SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Lo, Chih (2017) The Symbolism of Religious Dress in Fifth - to Ninth-Century China : Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] Text - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only


This thesis proposes a new methodology for studying the symbolic and practical aspects of religious dress in fifth-to ninth-century mediaeval China: how ritual dress reflected the religious ideas of the three major traditions in mediaeval China -Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism –and how the interaction between them and the evolution of their new forms of dress resulted in their changed worldviews. I argue that dress was more than a material phenomenon and may have been used to negotiate socio-political power and religious boundaries. An analysis was undertaken, using texts and artifacts as sources. I examined how the state used and developed each tradition so that each was transformed, interacting across sacred, secular, geographical and cultural boundaries. Analysis of dress as a strategy for undermining authority and hegemony revealed implications for the ideology of state-religion relations. I examined the hybridity and cultural brokering influencing interactions between religions and investigated the factors influencing those interactions. Cultural practices in the religious dress of mediaeval China were not coterminous with sectoral or social divisions: both heterogeneity within groups and commonality in dress practices existed across the three great Chinese religions. Boundaries between the religions were blurred, and the intermingling of designs, colours and styles of formal dress reflected the exchanges, parallels, and contradictions of the worldviews which accompanied the formation and evolution of mediaeval religious systems. Relationships between the three religions saw a cross-boundary transmission process –the changes in religious relations appear between internal and external boundaries, illustrating a complex interplay between the agency of ideology and cultural norms in religious dress. I maintain that Chinese religious dress was both a burdensome constraint and a practical source of agentive autonomy. Chinese ritual dress of the period was not an 'autonomous' influence, set apart from other religious dress traditions, but was influenced by factors including political agendas, ecology and local culture. The changed worldview of Chinese religions resulted in the diversification of Chinese religious dress and its assumption of a broader socio-political character. I demonstrate that rather than being purely a representation of religious ideology, mediaeval Chinese religious dress became a blend of spiritual and political influences and thereby an expression of secular trends.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: T. H. Barrett
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2020 10:22

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item