Why Qing Dynasty Clothing Isn’t the Best at Communicating the Idea of ‘Ancient China’

Xena: Warrior Princess is nominally set during the time of Hercules (i.e. before the 8th century B.C.), but in practice, the TV show is all over the place historically. Thus, when Xena travels to ‘Chin’ (i.e. China), um, they don’t wear clothes that people would have worn in 8th century B.C. China, or even 8th-century A.D. China. Since I’m commenting on the clothing and hair only and nothing else, I think it is sufficient to skim this clip rather than watch the whole thing.

For anyone who has the slightest clue about historical Chinese clothing, the clothing is glaringly anachronistic. More anachronistic than the European clothes that Xena: Warrior Princess characters wear? Perhaps not. But I think there are reasons that these particular anachronisms were chosen. Namely, it is bloody obvious that the characters are wearing clothing from the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 A.D. to 1912. When I first saw that Xena clip, I found it jarring that they were dressed in the style of the Qing dynasty.

To anyone who has watched Chinese historical dramas, these costumes scream ‘Qing Dynasty!’

To see an example of a Chinese historical drama set during the Qing Dynasty which has an English character (wearing period-appropriate clothing), check out this video. (That Englishman also sometimes wears Chinese clothing.) That gives you a rough idea of what type of European clothing corresponds to the time of the Qing Dynasty.

This is obvious to anyone who has paid even the least amount to historical Chinese clothing because the Qing dynasty represented a major change in Chinese fashion. No matter how little the costume designer for a Chinese historical drama cares about historical accuracy, they will make sure that the costumes in a Qing dynasty drama will look approximately like the clothes people wore during the Qing dynasty, and that historical dramas set before the Qing dynasty will feature costumes that look really different. Otherwise, they will confuse the audience. It’s the same reason that Hollywood costume designers wouldn’t have actors wearing togas in a drama set in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in a drama set in 1st century A.D. Rome, unless there was a good reason for a character to be wearing a toga in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in 1st century A.D. Rome. Continue reading

Don’t Look at Me, There’s Nothing to See (I’m Playing Femme)

I’ve read the submissions to the recent carnival of aces about nonbinary people, and both Stormy’s submission, and an essay linked to the Thinking Asexual’s submission bring up the notion that many people consider sexually pleasing others / sexual objectification to be an essential part of being femme. Stormy says:

If femininity is supposed to be centered around pleasing a partner (usually men, but not always), then how can I even be considered femme? I’m always reading queer anthologies, blog posts, articles, and critiques trying desperately to find a gender journey I relate to. Every femme/non-binary narrative I find is saturated with the role that sexuality played in the writer’s gender. I look and look but never find someone like me. I often ask myself if I can exist as a femme without a fuck given about sexually pleasing others.

The Thinking Asexual says:

I realized recently that I’ve always felt the most sexy when I’m dressed up femme, and I associate that feeling of sexiness with being in someone else’s sexual gaze. On the other hand, when I’m dressed masculine and feeling masculine, I love the way I look and I do feel very good-looking, but the “sexiness” factor isn’t there in the same way. The admiring looks of strangers are toned down and less openly lustful, than they are when I’m provocatively femme.

Now, I am binary cis-female and tomboy. I’ve sometimes said that I am ‘occasionally venture into butch territory’ or something like that, but to me, ‘butch’ is something I might do, just as I sometimes do ‘femme’, whereas ‘tomboy’ is something I simply am.

However, when I have put on a ‘femme’ performance, I haven’t experienced intense sexual gaze the way that the Thinking Asexual (and many others) describe. I used to present as femme at work, yet never received concentrated sexual attention.

To me, the ‘sexually pleasing (masculine) people’ thing is just one aspect of being femme, and I always felt it was a disposable aspect. I was able to dress as what I think was a very femme way without being sexy.


I wore a clean, simple black skirt with black pantyhose and simple black shoes. These aren’t particularly pretty, but also not ugly – ugliness attracts attention.

My blouse was silver-lavender, and again, was nothing beautiful, but also visually non-offensive – great for smoothly sending the gaze any stray eyeballs to something else.

In a way, I made an equivalent of a hijab for using femininity to deflect instead of attract attraction.

I dressed this way partially because I don’t want sexual attention, thank you very much. I also tend to be loud, and can sometimes seem a bit forceful to people, so this ‘don’t mind me’ manner of dress helped soften the blow.

See, another aspect of ‘femme’ is making oneself silent and unnoticed. This is obviously just as rooted in patriarchy and sexism as sexual objectification of the ‘femme’. However, given that it’s there, it can be used to present as femme *without* sexually pleasing others.


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