Li Xiaojun

Shanghai Museum of Textile and Costume

 

In former times, Chinese parents worried that their young children were at risk from various evils. It was thought that these could be avoided by appearing to lower the child’s status by naming them after cats and dogs, for example. Various kinds of meaningful patterns could be found on children’s wear for the purpose of praying for blessings, and avoiding disasters.

 

It was a Chinese traditional custom to quilt clothes with small pieces of different fabrics, especially for children’s clothes in Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). In the Shanghai Museum of Textile and Costume, there is a little girl’s jacket that was quilted with diamond-shaped pieces of fabrics in different colours. Parents or grandparents collected the fabrics from different families; we call it “Baijiayi”, which means jacket from a hundred families. In Chinese tradition, hundred usually means a great many, not an exact number of one hundred. In ancient times,the mortality rate of children was quite high. Parents made “Baijiayi” for their children, to pray for health and longevity. The child wearing this jacket would be protected by hundreds of families, so that the devil of death could not take their child away.

The skill of patchwork was also used in children’s collars, also called baby’s bibs. This kind of collar is separate from the garment. Children wear it both to protect their clothes but also for decoration. Not only babies, but also girls and women could wear these collars, but boys and men could not. There were different shapes, such as round, symmetrically square, flower-shaped and animal shaped. Animal patterns, especially tiger or lion, were thought to be able to drive away evils and suppress disasters.

 

 


A similar story was illustrated by a child-sized Taoist jacket. Parents made the child’s garment styled like a Taoist jacket to pretend that the child was brought up in the Taoist temple, protecting the baby by the Taoist faith.

Children’s clothes tell the wonderful wishes of parents. They were not bound by normal costume rules, so they are usually more freely formed, with various decorations. Many children’s clothes were handmade by their mother or grandmother, so they usually implicate love and blessing.

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