In the classical erotic literature, “The Dream of the Red Chamber”, ‘when the protagonist entered into the room of his lover, he saw her embellishing her red and white silk lingerie with red lotus flowers, lush green leaves and a pair of colourful mandarin ducks embroidery.’
The above passage gave the description of a typical undergarment worn by young women in ancient China. Prior to the introduction of Western undergarments, females in China wore a type of top undergarment called “Du Dou” and no bottom undergarment. However, the poor, for practical reasons wear a kind of long underpants that is open at the loin.
Du Dou has a very long history in the Chinese civilization. Reference was made to it in the Chinese Story of Creation and several writings dated in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E to 220 A.D.) have described the amatory lingerie in great details.
“Du Dou” literally means “abdominal support”. It is an apron-like apparel that covers a woman’s chest and abdomen. The front covering cloth is usually diamond-shaped. It had ribbon extensions, which the wearer would tie at the nape of the neck and back of the body.
The purpose of Du Dou is not to support the breast, but to keep the abdomen warm. Ancient Chinese strongly believe in keeping the body warm, especially the abdominal area, which is the house of the vital organs, as a precaution to illnesses. So this underwear is worn not only by females but also by children. On the other hand, it believed that it is healthier not to wear any bottom undergarments.
Aside from health reason, the design of the Du Dou is intended to provoke sexual interest of the wearer’s partner. The exposure of the neck, shoulders and back of a woman is as rousing to the ancient Chinese men as legs and cleavage to Western men.
The material used to make Du Dou is dependent upon the socio-economic condition of its wearer. Mostly, Du Dou are made either from cotton or bright-coloured silk. Its design and embroidery motif varies in accordance to its wearer's age, local custom, era and occasion. Generally, Du Dou are adorned with feminine motifs such as flowers and animals that symbolises love, luck or happiness. Some Du Dou has little pockets for its wearer to keep their valuable belongings, and for children to keep their knick-knacks and sweets.