The "Great Unity of Heaven and Man" Manifested in Traditional Chinese Clothing
(Clearwisdom.net) The "Great Unity of Heaven and Man" is a very important concept in traditional Chinese culture. The founder of Taoism, Laozi, said, "The ways of men are conditioned by those of earth; the ways of earth by those of heaven; the ways of heaven by those of Tao (Way); and the ways of Tao by nature." He was the first one who clearly defined the Tao and nature as the source of human beings' spiritual values. The traditional medical classic of the Qin and Han dynasties, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, stressed, "A scholar is cognizant of Heaven above, Earth below and the Man in the middle." This tells us that there is an inseparable connection between Heaven, Earth, and people. One of the most eminent Confucian scholars of the Han Dynasty, Dong Zhongshu, clearly stated in his political-philosophical essay, the Rich Dew of Spring and Autumn - Deep Investigation in Names and Orders: "Men that live amongst Earth, Heaven and nature, are part of this physical universe." This is to say that man and nature are one. Therefore, when the natural environment changes, men will make corresponding changes. At the same time, man is also a part of society. Social changes will also affect the human body. Of course, man will also affect society. Heaven is the origin of man's moral standards; therefore, Heaven is within man.
The ideology and behavior of our forefathers were reflected in the principle of the "Great Unity of Heaven and Man," as well as in traditional Chinese culture. Traditional costumes are part of this culture. The earliest document of the handicraft industry in China was recorded in the Rites of the Zhou - Overseeing Public Works. It is said in the document, "The weather is affected by the seasons; the land is affected by the weather; there are clever craftsmen as well as clumsy ones; there are good materials and bad ones. If one can combine all four it will be the best." This is to say that by having a clear understanding of and conforming to the natural pattern of cosmic timings and favorable earth conditions and then making a better use of the materials and technology one can really achieve the best result. This is the "Unity of Heaven and Man" found in traditional Chinese costumes and industrial arts.
Shenyi is a typical costume worn in the Han Dynasty. The characteristics of the costume are that the top and the lower garment are linked together and cuffs are made from cloth of different colors. This conceals the wearer's body and no flesh is exposed. It gives the appearance of gracefulness and poise. Shenyi symbolizes the unity of Heaven and Man and the Chinese moral traditions of courage, justice and uprightness, as well as embodying all things on earth. The sleeve cuffs of Shenyi are broad, which symbolizes Yuanrong of the Heavenly Way [The Chinese term Yuanrong means "harmonizing, perfection and completeness."] The overlap of the right and left collars symbolizes the neatness and squareness of Earth. The right collar overlapping the left shows the concept of Yin and Yang [Yin (moon) is the receptive, passive, and tender. Yang (sun) is the masculine, forceful, movement, and heat.]. The right overlapping section represents Yang and is outside. The left represents Yin and is inside. It also shows the unique spirit of justice and fairness, representing the impartiality with which people conduct themselves. At the back of Shenyi is a straight seam that stretches from the bottom to the top. It represents the righteousness of Human Behavior. A broad belt is tied around the waist, symbolizing that moving forward or backward is in line with the balancing concept. The top is made of four pieces of cloth, symbolizing the four seasons. The lower garment uses 12 pieces of cloth, representing the 12 months of a year. The daily life of human beings must conform to the order of the 12 months. Therefore, the shape of and the pieces that make up Shenyi must not be changed. It also represents the traditional Chinese culture that stresses nobility, eliminates the vulgar, and stresses the spirit of grace, emphasizing inner meaning and the essence of a being.
Yunjian is a dress designed during the Sui and Tang dynasties. It encircles the neck and spreads out on the shoulders. The entire shape of Yunjian is round outside and square inside, representing "the concept that Heaven is round and the Earth square." On the shoulders, Yunjian shows embroidered flowers and fruits of the four seasons and has long green tassels that are fringed on the sides. This design enhances the beauty of each part. It seems that Man and nature come together and embrace everything that makes people reflect on the state of affairs. Creative ideas of the "Unity of Heaven and Man" in Yunjian reflect the value of tolerance and harmony among all things on earth in traditional Chinese garments.
Some people would argue that science claims that it is wrong to say, "Heaven is round and Earth is square." How could Heaven be round and Earth square? At a matter of fact, the concept that "Heaven is round and the Earth is square" is not founded in geography. It is a Way, a rule, and a culture. The saying that "Heaven is round" represents Yuanrong of Heaven's Way, emphasizing harmony and the concept of circulation. The saying " Earth is square" represents the Human Way, emphasizing uprightness and forthrightness, neutrality, and behavioral norms. This is the real value represented by the concept "Heaven is round and Earth is square" and the "Great unity of Heaven and Man."
The five-thousand-year-old traditional Chinese culture is long standing and well established, all-embracing, broad, and profound. Only when we trace its origin can we know the fundamentals of the concept the "Great Unity of Heaven and Man."