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FORMAL EVENT at the Chinese Embassy in Rome, where author’s late father, Wen-Tao Liu (wearing glasses and sash in center of the arch) was ambassador in the 1930s; his wife, Mary Man-Li Liu, is on the arm of an unidentified guest of honor. Note that she and the other Chinese women are wearing floor-length, formal qipao.

My Mother’s Formal Qipao

fiber arts



Each culture’s dress reflects not only what was being worn at that particular time, but also the skills and taste of those wearing and making that clothing. During a recent working trip to the East Coast, I and my sisters had a rare chance to view my late mother’s surviving formal qipao, matching shoes and an accessory. This serendipity and some hurried informal photography gave me the impetus to write about Chinese formal qipao, integrated with family history. Earlier this year author Sally Leung discussed the history of qipao, the traditional Chinese woman’s dress in Ornament, Volume 35, No. 5. Having a national identity, it was worn at formal occasions.

Home schooled except when my mother got the unusual permission from her parents to leave the family compound in Beijing to attend high school, she was also given that rare opportunity to travel to England to attend art school. On board ship, she met my father, already a well-known revolutionary and twice mayor of Hankow, who was being sent to France to study. They married in Paris, while mother was only nineteen (her dream of studying painting also did not come to fruition).



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