China is a multi-ethnic country with a 5,000 year old history. China’s diverse geography, with its vast mountain chains, forests, deserts and thousands of miles of rivers, has allowed a wide variety of ethnic groups to flourish in different parts of China. This has combined to create in China, “a Nation of Clothes and Crowns,” a rich and variegated culture of clothing. Dress in China is the product of human labor, exquisite craftsmanship, aesthetic taste and a wide assortment of ethnic sub-cultures, each with its own unique set of folk customs and religions, some thousands of years old. As a result the diverse clothing of China’s minorities has come to enrich the lives of the people of all ethnic groups and be a beautiful and continuing element of China’s cultural landscape.
The clothing worn by China’s various ethnic groups is also a valuable resource in the study of Chinese cultural history, known as “a long river of dazzling stars.” The study of China’s multiethnic sub-cultures has become a way of understanding its unique form of Oriental civilization. Chinese dress, like Chinese culture, is the result of the blending of all ethnic groups in this vast land, where 56 separate ethnic groups have now been officially recognized. In modern times this culture of clothing has been expanded by the absorption of modern forms of dress from many foreign cultures and nationalities throughout the world. While the Chinese Han remains the largest of the ethnic groups, the result of this blending of styles of clothing creates a panoply of dress that is endlessly colorful and endlessly surprising in modern China.