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Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion

East Asia


John E. Vollmer (ed)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

Preface to East Asia

Encyclopedia entry

Pages: xvii–xviii

The geographic designation East Asia was originally conceived by John K. Fairbanks, Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig in their monumental study East Asia: Tradition and Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973) as the region of Asian Chinese civilization and its sphere of influence, most notably Korea and Japan and to a lesser extent Vietnam. Although this volume of the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion devotes the greatest share of space to China, Japan, and Korea, it applies a more literal interpretation of geography, leaving Vietnam to be treated in the volume on South Asia and Southeast Asia. The present volume covers continental and insular East Asia.

Continental East Asia has been dominated by China culturally and politically for centuries, a fact that has exerted a tremendous influence on issues of dress and identity for its diverse populations. The section on China includes Han Chinese dress and that of most of China’s fifty-five minzu, or national minorities, and also covers dress in Tibet, Mongolia, and Taiwan. Many of the minzu, particularly groups from the southeastern and southwestern regions, have populations that bridge this volume and the one on South and Southeast Asia. Much of Taiwan’s historical and twenty-first-century realities involve greater Chinese culture, yet the prehistorical movements of peoples, technologies, and languages were linked to South and Southeast Asia rather than to East Asia. The dress of Korea and Japan, including the Ryūkyūs, are discussed in separate sections. Similar historical factors affect the history and cultures of these regions and have had an impact on the national dress of each. Although in the final analysis, any such arrangement is arbitrary, the organization of the articles nonetheless attempts to deal with the realities of geography and the diversity of dress in East Asia both in its recent past and in the early twenty-first century while avoiding redundancies. These essays are intended to survey dress in East Asia, recognizing multiple spheres of production and meanings rather than a single dominant form with subordinated branches or offshoots.

The nineteenth century witnessed a shift from spheres of regional political power to the geopolitics of West Europe and North America. The West’s insistence on obtaining access to Asian markets and resources forced traditional East Asian governments to take action that would radically change society and politics. Adapting to a “modern” world stimulated new forms of dress and placed a different focus on traditional and ethnic dress.

East Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s population, and many of its dress traditions have been documented in great detail. The region had its own highly developed traditions of social and cultural research, including dress, long before Western dress historians turned their attention to East Asia during the nineteenth century. Historical sources stretch back three thousand years, and a tradition of compiling massive encyclopedias and chronicles continues with vast government-sponsored research projects. Intense scholarly work within the region continues to generate an ever-growing body of knowledge; nonetheless, many local traditions have yet to be studied. No single volume can hope to do justice to the topic of dress in the region.

While the volume cannot be complete, it aims to be representative, not only in the range of dress it covers, but also in its roster of contributing authors, some of whom are presented to English-language readers for the first time. The 65 authors who have written for this volume come from 14 countries, and over half were born and raised in East Asia. All have conducted primary research on dress in East Asia, either in the form of fieldwork or using the historical methods of archival investigation; many combine the two. In many ways, the present volume stands as a tribute to the collaboration between local and outside researchers that has brought our collective knowledge of East Asian dress to a level capable of producing such a body of work.

Like other volumes in the Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, this volume is organized geographically. The primary division is into five parts. Part 1 provides an overview of East Asia as a cultural and geographic region. Here, issues and processes affecting the study of dress are introduced, as well as a summary of the cultural interactions and migrations that have taken place between groups within the region. These essays discuss the dynamics of cultures, linguistics, and politics that affect the specific aspects of dress discussed in the following articles. Part 1 includes surveys of the archaeological and historical evidence that has shaped and continues to influence the study of dress in East Asia; these essays are organized by the major geographic and political divisions of the region. The record of dress is, however, uneven and far from complete. For example, during the second half of the twentieth century, excavations in China, Inner Asia, and Korea have greatly expanded knowledge about early technology and cultural diversity in North Asia. In other areas like Tibet or the Ryūkyūs, differing cultural values, religious practices, environmental factors, and war have hindered or prevented efforts to document the ancient or more recent past.

Part 2 examines themes and topics related to fashion and identity as they apply generally and specifically in East Asia, contrasting local and regional issues with the increasingly pervasive impact of globalization. It includes essays on some of the principal themes and topics relating to the body and dress that influence dress in East Asia, as well as articles on the major components of body coverings and dress. These essays discuss particularities in addition to some of the more striking contrasts between and among groups.

Parts 3, 4, and 5 divide the broad region of East Asia into cultural and geographic regions to discuss individual national traditions and practices in depth. These parts constitute the main body of the book. They acknowledge the major geographic and political boundaries of East Asia. At times, in order to draw attention to the specific character of subgroups within the larger political regions, the volume has separated out groups and their dress. Part 3 is primarily concerned with continental East Asia and Inner Asia and the Chinese cultural sphere of influence. It includes overviews and focused essays on topics relating to Han Chinese dress and the dress of China’s national minorities. In this section, population size and available studies have resulted in a mix of essays focusing on individual national minority groups or on clusters of groups that occupy specific regions of China. These have been arranged roughly from southeast to southwest, then from northeast to northwest. The unique character of Tibetan dress and the often-idiosyncratic garment-making technologies that are employed by inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau have been studied in detail during the twentieth century and are the focus of several essays. Similarly, the dress of the aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan has been covered in detail. Both Inner Mongolia (politically part of China) and Outer Mongolia (which is an independent republic) are covered in an overview. Part 4 examines Korea and includes the two current states: North and South Korea. Part 5 deals with Japan, including the Ainu and the dress and textile traditions of the Ryūkyūs, which are politically part of Japan in the early twenty-first century.

Each of these sections contains an overview that discusses dress, focusing on data from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each attempts to define the cultural and social issues that affect attire, identifying social categories of dress (gender, age, social position), general dress types (outerwear, day wear, underwear), and styles of dress appropriate to stages of life and rites of passage. Finally, they include a brief discussion of early-twenty-first-century styles and fashions. Many sections have separate essays focusing on specific aspects or types of dress as they apply to those regions, such as bridal dress and performance costumes. These examinations are not consistent across East Asia; they reflect the accumulated knowledge about aspects of East Asian dress at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

This volume aims to bring up-to-date information about dress and its functions among East Asia’s diverse populations to the attention of students in dress studies, the humanities, and social sciences; researchers, teachers, journalists, reviewers, and other writers; interested nonspecialists; and library patrons. For scholars in dress studies seeking comparable information or a distillation of research outside their particular specialty, it is hoped that the volume will serve as first-level access to the topic of dress in East Asia.

An awareness of orthography is essential for the study of East Asia, where a single term may appear in widely divergent spellings as a result of alternative and competing romanization systems. This volume uses pinyin romanization for Chinese, the Nippon-shiki Romanji system for Japanese, and the Revised Romanization system adopted in 2000 for Korean. Few of the languages used by China’s national minorities have standardized romanization systems. We have adopted various solutions suggested by the authors of those essays, combining pinyin romanizations of Chinese transliterations and specialized pinyin conventions used for such groups as the Naxi, Dai, Uighur, and Kazakh. Mongolian transliterations follow local practice and were supplied by the authors of the essays. Tibetan terms utilize Wylie and common practice. Taiwanese standard spellings were used for place-names and aboriginal groups in Taiwan.

Volume 6 has been shaped by many contributors and editors. The volume bears the influences of over 270 individuals who were contacted for advice, articles, or introductions to authors. They were all part of the team effort that resulted in 70 essays, contributed by 64 authors from 14 countries, totaling 390,000 words and 200 illustrations. I thank them for their individual contributions to this monumental undertaking. I would also like to thank the contributors for more than their essays. Their questions and suggestions, patience over the long production process, as well as their willingness to produce new articles on a very short schedule are deeply appreciated.

My sincere thanks go to all the staff at Berg for taking on this project and for structuring a plan that would see its successful publication as a unit. Special thanks also to my colleague Karen Eckhaus, who generously stepped in to help with checking revisions and ensuring all contributions were complete.

I am indebted to my coeditors, particularly those working on the volumes on South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and North America, for guidance on the table of contents; however, it was the meticulous review, questions, and challenges of editor in chief Joanne B. Eicher and consultant Sylvia Miller that helped this volume find its proper shape and flavor. Without these two remarkable women there would have been no Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion.

John E. Vollmer