Horse riding and a Chinese silk skirt from Indonesia

Chinese-Indonesian skirt, pre-1930s (TRC 2012.0077).

Chinese-Indonesian skirt, pre-1930s (TRC 2012.0077).

TRC volunteer Mengying Zhang writes:

I was looking for traditional Chinese garments at the TRC Leiden and found a skirt that combines elegance and horse riding. How intriguing! It is the 馬(ma)面(myan)裙(tsyun), or mamianqun, when spelled out in the Latin alphabet.

Long wrapping skirts have been worn by Chinese men and women under a long tunic for more than 600 years, up to the mid-20th century. The occasions on which  they were worn and their gender code have changed through time, and their form has slowly evolved. The skirt in the TRC Collection (TRC 2012.0077) is typical of a mamianqun and is made up of a series of overlapping panels with symmetrical pleats. At the centre front, a split is created by two identical panels that are attached to the skirt’s waistband. These two panels are separate from each other, but come together when the waistband is fastened. A second split is formed by wrapping and fastening the skirt around the wearer’s waist, leaving an overlapping area at the centre back. Meanwhile, the pleats lay symmetrically to the sides of the wearer.

Imagine how the pleats would swing with every movement of the wearer and bring into mind the general position of traditional Chinese women, we suggest that these skirts have an elegant aura!

However, there is much more to these skirts. A number of contemporary Chinese and non-Chinese researchers believe – based on excavations – that the symmetrical pleats and overlapping splits have very practical functions. Both elements were originally meant to make it easier to ride a horse. It is easier to bend the knees, and the splits allow the two side panels to hang along the horse’s back instead of piling up on it. We could therefore suggest that the horse riding elements of the mamianqun reflect the presence and influence of the horse riding societies along the northern borders of China, clearly attested in Chinese and Mongolian sources.

The skirt from Indonesia in the TRC collection was worn by a woman of Chinese origin. She may never have seen a horse, let alone have ridden one, but her dress reflects the age-long interchange between the Chinese and the northern nomads from Mongolia and beyond.

There are actually three of these skirts in the TRC collection, all of which feature not only traces of intercultural exchange, but also elaborate decoration and structure. Should you come to the Netherlands, do not hesitate to take a look at these amazing skirts in our collection and allow yourselves to be inspired!

Mengying Zhang, 30th July 2018

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Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

Current exhibition: Sherry Cook's Americaan quilts, until 18th October

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Donations

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
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