The ancient Chinese people had very distinctive social classes. Each of these has specific styles and significance of dressing. Varied symbols are used on the clothing to distinguish between various strata of society. The ancient Chinese clothing has varied greatly throughout different periods of time. Each social or historical period brought about a new style.
During the Pre-Qing Dynasty (also known as the Manchu Dynasty was the last ruling dynasty of China from 1644 to 1912.); the prevalent ancient Chinese clothing was broadly referred to as hanfu with many variations such as traditional Chinese academic dress. Every individual stratum displayed a different fashion. In fact the military was totally distinctive in its appearance.
Chinese civil or military officials had an assortment of motifs to depict their rank and position. Hat knobs were used as an icon of their rank. There were nine types of color coded hat knobs that represented the nine distinctive ranks. Another popular insignia was the Mandarin square or rank badge.
The Chinese clothing known as the Hanfu (also referred to as guzhuang meaning “ancient clothing”), was the traditional dress of the Han Chinese folk. The term Hanfu has its organ in the Book of Han, which says, “then many came to the Court to pay homage and were delighted at the clothing style of the Han [Chinese].” It was fascinating for these visitors to see the characteristic outfit – like a kimono and sandals made out of rice reed. As you can see, the Hanfu has a colorful history dating back 3000 years and more. In fact the dress was even worn by the legendary Yellow Emperor. It was popular since long before the Qing Dynasty came into power in the mid seventeenth century. Since the material of this ancient Chinese clothing was always silk, supposedly discovered by the Yellow Emperor’s consort, Leizu, the Hanfu was also called ‘silk robes’.
The Hanfu now is worn only at special occasions which are mostly historical reenactment, hobby, coming of age/rite of passage ceremonies, ceremonial clothing worn by religious priests, or cultural exercise. However, there are attempts on to try and make it a part of more day to day wear or at least during Chinese celebrations and festivals especially in China as well as among the non resident community.
The Ancient Chinese clothing in its most traditional best can be explained as different parts of specific cloth that are draped in a special style. It would be totally different from the traditional garment of other ethnic groups in China like the Manchurian qipao. There is a great difference between the Han way of dressing and the Manchurian influence. It is as yet an unsolved problem which of the two would be the correct traditional costume of the ancient Chinese. Some costumes commonly thought of as typically Chinese, such as the qipao, are the result of influence by brutal laws (Queue Order) imposed by Manchurian rulers of the Qing Dynasty, and are regarded by some advocates as not being “traditionally” Han.