Figure 1.--All Chinese children have to belong to the Young Pioneers youth group. This is a typical Young Pioneer boy wearing a red scarf with white shirt. The three bar card on his left arm indicates he is a Senior Captain or Leader. There are three official position in Young Pioneer, one bar is junior captain, two bars are a mid-captain, and three bars is the highest rank.

China is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. China has unlike the other great river valley civilizations developed independently of the rest of the world. Even so because of the great size and power of China impacte the far distant West. One of the great questions associated with China is why with the great technological advances of China, it was the relatively backward West that used Chinese technology to make the great leap to modernity We know little about historic Chinese clothing at this time, but we eventually hope to add such information to HBC. HBC still has very limited information on Chinese boys' clothing. We would, however, be very interested in any infornmation that Chinese readers can provide us on either tradition or modern clothing in this important country. A Chinese reader is helping us to pull together some basic information.


A Chinese boy writes us, "HBC, thanks for your hard working! Your site is awful (meaning I think good)! There are so many interesting information. I'm a Chinese boy,I learnt a lot from your site.But I couldn't find any Chinese boys fashion info except one Chinese-French movie. Why not put more stuff about Chinese boys? We wear various clothes. Unlike European boys, we don't wear kneesocks or stockings commonly. I've never worn them. Girls, especially young girls wear stockings and tights more than young boys, still not common. Boys only wear football kneesocks for sports, no other types. One exception is Taiwan, Hongkong and Macao. For historical reasons, Hong Kong boys' costumes are similar to British boys'. Long shorts became popular among Chinese children just several years ago, not only younger boy as you say, but also old boys wear them. I am one example. Sailor suits are casual. Although everyone likes to see boys in sailor suits, but it's not commonly wear. That's true modern Chinese boys' costumes are like Japanese ones. (Not traditional costumes, both Chinese and Japanese boys don't wear their own traditional clothes)." [Wang Chen] About the lack of information about Chinese boys' fashions on HBC. You are correct. We have very little. There are two reasons for that: 1) Our site is a contributory site. That means that the primary source of information is material contributed from readers. Thus our readers contribute information on their country and can then surf HBC to learn about oyher countries. Perhaps because the site is in English, we do not have a large number of Chinese readers. And so far nine of the readers from China have sent information to us. We appreciate your interest in our site and will be glad to use any information you may wish to contribute. 2) We have been unable to find any good English language source of information on Chimese boys' clothing.

Historical Background

China has had a long and turbulent history. An understanding of the basic events and movements in Chinese history is necessary to understand the fashion trends. Fashion also reflected those trends. Interestingly because of the long tradition of writing in China and Chinese schoolarship as well as continuity over long periods, more is known about early Chinese history than many comparable eras in the West. The First Emperor, Fu Hsi, is often seen to be the founder of Chinese civiization and social order around 3000 BC. Little is known about many early emperors, but others are known in some detail. In many ways it was the Mongols who brought China into the modern era. The Ming overthrew the Mongols but were in turn replaced by another northern tribe, the Manchu. European imperlism preyed upon the decaying Manchy regime in the 19th century, forcong a number of unequal treaties on China. The British fought the Opium Wars to force China to accept opium. The British and other Europeans as well as the Japanese carved out coastal enclaves. A Republic was formed under Dr. Sun Yat-sen determined to reform China and build a government that could resist foreign incursions (1911). This set in motion a struggle for power among warlords, Nationalists and Communists. Chang Kai-shek and the nationalists emerged victorious. The Communists were not compkletely defeated, but after the Long March established themselves in northwestern China. Then the Jpanese attacked, first in Manchuria (1931) and than China proper (1937). China fought Japan alone until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and British installations (1941) brought America and Britain into the War. China suffered terribly in the War. Much of the country was occupied by the Japanese, but despite the commitment of most of the Imperial Army, the Japanese were unable to defeat the Nationalists who retired west to remote Chunking. The defeat of Japan (1945) set in motion a civil war between the Nationalists and Communists. The Communists emerged victorious and established the People's Republic (1948-49). Chang's Nationalists retired to Taiwan


China has economically dominated most of Asia beyond the Himilayas economically. The agricultural revolution and the birth of civilization occurred first in the Middle East. This occured later in China, but entirely independently. One of the interesting questions in economics is why China which throughout the medieval era led Europe technologically did not lauch the industrial revolution. Many of the important technological innovations that fed into the industrial rrevolution began in China. Marco Polo was astonished by riches and tecnological level of Chinas. European navigators sought routes to China because it was so much richer than Europe with products highly coveted in Europe. But it was in Europe tha modern science emerged along with capitalism and the indistrial revolution. As a result, by the 19th century China had declined to a basckward country unable to defend itself from more technicall advanced foreign powers. The Europeans generally confined their commercial activities top coastal cities, but the Japanese drove into the heart of China in an effort to convert it into a colonial depedency providing a stable market and raw materials (1937). At the same time a domestic struggle develiped between the Nationalists and Communists. The Communist victory achieved by May Tse-tung (1949) condemned China to four decades of economic failure and one of the worst famines in Chinese history. The Great Leap Forward was followed by the even more disatrous Cultural Revolution which ruined both lives and stilted economic activity. As in other countries, communism in China acted primariily to limit real economic growth and wealth creation. Finally the free market economic reforms of Deng Deng Xiaoping and engagement with the West (1980s) has brought about an economic revolution that at long last is unleasing the economic energy of the Chinese people. There are mabny questions about the Chinese economy which are difficult to assess in a closed system, but there is no doubt thast since adopting caspitalist reforms, never before in humazn history have more people hsve been lifted from poverty in such a short period. Another unanswered question about China is if capitalism can proper under a system of political dictatorship.

Clothing Chronology

China is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. We know little about historic Chinese clothing at this time, but we eventually hope to add such information to HBC. We note that the fine clothes worn by the elite often had magnificent embroidery with important imagery. One of the most important images was the dragon which came to symbolize the unity of the Chinese people. Most of the information collected by HBC to date concerns the 20th century. At the beigining of the 20th century, most Chinese still wore traditional clothes, although Western dress was seen in the important Chinese cities, especially coastal cities like Hong Kong and Shangahai where European countries had carved out colonial enclaves. The importance of Western clothing grew after the Nationalist Revolution in 1907? and the fall of the last Machu Emperor. Even so, it was mostly seen in the larger coastal cities. These cities were occupied by Japan after the Japanese invaded China proper from Manchurian bases in 1937. They were only liberated in 1945 after the Japanese surrender in World War II. The success of the Communist Revolution in 1948 brought a massive change in clothing styles as throughout China traditional clothing was discarded for Western influence styles approved by the Communist. Boys might wear short pants in the Summer and long often baggy trousers in the Winter. The Young Pioneer red sacrves were everywhere. Fashion was discaded, everyone was incouraged to dress alike. Another major change occurred during the Cultural Revolutuion (1966-76), one of the most violent and tragic episodes in modern Chinese history. Red Army style uniforms became very popualar for boys. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution fashion has returned to China. Increasingly today young Chinese are dressing like their counterparts in the West.


Boys in China, as in all other countries, engage in a wide range of activitiies for which specialized clothing are costuming is worn. Here we are just beginning to collect some basic information. This clothing and costume has changed over time and along with changing political regimes in China. This includes choir, dance, music, school, sports, youth groups, and a range of other activities. There are several children's choirs in China, normally mixed choirs with both boys and girls. There are also several dance groups. Many such groups specialize in ethnic or folk groups. We know less about music. Most Chinese schools require school uniforms. Sports are popular in China, but there does not appear to be any tradition of inter-scholastic athletics or broad-based programs, like children's soccer leagues, giving children of average ability the chance to enjoy competitive athlectics.


Chinese boys have worn a wide range of garments. We know realtively little about the traditional clothing worn through the 19th and early 20th century and to what extent there were specific garments worn by boys. Western clothing began appearing in China during the 19th century, but was not extensivedly worn. Western clothing appeared in the major cities during the Republic which was created (1911). Consideration of fashion declined after the Japanese invasion (1937) and subsequent War. When the Chinese Communists emerged victorious in the Civil War (1949), they imposed fashion persprctions and guidelines much like earlier imperial regimes. Only since the 1990s have the Chinese been free to select the kinds of garments they wished to wear on an individual basis. Most young Chinese have chosen Western styled garments. American styles are particularly popular. Thus Chinese children for the first time are wearing garments much like those worn in the West.


The family section of HBC is a very useful section. It helps to put the information we have developed on boys fashion into perspective. Here we can see the fashions worn by girls and adults at the same time as those worn by boys. And the family images also provide helpful illustrations of sociological trends. Our Chinese archive is very limited so we have only begun to work on this important topic. China is a very large country, but still very backward in the 19th century. So we do not begin to find very many Chinee kimages until the 20h century. All of the early photograohy was European imports. China by the 19th century was a technological backwater. All modern technology was imported. We see some European influences, often Chinese who had conveted to Chistianity.


Chinese school children in the 2000s all wear uniforms. The uniforms are seasonal, depending on where the school is located in China. The summer uniforms usually consist of short pants and a shirt in the same style, sometimes in quite bright colors. Sailor collars are frequent for girls. One favourite style is a colored suit with piping in white or a contrasting color. Children used to wear their school uniforms with red Young Pioneer scarves, but this is now less common.


A now dated source indicates that China consisted of 35 provinces, not counting Outer Mongolia and Tibet. Presumably the number of provinces in modern China may now be different. The term "China Proper" is generally applied to the 18 densely populated ethnic Han provinces which comprise southeastern China. This includes Taiwan which returned to Chinese control in 1945 after 50 years of Japanese occupation. Taiwan is currently governed by the democratically elected government that evolved from the Nationalist regime defeated by the Communists on the mainland in 1949. The term "Outer China" is applied to the outlying northern and western regions of China. These areas exceed the Area of China proper, but are sparsely populated--with only about 10 percent of China's total population. In addition, in many of the western provinces the ethnic Han population is a minority. These provinces include Jehol, Manchuria, Iner-Mongolia, Sinkiang, Chinhai, and Sikang. A great symbol of the Chinese cultural sphere was once the Great Wall which now is well within China's borders, extending 1,250 miles from the western Asuiatic deserts to the Pacific coast. China seized control of Tibet in 1956, but this is not reciognized by many other countries. The two last European enclaves (Hong Kong and Macao) returned to Chinese rule in 1997.


We in the West Commonly speak of a 'Chinese' language. actually the language situation in China is much more complicated. Historically there was no common Chimese language just as there is no Indian or European language. As part of the unification process, theHn dominanted China, incorporating other kingdoms and ethnic groups. Today over 90 percent of Chinese consider themselves Han Chinese. And Chinese as a language is the Han language. There are more than 55 other recognized ethnic groups in China, many with their own language or shared languages. The different forms of Chinese can be seen as dialects and are a residual of the different languages of the historic kingdoms before unification, but with common origins--in much the same way that the European romance languges have comman origins. The differences between the dialects are very significant, so much so that they are not mutually intelligible. Cantonese and other dialects in the Han language are of the same origin. They all share the same grammar and most of the vocabulary - just sometimes using different words for the same thing and same words are pronounced differently. The othr languges of East Asia (Japanese and Korean) are of different origins to Chinese. Cantonese is especiall prominent worldwide because Cantonese speaking people started migrating overseas hundreds of years ago and they had brought their version of the Chinese language to the world. And there s a standard accent in the Cantonese speaking region - Guangzhou accent which serves as a standard for theCantonese dialects. Mandarin is not a language in a sence tht it developed naturally over time as a result of popular usage. It is what might be described as a made-up language so tht their might be a common tongue so that Chiese people could communicate with each other without language barriers. This was not just for the 55 minority ethnic groups, butfor the Han Chinese speakers in different regions. The accent of different regions are so different in the Han language that most of them are mutually unintelligible. A Chinese blogger writes, "For example, I speak Shanghai dialect. Suzhou is some 60 kilometers (38 miles) west of Shanghai. If two Suzhou people talk to each other in Suzhou dialect speaking very fast not intending for me to be part of the conversation, I cannot understand them, although both dialects are of the Wu dialects family and people from both cities even have the same accent speaking Mandarin! And this is not the worst case. I have heard in the mountainous areas in South Fujian province people from villages 10km apart cannot understand each other, and their dialects are both in the same dialect group under the Han language! So this is how diversified the Han language is." We suspectthat teevisionand movies may be changking this, in the same way that British English and other Europeans lngiages are becoming more standardized.

Ethnic Groups

The dominant ethnic group in China is the Han Chinese. The Han dominate the country and the culture. China is, however, a large country and there are many different ethnic groups in modern China. We do not know much about these vsrious ethnic groups, but we have begun to collect some information. A number of these groups are very small, miniscule compared to the huge Han Chinese populstion. Lahu people live in the mountains of China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and northern Thailand. Another ethnic group are the Lolo, a tribal group found in the mountins of southwestern China. The Lolo Tribesmen are found at the higher altitudes with the Han Chinese occupying the lower, more fertile lands. Into the early 20th century they supported temslves through both agriculture and banditry.

Folk Costumes

China is the largest country in terms of population and one of the largest countries in terms of area. Not only is the country spread over many regions and provinces, but it comprises many different ethnic and language groups. The Han people of China proper are the dominate ethnic group, but they are a large number of national and ethnic minorities with destinctive cultural and religious experiences. This diversity is reflected in a rich tradition of folk dance, music, and dress. In modern China these folk costumes are more for festivals and special occassions than everyday dress. We have very limited infornmation at this time on the extent and diversity of these folk costumes.

Hair Styles

At this time we still have varied limited information on Chinese hair styles and how they cahanged over time. Chinese boys and men until the Revolution were fanous for wearing plaited pigtails. This was a fashion introduced by the Manchus in the 17th century. Originally it was a sign of submision demanded by the first Manchu Emperor only one year after seizing the throne in 1645. Chinese men shaved the front of their head, then combed the back hair into braids. They used not only their own natural hair, but also horsehair or black silk. The Chinese came to see their braided pigtails a sign of dignity and manhood. For the Chinese, to pull on another's pigtails was a great insult. I am not sure to what extent boys wore them or just at what age a Chinese boy began to grow his pigtail. Unmarried Chinese girls also often wore their hair in pigtails. It was a pervasive style in the 19th century. Most Chinese immigrants that came to America in the 19th century had these plaited pigtails. An important style for children, both boys and girls since the Revolution has been square cut bangs. We are not sure when this style first became popualar.


We have some limited information on Chinese theatricals. The most important traditional form is Chinese opera (戏曲/戲曲). It is a form combining drama and musical theatre. Its origins go back to the third century AD. Over time various regional styles of opera developed. The Beijing opera (Jingju), presumably because the imperial court was located there is the most notable. Canjun opera of the Three Kingdoms period was one of the first Chinese operatic forms. The gebnre developed into a more organized form during the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Xuanzong (712–755) founded the "Pear Garden" (梨园/梨園), the first known Vhinese opera troupe. Before the Yuan Dynasty, plays were performed in classical Chinese and with singing. A wide range of opera masks with different designs and colors were used. Major changes came with the 20th century, by which time European influences were having an impact on China. Chinese students returning from abroad had been influenced with Western plays. The movies all had an impact. Chinese films appeared after World war I in the 1920s and radio became a popular medium. . Following the May Fourth Movement (1919), Western plays were staged in China. Chinese playwrights began to create Western theater plays. Cao Yu (1910--). His major plays were "Thunderstorm", "Sunrise", "Wilderness", and "Peking Man" written during the 1930s. The Communist Party adopted Chinese opera forms as an important propganda form. Red Army cultural troupes staged productions from an early point of the Civil war to promote Communist ideology. With the Communist victory in the Civil War, the Party established control over all media forms. We have virtually no information on Chinese movies and know nothing about television. Productions of Chinmese Opera continue. We believe many are produced for television.


Photography was invented in Europe. The first commercial process was invented by Louis Gaguerre in France (1839). Photography proved so populr that it quickly spread arond the world. This occured as European photographers set up shop shop in foreign countirs and colonies where local people did not have the technical sophistication to launch unknown new technologies. The first studios in Chinawere thus set up by foreigners, mostly in coastal cities. These were commercial studios to sell portraits. Gradually Chinese nationals also began to set up studios which began to appear in inland cities. The chemistry was not all that complicated and thus not aeal barrier to local competition. There was an enormous demand. Virtully all middle-class Chinese peoples wabted portraits of themselves and family. And with the appearnce of the CDV the price for a portrait fell substantially. Withina a few decades photographic studios existed in all major Chinese cities. Almost all of the early Chinese photography were studio poraits. Only slowly do we begin to see gnre images of Chinese himes, streets, and the countryside. Almost all of these early genre images were taken by foreignrs who were intragued by China, as in India sometimes falling in love with the people and their culture. This was a process seen arond the world. Local people often did not find it all important to record what they saw everyday. Foreigners found the local people, culture, ansd scenery remarkable were the first to take photogrphs outside the studio. We begin to see the first genre photography (1860s). William Saunders (1832–92) was the first important genre photographer in China that we know about. Local interesrt in photography may have occured quicker in China than other countries. Lai Afong (1839–1890) was a early Chinese photographer. Slowly this began to change. Affluent Chinese began to take up photography as a hobby. Important people wanted portraits tken. Even the tradition-obssessed Empress Dowager Cixi had many portraits taken. By the 20th century, photography in China began to take on the charactetitics common in the West. Photograohy in the 20th century was subject to considerale cenorship by the Nationalists abd Communists during the Civil War (1930s-40s), the Japanses durung the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and the Communists after their victory (1949). The other major difference between photography in China and the West is that povery in China until the post-KMao market reforms (1990s) limited the number of people who could afford portraits or engage in amateur photogrohy. Most cameras and photigraphic materials were imported until after World war II when the Communists essentially severed commercial relations with non-Communist countries.


HBC has no information on Chinese movies yet. We know the Chinese began making films after World war I in the 1920s. We know of some Western films about China, but we have no information on actual Chinese films. One French film noted by HBC sets part of the film in China. This provides some insights into the clothes worn by Chinese boys and their Young Pioneer uniforms. Hopefully Chinese readers will provide us more information not only on important Chinese films, but on Chinese theater and relevision as well.

Youth Groups

China as a Communist country has the Young Pioneer movement and does not permit Scouting. Once virtually all Chinese children wore their red Young Pioneer scarves to school and elsewhere, but this is no longer as common. All Chinese children have to belong to the Young Pioneers youth group. Normally children just wore red scarves with their ordinary clothes. For special occasions, a Young Pioneer boy might wear a red scarf with white shirt. Youth leades were idenyified by red bars on their sleeves. There are three official position in Young Pioneer, one bar is junior captain, two bars are a mid-captain, and three bars is the highest rank. Scouting has been permitted in most of China since the Revolution (1949), but does operate in Hong Kong and Taiwan.


Wang Chen, e-Mail, August 27, 2002


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s] [The 1890s] [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers] [Blazer] [School sandals] [School smocks] [Sailor suits] [Pinafores] [Long stockings]

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Created: July 27, 2001
Last updated: 11:42 PM 8/9/2015