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 soiling by coming into contact wit the skin.
Such vests were also worn by the Straits Chinese (the babas and nonyas) of what is now Malaysia and Singapore under their elaborate and costly Qing-style wedding costumes for similar reasons.
Vests such as these are relatively rare. One is in the collection of the National Museum of Singapore. Another is on display in the Chan House in Malacca, Malaysia – now the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum.
The Singapore Museum example is published in Khoo (1996, p. 81) and again in Chee (1987).
Such vests were made in China but it is also possible that similar examples were produced in Southeast Asia for the local Chinese community.
This example has no obvious losses. Some parts of the vest have been re-sewn with nylon thread to conserve it and give it greater strength.
Chee, E. ‘The Straits Chinese Bridal Chamber’, Arts of Asia, May-June 1987.
Khoo J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press 1996.