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EMPRESS WANRONG AND EMPEROR PUYI, with her wearing a qipao decorated in Japanese prints; unidentified Western guests. The ability to pick the designs and colors of her choice was seen as an exciting and liberating experience for a Chinese woman at that time. Courtesy of Prof. Wang, JSSI.
The Last Empress
in Qipao

From Manchu to China Chic




Designers capitalized on the romantic nostalgia of Shanghai with a modern-day interpretation of the qipao with the help of bright colors and patterns. Ironically what once was considered a peripheral and bourgeois item has now taken center stage and become a global fashion icon.

Her full name was Gobulo Wanrong. She was born November 13, 1906, during the turbulent time of the Qing empire. At the age of sixteen, she married Emperor Xuantong (Aisin-Gioro Puyi) who was the last emperor of China. Wanrong began her public life as an empress on the third day after their grand wedding. The imperial newly-wed hosted a reception within the Forbidden City to receive the foreign envoys. Empress Wanrong’s ensemble of a Manchu robe, bejeweled headgear and raised platform shoes elevated her beauty and elegance. Her guests were easily won over with full admiration.

In spite of being an opium addict and the scandal that surrounded her marriage to Emperor Puyi, Empress Wanrong was known for both her modernity and her unerring sense of style in a qipao. She had a star quality about her that seemed few people at the time naturally possessed. Since her death at the age of thirty-nine, Empress Wanrong’s style can still wow a generation of women today in the twenty-first century.






Sally Yu Leung
is an independent lecturer, author and curator of Chinese decorative arts. From 1983–2000, she was a board member of the Chinese American International School. Since 2001, she has also assumed the role of Chinese culture and calligraphy instructor for Pixar Animation Studios. She is the consultant and chief designer of the Interior Cultural Enhancement Project for the International School of Beijing at Shunyi, China. In 2005 she was the recipient of the Woman Warrior Award in the Arts. From 1999–2009, she served as a commissioner for the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. In June 2012 she was listed in the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s Hall of Fame of those who contributed to the protection and preservation of Chinese cultural heritage.



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