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The Habit that Hides the Monk

"The Habit that Hides the Monk: Missionary Fashion Strategies at the Imperial Court in Early Modern China"

Time: April 13, 4:00pm - 5:15pm

Location: White Hall 101, 301 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322

Free and open to the public

Since the arrival of the first Western missionaries in China in the late Ming period (1580s), one of the most visible forms of “going native” was the adoption of
Chinese clothing and hairstyle. Dressing like the Chinese was not a choice, as foreigners residing within China had to adapt to local dress codes and bodily
practices. Only in native garb could missionaries enter and circulate in the Chinese empire, and truly become “local agents.”

This presentation maps the changing wardrobe, hairdo and ‘fashion statements’ of early modern missionaries in China, from the Ming to the Qing period. The age-old adage “the habit does not make the monk” needs revisiting: in the China mission, clothing was actually a way to “hide the monk,” i.e. the missionary’s religious identity, while opening myriad venues into late imperial Chinese society, within a culture constrained but also shaped, like early modern Europe, by sumptuary laws and cultural taboos about clothes and the body. This ‘intercultural clothing’ reveals intriguing facets of Ming-Qing daily life.

About the speaker

Eugenio Menegon is Associate Professor of Chinese History at Boston University, and Affiliated Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies at Boston College.  He has published extensively on the history of Chinese-Western relations, and is the author of Ancestors, Virgins, and Friars: Christianity as a Local Religion in Late Imperial China, Harvard Asia Center and Harvard University Press, 2009, which was the recipient of the 2011 Levenson Prize in Chinese Studies (Association for Asian Studies). His current book project is an examination of the daily life and political networking of European residents at the Qing court in Beijing during the 17th-18th centuries.