Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, Sept.08

Fu Lujiang's Proposal for Hanfu as 2008 Olympic Standard

Fu Lujiang's Proposal for Beijing Olympic Standards

In response to HanfuTor’s email thread “Koreans are attempting to steal Hanfu”.

Thinking back to Fu Lujiang’s proposal for Hanfu as official uniform of the XXIX Olympiad and the resulting Hundred Scholars’ petition, it was in reflection a reactive, unplanned move. Within two months the project was dismissed by the authorities. The actual result was a mix of god-knows-what, primarily from the opinion of the COC and corporate sponsors. While public opinion is always met upon “open ears” (much similar for any UNESCO applications and so forth), the actual results are still slim. Remember that Sun Jiazheng of the Chinese Cultural Department noted explicitly “to let things play out naturally” in response to this proposal just weeks after it being made, and by the next month it was rejected in favor of letting Heng Yuanxiang Corp.’s so-called Tangzhuang take its place. Worst of all, unlike the APEC conference in 2001, nobody will be wearing the ‘new fashions’ of the Olympic games as a new trend or fad or whatever it is, simply because they defy any rational taste for the real world.

News of Korean government and advocacy associations about them claiming important festivities and cultural icons – it is not the first day they have started doing so, nor is it the first time (by now) the Chinese have reacted negatively regarding their inventions ‘taken away’ in propriety. While the Chinese netizens’ response are often directed at false news, the fact that the Korean authorities are attempting to get UNESCO to recognize their traditional clothes and herbal medicine is very real, and the proposal details cultures that leans more toward the Chinese standard than ever (by referring to actual Chinese texts, and even media from our Hanfu Movement research), a factor of Korean culture we can see backed up by today’s mass entertainment.

The movable-type press as invented by Koreans (prior to Gutenburg) is already in most school textbooks; Duanwu/Tano’o (端午) is still somewhat ambiguous (the Koreans claim that although SIMILAR in name, the nature is different), while herbal lore, writing system, and traditional clothing are the current hot topics and up for grabs. The prize – propriety of the heritage in world history, and means of promoting cultural greatness in the clash of civilizations: a ‘copyright’ to a weapon in the war of culture. What more credit needs to be taken away before the Han Chinese get re-recognized?

Zhu Xi's standard Shenyi with Dongbo Cap. Pictured is Yang Qing, Ruan and Guqin player/teacher in Beijing.

Zhu Xi's standard Shenyi with Dongbo Cap. Pictured is Yang Qing, Ruan and Guqin player/teacher in Beijing.

Given its cultural, historical and geographical ties, as well the different paths of development since 1644, China’s path of return from the Manchurian mutilation of culture will undoubtedly face conflict with Japan, and eventually moreso with Korea. However, from historical accounts we can see that as we lost our tradition in cultural and military subjugation, a reverse-bullying situation evolved and eventually grew to today’s perceived “theft of heritage”. An example is in the 9th year of An’ei (1779, Qianlong 44) when a Chinese merchant ship beached in Chikura, Awa (modern Chiba Prefecture), Japan, and the crew conflicted with the locals, to which the Japanese scholar Seki Syuurei (関修齢) there took out a Song Dynasty standard scholar’s robe (Zhu Xi’s standard Shenyi) and Dongbo cap, and asked if China is still abiding tradition, to which the shamed captain can only say “This is the robe of a Ming literati. Since the Qing regime today has changed the standards, we dare not to keep something as such, and only can be seen on theatrical stages depicting previous times.” (Chinese source)

It is time to count the resources we have – a bunch of enthusiasts from in/outside the country, many of us not even Chinese citizens, and an apathetic governmental institution, ruled over by a group of bureaucrats dedicated to “equalization of representation of all 56 ethnicities”. When recognition can only be done with the governments’ approval (which in turn gets in line for approval at UNESCO), the Chinese of today can only be said to be at a disadvantage. The only path of getting the People’s Government to recognize is if the voice becomes a majority, and given the current situation of recognition for Hanfu, that’s hardly yet the case.

So what can we do?

The Hanfu Movement has already tried and tested several approaches to restoring the clothing and other traditions, with the most successful ones in promoting the clothing for important festivities and social rituals — much similar to its functions in Japan and Korea. While the restoration is far from complete, this route is the most popularly accepted. Hence, semi-formal to formal (Black and White Tie, as my friend Charlie Tsua put it) Hanfu are the most made and seen today. To this end, many Chinese mainstream media (many controlled by ethnic Manchu executives) attack Hanfu (“Han-Dynasty clothing”) as ‘cumbersome and inconvenient, unsuitable for the modern city life’. Some famous Chinese commentators even go as far as “What do people wear underneath Hanfu?” to demean it, while networks effectively censor our responses.

Hence, researchers and some makers went further by researching, producing, and selling two new types products – casual Hanfu and ‘modernized’ Hanfu. Both feature a simpler, sometimes streamlined look, with none of the cumbersome sleeves and brisk look – the only difference is one is based on previous existing design, while the latter experimented with imported fashion elements, such as lace, frills, and zippers. There are supporters and denouncers at both parties towards each other, but their hearts for promoting a living, continuing Han tradition is mutual.

However, in terms of product outreach and market share, we are still far from reaching the Manchu-Western suits we call Tangzhuang and Qipao. Even if the awareness is out, there is no use of it until the people put it in action and wear Hanfu in recognition of Chinese culture (instead of Tangzhuang). Given the Chinese official narrative (by decentralizing Han Chinese and eliminating cultural resources) and the witnessed strong opposition to Hanfu by Han Chinese themselves (refer to my post on UTSU Clubs Day ’08 about a certain Chinese person debating with me on the subject), it will be quite a while before we see Hanfu worn commonly on the street — and NOT get chastized or the queer eye at it.

A group of US students recite Confucius' Analects in Hanfu, Zhengzhou 2007. Actual progress of promotion?

On the other hand, my experiences with Hanfu promotion with non-Chinese people has been much better, if they already have some knowledge about Chinese culture. Even in China, efforts have been made targetting beyond just the Chinese to have the proper Han Chinese culture awareness, which can be difficult given all the misconceptions about China, built up in the past century. As the concluding statements from different broadcast networks claim that during the Beijing Olympics “China has opened its doors and demystified itself to the world”, I believe that much work has to be done to demystify the Chinese to the Chinese themselves.

Hanfeng Shiyi, a Hanfu-themed restaurant in 2007 (now closed down)

Hanfeng Shiyi, a Hanfu-themed restaurant in 2007 (now closed down)

More will be written in response to criticisms of Hanfu and “Hanfu movement as a commercial fad” later on.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Rupert Tsua
    Sep 22, 2008 @ 08:22:27

    One of the main things which I think is important now is to have a proper learned society dedicated to the research and promotion of Hanfu that can act as an authority on the subject. At the moment, there are groups of people dispersed amongst the web and there needs to be at least one central organisation that can act on behalf off all. And if such a Society were to be created, then leading authorities and experts must be also be among the Council to give it any recognised authority. And also of importance is ACADEMICAL RESEARCH on the subject, and not just simply dressing up in Hanfu, which can be submitted to be examined and peer reviewed and be published in a proper journal worthy of scholarly scrutiny and acceptance (and they can be awarded Fellowships or whatever in a ceremony, etc if so wish). Only then will Hanfu as a serious subject be recognised as such and that is just an initial step.

    I myself am part of such a learned society called the Burgon Society ( which researches and promotes academic dress (so-called ‘graduation gowns’) and the results have been fruitful and worthwhile (we are in our 7th year and have 6 journals published). There is no reason why such a society based on Hanfu not be created (but it will be very difficult to round everyone up to submit to a single entity, therefore, the Council list and its constitutional aims are of paramount importance).

    I think it will be a worthwhile step to turn a ‘dressing-up movement’ into something more serious.


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