Wear­ing her­itage on their sleeves

China Daily European Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - By XING WEN xing­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

One Sun­day af­ter­noon a lit­tle more than 16 years ago, 17 men and three women who stood in a row at the Shanghai Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Mu­seum were given world­wide fan­fare — and it was as much what they were wear­ing as what they had been talk­ing about that grabbed the world’s at­ten­tion.

Peo­ple’s Daily re­ported that each wore “a satin jacket fea­tur­ing Chi­nese-style cot­ton but­tons and round flower pat­terns, with pe­onies sur­round­ing the four let­ters of APEC, and a white silk shirt”. They came in six col­ors — scar­let, blue, olive green, brown, bur­gundy and black.

The peo­ple wear­ing the jack­ets on Oct 21, 2001, were the lead­ers of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion fo­rum economies, hold­ing their an­nual meet­ing in China for the first time since its found­ing 12 years ear­lier.

It had be­come the cus­tom for the lead­ers to don the tra­di­tional clothes of the host coun­try on the fi­nal day of

the fo­rum, and spec­u­la­tion about what form this would take had be­come a pop­u­lar guess­ing game. How­ever, in China that guess­ing took a se­ri­ous turn, with earnest de­bate about what, in this con­text, the term “tra­di­tional Chi­nese” could pos­si­bly mean. The re­sult was the tangzhuang, a hy­brid based on Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) cloth­ing and other, more mod­ern, el­e­ments. A lit­tle more than 20 years after China be­gan to open up to the world, and just three weeks be­fore it be­came a mem­ber of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the aim of the fo­rum or­ga­niz­ers was ap­par­ently to high­light not only the coun­try’s tra­di­tions but its moder­nity as well. Zhao Jian­hua, in his book The Chi­nese Fash­ion In­dus­try: An Ethno­graphic Ap­proach, says that the tangzhuang be­came ex­tremely pop­u­lar after the APEC meet­ing but that, in essence, it was a fad that lasted for lit­tle more than a cou­ple of years, even if the gar­ment has be­come a set piece in the Chi­nese wardrobe.

How­ever, the cre­ation of the tangzhuang and the de­bate sur­round­ing it ap­pear to have been the gen­e­sis of a move­ment whose mem­bers show no sign of be­ing con­tent for their pre­ferred garb to be merely fill­ing space in a wardrobe. These are the afi­ciona­dos of tra­di­tional cloth­ing based on that worn by the coun­try’s eth­nic ma­jor­ity, the Han, 5,000 years ago.

Though the term tangzhuang was de­ployed to de­scribe the APEC jacket, there was no Chi­nese word in the early 2000s to de­scribe cloth­ing from the Han Dy­nasty, and the term even­tu­ally coined was hanfu (Han cloth­ing). The irony is that what has led to a re­vival in this cen­turies-old style of cloth­ing and that keeps the flame flick­er­ing is 21st-cen­tury tech­nol­ogy — the in­ter­net and so­cial net­work­ing.

One afi­cionado of hanfu is Wang Tian­jiao, 26, of Shan­dong province.

“Tieba is where I first learned about hanfu 11 years ago,” says Wang, re­fer­ring to the com­mu­nity on­line fo­rum Baidu Tieba.

“I was ab­so­lutely spell­bound by this time­honored cloth­ing.”

She re­al­ized that few of her ac­quain­tances had heard of hanfu, and all the in­for­ma­tion she got about it came from Baidu Tieba and the web­site hanchc.com, where a move­ment to re­ju­ve­nate hanfu ger­mi­nated.

The cloth­ing on which con­tem­po­rary hanfu cloth­ing is based ap­peared as far back as 5,000 years ago and pre­vailed through dif­fer­ent dy­nas­ties in Chi­nese his­tory un­til the Manchu es­tab­lished the Qing Dy­nasty in 1644. The Qing regime banned the wear­ing of Han clothes and, for the masses, the cus­tom of dress­ing in such cloth­ing grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared.

Four years after Wang came across the Baidu Tieba group, she at­tended a hair-pin­ning cer­e­mony — a tra­di­tional rite that marks Han girls’ pas­sage into adult­hood — at the Ji­nan Fuxue Con­fu­cius Tem­ple, built dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) and re­stored as a trib­ute to Con­fu­cius in 2005.

Such ac­tiv­i­ties have fre­quently been or­ga­nized by hanfu afi­ciona­dos in re­cent years to pro­mote the tra­di­tional cul­ture and clothes of Han peo­ple.

Re­gional hanfu or­ga­ni­za­tions have sprung up across the coun­try. The an­nual Hanfu Cul­tural Fes­ti­val, held in the an­cient scenic town of Xi­tang, Zhe­jiang province, draws more than 150,000 vis­i­tors. The event is streamed live by the on­line broad­cast­ing plat­form Yingke, and in Novem­ber is said to have at­tracted 167,000 view­ers over four days.

Wang her­self founded a hanfu club after en­rolling at the Univer­sity of Ji­nan in Shan­dong province in 2014. In prepa­ra­tion for its open­ing, she and some friends donned quju, a type of hanfu with its right lapel wrapped around the body, and per­formed a dance for the univer­sity’s art fes­ti­val. The back­ground mu­sic was Chong Hui

Han Tang (“Dat­ing back to the Han and Tang dy­nas­ties”), the theme song sung by a singer named Sun Yi for the hanfu move­ment.

Wang says she en­cour­ages club mem­bers to

wear hanfu on tra­di­tional Chi­nese fes­ti­vals. For ex­am­ple, on ev­ery 12th of the sec­ond lu­nar month, or “flower fes­ti­val” — which, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese folk­lore, is the birth­day of flow­ers — she holds cer­e­monies with her friends at Dam­ing Lake in Ji­nan dressed, of course, in hanfu. “I want to wear it in pub­lic so those who are cu­ri­ous about it, or the tra­di­tional eti­quette be­hind it, can learn about it. The re­vival of hanfu is not about turn­ing back the clock or about cos­play. It’s about pass­ing down the cul­ture of the largest eth­nic group in China, which runs from way back to an­cient times.” One as­pect of pass­ing on that mes­sage is mak­ing the most of the tech­nol­ogy at her dis­posal, and Wang says she of­ten takes pho­to­graphs when dressed in hanfu and posts them on Sina Weibo, China’s an­swer to Twit­ter. She has nearly 70,000 fol­low­ers there. A pi­o­neer in pro­mot­ing hanfu on the in­ter­net was the web­site han­fuhui.cn, which Liu Yin­hong, 27, set up four years ago and is now said to have more than 200,000 reg­is­tered users. Liu, of Shen­zhen, was well placed to make the mar­riage be­tween hanfu and new tech­nol­ogy work, hav­ing ear­lier been a pro­gram­mer for a soft­ware de­vel­oper and hav­ing coded web pages in his spare time. “At that time, Tieba was the largest on­line com­mu­nity for those who love hanfu and there was no web­site for it. I wanted to de­sign a plat­form on which tong­pao (a nick­name for hanfu lovers) could share pic­tures, or­ga­nize on­line ac­tiv­i­ties and post ar­ti­cles, all about hanfu.” The site soon branched out into an on­line dis­cus­sion board and shop­ping guide for all things hanfu. About 80 per­cent of the users 18 to 28 years old, Liu says. “The term hanfu ex­tends be­yond clothes, cov­er­ing other cul­tural trea­sures such as tea art, archery and the zither.” There are, of course, more tra­di­tional ways of prop­a­gat­ing the hanfu life­style, such as on pa­per. Chen Suyue, in a comic book called Jiao Ni Xue Guiju (“Teach your­self so­cial eti­quette”), has char­ac­ters dressed in hanfu dis­cuss in a hu­mor­ous way how to be­have ap­pro­pri­ately on cer­tain oc­ca­sions, es­pe­cially by adopt­ing tra­di­tional so­cial niceties that most peo­ple are un­aware of. Weav­ing cul­ture and cloth­ing into these sto­ries makes them more in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages, Chen says. She says she started work­ing with the third Hanfu Cul­tural Fes­ti­val in Xi­tang in 2015 and needed to learn about the stan­dard shapes and struc­tures of Han at­tire.

“I thought de­sign­ing and paint­ing the car­toon posters for the fes­ti­val would be a cinch, but the or­ga­niz­ers saw things com­pletely dif­fer­ently.”

Just how dif­fi­cult her job was be­came clear to her when she pre­pared the main il­lus­tra­tion for the fes­ti­val: 16 men in feiyufu, clothes worn by the im­pe­rial guards of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644).

“There was so much de­tailed stuff I had to learn. The hats, the col­lars, the pat­terns. … I re­vised them again and again, based on in­struc­tions from three hanfu ex­perts.”

Chen says the or­ga­niz­ers’ and ex­perts’ scrupu­lous­ness about ev­ery de­tail of hanfu im­pressed her, and she put hours into re­search­ing hanfu and putting it to prac­ti­cal ef­fect.

“I used to care only about whether the piece fit­ted me well or not. I couldn’t name its type and didn’t know any­thing about its cul­tural back­ground. Three years of work­ing with hanfu has turned me from a hanfu layper­son into a real tong­pao.”

She is now a mem­ber of the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee of the hanfu cul­tural fes­ti­val and says it is a great op­por­tu­nity to bring greater co­he­sion to the tong­pao group na­tion­wide.

“I have re­ally been en­cour­aged to see so many peo­ple who share my pas­sion get to­gether to dress in hanfu. Some tong­pao trav­eled thou­sands of kilo­me­ters to take part. Some came with their par­ents and chil­dren, and some worked as vol­un­teers day and night, all be­cause of the hanfu and its glam­our.” Some­times when Chen trav­els she wears her

hanfu at­tire and once, when she went to Ja­pan, some of the lo­cals mis­took her garb for tra­di­tional Korean tra­di­tional cloth­ing, she says.

“In my view, hanfu should be de­vel­oped into a Chi­nese cul­tural sym­bol that can be given cur­rency world­wide.”


Hanfu is the tra­di­tional cloth­ing based on that worn by the coun­try’s eth­nic ma­jor­ity, the Han, 5,000 years ago.

clothes worn by the

Main il­lus­tra­tion for the third Hanfu Cul­tural Fes­ti­val in Xi­tang in 2015: Men in feiyufu im­pe­rial guards of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644).

Wang Tian­jiao, hanfu afi­cionado.

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