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Sol De Mexico FAQs (frequently-asked questions)




FAQ :: Glossary ::

China Poblana


Answer: 

There are many legends about the historical person known as the China Poblana. It is generally agreed that she was a slave brought to Puebla, Mexico, from India in the early 1600s. Most likely she was brought in on a "nao de China", a merchant ship from China, which may have led to her being referred to as "la China" (the Chinese woman). Most sources say she was actually a captured Indian (Mongol) princess. She was sold or given to Miguel de Sosa and his wife, who were childless. Her original name was Mirrha (or Mirra or Minah). At some point she was given the name Christian name Catarina de San Juan. She was adopted by de Sosa and his wife Doña Margarita de Chávez. Upon the death of de Sosa, she was given her freedom but no money. She married Domingo Suárez, a Chinese servant, though apparently they never lived together as man and wife. Her marriage to Suárez most likely also contributed to her misnomer of "la China". Local legend says she was loved and revered by the peasant people for her beauty, generosity, and religious fervor. She died in 1688 and is supposed to be buried at the Templo de la Compañía de Jesus in Puebla.
   The origins of the dress are not as clear as her life history. Some say that the dress developed because she wore traditional Indian saris in green and red. After her death the local indigenous women began wearing silk dresses to honor her. These developed over time to become the dress known as the "china poblana". The colors of the Mexican flag are also attributed to "la China's " dresses.
   There is another story that begins with the understanding that during the 16th century, "china" was one of the lower castes. So, "china poblana" could simply be a reference to a person of a certain caste who lived in town (the "pueblo"). This legend says that there was a "low" woman who married a local man of wealth. The townspeople did not care for her and made her miserable once her husband died. To get back at them she dressed elaborately. The jealous women in town began copying her, though with her wealth she was always able to make her dresses more and more spectacular. After her death, the people continued to dress like the "china poblana".
   A final story explains the historical development of the dress. It is the least interesting but probably the most likely. Long ago, merchant ships known as "naos de China" (ships from China) would dock at Acapulco. Local aristocrat women would buy fabric to make skirts for their indigenous servant girls, who were (and still are) referred to as "chinas". When the fabric was not enough to reach the ground, a piece of silk was sewn to the top of the skirt. In their spare time, the "chinas" would sew leftover sequins into their simple skirts, eventually covering most or all of the skirt material.
   Whatever the true development of the "China Poblana", this dress has come to represent Mexico all over the world. Click here for pictures of the "China Poblana".


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