July 12, 2019
96 color illus., 23 b&w illus., 3 tables
10.00 Inches (US)
7.00 Inches (US)
2.2 Pounds (US)
$70.00 USD, £56.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Empire of Style

Silk and Fashion in Tang China

Tang dynasty (618–907) China hummed with cosmopolitan trends. Its capital at Chang'an was the most populous city in the world and was connected via the Silk Road with the critical markets and thriving cultures of Central Asia and the Middle East. In Empire of Style, BuYun Chen reveals a vibrant fashion system that emerged through the efforts of Tang artisans, wearers, and critics of clothing. Across the empire, elite men and women subverted regulations on dress to acquire majestic silks and au courant designs, as shifts in economic and social structures gave rise to what we now recognize as precursors of a modern fashion system: a new consciousness of time, a game of imitation and emulation, and a shift in modes of production.

This first book on fashion in premodern China is informed by archaeological sources—paintings, figurines, and silk artifacts—and textual records such as dynastic annals, poetry, tax documents, economic treatises, and sumptuary laws. Tang fashion is shown to have flourished in response to a confluence of social, economic, and political changes that brought innovative weavers and chic court elites to the forefront of history.

Art History Publication Initiative. For more information, visit http://arthistorypi.org/books/empire-of-style

About the Author

BuYun Chen is assistant professor of history at Swarthmore College.


"Chen makes the case for a thriving culture of fashion in seventh- to early-tenth-century China. . . . Empire of Style is thorough and convincing. Chen not only details the styles of garments and ornamentation during the period but also the social and economic structures that supported opportunities for 'aesthetic play.'"—Choice

"Depicts a fascinating world of clothing and fashion in Tang China and makes contributions to the studies of clothing history, art history, and cultural history in general. . . . [A] fine example of scholarship on the cultural history of traditional China."—Journal of Chinese History

"Empire of Style is a book that every scholar interested in gender, identity, art, material culture, and literature in premodern China should read. . . . BuYun Chen has advanced the state of scholarship on medieval Chinese fashion by leaps and bounds both conceptually and methodologically."—Shao-yun Yang, China Review International: A Journal of Reviews of Scholarly Literature in Chinese Studies

"[A]n important book that is a pathbreaking examination of premodern Chinese fashion and a model of interdisciplinary research."—Journal of Chinese Studies

"The book is exemplary in its interdisciplinary focus, weaving together urban studies, legal history, archaeology, textile studies, and literature to produce a texture of the fashion system in the Tang dynasty...As the first of its kind, the book is a must-read for those interested in fashion history in China, and provides a new perspective on textile studies and Tang institutional history."—Studies in Late Antiquity

"[P]aints a lively picture of the sumptuous and cosmopolitan world of seventh, eight, and ninth-century China...A major strength of this book is the diversity of sources Chen brings together and her talent for shifting between historical and art historical modes of analysis. This range means that there is something for practically everyone in the book, from economic historians to textile specialists."—NAN NÜ

"[R]evelatory...The multiple threads that Chen draws together in Empire of Style result in an unprecedented view of Tang fashion and what it reveals about Tang society and culture, and the interdisciplinary nature of her inquiry—not to mention the richness of the visual and material culture represented in these pages—should make it an especially provocative and useful source for art historians."—The Art Bulletin

"In this concise book, BuYun Chen has elegantly formulated the multi-faceted interconnections of fashions: between users and producers of silks, and between textual, material and visual iterations of identities hitherto seemingly invisible and disconnected."—Textile History

"[F]luently written and exquisitely pictured volume. Interpreting silk as both textile production and esthetic play, BuYun Chen has offered richly and nuanced perspective of this material world, one that broadens our understanding of Chinese civilization and art."—Textile

"[A]nalyzes the multifac-eted Tang fashion system, powered by weavers, artisans, traders, and consumers. Focusing in particular on the significance of silk textiles, Chen utilizes archaeological and textual sources, first, to reconstruct the changing modes of production that drove the creation of these fabrics and, second, to demonstrate the existence of a dynamic fash-ion culture and consciousness during the Tang."—Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"Chen's book is a rich and important rethinking of the relevance of dress and fashion to the social and intellectual environments of the Tang dynasty."—CAA Reviews

"[A]adds to a much-needed body of literature on non-Western fashion systems."—Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews


"An outstanding and groundbreaking book. BuYun Chen argues that during the Tang dynasty, as today, fashion both tracks and influences changes in society. Empire of Style makes many contributions to the study of Chinese material culture and social history."—Suzanne Cahill, author of Warriors, Tombs, and Temples: China's Enduring Legacy

"Surviving Tang textiles, figurines, and paintings provide Chen with wonderful source material for this fluently written study of Tang fashion."—Patricia Buckley Ebrey, author of Accumulating Culture: The Collections of Emperor Huizong

"Is fashion a Western phenomenon associated with the rise of capitalism in Europe? That has been the party line for many years. But in her brilliant new book Empire of Style, BuYun Chen demonstrates the existence of a thriving fashion culture in Tang dynasty China."—Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT, and editor in chief of Fashion Theory

University of Washington Press

9780295745305 : empire-of-style-chen
272 Pages
$70.00 USD

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