What the elites actually wore in 500-300 B.C.E. China: Evidence from textiles, bamboo, and bronzes

Kin Sum LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article uses evidence from textiles, bamboo, and bronzes to explore what the elites wore, who made up the design communities behind the elites, and how luxurious these items were considered to be in 500-300 b.c.e. China. It first examines the reliability of the art historical sources available for the reconstruction of this history and cautions the readers against certain past interpretations of the textiles and accessories of the period. It then delineates a brief history of how certain textile patterns and weaving techniques developed and how their producers selected and obtained sources of inspiration and interacted and exchanged ideas with producers of other types of artifacts. It argues that textile designers seemed to favor certain types of sources and had formed their own distinct, though not impervious, community. After carefully examining the weaving techniques of several pieces of fabric, it proposes a means of building a more reliable and solid foundation for art historical reconstruction. Textiles and accessories were symbols of the wealth, status, and power of individuals who wore them. This article will explain how a combination of the production techniques of textiles and accessories, together with a sharing of designs and techniques within the community of producers, contributed to the formation of those symbols.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-205
Number of pages45
JournalEarly China
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory

User-Defined Keywords

  • Bamboo box
  • Bronze mirror
  • Design
  • Ritual vessel
  • Textile


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