Traditional Mourning Clothes of China
If there is one thing I have learned in my studies of ancient Chinese mortuary practices, it is the ever important filial piety obligations. Harmony within a Chinese family was considered the essence of happiness, prosperity, and success. Confucianism believed that "regulated families" was the prerequisite to "well-governed states." So it goes without saying that the death of a family member was given an equal, if not higher, level of importance.
The most distinguishable characteristic that could determine someone's social class or economic status in ancient China was their appearance. The fabrics, the colors, and the finishes were much more relevant than they currently are. These various levels of luxury are exactly what one wished to diminish in aims of being modest and respectful when a family member passed away. The practice of wearing mourning clothes has been adopted since at least the Zhou Dynasty, and has been a lasting tradition, being occasionally practiced in contemporary funerals, with slight alterations of course.
From the Han dynasty downward, the mourning systems of China, including the mourning clothes, has been contained in the I li and the Li ki, and to a very small extent, by some other classics. The I li and the Li ki in particular are so full in detail of every aspect of the mourning clothes that it could fill a volume of its own, and with this fact, it is safe to say that wearing mourning clothes was one of the most important institutions of social life in ancient China. Jan Jakob Maria Groot believes that, "no other subject is treated in these works with a like minuteness of detail." Which goes to show how relevant visual appearance was in those ancient times.
Mencius said, "the funeral of a parent is an occasion for giving of one's utmost." It is understood that wearing mourning clothes originated in China in the custom of sacrificing to the deceased even the clothes on one's own back. So it...