The cleavage-gate that is The Empress of China

This is going to be my first post for this year. And what a first post it’s going to be.

Last December 21, 2014, Fan Bingbing’s latest television drama The Empress of China premiered on Hunan TV to high ratings, breaking all records in Mainland China television history. So it was a surprise when it was suddenly taken off the air on December 29, 2014 due to technical difficulties. According to reports, Hunan TV had exceeded the allowed quota for period dramas for that year and therefore it would just resume its showing on January 2015. However, there was speculation going around that the real reason why it was taken off the air was because SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television) had frowned down upon the excessive cleavage exposure of the female casts.

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That speculation was finally confirmed when it resumed its airing last Thursday (January 1, 2015). The audience immediately noticed that the screenshots have zoomed in to the faces of the actresses, avoiding any screenshot of their cleavages. As expected, the audience was outraged (bwahahaha!) with the sudden change, with some complaining that the actresses suddenly became like big headed dolls.

Img407476998 Img407476999 Img407477000

This scandal, which is now fast becoming known as cleavage-gate, has led to some people questioning the accuracy of the costumes in The Empress of China with regards to what the women from the Tang dynasty had actually worn.

Before we delve into the female clothing during the Tang Dynasty, let us first have a brief understanding of that era. The Tang Dynasty was a period in China history which was characterized by open-mindedness and liberal ideas. It was the time when women were given equal rights to education, politics and even in the military. Women of that era could divorce and remarry as they pleased, just like their male counterparts. They could get drunk to their heart’s content, be as loud on the streets as they wanted to be, and they could even compete in games and sports.

The female clothing during that era was also as liberal as their ideations. A typical Tang Dynasty clothing for female was characterized by  coats with small or long sleeves and long skirts, accessorized with wide and long scarves. Their shirts or tops or whatever you want to call them allowed women to bare a large part of their upper chest area. People from that era believed that this type of clothing could better accentuate the real beauty of women.

Below are example of the clothes worn by women during the Tang Dynasty. Their different types of female clothings did show that they could expose an ample amount of a woman’s upper chest.

The different types of female clothings during the Tang dynasty allowed for a generous exposure of a female’s upper chest area.

Now we know that the costumes worn by the actresses in The Empress of China are somehow historically accurate. But here’s another question, were the bust lines or cleavages of the Tang Dynasty women as heavily accentuated as they were in some movies? Did their boobs pop out too the way they did with some of the actresses in some period dramas? As we all know, push up bras were not yet invented during that time. Instead of the brassieres that we know today, the undergarment commonly used by women during the Tang Dynasty was called a hezi. This “undergarment” was worn together with the clothings shown above, either under or over them.


Hezi from the Tang Dynasty



A hezi was made up of a thin material. It didn’t have any kind of straps or halters or sleeves, which allowed a generous exposure of the neck, shoulders and upper chest area. A typical hezi had a barrel shape, with a raised front center that gently curved downwards to the sides. Some were straight and rectangular, similar to a modern tube top. While others had a front center shaped like a petal or a scallop. It was securely wrapped around a woman with buttons instead of laces. It could accentuate a woman’s bust although it only provided very minimal support.


Straight and rectangular

Scallop shaped

Scallop shaped

Petal shaped

Petal shaped

However, nowhere in the paintings of Tang Dynasty women had shown them wearing a hezi with a sweetheart neckline or a deep V neckline as what has been shown in The Empress of China:

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Even if a typical Tang Dynasty gown had a top that could expose a considerable area of a woman’s upper chest as depicted by one of the examples shown earlier, the sexy allusions it could give had been somewhat downplayed by the presence of a hezi. Of course, that didn’t take away the fact that their clothings back then were still considered sexy during that era, the way that a Japanese Geisha’s exposed nape and wrists were also considered sexy back in earlier times.

While the costumes for The Empress of China seemed to be at par with history, the revealing cleavages may have been exaggerated in the said period drama. Though women from the Tang Dynasty were liberal-minded when it came to wearing their clothes, they were nowhere near as revealing as compared to what the actresses from the drama series are wearing. Asian women are also naturally not that busty for a simple garment such as the hezi to make their boobs popped out like they did in the said drama series. So maybe, and most likely, the cleavage-bearing clothes in the drama are intentional in order to attract more audience, particularly the male audience.

Whether the the removal of the cleavage shots will affect the ratings or not is yet to be seen. But all is not lost for this period drama as it does have an interesting storyline to boast.

Here are more “scandalous” photos from The Empress of China:

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1 Response to The cleavage-gate that is The Empress of China

  1. Induvit says:

    Reblogged this on induvit.


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