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The Australian National University

The Mao Suit

In China, the Mao suit has always been known as ‘Zhongshan Zhuang (Yat-sen suit)’. It has no other name. In the West it is commonly known as either the Mao suit or Sun Yat-sen suit. The western titles reflected Mao’s great influence on the lifecycle of the suit – Mao Zedong rather than the creator of the suit was chosen to name it. It was because of Mao, the suit became the uniform which symbolized China (Time website).

The the Mao suit was a highly political uniform, the design of which embedded all the elements of the Republican Revolution. Firstly, the invention of the suit represented the revolution itself. On each sleeve were three buttons, respectively representing ‘Equality, Freedom, Philanthropism’ and ‘(Ethnic) People, People’s Rights, People’s lives’ (the famous ‘Tri-People’ ideology by Sun Yat-sen). Since its debut, the Mao suit was usually described as having five buttons on the front side standing for legislation, administration, judiciary, examination (meaning the examination taken to become an official) and monitoring. Earlier versions of the suit might have seven buttons, but no meanings were applied to the extra two. The four front pockets represented the four traditional Chinese moral values, namely ‘propriety, righteousness, integrity, and honour’.1

The ‘Trickle-down’ Politics of the Mao suit

the Trickle-down female fashion in late Qing Dynasty and early feminism; the old society and the Robe (Changpao); two views on the origin of the Mao suit; the body politic of fashion identity; politics on the development of the Mao suit.

The aim of this exhibition is to illustrate how the Mao suit interacted with modern Chinese history, dating from the start of the Republican era, to the Cultural Revolution. Historical narratives and facts are illustrated, showing the utilisation of body politics in the context of the Mao suit, as well as the way the Mao suit was presented, and in turn the habitus it cast on the Chinese people. In this paper extra attention is devoted to the Mao suit’s role in Chinese feminism movements, especially during Mao’s era. The methodology involved in this paper mainly features questioning existing literature. An interview was also carried out on one of this author’s relatives.

Feminism of the Mao suit and Feminist Mao Zedong 

a comparison between the Mao’s era and the Republican era on the trickle-down Propagation of the Mao suit; the Female Revolutionary’s Lenin Suit; Feminist Chairmen Mao; the female Red Guard; Women holding up half the sky and Revolution model play.

Both Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) and Mao Zedong (1893-1976) are feminists. They asserted great influence, in their respective ways, in modern China’s feminism movements. Their particular feminist policies and statements reflected their distinctive political views and aspirations. Between the two this paper will mainly focus on Mao’s feminism. During the Cultural Revolution, males were deprived of their rights of free speech just like females, therefore, examining ‘men versus women’ as sexual counterparts would not fully portray females in this period. It would be also impossible to fully understand the women of the Cultural Revolution, or what it meant for Chinese women’s liberation, without reviewing Chinese history of the same period. A heavy effort was devoted to researching historical facts and the environment people were living in, for these factors together with the Mao suit, created the very habitus which led to the unique feminism during Mao’s era.


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1. Sun Yat-sen Collections, 1986, Nationalism, Beijing, Chinese data, Vol.9, pp.13-19, 190

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