Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, Oct. ’08 (Pt.1: Temporality)

Ming-standard wedding in Beijing, Oct 4, 2008.

Ming-standard wedding in Beijing, Oct 4, 2008.

Continuing onto some thoughts on conflicts and infighting of some issues in the Hanfu Restoration Movement as part of the Huaxia Renaissance movement, namely onto major ongoing criticisms and unresolved concept standpoints. The purpose of the Hanfu Movement is to ‘restore the impression of Han Chinese clothing (to the Chinese) to the Han Chinese tradition, in response to correcting the mis-impression of tight-formed Qipao and button-up tunics (which we call Tangzhuang today) as representation of all Chinese tradition, which should not be perceived as dead’. It may seem redundant or blindingly obvious to those who are aware , after 3 years of dedicated promotional work. However, the government still does not give any official response to the movement, nor have they responded positively by adopting Hanfu as the representational image of the Han Chinese people, but rather reinforce the Party policy of ethnic diversity, and support ‘traditional’ movements abiding by the Qing standard. While it may sound perfectly fine, the support from the Chinese government to ensure the cultural propriety of the Han Chinese is marginal at best.

I digress.

The year prior to the Olympic Games marked the golden era of actual results in Hanfu awareness promotion. Many shops were getting a significant foothold as sustainable enterprises, and the Hundred Scholars petition made headline news. However, if one look back on the ‘history’ then, as well as today, there are many voices of disagreement within the movement that remain largely unresolved and un-unified. While it will be impossible to list them all, I will try my best to list as many as possible..


Contemporary Hanfu Fashion

To modernize Hanfu with zippers, lace, and synthetic material, or not? As early back as in 2005, some members of proposed to modify Hanfu by shorten sleeves and skirt lengths, use 3D cutting design for a body-hugging fit, and other elements found in contemporary Western tailoring to ‘modernize’ the design, in reference to the Qipao of 1920’s Shanghai. It was to be quickly criticized by other members including some moderators and prominant researchers on grounds that it would be “…detrimental to the promotion aspect of the movement, since the understanding of traditional and proper Hanfu is not even well-promulgated among the masses”. In fact, modified Hanfu would only confuse the people more on what is really Han Chinese – this refers to both the promoter and the promoted target, as one would begin to question the temporality of every piece of Hanfu promoted, and every person would be at odds with the other on what is the standard of a ‘Chinese tradition’. This is why some criticism mocked that if one insist on going back further to find the most original Chinese dress, one might as well go back to the age of animal skin and leaves.

As a result of this debate, a significant proportion of former members who were in favour of the “Modernization” idea left to create, and cooperates with the present-day, although maintaining their differences of opinion on various political and Hanfu policy issues.

Ming/Tang-Song/Zhou-Qin-Han debate

Around mid-2007, as researchers and makers alike gathered much on their information on traditional Chinese clothng style standards and ritual procedures, a new idea was proposed by several members of and supported by the Baidu Ming Dynasty talk bar – that the Ming Dynasty standards of ritual, music, and clothing, given the fact it was the last standing point of Han Chinese tradition with existing artefacts to research upon, should become the golden and absolute standard of Hanfu promotion and production. This also implies that designs of other dynasties were classified into natural obsolescence and period dresses, and ought to be avoided. This caused much ruckus and uproar, and the debate is still ongoing as of the time of this essay being written, as the Hanfu market highly favours the Quju (curved hem, or the tightly-wrapped spiral shenyi), as well as the Tang-style open collar for female dress. To have this theory as the generally accepted rule would limit variety of designs greatly, although (arguably) ensure authenticity of the design.

Some recent discoveries styles unique to the Ming period proved to be disturbing for many promoters: While the Ming court has occasionally retained elements from Yuan Mongolian design in their casual dress and have caused some debate whether to revive those or not, the recent discussion the standup collar found in many Ming portraits of women rekindled the question whether early Qing female apparel for Han Chinese, which were recognized then as clothing of traditional Han Chinese design that can be legally worn, can be classified as Hanfu at all.

Hanfu is not Qing Dynasty clothing is not Qipao. The feel is all different.

Han clothing is not Manchu clothing is not Qipao. The feel is all different.

Some argue that while both Ming and Qing dress employed the standup collar, the method of how they are employed, as well the overall feel of the clothing itself, are distinctly different (See image), namely in the difference of cord design, angle of the collars, and application on innerwear (Ming) as opposed to outerwear. Others argue that it was an important innovation to Hanfu design, given the period of global cooling during the 15th to 17th centuries. However generally accepted that the design was unique to the Ming period, different attitudes upon the concept of ‘reviving the Ming standard as continuation of the Tradition’ versus ‘Adopting the persisting common denominator through the ages’ continue to rage on, varying conclusions from general acceptance to avoidance in general promotion in fear of causing confusion of understanding to the general public.


In both instances of major conflicts that caused serious faults in understanding among the members of the Hanfu Restoration Movement mentioned here, the case of temporality was the common underlying theme. To my understanding, was it not that the original mandate of the movement first agreed upon by all members to recognize the Chinese clothing tradition as one congruous entity, unswayed in its basic philosophy and design, until the forceful assimilation by Manchurian policy in 1645-1675? This also means one must not observe Hanfu over the ages as period costumes, but as various designs as suggested, attempted, and became popular in its time, hence becoming period costumes. This may sound contradictory, perhaps it would be some clarification if I point to the direction of design elements (e.g. rounded collars, y-collars, Quju, big/narrow collars, etc.) as Han Chinese, instead of attaching the idea of ‘Han Chinese’ to a specific timeframe. To limit any thinking of culture to a static timeframe without respect and regard to its causes and (potential) effects is to effectively nail the culture (and for some, their own heritage and identity) into its glass coffin. More thoughts on other critique and observations on and for the future of the Movement in the next post. Comments and discussions are most welcome via response provided in the form below.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Regan
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 00:19:31

    I would strongly agree with you on the note that the term Hanfu should base on a number of design elements rather than making a strict definition of a single unified appearance. I have read some of the posts on and I had thought about the Han ethnicity in the same way as they have. However, in recent months I have been exposed to a number of archaeological and anthropological analyses into the concept of Han Chinese. I have a feeling that my original opinion on Han, this brilliant culture that did not leave much trace in a modern westernised China, is gradually changing. I recommend a book here: Snowball, an anthropological analysis of the Han ethnicity (雪球 漢民族的人類學分析) by Xu Jieshun. Although I would not completely agree with it but there are a lot of interesting insights into what is really Han Chinese. The book explains what the Han cultural heritage is made of. Frankly, after reading this book, I would really doubt we are solely descendants of the Huaxia culture, given the massive histories of migration in central China. Modern Han Chinese is really a people of mixed-bloods and mixed-cultures. Only perhaps a small percentage of Ming people’s cultural heritage actually came from Huangdi, Yandi or Huaxia ethnicity. Thus, I would highly support the Hanfu Movement for its appreciation of a growing aspect of art, but extending that to a unified concept of Han culture is really just a manifestation of nationalism based on a concept that wasn’t meant to be used for culture and ethnicity.


  2. Satsuki Shizuka
    Oct 09, 2008 @ 02:32:35


    The whole race, genes, and nationality topic is out of my league to talk about in full (since I would need 3 lifetimes to study it all), but one must look at facts presented by all of these fields in order to make a conclusion. I do not agree that the Han “race” is a mix of different ethnicities, as known Chinese history from Song onwards (the things that matter today) tend to emphasize differences in ethnicities, and we have regimes from then on keeping certain that the races DO NOT intermarry. For more info on Han (Chinese) genetic purity, I have an English and a Chinese article for all to read:

    English: Here and Here

    Chinese (abstracted):

    Now, as for culture…yes, there are many localities and regional cultures inside the geographical sphere of what we recognize as Han Chinese, but please do not mistake that with the ‘unified element’


  3. Marcus
    Dec 30, 2012 @ 07:13:22

    I agree with Reagan that the ‘Han’ race is really a mixed race. I mean it’s really doubtful that ninety something percent of the population of China is PURE Han. Han is less a genetic thing, but more a cultural thing. The Han people in China right now most likely have some blood of the original Huaxia, but in reality, most are mixed with the blood of the original locals, such as many of the people from Southern China. The ‘Han’ and all the other ethnicities have really already mixed quite a bit. It’s quite ridiculous to claim pure Han ancestry, i mean with thousands of years of history? Many of the minority ethnics look identical to the ‘Han’ people genetically, and really are only on a basis of culture (and probably for government benefits).
    As for the modernize Hanfu or authentic Hanfu dilemma; why can’t everybody wear both? It’s really inconvenient to wear the fancy, elaborate Ming hanfu around everywhere since its so heavy and cumbersomely long. Why can’t we just wear these authentic Ming hanfu for special occasions and formal occasions? Just like how in the west, when people are going to formals, balls, dinners… etc. they wear ball gowns and dresses. I mean authentic hanfu is expensive, most Chinese people can’t wear it on a daily basis, so why not wear it on special occasions? This would make people value real hanfu, and would encourage effort to produce more beautiful elaborate hanfu. Normal people could just wear more modernised versions which are convenient and less of a hassle. This is exactly what happened in the west with their casual clothing. I mean realistically speaking this is the best way to promote hanfu. The population of China would not bother to learn about their lost culture without the support of the government, but clearly that is not going to happen. So make it desirable to the people, make people want to learn and wear it. Mainland Chinese nowadays always want to come off affluent, so if authentic hanfu became the fashionable thing, everyone would want to wear it.


    • 汉人
      Dec 29, 2013 @ 07:45:40

      Many people do not understand that there is already a convenient style of Hanfu to wear. It is called Shuhe, or Duanda, although I’m not quite sure of the difference. This is basically the same as the Western Shirt/Pants or Skirt, except it is uniquely Han Chinese. If we can encourage restaurant owners and businesses to adopt this as their uniform, it will do great to spread Hanfu and Han Culture.


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