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Cheongsam collector longs for museum

SHANGHAI resident Cai Wenqing has collected more than 150 figure-hugging dresses called cheongsam once worn by elegant Shanghai ladies from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Cai has traditional Chinese culture deep in her heart. Ever since her childhood, Cai has been obsessed with traditional Chinese literature, especially the poems of the famous female poet Li Qingzhao of the Song Dynasty (420-479 AD). Prompted by a conversation with an expert on the history of Shanghai, Cai became fascinated with old cheongsam.

As CEO of a company that works to protect China's cultural heritage, 40-year-old Cai is planning to exhibit her finest cheongsam during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Cheongsams could be called part of China's historical national dress, Cai tells Shanghai Daily. The dresses were once the only thing high-class women would wear at formal social occasions.

However, they are becoming increasingly rare and the skills needed to produce them are dying out, Cai says.

"Look at the delicate embroidery," Cai says, pointing to the front of one cheongsam. "They are all made by hand. You can't find this kind of embroidery on the cheongsam produced today."

Very few old cheongsam can be found on China's mainland. Most of them were destroyed during the "cultural revolution." Others were scattered through Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Singapore, Malaysia, the United States and some European countries.

"We are trying to preserve the old cheongsam," Cai says. "It's better to keep a few than let them all disappear."

Cai finds cheongsam through history experts who have close relationships with elderly women who have managed to keep their cheongsam, or from abroad.

"I hope one day there will be an old cheongsam museum in Shanghai," Cai says.


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