Tujia Costumes – Multicolored Attires that Record the Changes of the Times

2020-05-16 02:04:00 Source:China Today Author:GUO ZHIDONG
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THE Tujia people are primarily distributed in the Wuling Mountain area, the junction of Hunan, Hubei, Chongqing, and Guizhou. The complex terrain and special climate of the region have cultivated the characteristics of diligence and bravery in the Tujia people, and also bred Tujia’s rich and colorful clothing culture.

Ancient Tujia people made clothing using mostly handmade white, red, and black cloth. There was no distinction between male and female styles; the upper garment was buttoned down to the right just a little distance away from armpit, while the lower garment was an eight-piece skirt.

The eight-piece skirt is sewn with eight pieces of cloth, most of which are blue in color. Each piece in the front, back, left, and right is folded into wave-like folds, and the hem is inlaid with lace more than 10 centimeters wide. Men’s skirts extend down to the knee, while the women’s style are longer. It is said that the eight-piece skirt symbolizes the spirit of the unified struggle of eight legendary Tujia tribes in ancient times.

Tujia dress is also embroidered with lace of various colors, and this lace is the main distinguishing marker between men’s and women’s clothing.

In ancient times, Tujia people were quite fond of wrapping their heads with a white brocade or cotton cloth. The turban was generally two inches wide and four feet long, embroidered with black thread, and was folded into the shape of the Chinese character “人” (which means human) in front of their foreheads. This herringbone turban might be related to Tujia people’s worship of white tigers. Traditionally, they generally did not wear shoes before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

From the middle and late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the Qing Dynasty, in order to consolidate the centralization of power, the central government abolished the hereditary headmen of certain ethnic minorities, including Tujia, in southwest China, and replaced them with officials whom it had appointed and dispatched. The move, called “bureaucratization of native officials,” put these ethnic minorities under the administration of the central government.

After the bureaucratization, officials sent by the Qing government reformed local customs and catalyzed other fraternal ethnic groups to concentrate here. Under the influence of such external factors including policy and cultural integration, the color and style of Tujia costumes also changed greatly. This was seen in the remarkable distinctions made between men’s and women’s clothing. Men no longer wore skirts, young men began to wear double-breasted jackets, and middle-aged and old people wore unlined upper garments. Both young and old people wore wide-legged pants, which were mostly made of dark blue or blue cloth, and then sewn with white waistbands and inlaid with blue cloth.

Men’s clothing also witnessed a more obvious change, as the turban was shifted from white to black, and then further into indigo silk headwear. Tujia people still keep the herringbone shape in front of the forehead when wrapping their heads, and the men in some areas would also keep a nearly 2-inch-long tail besides their left ear. The length of a turban ranges from short hats of three feet to long ones of about 13 feet. The Tujia people deem that the length of a turban is a token of the wealth and rank of the person wearing it.

Another significant change was that Tujia people began to wear socks and shoes. In general, they wore comfortable hemp straw sandals with four pairs of rings in summer, and cloth shoes with dark blue vamp and white soles in autumn and winter, which were simple and undecorated.

Such changes in the men’s clothing fully embodied the gallantry and fearlessness of Tujia men, and the added advantages were comfort and convenience of mobility.

Women’s clothing also changed after the bureaucratization. The styles of Tujia women’s dress gradually increased in variety, showing fresh and elegant, pure and tranquil aesthetic characteristics. Types of women’s upper garments include the dajin (the front of a garment having buttons on the right), shoulder pad dress and “dew dress” (Tujia wedding dress). The colors of the dajin were mainly dark blue and blue, and the hems and cuffs were decorated with simple and elegant lace, exhibiting simple beauty and pure elegance. The dresses are loose-fitting with a gentle style, displaying a mild and natural grace. The shoulder pad dress was a pretty common kind of daily wear. It had a simple style and few decorations. Generally, only one lace was used to decorate the outer edge and cuffs, or three small cloth edges were inlaid inside and outside of the dress.

The robe that the Tujia people prize the most is the “dew dress,” which is the wedding dress of young ladies. The style of the dress mostly consists of a front piece with buttons on the right side. This bright red dress is designed with a loose-fit and is elegant. The neckline, chest, and cuffs are inlaid with black and blue strips of cloth or embroidered edges respectively, so as to set off the brilliancy of the red.

According to a beautiful folklore, once upon a time a young Tujia man killed a fox to save a golden pheasant. Out of appreciation for his kindness, the pheasant turned into a beautiful woman and married the young man. The gods were deeply moved when they noticed that the bride-to-be could not afford a decent wedding dress for her wedding day, so they magically made a glorious gown for her from the morning dew. In real life, because Tujia young ladies usually set out early from their homes to travel to their groom’s home on the day of their wedding, inevitably their clothes get wet with morning dew, thus giving rise to this poetic name for their wedding dress.

On the wedding day, a bride will wear a red eight-piece skirt, also called a pleated skirt, and a hat decorated with silver flowers. The two sides of the flowers are decorated with pairs of dragons, phoenixes, and shrimps. There are nine phoenixes embroidered under the front brim of the hat, and three silver needles are held in their mouths. This shining hat is the phoenix coronet of the Tujia people. The bride will also tie a silver button flower on her chest, which is covered with silver chains, silver medals, and other accessories. The luxurious dew dress complements all these shining decorations.

The lower part of women’s apparel mainly includes straight skirts, pleated skirts, or back skirts. In addition, modern Tujia women also like to wear embroidered trousers. The bottoms of these embroidered trouser legs have three plum blossom strips of different widths, some of which are embroidered below the knee. On the plum blossom strips, there is a variety of embroidered flowers and grass patterns. The trouser legs are longer than the men’s pants, stretching down to the ankle. Tujia women like to wear various styles of embroidered shoes, including bow shoes, catfish head shoes, round-opening shoes, weng shoes (a kind of shoe with a cotton lining to keep their feet warm), embroidered with flowers, butterflies, bees, and other decorative motifs.

Tujia children’s clothing are generally made of figured cloth or embroidered plain cloth. In general, the styles of clothes between boys and girls begin to differ from around four years of age, as the boys’ clothes are not decorated with ornaments, while those of girls are. When it comes to children’s attire, Tujia people seem to pay more attention to children’s shoes and hats than their clothes. They sew different styles of hats for their children according to their ages, such as gold claw caps for babies, tiger head caps and fishtail caps for older kids. In addition, children wear different hats during different seasons, such as “purple golden crown” hats in spring, “toad caps” and “ring caps” in summer, “white gourd caps” and “octagonal caps” in autumn, and “tiger head caps” and “dog head caps” in winter. Each one of these caps is an exquisite piece of workmanship. They are embroidered with auspicious characters such as “longevity and wealth,” “happiness and nobility,” and “fortune, wealth, longevity, and happiness,” or 18 Arhats, eight immortals of culture and martial art. The hats are also often decorated with silver bells.

With the changes of times, the industrious and intelligent Tujia people are constantly creating a rich and colorful ethnic costume culture, while recording their social and cultural progress.  


GUO ZHIDONG is a researcher of traditional culture at the No. 93 Courtyard Museum.  

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