Fashion and Historical Imagination: The Case of Sun Shou’s “Bewitching and Strange Appearances”

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Sun Shou (d. 159), the vilified and powerful wife of notorious regent to the throne Liang Ji (d. 159), is famous for her invention of novel fashions, including new styles of eyebrow, makeup, and hair, and even new ways of walking and smiling. In Hou Hanshu and elsewhere, Sun Shou’s invention of these styles plays an important role in constructing a condemnatory historical judgment of her character, which is informed by systems of correlative cosmology and sumptuary regulation. Significantly, however, attitudes to these fashion statements are not uniform. The negotiation in textual and archaeological sources of the styles associated with Sun Shou, especially the popular duoma ji (“falling off a horse buns”), reveals a process of reimagining and re-appropriation that challenges simplistic or purely linear notions regarding the connotations that attach to and evolve along with individual fashion trends and styles. Read within the frameworks provided by cosmological and historical understandings of dress as a social and political marker, discussions of Sun Shou, duoma ji, and the other styles provide a compelling, lasting example of concerns regarding the ominous force of sumptuary behavior while also indicating processes of redefinition surrounding particular styles and historical actors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-42
Number of pages24
JournalEarly Medieval China
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • duoma ji
  • Hou Hanshu
  • Liang Ji
  • Sun Shou
  • women’s hair

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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