Hanfu, not nationalism
Hanfu is a traditional robe of the Han people, which has a history of thousands of years in China. In recent years, the number of promoters of this ancient attire have grown both online and offline, with annual events promoting hanfu culture taking place around the country.
But I have noticed some foreign media disparaging the hanfu revival by calling it “nationalism,” which they mean to be a bad thing. For example, an article headlined “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe” was published on the Chinese website of the New York Times recently.
I did not feel comfortable reading this article, as it suggested that the hanfu revival is a symbol of China’s rising political activism (as opposed to our sincere appreciation of our heritage). The author quoted Kevin Carrico, a lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia, as saying that “most people in the hanfu movement that I met were nationalists looking for the thrill of wearing traditional clothing.”
In my opinion, the rising popularity of hanfu among the younger generation of Chinese is mainly due to our personal interest in the aesthetics, art and values of ancient China, and has nothing to do with our proud patriotism toward modern China.
I started to learn about hanfu about a year ago after seeing pictures of my female friends dressed up in hanfu on their social media. The unusual apparel of hanfu, with its delicate and feminine designs and vibrant colors, all taken together, enhanced the form and beauty of the wearers.
It is obvious that for many hanfu lovers, it is a personal hobby and does not have any secret connotations or cult-like symbolism, which some foreign media are suggesting. Not unlike fans of Lego or computers games, we find a simple joy and happiness when playing dress up in our hanfu.
Like kilts to Scottish people and kimono to Japanese, hanfu are a traditional Chinese clothing that we enjoy for their beautiful designs and cultural appreciation. It has absolutely nothing to do with the “nationalism fringe” the New York Times article wrote about. Sadly, many Western media wish to link hanfu with nationalism, and I think this will only hinder people worldwide from discovering the real history and joy of hanfu.