China: Han Chinese fisherwoman

Front view
Front view

General description: An unmarried girl in a typical peasant shan ku outfit, just back from a successful fishing trip

Dimensions 26 x 8 x 6 cm

Date when acquired 2000s

Original Date Unknown

Source Flea market in the Bochum area; present from Fritz W.


Back view
Side view


Plastic doll with painted features, mounted on black plastic oval base (9.5 x 8 x 2 cm). She has her long black hair tied in a single plait with a red ribbon. Her fringe only covers the central part of her forehead.


Back view
Back view


The doll is wearing the Shan ku, a pyjama-style outfit, typical of the peasant and farming class. Instead of the plain colours normally associated with this style, the material of both the long-sleeved tunic (shan) and narrow trousers (ku) has a dark brown background patterned with a myriad of flowers in white, yellow and light brown with light green leaves. The tunic is high-collared and has a slanted front (like the Tibetan deel), with the right front tied over the left and held in place by a red tassel. The hems are sewn with red thread.

Her shoes are made of red material with a grey sole.

On her head is a conical hat (dǒulì) made of open weave (bamboo) with what looks like rice paper between the two layers of woven strands of plant material so that the light can shine through it.



She is holding two metal fish hanging from her left hand and a piece of blue netting in her right hand.


Background information

The shan ku (shan = mid-thigh-length tunic; ku = trousers) was worn originally by both men and women. It was adapted from the traditional male changshan and female qipao (cheongsam) gowns introduced during the Qing Dynasty (17th century), which were too loose and impractical for peasants, farmers and others who did manual labour. In 19th century, men started to use a front-opening jacket instead of the shan. In the 20th century, the shan became shorter and more fitted with a narrow neckband. The garments were usually dyed black, blue or grey with a waistband in a lighter blue or white – in Guodong province, a white waistband symbolised the wish for a long marriage and happy old age. The fabrics for the shan and ku were and are often the same but not always.

With the shan ku, a worker often wore the ku li (Chinese for “bitter strength”) — better known in English as the ‘coolie’ hat — a conical, woven straw hat designed to protect the wearer from the elements. This type of hat is called dǒulì in Chinese, literally meaning a “one-dǒu bamboo hat” (where a dǒu is equivalent to ca. 10.3 Liters).

In China, possibly more than in any other culture, hair has long had a strong political and social meaning. Even in ancient China, young women wore their hair down or in simple styles to show they were unmarried. Maidens traditionally kept their hair in braids until their fifteenth birthday.  Single women (yimei) arranged their hair in a plait. In contrast, married women (yisao) used a bun tied on the top of the head. Widowed women, who did not want to marry again, shaved their heads as a sign of indifference. According to Confucianism, to shave ones hair in is a form of mutilation and a disfigurement of the image.

Source(s) of information

‘Chinese Dress: From the Qing Dynasty to the Present’ by Valery Garrett

See China: General Information & Asian conical hat: General information



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s