The meanings of qipao as traditional dress: Chinese and Taiwanese perspectives
Mary Lynn Damhorst
The development of the qipao as a representative, traditional Chinese symbol involves a series of complicated processes including the process of "being modern" and "being Chinese." The researcher investigated how qipao is defined by and has meanings for young women from Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. The purposes of the study were (1) to explore how these women understand and interpret the qipao and (2) to investigate how cultural contexts play a role in the interpretation and use of qipao. Literature was reviewed to investigate how the qipao became representative Chinese dress and what were historical meanings of the qipao.;A sample of 14 international Chinese (P.R.C.) and Taiwanese female university students was selected (seven from each country with ages ranging from 24 to 30). All had studied in the U.S.A. less than three years. Open-ended, in-depth interviews were conducted, during which varied qipao photos were used as autodrivers and stimuli to help respondents talk about cultural meanings and define style criteria for qipao. Bourdieu's practice theory served as the framework of analysis, incorporating semiological analysis to gain understanding of the object structure and subjective interpretation to explore the multi-layered meanings of qipao practices.;Paradigmatic and syntagmatic codes of qipao were established. The results also demonstrated the fluidity and instability of traditions. How knowledge of the qipao has been disseminated within cultures and how individuals personally learned about the qipao affected respondents' definitions of traditional qipao and its situational usage. Taiwanese and Chinese responses had similarities in interpretations of cultural and ethnic meanings of qipao. Taiwanese were significantly different from Chinese in describing how the qipao is used as national dress; political conflicts between the two countries may be reflected in Taiwanese reluctance to wear traditional qipao. Western dress codes were an influential factor in assigning meanings to qipao. Analyses revealed that the qipao is a highly gendered and sexualized object that reflects global stereotypes about Asian, particularly Chinese, women who, in turn, are self-oriented to this stereotype.