Empire of Style Silk and Fashion in Tang China

BuYun Chen

Tang dynasty (618-907) China hummed with cosmopolitan trends. Its capital at Chang’an was the most populous city in the world and was connected via the Silk Road with the critical markets and thriving cultures of Central Asia and the Middle East. In Empire of Style, BuYun Chen reveals a vibrant fashion system that emerged through the efforts of Tang artisans, wearers, and critics of clothing. Across the empire, elite men and women subverted regulations on dress to acquire majestic silks and au courant designs, as shifts in economic and social structures gave rise to what we now recognize as precursors of a modern fashion system: a new consciousness of time, a game of imitation and emulation, and a shift in modes of production.

This first book on fashion in premodern China is informed by archaeological sources—paintings, figurines, and silk artifacts—and textual records such as dynastic annals, poetry, tax documents, economic treatises, and sumptuary laws. Tang fashion is shown to have flourished in response to a confluence of social, economic, and political changes that brought innovative weavers and chic court elites to the forefront of history.

Chen Empire cover


  • $70.00 cloth, 978-0-2957-4530-5
  • $70.00 ebook, 978-0-2957-4531-2
  • 288 pages
  • 119 illus., 96 in color, 7 x 10 in.

about the author

BuYun Chen is an assistant professor of Chinese history at Swarthmore College with broad interests in the history of women's work, labor, and craft technology. In teaching, as in research, she emphasizes cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of history. Professor Chen teaches a variety of courses, including surveys of Chinese history, history of women's work in premodern China, fashion in modern East Asia, and a First-Year Seminar on the history of the Silk Road. She received her PhD in Chinese History from Columbia University.