There’s a legend that a young fisherwoman lived by the Jingbo Lake. She was not only beautiful, but also clever and skillful. But when fishing, she often felt hindered by her long and loose fitting dress. Then an idea struck her: why not make a more practical dress for work. She got down to sewing and producing a long multi looped button gown with slits, which enabled her to tuck in the front piece of her dress, thus making her job much easier. As a fisherwoman, she never dreamed that a fortune would befall on her.
The young emperor who ruled China at that time had a dream one night. In the dream, his dead father told him that a lovely fisherwoman in Qi Pao by the Jingbo Lake would become his queen. After awakening from his deep sleep, the emperor sent his men to look for her. Sure enough, there she was. So she became the queen, bringing her Cheongsam with her. Manchu women all followed suit and soon the Qi Pao became popular.
We are not sure if the story is true. But one thing is certain. The Cheongsam (Cheongsam is the Cantonese word, that is often used in English for Qi Pao) came from the Munches who grew out of ancient Nuzhen tribes. In the early 17th century, Nurhachi, a great political and military strategist, unified the various Nuzhen tribes and set up the Eight Banners System. mostly Manchu, who as a group were called Banner People. Manchu women typically wore a one-piece dress that came to be known as the (Qi Pao or banner dress). The Qi Pao fit loosely and hung straight down the body.
Over the years, a collarless, tube shaped gown was developed, which was worn by both men and women. That is the embryo of the Qi Pao. The dress is called Qi Pao in Chinese or translated as “banner gown”, for it came from the people who lived under the Banner System.
The Qi Pao became popular among ladies of the royal family in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, Qi Pao was fitted loosely and was so long that they would reach the insteps. Usually, they were made of silk and the whole dress was embroidered, with broad lace trimmed at the collar, sleeves and edges.
In the 1920s, Qi Pao became popular throughout China. With the influence of Western dress styles, the Qi Pao underwent a change. The cuffs grew narrower and were usually trimmed with thin lace. The length of the dress was shortened as well. This new adaptation allowed the beauty of female body to be fully displayed.
In the 1930s, wearing a Qi Pao became a fashion among women in the whole of China. Various styles existed during this period. Some were short; some were long, with low, high or even no collars at all.
The Qi Pao became standard female attire until the 1960s. Following Western fashion, the tailors raised the hem, even to above the knee, so that the “long” was long no longer.
As for the tradition, Chinese women’s garment style is always thought a bit more serious, which comes from the conservatism and feudalism. But now, as the time goes by, Chinese women’s dress style has changed greatly. Qi Pao has changed too. It has mixed traditional elegant silk together with modern simple design to the own special style. With its variety of styles, the Qi Pao shows its charm at many markets. More and more women in China appreciate its beauty. It is worn for formal occasions such as weddings, engagements, and on the Chinese New Year For instance, when wives of China’s diplomats attend important social gatherings, the Qi Pao is their first choice among dresses. In fact, quite a number of influential people have suggested that Qi Pao should become the national dress for women in China . With a harmony of inside and outside, the Qi pao has been regarded as a representative of Chinese dress culture. It reflects the gentle dispositions of Chinese women. This shows that the Qi Pao remains a vibrant part of Chinese culture.
Due to its elegance and classical looks, the Qi Pao becomes a source of inspiration for fashion designers. Many foreign women are eager to get themselves a Qi Pao when they visit China. Qi Pao is no longer a garment particular to Chinese women, but is adding to the vocabulary of beauty for women the world over.