Mao suit

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Chinese tunic suit ("Zhongshan"/"Mao suit")

The modern Chinese tunic suit is a style of male attire originally known in China as the Zhongshan suit (simplified Chinese: 中山装; traditional Chinese: 中山裝; pinyin: Zhōngshān zhuāng) after the republican leader Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan). Sun Yat-sen introduced the style shortly after the founding of the Republic of China (1912–1949) as a form of national dress with distinct political overtones. He based the suit on the Japanese cadet uniform. The four pockets are said to represent the Four Virtues of propriety, justice, honesty, and shame; and the five buttons the branches of China's former government (Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination, Control),[1][2][3][4][5] which still survive today in the Republic of China government of Taiwan.

After the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, such suits came to be worn widely by male citizens and government leaders as a symbol of proletarian unity and an Eastern counterpart to the Western business suit. The name "Mao suit" comes from Chinese Communist Mao Zedong's fondness for the style. The garment became closely associated with him and with Chinese Communism. Mao's cut of the suit was further influenced by the Stalin tunic then prevalent among Soviet officials.[6] Although it declined in use among the general public in the 1980s and 1990s due to the increasing prominence of the business suit, it is still commonly worn by Chinese leaders during important state ceremonies and functions.[7][8] The Mao suit was also worn in North Korea by party elites.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Mao suit became fashionable among Western European, Australian, and New Zealander socialists and intellectuals.[9] It was sometimes worn over a turtleneck.


When the Republic was founded in 1912, the style of dress worn in China was based on Manchu dress (qipao and changshan), which had been imposed by the Qing Dynasty as a form of social control. The majority-Han Chinese revolutionaries who overthrew the Qing were fueled by the failure of the Qing to defend China and a lack of scientific advancement compared to foreign colonial powers. Even before the founding of the Republic, older forms of Chinese dress were becoming unpopular among the elite and led to the development of Chinese dress which combined the changshan and the European hat to form a new dress. The Zhongshan suit is a parallel development that combined European-inspired Chinese fashion.

Historical development[edit]

Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong both wearing Zhongshan suits, in Chongqing 1945

The Mao suit remained the standard formal dress for the first and second generations of PRC leaders such as Deng Xiaoping. During the 1990s, it began to be worn with decreasing frequency by leaders of CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin's generation as more and more Chinese politicians began wearing traditional European-style suits with neckties. Jiang wore it only on special occasions, such as to state dinners. General Secretary Hu Jintao still wore the Mao suit, but only on special occasions, such as the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2009.[10] Hu Jintao even showed up to a black tie state dinner in the United States wearing a business suit, attracting some criticism for being underdressed at a formal occasion.[11][12] In the Xi Jinping Administration, however, the Mao suit made a comeback as a diplomatic uniform and evening dress.

Symbol of national sovereignty[edit]

The Mao suit is worn at the most formal ceremonies as a symbol of national sovereignty. China's paramount leaders always wear Mao suits for military parades in Beijing, even though other Politburo Standing Committee members and other Politburo officials wear European business suits. It is customary for Chinese leaders to wear Mao suits when attending state dinners.[13][14][15] In this situation, the Mao suit serves as a form of evening dress, equivalent to a military uniform for a monarch, or a tuxedo for a paramount leader.

The Mao suit also serves as a diplomatic uniform. Although Chinese ambassadors usually wear European business suits, many Chinese ambassadors choose to wear a Mao suit when they present their credentials to the head of state.[16][17][18] The presentation ceremony is symbolic of the diplomatic recognition that exists between the two countries, so it carries a higher level of formality than other diplomatic meetings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M. S., Journalism; B. A., Humanities. "The History Behind the Chinese Version of a Business Suit". ThoughtCo. Retrieved July 24, 2021.
  2. ^ Gunde, Richard (2002). Culture and customs of China. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-30876-5. OCLC 610665365.
  3. ^ Johansson, Perry (2015). The libidinal economy of China: gender, nationalism, and consumer culture. ISBN 978-0-7391-9262-7. OCLC 934516889.
  4. ^ Barmé, Geremie (2016). Shades of Mao: the posthumous cult of the great leader. ISBN 978-1-315-28575-7. OCLC 999612140.
  5. ^ Strittmatter, Kai (2012). China: an introduction to the culture and people. London: Armchair Traveller at the bookHaus. ISBN 978-1-907973-17-8. OCLC 809224115.
  6. ^ "«Сталинка» - Намедни. Наша Эра".
  7. ^ "Mao suit continued choice of China's top leaders for National Day ceremony - People's Daily Online".
  8. ^ Montefiore, Clarissa Sebag. "From Red Guards to Bond villains: Why the Mao suit endures".
  9. ^ From Red Guards to Bond villains: Why the Mao suit endures, Clarissa Sebag Montefiore, 2 November 2015, BBC Culture
  10. ^ "Mao suit continued choice of China's top leaders for National Day ceremony", Xinhua, 1 October 2009.
  11. ^ Chow, Jason (January 20, 2011). "What to Wear to a State Dinner". Scene Asia. Wall Street Journal. But Wednesday night, Chinese President Hu Jintao did not wear a tuxedo. Instead, he opted for a dark suit and a conservative blue tie. On a sartorial level, the Chinese President was shown up by his American counterpart and the first lady. President Obama wore an elegant dinner jacket; his wife, Michelle, a flowing red dress by Alexander McQueen.
  12. ^ Macartney, Jane (January 20, 2011). "Hu's lounge suit was wrong on all counts". The Times (London). Hu Jintao should have chosen a beautifully cut Mao suit instead of a blue-spotted tie for his first White House state dinner.
  13. ^ "China State Dinners". The White House Historical Association. Retrieved January 30, 2016. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon speak with Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping of China during the State Dinner on January 29, 1979.
  14. ^ "White House State Dinner for the President of China". Archived from the original on February 18, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2016. The President and Mrs. Clinton are hosting His Excellency President Jiang Zemin and Madame Wang Yeping at a White House State Dinner on Wednesday, October 29, 1997. President Jiang and Madame Wang will arrive at the North Portico at 7:15 p.m..
  15. ^ Ramzy, Austin (March 25, 2014). "A Chinese-Style Suit for Xi Jinping's European Trip". Sinosphere. The New York Times. President Xi Jinping wore a modified Mao suit to a state dinner hosted by the Dutch royal family in Amsterdam on Saturday, eliciting surprise from Chinese citizens who are used to their leaders’ sartorial decisions being a model of suit-and-tie uniformity.
  16. ^ "H.E. Ambassador Zhang Weidong Presents Credentials to the President of Iceland". Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Republic of Iceland. September 30, 2014.
  17. ^ "Ambassador to Sweden Chen Yuming Presents Credentials to His Majesty the King of Sweden". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. December 10, 2013.
  18. ^ "Ambassador to Iran Pang Sen Presents Credentials to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. June 23, 2014.

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