Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


Throughout history textiles have been used to demonstrate dissent towards political regimes and so it was in late 19th century China, when some civil officers expressed their frustration with decay and corruption during the decline of dynastic rule. Defiant modifications reflecting disrespect for the emperor were incorporated into embroidered badges of rank required by strict dress regulations to be worn conspicuously at the front and back of officials’ surcoats. When any insubordination could attract the penalty of death, wearing such rebellious statements against the Son of Heaven was undeniably bold.

With the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911, centuries old dress codes and traditions were ripe for reformation. Throughout the Republican Period (1912-1949) textiles and dress reflected not only a drive for modernity and a new identity but also the political instability present during the turbulent evolution of modern China.

After Liberation in 1949, the People’s Republic of China faced sweeping changes and textiles were again to play an important role in communicating social and political principles. Fashion was considered decadent during the Cultural Revolution and proletarian dress represented the newly unified face of China. Surprisingly, at this time of social pragmatism, embroidery and weaving joined various other mediums to disseminate propagandist messages.

This overview, beginning with the prophecies carried by badges of rank from late imperial China will be followed by a focus on textiles from the Republican period and the People’s Republic of China that express political persuasion during a century of revolution and reform in China.