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Original Articles Home > Acta Via Serica > Archives > Original Articles
Title Intentional Identities: Liao Women’s Dress and Cultural and Political Power
Author Eiren L. Shea
Volume Vol. 6 No. 2
Pages pp. 37~60 (all 24 pages)
Publication Date December, 2021
Keyword Liao Dynasty, Khitan women, women's dress, funerary art
Abstract Before the tenth century, the dress of elite women in and around China often reflected “Han” Chinese fashions and preferences. In funerary paintings and relief sculptures of Sogdian and Xianbei couples from the sixth century, for example, women wear “Han” Chinese-style clothing. Even in the Tang dynasty (ca. 618-907), when exchange with Central Asia via overland Silk Road trade impacted the styles and patterning of elite dress and men incorporated clear Central Asian attributes into their dress, elite women in the Tang sphere wore recognizably Tang fashions. Chinese-style dress in these centuries clearly conveyed cultural import and, likely, political power, especially after the founding of the Tang dynasty. However, the straightforward borrowing of Tang women’s dress shifted in the Khitan Liao dynasty (ca. 907-1125). The Liao, in contrast to other states that shared a border with China in previous centuries, saw themselves as political equals to the Song dynasty (ca. 960-1278) court in the south. The Liao court was interested in Song customs and culture and incorporated artistic motifs and practices from the Song court. However, the Liao courtly idiom was never fully subsumed into the greater world of the Song – rather, the Liao used facets of Song courtly culture for their own ends. One way this is manifested is through the dual administrative system, a bureaucratic organization that, among other things, regulated and distinguished between who was permitted to wear Khitan and non-Khitan dress. In this paper, I will examine the material evidence from funerary contexts for how the dress of elite Liao women both engaged with the dress of the Song, while also maintaining a certain amount of cultural autonomy. Through their dress, elite Liao women signaled clear messages about their status, identity, and difference to their Song counterparts.
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