On September 29, 2012, fashion design group Celestial Spring and several renowned Confucian scholars ran a 2-day exhibit on the evolution of the Confucian scholar standard regalia – the Shenyi. Often deemed as “the most original and antiquated Chinese robe design thought possible,” the loose robe’s design is long thought to be a static, rigid standard due to its unchanging definition that fills the entire contents of the Book of Rites’ chapter XXXIX. The group referenced various Confucian scholars’ detailed annotations on the Shenyi standard over the span of 1,700 years, and has produced replicas of 12 robes to come to an astounding conclusion that not only our perceptions of the past often clouded by mysticism of the textual ambivilency, but the same can be said that of our ancestors, in no less a degree than our wild imaginations and re-imaginations today.
Below are the 12 Shenyi robes, as well as the textual account given in the exhibit. Note that most names of historical figures are addressed in last name-courtesy name basis, with their first names addressed on a separate line in Confucian tradition in respect of prominent figures.
It is particularly important to see, through this display of actualized reproductions of shenyi designs and its concepts throughout the ages, how imaginations of what “Chinese clothing”, “Confucian sartorial regulations”, and how text is interpreted by different diciplines and individuals. In another perspective, it also represents how the changes in Chinese fashion, or the absence of visible environment for the clothing (such as the Qing) has affected the imagination of Han Chinese clothing.
Implications of the reimaginations of the Shenyi in the modern context may have various directions, including the discussion of how far should traditional hanfu design encompass – would satisfying the textual evidence be enough, or would a continuity froom previous specimens be required? It is my hope that the following article will open a discussion on the subject with the general community.
1. Zhengyi (“Standard Meaning”) Shenyi
Taken from Zheng Kangcheng’s version of Li Ji, as annotated by Kong Yingda in Liji Zhengyi and Jia Gongyan’s Yili Zhushu.
From the Three Eras to the Two Hans, the heritage of rites and standards have followed in lineage. The Shenyi of Zhou became the court dress of the Han, and [its textual account] was written by Zheng Kangcheng. His texts included chapters from the Li Ji, such asShenyi and Yuzao, as well as Yi Li’s Sang Fu. His figure still exists in stone from Han-Wei times. With the Southern Retreat of Dress and Headwear [ie. the Western Jin southward retreat], the heritage was almost obliterated. Without the scholars’ reorganization in the early Tang, even with the works of Kangcheng and his statues, contemporary scholars would never have been able to tell the texts’ meaning. Hence, it is called the Zhengyi (‘Standard Meaning’) Shenyi, to glorify and praise the accomplishments of Kangcheng and the various scholars after him, up to the various saints of the early Tang.
Zheng Kangcheng, given name Xuan, is a master and synthesis of classical canons in the late Eastern Han era. He is known for his diverse reading and interpretations of various canons despite being incarcerated due to factional feuding; his virtue in staying loyal to the clear streams [ie. free of corruption], his grand knowledge in calendrical calculations and the essence of behaviour and life have earned his title of Deity of the Canon in his time, with thousands of students under him. Despite his squalid origins, he is ultimately able to move masses by the end of his lifetime. His school of learning takes Zhou Rituals as the body, and places Gongyang [school of thought] as the spirit, and its ritual and object standards, [theories] Way of Heaven and Relations of Man are all extremely complete, hence is called the Zheng school.
Kong Yingda, courtesy name Chongyuan, one of the eighteen scholars of early Tang, chief editor of Wu Jing Zheng Yi, which is the prime reader of Canonical studies.
Jia Gongyan, courtesy name unknown, has studied the Wu Jing Zheng Yi and is particularly proficient in the Three Rites. Wrote Zhou Li Zhu Shu (Annotated Zhou Rituals), Yi Li Zhu Shu (Annotated Yi Li).
2. Chen Yongzhi Shenyi
Based on Chen Xiangdao’s Li Shu.
Chen Xiangdao, courtesy name Yongzhi, lived from the Zhiping to Yuanyou-era of the Song dynasty, Grand scholar of Taichangsi [Ritual Commissar of the Imperial Court], disciple of Wang Jinggong. His works include Lunyu Quanjie and Li Shu.
This design originally had no textual explanation and the diagram was ambiguous. However the Daming Jili and early Ming artifacts from the Jiangyin Museum show a robe with a skirt made of six panels each for the front and back. Master Chen, as a disciple of Wang, loved to redefine the Canon that is heretical to the Kangcheng and Cheng-Zhu schools, but the Shenyi is largely similar. Master Dongpo was his contemporary, and wrote a poem noting it as “not new and not old, free and unique”. This proves that antiquarian spirit was the common value among the Confucian community.
3. Wengong-Zhuzi Shenyi
Based on Sima Wengong’s Shu Yi, Zhuzi Jia Li [Family Rituals], and Li Guangdi’s Zhuzi Li Zhuan 《朱子礼纂》.
Sima Wengong, given name Guang, courtesy name Junshi, alias Master of Sushui, titled Lord of Wen, posthumous title Wenzheng, is a prominent official of the Northern Song, known for opposing Jinggong’s Reforms and formulating the Zizhi Tongjian. His published works include Wengong Yishuo, Qieyun Zhizhang Tu, Sushui Jiwen and more.
Zhuzi [Master Zhu], given name Xi, courtesy name Yuanhui, alias Hui’an, Ziyang, titled Duke of Hui. He lived from the Shaoxing to Qingyuan era of Southern Song, and is a disciple of the Chengs. He is the greatest compiler of canon since the Tang-Song period, and his disciples have annotated various past sages’ written works. Zhuzi’s studies of name and object, reaches as far back as Kangcheng, radiates duty and reason, all the way back the the age of the Three Sage Kings. Careful in speech and action, he praised the Kingly Way and ousted the foreign, discussed nature of the heart, and endeavoured at the details of essence. Ever since Emperor Wen compiled and published “Sishu Wujing Daquan” and “Xingli Daquan” and spread them far and wide, Master Zhu’s learnings go across the world, and his virtue are equal to that of a saint.
This design was finalized in Master Zhu’s late years, which takes a straight collardesign, worn lapels crossed over, and forms a square collar on its own.
[Translator’s note: The “square” refers to the straight-looking angle of the crossed collar, but not right-angled as commonly understood.]
4. Huang Nanshan Shenyi
Taken from Huang Zongxi’s Shenyi Kao.
Huang Run’yu (1391-1479), courtesy name Mengqing, lived from Yongle to Zhengtong eras, built Nanshan Shuyuan in his late years in his hometown, hence is addressed as Master Nanshan. He was a Zhu school scholar, and wrote Jingshu Buzhu, Siming Wenxian, Hanshan-xian Tuzhi, Haixian Wanxiang Lu.
This design was referenced from Huang Lizhou’s Shenyi Kao, with a straight one-piece cut, typical with Song-Ming fashion, but its proportions and dimensions are similar to ancient technique for continuity.
From Liu Ji’s Sanli Tu.
Liu Ji, courtesy name Yongxi, alias Luchuan, lived in the Hongzhi (1470-1505) era. He read various books on ritual and the Xuanhe Bogu Tu, in order to write his Sanli Tu. His primary studies involve textual artifacts and etymology, revising and replacing contentious definitions in the past. Also wrote Guanzi Buzhu.
This design is particular in its chessboard-collar, possibly a variation of a round-collar robe. The Confucius Temple of Qufu has similar specimens in their wardrobe collection.
6. Yang Cihu and Wang Xinzhai Shenyi
Based on Wei Di’s Liji Jishuo, Wang Xinzhai-Xiansheng Ji and Wang’s drawn portrait.
Yang Jian, courtesy name Jingzhong, alias Master Cihu, is a scholar in the Qiandao era (1165-1173) of the Song dynasty. Educated in Lu Xiangshan’s school of Confucianism, he wrote Yangshi Yichuan, Wu Gao Jie, Cihu Shi chuan, Xiansheng Daxun and more.
Wang Gen, courtesy name Ruzhi, alias Xinzhai, is a scholar from the Chenghua to Jiajing period (1465-1566) of the Ming dynasty. A disciple of Wang Yangming’s school of thinking, wore the robes of the Sage King Yao, sat upon a round cushion seat, and taught in the marketplace, irregardless of his student’s background – whether woodcutter, farmers, saltmakers or labourers. His philosophy opf knowledge is that whatever the people can use daily, is the Way.
Xinzhai’s Yao Sage robe and Wuchang Guan cap, as depicted in his drawn portrait, is a square-collared shenyi and black gauze Confucian cap. Since Zheng’s annotation and the inception of the Lanshan in the Tang era, only Yang Cihu was bold enough to model [a Shenyi] after it. His collar opening starts from the shoulder, which is a departure from Liu Luchuan’s chessboard collar, yet different still from a Korean Confucian’s square collar. Although seemingly not so different at first sight, perhaps there is some deep meaning behind this?
7. Wang Junchuan Shenyi
Based on Huang Zongxi’s Shenyi Kao.
Wang Tingxiang, courtesy name Ziheng, alias Junchuan, is a scholar from Hongzhi to Jiajing era (1470-1566) in the Ming dynasty. One of the Seven Scholars, was in office for the Censorate for the Ministry of War, and once was provincial governor of Sichuan. He preached pragmatic learning, meaning that scholars should study for the embetterment of societal operation. He favoured ancient studies, and revised on funeral ritual practices.
This design is designed to be worn with a skirt underneath, to encompass the philosophy of revering the superior and their words. The design is also an essentialized version of the Ming court dress.
8. Wang Zhaoming Shenyi
Based on Wang Yingdian’s Zhouli Tushuo.
Wang Yingdian, courtesy name Zhaoming, alias unknown, is a Jiajing era scholar. A disciple of Wei Zhuangqu, favours study of the Zhou Rituals. His works include Zhouli Chuan, Zhouli Tushuo, Tongwen Beikao, Shufa Zhiyao, Liuyi Yinqie and others.
This robe’s top length is about one feet under the belt, in order to match the 4-inch wide collar, to match with Ming Confucian fashion. The Jiangyin Museum has a similar specimen.
9. Huang Lizhou Shenyi
Huang Zongxi, courtesy name Taichong, alias Lizhou, a scholar of Chongzhen to Yongli era of the Ming and Southern Ming dynasty. A disciple of Liu Jishan, and reminent refugee of the Ming Empire. He is versed in canon and history, and wrote records such as Ming Ru Xue’an, Yixue Xiangshu Lun, Mengzi Shishuo and more.
This robe’s specialty features extended lapels and closed sleeve ends. Since this book was published after the Qing Queue Order, this perhaps was a move to preserve the standards of the fallen nation, in hopes for rediscovery by future generations.
10. Jiang Shenxiu Shenyi
Based on Jiang Yong Shenyi Kaowu, Xiangdang Tukao.
Jiang Yong, courtesy name Shenxiu, alias Shenzhai, is a scholar of the Qianlong era of the Qing. He never serviced the empire, but studied in various subjects, and loved to establish heterodoxic ideas. His works include Lishu Gangmu, Xiangdang Tukao, Zhouli Yiyi Juyao, Zhong-Xi Hefa Nicao, Lixue Bukao and more.
This robe first added the concept of adding lapels to the lower skirt, and claims that all previous generations were erroneous in their ways. Since Jiang was born in the Yongli era (of Southern Ming), he perhaps may have had a glimpse of the Celestial dynasty’s true dress, hence its collar and sleeve shape is still elegant and proper.
When Li Mengqi of our dynasty [time] first made the Shenyi in the year Guiwei (2003), he modelled it after Jiang’s prescription, hence the name.
11. Nakai Bunsei Shenyi
Based on Nakai Riken’s Shin-i Dzukai [Shenyi Tujie].
Nakai Riken, alias Bunsei [Wenqing], a Confucian scholar in the Meiwa era (1764-1772) of Tokugawa Japan.
This robe was based off of Zhuzi’s Shenyi, but opens a neck opening rather than having a totally straight parallel collar. With extended lapels and hooked edges, and extends towards the inside lapel as well, which is slightly more aesthetic than Zhuzi’s design.
Japanese Confucian Seki Reishuu commented, “Our nation’s ancient Shenyi style, follows the Canon of Rituals as standard. Since modern times, we may follow Sima Wen’gong or Zhu Wen’gong [Zhuzi]’s theories.” One can observe the strictness of the island nation’s endeavour to protect tradition.
12. Huang Jingji Shenyi
Taken from Huang Yizhou’s Lishu Tonggu.
Huang Yizhou, courtesy name Yuantong, alias Jingji, Tongzhi era to Kangxi era scholar in the Qing era. His work Lishu Tonggu is where this robe was recorded.
This robe is different from previous methods, since it mixes in methods employed in making the Xuanduan robe. It also lacks the elegance and propriety of the past. However, since canonical studies have declined and fallen today, some may model their robes after this model.
Addendum: Shen Fenghuang Shenyi
Shen Yuehuan (1902-1988), courtesy name Congwen, alias Fenghuang (after his hometown), is a Confucian scholar, writer, and scholar on Chinese traditional clothing in the Republican and current era.
He was reassigned to the Palace Museum in Beijing to research on traditional Chinese costume and clothing in 1957, and although his research was nearly destroyed by the Cultural Revolution, it was published under his name Shen Congwen Zhongguo Gudai fushi Yanjiu.
This Shenyi design was recreated based on Shen’s book and Cheng Zongyuan’s Buyi Kongzi Sanshi-erli Xiang (Portrait). Cheng is a painter based in Suzhou. The robe’s design was based on an unearthed shenyi artifact in the Mashan Chu grave, and suggested that the extended lapel was a straight rectangular cut, and ends at a point with the top/skirt and armpit seams. The V-neck collar may perhaps be based on Western Zhou or Spring and Autumn period jade figures. Shen instructed Cheng to illustrate this in his portrait series Kongzi Pingchuan. This robe was used as the CCTV television drama Confucius in the late 1980’s.