Joelyn's Museum Escapades

Museum Escapades: “Mei Gui, ah, Mei Gui!”

Museum EscapadesFor those who don’t understand the title, it’s a line from the original (Mandarin) version of the song, “Rose, Rose, I Love You” or “Shanghai Rose”, whichever version you like. And it was the only song that was playing on repeat in my head when I went to this…

While Sarah’s in New York, Avarielle, Mintea, Raven, and I headed to the National Museum of Singapore for two exhibitions – Gold Rush: The Treasures of Ukraine, and In the Mood of Cheongsam: Singapore Women and Modernity.

From its origins to now.

Factoid: Qipao just has a different dialect origin from Cheongsam, so yes, they’re the same thing.

We entered the hall, greeted by the great red sign before we proceeded to the progression of the Cheongsam, from its days as a long, robe which flared out towards the bottom (1920s) to the sophisticated, defining versions we know of today.


Despite the differences between the cheongsams of the different decades, I noticed a few similarities:

Mandarin Collar

Where the collars are vertical, resting along the neck instead of the shoulders. It’s probably one of the few aspects that define garments with the Imperial Chinese influence.


Despite deviations (long sleeve, coats, two piece sets), most cheongsams still keep to a shape that slants in at the waist and flares out at the hip – very much like an hourglass.

Costumes on loan from Hong Kong. Grandma says the woman in the picture should be Le Di. We know they had Cheongsams that belonged to Lin Dai as well.
Gold on black – beautiful =)

If you were to ask me though, my favourite would have been this black and gold cheongsam, displayed together with Mrs Elizabeth Choy’s other cheongsams. Red on black (we saw a lot of those) is beautiful enough but gold on black is just this grand, regal piece (with a dragon, no less) that stands out. Other cheongsams on loan included that of Lin Dai, a famous actress from Hong Kong – and a name your parents and grandparents may recall from Hong Kong cinema.

There were various other renditions from Europe, though I still think the cheongsams from Shanghai and Hong Kong are still the best ones (traditional cheongsam making is still rather strong in these areas).

The lane of the First Ladies and Prominent Women.

We finished off with a collection of cheongsams from the wives of leaders in Singapore. This area had cheongsams from Mrs Benjamin Sheares, Mrs Wee Kim Wee, and the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew. It was rather interesting to see the various styles of each lady, and scurry around to match a particular design to its owner.

And of course, traditional costumes may seem confined to the display spaces of our museums. However, you can own your own cheongsam (some for under SGD50!) thanks to online options, like ZALORA’s line for Chinese New Year.

For people visiting with children, the activity area is parked outside the gallery, with stations to give the kids a feel of different clothing material, going from the valuable Brocade, to the common Batik, to uncommon names like Gingham and Houndstooth.

This exhibition is free at the National Museum and is on until 27 June 2012, so come down fast if you’d like to experience the evolution of a cultural icon that still stands appreciate today.

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