of the education programs, which is centrally administrated by the National Ministry of Education, the program of “fashion design” is called fuzhuang sheji instead of shizhuang sheji, and, consequently, all of the Chinese titles for the fashion schools in China are fuzhuang xueyuan (school) instead of shizhuang xueyuan. Fuzhuang is also translated as “fashion,” when the discourse relates to “vogue,” “trend,” “modern,” “contemporary,” “good quality,” and “high standard” (for instance, “fashion boutiques” (jingpin fuzhuang dian)). Fashion is also randomly associated with terms like “advertisement,” “brands,” “pattern cutting,” and “illustration,” but these words are also connected to “clothing,” “clothes,” “garment,” and “apparel.” The translation of shizhuang is simply and unequivocally “fashion,” although as stated above, “fashion” can be translated as fuzhuang depending on the context.

Research on the applications of the two Chinese terms in dictionaries, journal articles, and textbooks is consistent with the findings listed above with regard to the definitions of fuzhuang and shizhuang. Fuzhuang is used much more frequently and widely than shizhuang. Shizhuang is usually used when associated with certain peculiar prestige contexts: 1) representing “high-level,” “high-quality,” or “exquisite quality,” such as shizhuang jinpinwu (fashion boutique), gaoji shizhuang (haute couture/high fashion); 2) representing “creativity,” as in chuangyi shizhuang biaoyan (creative fashion show); and 3) when connected with fashion cities like Shanghai shizhuang (Shanghai fashion), Hong Kong shizhuang (Hong Kong fashion), Riben shizhuang (Japanese fashion), etc. Other applications of shizhuang include conventional usages, such as associated with “models,” the “cat-walk,” and “advertisement,” for example shizhuang moteer (fashion models), shizhuang guanggao (fashion advertisement), shizhuang biaoyan (fashion show), shizhuang shejishi (fashion designer), shizhuang zhou (fashion week), and shizhuang hua (fashion illustration).

The Chinese journal papers reveal that shizhuang is also used in tandem with “modern” (xiandai), for example xiandai shizhuang sheji (modern fashion design), xiandai shizhuang liuxing (modern fashion trend) and xiandai shizhuang tixi (modern fashion system). Shizhuang is also often used to denote a time period, such as chuantong fuzhuang (traditional clothing), in contrast with dangdai shizhuang (modern fashion). Shizhuang is also frequently connected with the “international” domain, such as bali shizhuang (Paris Fashion) and Guoji shizhuang zhidu (international fashion capitals).

Obviously, shizhuang still represents the prestige of the “modern” and the “West” just as when it first emerged in China in the late nineteenth century. Apparently it is no longer constrained to “women’s wear”; it generally means clothing that is fashionable. According to The China Dictionary of Arts and Crafts, shizhuang “[used to] mean fashionable women’s wear. But now it includes men’s wear, children’s wear.” (1999: 125).


Fashion, defined as “prevalent new clothing styles that fit the time” in this chapter, is an autochthonous concept in China, not a loaned one. The Chinese version, shizhuang, emerged alongside the migration of Western fashion and its cutting technology in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and has not evolved much in meaning since. It originally meant “women’s dress in Western forms.” After the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, shizhuang gradually became a taboo due to its close connection with the bourgeoisie. Shizhuang, from the post-Mao era of liberalization and reform, is widely perceived to be clothing that is “exquisite in quality,” “modern,” “trendy,” “vogue,” “international,” or “Western.” The word is still associated, to some extent, with the Western phenomenon, but it no longer only refers to women’s wear. It is a type of fuzhuang that has infiltrated academic publications and, therefore, engenders more power than shizhuang. This distinction approximates the difference between “clothing” and “fashion” in the Anglophone context. Although Malcolm (2002) endeavors to distinguish between the terms “clothing,” “fashion,” “dress,” and “style” in his book Fashion As Communication, which discusses the definitions of and differences between each term, he also acknowledges that it is extremely difficult to distinguish all the terms explicitly. Yuniya Kawamura (2005) sees clothing as “material” and fashion as “added symbolic values.” Both cases show that it is incorrect to draw the conclusion that “fashion” is a genre of “clothing” in the Anglophone context.

“Fashion” enjoys a charismatic cachet and potency and plays both active and passive roles in Anglophone discourse. It not only “is” something, but also actively influences and shapes many other aspects of society. Compared to “fashion” in the English context, “fashion” in the Chinese context earns little respect from spectators. “Fashion” in the Chinese context is banal, monotonous, parochial, and inanimate, whereas “fashion” in the Western en compasses a greater diversity of symbolic meanings, and plays a higher and more vital role than it does in the Chinese context.

To conclude, although the word of shizhuang was a result of influences from Western fashion, it did not naturally inherit the enriched connotations and higher roles of “fashion” in the Western context. I therefore argue that, as a result, the monotonous and material view of “fashion” in the Chinese context endows it with a lower position than in the West, resulting in a lesser development of “fashion” in China, despite the fact that the notion of “fashion” has been in existence for over a thousand years.


[1] I intend to conduct additional research on the definition of “fashion” in Chinese in the context of the fashion industry.

[1] I intend to conduct additional research on the definition of “fashion” in Chinese in the context of the fashion industry.

[2] 时装.

[3] See Xinhua Chinese Dictionary (Xinhua hanyucidian) (Rev. ed. 2006); Chinese Encyclopedia: Volume of Light Industry (Zhongguo da baikequanshu: qinggongjuan) (1992: 360); the Encyclopedia of Aesthetic (Meixue baike quanshu) (1990: 427–8); Dictionary of Fashion (Fushicidian) (2011:467).

[4] 服装.

[5] 衣服.

[6] Some of the resources come from online dictionaries or encyclopedias that provide no page numbers.

[7] 辞源. It was started in late Qing Dynasty (1908), finished by 1915, and published by ShangwuYinshu Guan. The edition that I used for this chapter is a modified online edition produced by the same publisher between 1979 and 1983.

[8] 时世妆.

[9] 白居易, poet of Tang Dynasty (618–907).

[10] 时样.

[11] 陈师道, poet of Bei Song dynasty (960–1127).

[12] Kawamura researched the notion of a “sense of style, fashion and dress” in French, English, and Latino. Based on her research, such notion of’style” and/or “fashion” in Europe did not emerge until 1300 (2005: 3–4).

[16] 甲骨文. Oracle Bone Inscriptions, dating from the fourteenth to eleventh centuries b.c.

[17] I did not find any documents recording Zhao Chunlan’s birth and death year.

[18] Some of the historical sources indicate that Zhao went to the United States with a priest and learned Euro-American cutting technology in the USA. Other sources state that he learned it from a European nun in Shanghai. In either case—all documents state that Zhao was considered the “Father of Fashion” in China and learned the Euro-American cutting technology from a foreigner.

[19] See the next paragraph for differences between European and traditional Chinese cutting technology.

[20] According to historical data written by the son of one of the founders of Hong Xiang—Mr. Jin Taijun and Shanghai Local Annals (Shanghai difangzhi) (Mo 2011: 155).

[21] According to the archives stored in Shanghai Archive Center.

[22] There are several reasons why the historical Chinese costumes look flat. Difference in the traditional Chinese cutting technology is just one of the reasons.

[23] The cutting form is one of the primary differences between traditional Chinese and European cutting technology.

[24] The interviews were conducted for my book Dialogues with Three Generations of Fashion Designers (Shanghai designers only) (Duihua Zhongguo Sandai Shizhuang Shejishi) (2005), China Fashion: Conversations with Designers (2009; 2013). I double-checked this with Jin again when I saw him in July 2013.

[25] This is the time when the Chinese fashion industry took shape and emerged before the Communist Party merged all the private business sectors with state-owned companies in 1956 (gongsi heying).

[26] There were three types of business models in the clothing industry in this period. One provided full made-to-measure services that included providing materials and accessories as well as cutting, making, and trimming (baogong baoliao). The second type had the clients provide the fabric and accessories, while the shops only cut and made the clothing (lailiao jiagong). The last type represented wholesale business module, which produced garments in larger volumes (pifa).

[27] 女子洋服.

[28] 西式女装.

[29] See (accessed 31 January 2014).

[30] Gale is one of the brands belonging to Cenage Learning; (accessed 31 January 2014).

[31] See (accessed 31 January 2014).

[32] Built in 1999, CNKI was initiated by TsingHua University and supported by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Technology, and the Ministry of News & Press in China. According to the introduction of the website, this is the largest electronic library in the world, its “tool books” (gongjushu) section contains nearly 7,000 copies of dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, and other tool books. ( (accessed 31 January 2014).

[33] The Apabi library was built in 2006 by a company that is part of Peking University. According to its website, “90% of the publishers in China” partner with Apabi ( (accessed 31 January 2014).

[34] Due to restrictions in length, it was not possible to include the list of dictionaries, journal papers, and textbooks that I used for primary data in this chapter. Please see the References section for a complete list of dictionaries, journal papers, and textbooks used.

[35] The English title of this journal is “Art & Design.” I am using the Chinese title to differentiate it from other English journals with similar titles. It was founded by the first arts & crafts institute in China—the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, which is now the Faculty of Fine Arts of TsingHua University ( (accessed 31 January 2014).

[36] See (accessed 31 January 2014).

[37] is the largest online bookseller in China.

[38] An opera that originated in He Nan province in China.

[39] In Chinese, it is fuzhuang gailun. The course provides fundamental concepts and an introduction to fashion as well as the fashion industry.

[40] This is the theory of design practice, not of fashion theory.


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The author would like to thank her supervisor Professor Louise Edwards, and the editors of the volume, Professor Jennifer Craik and Dr. Angela Jansen, for their invaluable feedback on this chapter.