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A child's doudou from the early 20th century, missing its strings
Chinese name
Literal meaningbelly wrap
Literal meaning[thing that] wraps the belly
Literal meaning"wrappy"
"little wrap"
Japanese name
A Vietnamese woman wearing her yem as a blouse

A dudou (Chinese: 肚兜, 兜肚, or 兜兜; also known by other names) is a traditional Chinese article of clothing that covers the front of the torso, originally worn as an undershirt with medicinal properties. With the opening of China, it is sometimes encountered in Western and modern Chinese fashion as a sleeveless shirt and backless halter-top blouse.


In Ancient Chinese, referred to a kind of helmet or hood.[1] By the time of the development of the dudou, it had taken on extended senses of encasing or enwrapping something as in a hood, scarf, or loose parcel.[2][n 1] Dùdōu may thus be understood as Chinese for "belly wrap" or "cover",[3][4] referring to its early use to flatten the breasts and, within traditional Chinese medicine, to preserve stomach qi. Using the same characters, it is also known as a doudu[2][5] or doudou.[6][n 2] The latter form is diminutive and is particularly used for the dudous worn by Chinese children.[8]

Its various Chinese names are typically left untranslated in English.[9] In Chinese sources, the dudou is sometimes mistranslated as a "bellyband",[9][10] which more commonly refers to a variety of other devices including a horse's harness[11] and a compression garment used by expectant mothers.[12] The oddity arises from the similarity of the dudou's purpose (though not construction or appearance) with the Japanese haramaki. In the 19th century, it was translated or glossed as a Chinese "stomacher" or "corset".[7] The dudou is also sometimes translated or glossed as an "apron"[9][13][14][15] or "bib"[5] owing to its similar appearance.


The dudou's original development is sometimes credited to Yang Yuhuan, the curvy consort of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang still remembered as one of China's Four Beauties,[16] at that time, dudou was called hezi (诃子), but the importance of the stomach as the origin of the body's blood and qi in traditional Chinese medicine[17] has meant that variations of the undershirt are found as early as the Qin's tunic-like xièyī (t 褻衣, s 亵衣).[18] The dudou proper was popularized under the Ming dynasty beginning in the mid-1300s[13] around the time of the Black Death.[15][n 3] Versions of it were worn by female babies in medieval China until age three.[8] The medicinal aspect of the dudou was underscored by its common incorporation of small pockets to hold snatches of ginger, musk, or other herbs intended to boost the stomach's qi.[20][better source needed] Its red form is also held to ward off evil spirits in Chinese folk religions.[3]

The dudou inspired similar fashions elsewhere in East Asia, including the Vietnamese yem and the Japanese haragake. Within China, it has remained a traditional item of Chinese clothing,[21][22] particularly in traditional wedding attire.[23] Generally, however, the dudou fell out of favor towards the end of the Qing as part of the drive to modernize the country, displaced by European-style corsets and bras.[24] After a decade of public debate, the use of dudous for flattening breasts was formally outlawed, beginning in Guangdong in 1927.[25] This change in fashion has sometimes been linked to the rise in breast cancer occurring around the same time.[15] Dudous first became an object of Western fashion in the year 2000, when variations of the Chinese design appeared in the spring collections of Versace,[26][n 4] Versus,[27] and Miu Miu.[28] It has since become a mainstay of some Chinese-influenced fashion designers.[29] This development inspired some Chinese women, including Zhang Ziyi,[16] to begin wearing the dudou as an article of outerwear,[21][14][30] although many older Chinese remain (sometimes sternly) disapproving of this development.[3][31]


The typical design of a dudou consists of a single rectangular, rhomboidal, diamond-shaped piece of fabric which covers the breasts and belly, tied to the neck and waist with attached strings.[21] It is thus a form of halter top. Richer women use silk, yarn or brocade while the poor make do with cotton.[24]

Popular colors are red, pink, and green and they are often embroidered with flowers, butterflies, or Mandarin ducks.[21] Formerly popular designs included bats (homophonous with "happiness" in Chinese), peaches ("longevity"), guavas (whose many seeds caused it to represent fertility), and virtuous expressions.[24]

Under the Ming and Qing, dudous were solely items of underwear and were used to flatten women's breasts,[21] similar to a gentle corset.[16] Wealthier families used bronze, silver, or gold chains instead of silk thread.[24] The first dudous were simple rectangles, but by the Qing they had been turned to form a diamond shape, exposing more of the shoulders.[24]

Some variants have a collar which is lowered around the head. Western-influenced dudous may be made of other fabrics, including leather or transparent cloth.[21]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ In modern Chinese, it is most often encountered as yīdōu (衣兜), a word for pockets in clothing.
  2. ^ In the 19th century, dudou and doudu were also irregularly transliterated as tu-teu and teu-tu.[2][7]
  3. ^ The modern form of the dudou appears in Chinese movies anachronistically throughout all of Chinese history, as in Feng Xiaogang's 2006 Tang-era Banquet.[19]
  4. ^ Vogue described the dudou-influenced pieces as "mischievous handkerchief blouses".[26]


  1. ^ Baxter, William Hubbard III; et al. (2014), Baxter–Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction, Ver. 1.1 (PDF), Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, p. 23.
  2. ^ a b c Williams, S. Wells (1889), "兜", A Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language, Arranged According to the Wu-Fang Yuen Yin, with the Pronunciation of the Characters as Heard in Peking, Canton, Amoy, and Shanghai, Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press.
  3. ^ a b c Zhao Jianhua (28 February 2013), The Chinese Fashion Industry: An Ethnographic Approach, London: Bloomsbury Academic, p. 1, ISBN 9781847889355.
  4. ^ Pitts-Taylor, Victoria (2008), "Breasts", Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body, Vol. I, Westport: Greenwood Publishing, p. 46, ISBN 9780313341458.
  5. ^ a b Lewandowski, Elizabeth J., "doudu", The Complete Costume Dictionary, p. 91.
  6. ^ Gao Wanlong; et al. (2012), A Handbook of Chinese Cultural Terms, Trafford Publishing, p. 51, ISBN 9781466920057.
  7. ^ a b Williams, S. Wells (1889), "'肚", A Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language, Arranged According to the Wu-Fang Yuen Yin, with the Pronunciation of the Characters as Heard in Peking, Canton, Amoy, and Shanghai, Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press.
  8. ^ a b Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2014), "Children's Clothing, Girls", World Clothing and Fashion, Vol. I, M.E. Sharpe, ISBN 9781317451679.
  9. ^ a b c Liu, Eric T.; et al. (2014), Translating Chinese Culture, Abingdon: Routledge, p. 68, ISBN 9781317932482.
  10. ^ "Dudou", Cultural China, Shanghai: Shanghai Xinhong Cultural Development, archived from the original on 2016-05-03, retrieved 2016-05-08.
  11. ^ "ˈbelly-band, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1887.
  12. ^ Whitmore, Elizabeth (2010), "Health: Belly Bands", How Stuff Works.
  13. ^ a b Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2014), "Brassieres", World Clothing and Fashion, Vol. I, M.E. Sharpe, ISBN 9781317451679.
  14. ^ a b Farrer, James; et al. (2015), Shanghai Nightscapes, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 198.
  15. ^ a b c Harding, Fred (2006), Breast Cancer, Aylesbury: Tekline Publishing, p. 284, ISBN 9780955422102.
  16. ^ a b c "History of Dudou", Chinese Fashion.
  17. ^ Maciocia, Giovanni, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 3d ed., Edinburgh: Elsevier, p. 194.
  18. ^ "Secrets of Women's Underwear in Ancient China", China Culture, Ministry of Culture, 2003, archived from the original on 2008-08-30, retrieved 2016-05-05.
  19. ^ Chen Yachen (2012), "The Chinese Hamlet's Two Women and Shakespeare's Chinese Sisters: Qing Nü and Wan'er in The Banquet", Women in Chinese Martial Arts Films of the New Millennium, Plymouth: Lexington Books, p. 120, ISBN 9780739139103.
  20. ^ "The Ancient Art of Women's Underwear", China Daily, 4 March 2011.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Xu Xiaomin (20 June 2000), "Do You Dare to Wear a Dudou?", Shanghai Star, archived from the original on 11 July 2007, retrieved 5 May 2016.
  22. ^ Mandarin Factory
  23. ^ Bao Jiemin (1994), Marriage among Ethnic Chinese in Bangkok, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 155.
  24. ^ a b c d e Lu Chang (30 October 2003), "Keeping Abreast of Change", Shanghai Star, archived from the original on 22 August 2007, retrieved 5 May 2016.
  25. ^ French, Paul; et al. (2010), Fat China, London: Anthem Press, ISBN 9780857289780.
  26. ^ a b "Spring 2000 Ready-to-Wear: Versace", Vogue, 2000.
  27. ^ "Spring 2000 Ready-to-Wear: Versus Versace", Vogue, 2000.
  28. ^ "Spring 2000 Ready-to-Wear: Miu Miu", Vogue, 2000.
  29. ^ Eceiza, Laura (2009), "Blanc de Chine", Atlas of Fashion Designers, Beverly: Rockport Publishers, pp. 107–111, ISBN 9781616736057.
  30. ^ Farrer, James (2002), Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 311.
  31. ^ Qiu Xiaolong (2009), The Mao Case, New York: Minotaur Books, p. 2, ISBN 9780312538743.

External links[edit]