Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rare Photographs of Chinese Women from the 1800s

At home or abroad, in holiday robes or in plain clothing, the heart of a Chinese female seems to be at all times ready to overflow with mirth and good humor.

In this photograph from 1868, the bound feet of a Chinese woman are juxtaposed with a normal, unbound foot. The difference is incredible. The tiny shoe propped up against the wall looks like it was made for a small child, not a full-grown woman.

Here’s a sight that isn’t really that unusual, even today: two ladies, in this case Amoy women, sitting together for a bit of a chat.

Pictured here, in another photograph from 1871, is a young woman from Taiwan, which was known as ‘Formosa’ in the 19th century.

Seen here is one of the most widespread traditions of human society in any country, the wedding. The bride stands with her face covered, and indeed, it was quite normal for a groom not to see his bride before they were wed.



Seated here with her feet up is a ‘lily-footed’ woman – a term for those who had their feet bound as children. In the Chinese culture of the time, the size of a girl’s feet were as important (if not more so) than the appearance of her face.

The woman in this photograph from around 1868 seems to be in a reflective mood.

This lovely looking lady could be either Tartar or Manchu.

Here’s a universal image if ever there was one: a mother and her baby. It looks like a boy, which at the time was the more desirable sex for a child.

You might think this young Chinese lady is leaning on the table for effect, but it may just as well have been to keep her from falling over!

The Empress Dowager Cixi rose from the position of concubine to become the most powerful woman in China, in a reign that lasted 47 years – from 1861 to 1908. Seen here as a young woman, Cixi had the fortune to bear the Xianfeng Emperor’s only male heir.

Judging by their fancy outfits, these young ladies were likely of noble birth. This status is reinforced by the tiny shoes peeping out from beneath the dress worn by the girl on the left, evidence of foot binding.

This lady carrying her baby on her back does not appear to have had her feet bound. If she was from the province of Guangdong (Canton), this may have meant she was a younger daughter in a poor family.

These girls seem to have had the fortune of being born into a non-foot binding tradition. The Manchu people were among those who historically eschewed the practice; in fact, their Emperor forbade it when they came to power in 1644.

In this 1868 photograph, three Chinese ladies gather for a chat in what looks like a courtyard. Chinese women’s clothing was considered unshapely and demure by Western standards, even at that time.

Chinese women of the 19th century spent a lot of time and care on their hairstyles.

This Manchu bride is all decked out in her wedding finery, and both the ladies in the picture – taken in 1871 – are dressed in the Manchu style of curve-fronted robes that fastened at the shoulder.

In a photograph taken in Peking around 1867, this sumptuously dressed Manchu bride looks as though she's supporting quite a weight on her head with that headdress.

(via)

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to point out to you that, picture #8, that "Tartar or Manchu" could have been better expressed as "Tartar (Manchu)" as both terms were used to described peoples of Manchurian heritage.

    Picture #11, your "Empress Dowager Cixi; seen here as a young woman..." is misidentified. That is actually a picture of Wan Rong, the empress to Puyi (the last emperor).

    Picture #12, your premise of foot binding being a practice of nobility is incorrect. In fact, in picture #14, you correctly attest to this by stating that the Manchu (the ruling class) "...eschewed the practice." Foot binding was widely prevalent even amongst the Han (majority ethnicity) peasant class. Thus, Foot binding is NOT evidence of nobility.

    Thank you for your interest in Chinese History though its imagery, cheers!

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