Mao suit

From Academic Kids

Communist leaders wear the Mao suit.
Communist leaders wear the Mao suit.

The Mao suit is the western name for the style of male attire known as the Sun Zhongshan suit or Zhongshan suit (中山装, Zhong1shan1 zhuang1, or 中山服, Zhong1shan1 fu2), named after Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) who introduced it shortly after the founding of the Republic of China. In accordance with the Chinese tradition of changing the style of dress for different dynasties, Sun Yat-sen instructed that a new form of clothing be designed for the new republic. The Western name comes from its popularization by Mao Zedong.


Incorporating elements of German military dress including a turndown collar and four symmetrically placed pockets and based on a form of attire popular with contemporary Chinese men in Japan and Southeast Asia, the Zhongshan suit was an attempt to cater to "modern" sensibilities without completely adopting Western styles whole cloth. Instead of the three hidden pockets in Western suits, the Zhongshan suit had four outside pockets to adhere to Chinese concepts of balance and symmetry. Over time, minor stylistic changes developed. The suit originally had seven buttons, later reduced to five.

After Sun Yat-sen's death in 1925, popular mythology assigned a revolutionary and patriotic significance to the Zhongshan suit. The four pockets were said to represent the Four Cardinal Principles cited in the classic Book of Changes. The five center-front buttons were said to represent the five Yuans (branches of government) cited in the constitution of the Republic of China and the three cuff-buttons to symbolize Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People.

Historical Development

In the 1920s, civil servants of the Chinese government were required to wear the Zhongshan zhuang. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the suit became a symbol of proletarian unity, and was regularly worn by Communist party cadres until the 1990s when it was largely replaced by the Western business suit. The Zhongshan or Mao suit remained the standard formal dress for the first and second generation of PRC leaders such as Deng Xiaoping.

During the 1990s, it began to be worn with increasing infrequence by leaders of Jiang Zemin's generation. In informal occasions, most older cadres will wear panama shirts and most younger cadres will wear polo shirts. By the early part of the 21st century, the Mao or Zhongshan suit has been rarely worn even in formal occasions. The infrequent occasions in which it is worn usually involve situations in civilian party officials wish to demonstrate control over the military. On Taiwan, the Zhongshan suit was infrequently seen after the 1970s.

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