Research on the Design Transformation Process of Naxi Native Dress from Early Modern Times to the Present

Research on the Design Transformation Process of Naxi Native Dress  from Early Modern Times to the Present

山村高淑Yamamura Takayoshi


The Naxi of China are an ethnic group within the multiethnic country of China, which is making rapid strides in economic growth, with an extremely high percentage of people, women in particular, that still wear their native dress. The objective of this research is to focus on the Old Town District of Lijiang City in China’s Yunnan Province and clarify the design transformation process, from early modern times to the present, of the traditional native dress of the Naxi ethnic group, by examining historical materials and conducting fieldwork. This paper confines itself to the native dress of the Naxi women of Old Town District of Lijiang City area, where the native dress is generally worn even today, and has undergone a variety of developments in recent years.

As a result of the research, at turning points when social conditions transformed from early modern times to the present, it became clear that the designs of the native dress underwent improvements based on very flexible concepts. Particularly noteworthy is that the new native dress spread steadily under the policies developed by the local government in the 1980s, and that this was found to be the main factor behind what increased the rate of wearing the native dress in daily life, without it opposing the wave of the westernization of clothing.

In addition, as the Old Town District of Lijiang was inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1997, and amidst the site’s present rapid transformation into a tourist destination, an unprecedented process of brisk, innovative improvement was clearly shown to be underway. In recent years especially, the native dress has been undergoing new development, with competition between tourist-oriented restaurants developing service uniforms that make use of traditional motifs.

Furthermore, a relatively free arrangement of clothing featuring a variety of costume types, both among youth segments as well as elderly people, was discernable.

The main reason why the native dress of the Naxi was able to accommodate the wave of westernization was because each part, from top to bottom, is worn separately on the body. The blouse, the vest, the back pad, the pants, the skirt, and the apron are all worn separately, and hence, any part could be replaced by a modern item. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that having such features enable native dress to be completely suitable for westernization. The reason for this is because the Naxi have in general the option of completely adopting western clothing. Therefore, what is more important to note is that the Naxi themselves are an ethnic group that have the ability to transform and develop by reaffirming their own identity and accepting different cultures while selecting what parts of traditional culture to retain and what to reject. This point is thought to be a characteristic of the Naxi ethnic group found also in their architecture and language. As such, we would like to make this our future subject of study.

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