The History of Traditional Chinese Pants

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Traditional Chinese pants, as important clothing, have a long history in China. Han people generally wear trousers, not only from the Han Dynasty. On the contrary, the Han nationality is considered to be one of the first nations in the world to wear pants.

Traditional Chinese pants can be divided into two types: one is called Kun(裈) and the other is called Ku(袴).

The History of Traditional Chinese Pants
traditional Chinese pants in ancient paintings from the Ming Dynasty

Kun(裈)

Kun is an ancient underpants with the crotch, according to the present archaeological evidence, Kun can be traced back to the late Neolithic.
It can be divided into two types:
  • one is very short and similar to the contemporary triangle underpants, which was called ” Dubi Kun (犊鼻裈dú bí kūn)” in ancient times; “Dubi Kun” has a history of more than 5000 years and is still used in some parts of Contemporary Asia.
  • the other is slightly wider and similar to the contemporary beach pants, which have two obvious pants with knee-length. Compared with the “Dubi Kun” to be more formal, so it has been widely used in the past dynasties, especially in hot areas.

Usually, in ancient times, few people will directly expose Kun to the outside except for the farmers, servants or soldiers.

The History of Traditional Chinese Pants
jade decorations from 4600-4000 years ago
The History of Traditional Chinese Pants
Taiwan aboriginal clothing
The History of Traditional Chinese Pants
traditional Chinese pants in black clay figurines of Tang Dynasty
The History of Traditional Chinese Pants
parts of lacquerware unearthed in the Three Kingdoms period

Ku (袴)

Ku (袴) is the outer pants of ancient times. In the early stage, Ku is especially the outer pants with open crotch, and in the later stage, the boundary between Ku and the lengthening style Kun (裈) is gradually blurred. The reason why we can’t understand the existence and application of open crotch pants is that our impression of open crotch pants is based on the contemporary baby open crotch pants. In ancient times, open crotch pants were rarely worn alone, and they were usually added to Kun with the crotch.

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painted figurines in the Tang Dynasty

The function of Ku is to keep warm. The Ku used for keeping warm is usually thick, some of which are made of wool or even fur. The traditional Ku is made of plane cutting, so it can’t fit the human body well. When the material itself is thick, the crotch processing becomes troublesome, which affects the comfort of wearing or hinders the movement of the human body, so the more convenient way is not to make crotch at all.

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open crotch pants unearthed in Southern Song Dynasty
Ku can be divided into two types according to style:
  • one contains the waistband, which is connected with two trouser tubes, but the crotch is not sewed. The surface of this type of pants looks like the lower body will be exposed when they are worn. However, due to the wide waist of the pants, a large overlapping area will be formed at the closing part of the waist in actual wearing. In addition, there is a cover of Kun and hem inside, so there is no problem of exposure.
  • another kind of Ku is that two trouser tubes are separated and there is no waistband. When it is used, it is hung on the tie of the Ku by the rope belt. In a few cases, it is also hung on the belt of the coat, and the hem of the coat is stuffed into the trouser tube.

According to Ku’s warm-keeping use, it can be inferred that Ku is more likely to be used in the north of China than in the south. This can also be confirmed by a comprehensive investigation of historical relics and documents. Therefore, the use of crotch pants mainly depends on the climate, not the nation. Many nomadic people in the north of Asia still have the habit of using leather Ku in autumn and winter.

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traditional Chinese pants from the Qing dynasty

In addition to Ku for keeping warm, there is also a kind of decorative Ku. Because Ku is added to Kun, the decoration design of the bottoms will naturally be mainly used in Ku. Under this kind of design thinking, a kind of Ku emphasizing decoration is gradually derived. This kind of Ku is made of thin materials, which are usually decorated with embroidery or jacquard fabric or even brocade, while Ku’s original warm-keeping function is weakened.

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“Otzi” restored wax figure

it is worth mentioning that Otzi, the Iceman mummy found in the Alps of Italy in 1991, is about 5300 years old. In addition to the good preservation of soft tissue, the fragments of clothing have also been preserved. Later, archaeologists have restored the clothes worn by Otzi according to these samples of clothing fragments. The bottoms that oz wears are also crotch free pants with two legs separated. It’s very similar to Chinese traditional pants. Maybe these pants are not invented and spread by a certain nation, but the commonness in the development of human clothing.

The above is the introduction of traditional Chinese pants. For more information about traditional Chinese clothing, please refer to:

What are Traditional Chinese Outfits Include?

The Most Classic Hanfu of All Time

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