20

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Straits Chinese Bamboo Vest

China but also used in the Straits Settlements
19th century

length from arm to arm: 134 cm.

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This extraordinary vest is made of many hundreds of tiny tubular bamboo segments, each precisely cut and held in place with cotton thread that has been passed through the centre of each segment to construct the overall garment. Such vests were worn by court officials in the Qing Dynasty beneath their elaborate silk robes to allow the air to circulate and to protect the robes from soilage by coming into contact wit the skin.

Such vests were also worn by the Straits Chinese (the babas and nyonyas) of what is now Malaysia and Singapore under their elaborate and costly Qing-style wedding costumes for similar reasons.

Vests such as these are rare. One is in the collection of the National Museum of Singapore (inventory no. GO309). Another is on display in the Chan House in Malacca, Malaysia – now the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. Another was offered by Christie’s New York in its sale ‘The Imperial Wardrobe: Fine Chinese Costume and Textiles from the Linda Wrigglesworth Collection’, March 19, 2008, lot 125. It made US$8,125 against an estimate of US$4,000-6,000.

References

The Singapore Museum example is shown in Khoo J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press 1996,

p. 81; and in Chee, E. ‘The Straits Chinese Bridal Chamber’, Arts of Asia, May-June 1987.

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