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Mao suits all round for Xi Jinping and his entourage at gala dinner in Spain

  • Chinese delegation swaps Western business attire for something a little more traditional on last night of state visit
PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 9:23pm

These days, Chinese leaders usually follow the Western approach to formal dress when they attend diplomatic functions abroad.

But at a gala dinner in Madrid hosted by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain on Wednesday, the men in Xi Jinping’s delegation swapped their business suits for something a little more traditional.

Accompanied by first lady Peng Liyuan, the Chinese president wore a dark grey tunic suit with embroidery and a black pocket square – a modified version of the Zhongshan suit named for early revolutionary Sun Yat-sen and popularised by Mao Zedong.

And for the first time on such an occasion overseas, all of his entourage followed his sartorial lead – wearing either Mao suits, as they are known in the West, or pseudo-traditional Tangzhuang jackets with straight collars.

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“It was a very formal occasion, and wearing Chinese formal dress conforms to the dress code of such an occasion,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang explained when asked about the Chinese delegation’s dinner attire at a regular press briefing on Friday.

It was white tie, or full evening dress, for everyone else – the men, including King Felipe, in black dress tailcoats over white shirts, with white bow ties and waistcoats, the women in evening gowns.

The dinner marked the end of Xi’s two-day visit to Spain – the first to the European country by a Chinese head of state in 13 years – before he headed to Argentina for the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires.

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While it was unusual for the whole delegation to wear traditional dress – something usually reserved for formal occasions within China since its opening and reform – it was not the first time Xi has donned a modified Mao suit during a state visit.

He wore one when he met King Willem-Alexander in the Netherlands in 2014, and the following year when he attended a black tie event hosted by Barack Obama at the White House, and a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth in Britain.

But on all of these occasions, the other members of his delegation have dressed in Western-style business suits.

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The wardrobe choice comes as Xi has been pushing his “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation, and trying to boost pride and a sense of national identity.

Zhongshan suits used to be China’s national dress, introduced by Sun after the 1911 revolution that ended the Qing dynasty and paved the way for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Unlike Xi, his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao both wore Western business suits to formal receptions when abroad.

But the Mao suits worn by Xi are not quite traditional. Instead of four visible pockets and a buttoned-up collar, Xi’s jackets have mandarin collars and hidden pockets – and he adds a pocket square.