A curious man named Hong was said to have been a prominent member of the court of Emperor Hui (r. 195-188 BCE), an uncommanding emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty whose reign was dominated by his formidable mother, Empress Dowager Lü (d. 180 BCE). Hong’s prominence in the court did not come from ministerial or administrative ability, nor was it from military skill or prowess. Instead, so the stories go, Hong’s status in the court came only from his looks, his bearing, and his unique fashion sense, which evidently caught the interest of Hui. Other members of the court, trying to keep up with Hong, reportedly began assimilating aspects of his peculiar wardrobe, including things such as feathered hats, exotic accessories, and makeup. Grand Historian Sima Qian (145-90 BCE) wrote of this supposed fashion fad, stating, “all the palace attendants at the court of Emperor Hui took to wearing caps with Gaudy feathers and sashes of seashells and to painting their faces…” (Sima Qian, Shi Ji 125). While the imperial court remained a place of grandiose fashion choices, most of the more flamboyant innovations brought about by Hong did not stand the test of time.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Paintings on the north wall of Xu Xianxiu’s Tomb, Northern Qi Dynasty, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.