Chinese Watersleeves

Shuixiu is Chinese. The word can be translated literally to ‘water sleeves’. The sleeves are amazing part of the costume, or dress, which a Chinese stage performer wears. Not only are they made of fabric and is part of the costume, but the word refers to performer’s extraordinary skills to perform various movements with the sleeves.

Water sleeves are ‘double white-silk sleeves attached to the cuffs of a costume’. The long sleeves can express performers’ mood. Overall, the gesture variation that one can perform with the sleeves, are hundreds. These include movements of ‘quivering, throwing, wigwagging, casting, raising, swinging, tossing, whisking, rolling, folding, crossing and so on’.

Water sleeves can be used for many functions. For example, the sleeves wigwagging in front of face means a fun; one hand pulling another water sleeve sidewards indicates politeness or bowing; sadness and shyness are expressed by one hand pulling another water sleeve to cover the face; wiping tears and whisking dirt on costumes by water sleeves; raising and put up two persons’ water sleeves to embrace each other; water sleeves also indicates the music band when the singing performance starts (

Here is a Female Dancer, a sculpture from Metropolitan Museum’s collection. It depicts fine water sleeves being a fine example of dance in the Chinese sculpture. This model is earthenware with pigments, and it is from the Western Han dynasty (206 b.c.–9 a.d.), 2nd century b.c. China. More information about the sculpture on the museum website here.

Female Dancer, the Western Han dynasty (206 b.c.–9 a.d.), Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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