shan (Robe)

About this object

History of use

Worn for formal occassions. This style of woman's suit (aoku) originated with the Manchus, a northern nomadic tribe who ruled during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Both men and women wore the same style of suit until men stopped wearing the overlapping top. Women continued to wear this style until the mid-to-late 19th century. It was cut very wide, with long wide sleeves and reflected the wealth of the owner. Originally worn over matching pants; later worn over a skirt, by the middle and upper classes.


Sold through a consignment store in Vancouver, by a great-grandchild of the original owners.

Iconographic meaning

The butterfly is a female symbol of conjugal felicity; the endless knot is a symbol of longevity and eternity; bamboo is a symbol of longevity and renewal. The light blue colour indicates that it would have been worn by a young unmarried woman.

Physical description

Short robe made of blue silk with a bamboo leaf and floral pattern. The sleeve cuffs have three thick black stripes, four thin pink stripes, two thin white stripes and a band of off-white ribbon with a multi-coloured flower and butterfly design. The front opening overlaps and attaches to the side of the robe with a pocket on the inside flap. The neckline has the same black, pink and white bands and strip of ribbon as the cuffs. Near the side of the front flap is a black geometric design outlined in light pink, and the flap is secured with several frog closures. The frog closures beside the neck are in the forms of butterflies. The sides each have a slit at the bottom. The robe is lined with light blue fabric.