Past Perfect

A revival of centuries-old dress is catching on among China’s fashionabl­e Gen Z set. Social-media star Shiyin speaks to Meng-Yun Wang about Hanfu style.


On the streets of Shanghai, Shiyin can be seen wearing a traditiona­l outfit from China’s Ming period. Shiyin, a content creator, routinely shares recent fashion purchases and beauty tips on her widely followed social-media feeds—but it’s her passion for Hanfu that really sets her apart.

Though “Chinese” clothing is often typified by the qipao (a close-fitting dress, also called the cheongsam), Hanfu— essentiall­y, a type of dress from any era when the Han Chinese ruled—is seen in China as a more authentic form of historical clothing. Styles from the Tang (7th to 10th century), Song (10th to 13th), and Ming (13th to 17th) periods are the most popular: flowing robes in beautiful shades, embellishe­d with intricate designs and embroidery.

The movement is being led by China’s fashioncon­scious youth, like Shiyin— who, after decades of aspiring to Western trends, are now looking closer to home for a sense of traditiona­lism. In recent years, the number of Hanfu enthusiast­s has almost doubled (there are now more than six million, while the hashtag #Hanfu has seen more than 47.7 billion views on Douyin, China’s TikTok equivalent). Among them you’ll find a purist minority who abhor any historical inaccuraci­es, and


Shiyin (center) with friends Xuefei and Weiwei, all in variations of the ma mian qun— or “horse-face skirt”—a garment typical of Hanfu. Photograph­ed by Peng Ke.

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