Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, Nov. 08 (Pt.2 Organization & Politics)

First, my apologies for the late coming of this article, in light of rushed midterms and reorganization of information from a bad case of writer’s block/laziness.

In this post, I will attempt to explain in more detail over previous comments and questions made in this blog over the organization of the Restoration Movement. Since there were questions posed in previous comments, I will answer them in Q&A format first.

I will admit that as a lutenist (guqinist, if I may) I am definitely no professional critic of national policies or commentator of world politics. However, over the entire month (4 weeks) of preparing this article and its various revisions I am hopeful that other ethnic Chinese and fellow members of our global village understand that the baseline of understanding an ethnicity is its unseparable and untarnishable heritage, cultural or genetic.

Q: “…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 …  there is no reason why such a society based on Hanfu not be created…” – Charlie Tsua

A: It is difficult enough to organize a movement online and have opinions stay together (refer to my post on the movement’s history), but to organize a proper society in the PRC (a government that does not officially support or deny the movement, but certain media censorate officials are desperately countering it) would be the same as creating a target for opponents to the rise of Han Culture in general to fire upon in the name of “Han Chauvinism”. The proof? Major Chinese television networks have been broadcasting dramas representing the Qing period almost exclusively since 2005, such as <Kangxi Weifu Shifangji 康熙微服私訪記>, a fictitious series depicting the Manchu ruler dressed as a commoner and the comedies of travelling south for vacation, has already finished its fifth season and is heading to a sixth while other series depicting Ming and ROC are partially censored or rejected; and the much debated CCTV <Lecture Room 百家講壇> has deliberately cut opportunity for Prof. Mao Peiqi 毛佩綺’s lectures of Ming history for continual runs and reruns of Yan Chongnian 閻崇年’s controversial lectures on Qing dynastic history. More about Yan will be discussed later in this post.

Given that even non-profit NGOs have to be registered as private corporations in this state, private tutelages and culture promotion groups have no choice but to privatize, which in turn greatly limits their scope and outreach to whatever their own capital resources can achieve. In short, it is simply not possible for a recognized ‘learned society’ be formed other than by the current resources found online, such as 漢網 or the Daming Yiguan Forums 大明衣冠論壇.

Q: Taken from Charlie’s Facebook rant:
“Take for example the Hanfu movement which is trying to revive the ancient form of dress so that it would be like what the kimono is to the Japanese in status (some would go even further and make it everyday wear). Now, the sole argument they keep coming up with is the Queue Order in which 400 or so years ago, the Ming dynasty collapsed after the Manchurians invaded and they made us wear their clothes and plait our hair in pigtails, etc. This is now latched onto like a hawk’s claw and it seems that all the proponents of the cause spout this ancient grudge to persuade the public to the cause. Now, you can see the flaw in this. The whole thing happend ages ago and it is devoid of any modernity or interest to the public at large. Over-emphasising on this long dead justification of wearing Hanfu is frankly ludicrious and the public is of course not having any of it. The point being that you cannot persude the public to wear Hanfu by dragging out old injustices that have no relevance in today’s society, you can only persude them on a cultural and modernic level. The crap some of the proponents spout out reminds me of the bloody BNP and it just pisses me off. It almost made me feel ashamed to wear Hanfu or associate myself with this movement which is no longer about preserving culture but now about flag waving slogan screaming ulterior motived ideological and fascist racial superiority delusional bullshit to the point of being motivated into burning my Hanfu and rejecting the whole movement’s fundamental cause (which now seems to be all about Han superiority over the Manchurians instead of revival of something potentially worthwhile) in protest. ”


A perfect example of 'officially-sponsored' events as negative press for Hanfu image.

Xuzhou/Shanghai International Fashion City New Models Contest 2008: A perfect example of negative publicity for Hanfu. Netizens heavily criticized the officials for slandering the Han Chinese tradition by presenting "distasteful and improper clothing", and furthered the distrust of official/government-supported events. To date, there are no major Chinese businesses that support proper Hanfu and its restoration into our current daily life.

A: Historians like to use historical roots to debate their points, and most people would fail to see the relation with the present due to its temporal distance from the present. Knowing Charlie as a well-read and intelligent young scholar, he is quite beyond this simple fact. His major concern is in the temporal disconnect with our current Chinese and world issues in the arguments presented by the Huaxia and Hanfu restoration movements. It is important to perhaps re-emphasize that we rationalize the Queue Order of 1645 to be the historical root of the loss of Han Chinese clothing tradition, as well as the attribution of taboo in wearing it by commoners. The restorationists aren’t just disgusted at the history, they are disgusted at the fact that in China today, Chinese clothing are somehow automatically redirected to something else when they see one – Daoist or Buddhist clergy, cosplay or dressing up for TV/stage shooting, or those “gosh-darned young ones who know no better than to blindly pursue the beauty of other cultures”, namely of Korea and Japan – anything but even the faint possibility of the clothing being their own. Alongside other cultural instances such as the “UNESCO Duanwu/Tano’o Incident”, the PRC’s “River Elegy 河殤” anti-tradition propaganda, and the much-woed birth control policy that limits all Han Chinese to one offspring (hence effectively lowering not just total population, but deliberately raise the balance of 50-some other minorities), the Han Chinese are feeling that not only the world and their government, but even their own children (eventually themselves) at odds with their own identity – what does it mean to be Han Chinese, when the only description that you are given is that you are the only ones without a history or appearance? If saying that one can empathasize with their anxiety and anger in others’ oppression of letting the Han Chinese find and maintain their own heritage is only superficial, then try to think of the Huaxia restoration movement as an alterative for the Chinese to find their own ground to stand, and suggest a new modernity that does not view Eastern tradition as a “soysauce vat of feudalistic malpractice” (Bo Yang). Unlike the Falun Gong, which points its spearhead at the PRC government as the source of all oppressions and loss of heritage, hence seeking its destruction to its bitterest end, the Huaxia Restoration Movement seeks to peacefully seek a new path for the Han Chinese for greater rights in cultural and human living rights.

2008 China Open (Tennis). Sept.23 on the opening ceremonies, competitors present themselves in Hanfu towards the Chinese audience.

2008 China Open (Tennis). On the opening ceremonies (Sept.23), competitors present themselves in Hanfu towards the Chinese audience.

 During the process of writing this article, several events can describe the general stage of recognition of Chinese culture and opinion among the Chinese themselves.

On September 23, in a reception for the oncoming 2008 China Open, international tennis players presented themselves in costumes of the traditional Chinese (some cite Han dynasty), but the influence was not wide-spread.

Ma Yingjeou at the Confucius Homage.

Ma Ying-jeou at the Confucius Homage.

Meanwhile on October 6, Ma Ying-Jeou (Ma Yingjiu) paid homage to Confucius using Zhou standards and 8-row of dancers (signifying respect to the Emperor or a leader of a nation), while dressed in a Magua. Aside from the political implications, some netizens (especially that of noted how strange it was to have cross-collared clothing on the ritual members, but Mr. Ma walked in from the centre gate wearing a distinctly different kind of robe, buttoned at the front. To most Chinese, it may seem normal, as they treat the uniform on the ritual people as a period dress (namely, of some long-dead past).

Yan Chongnian in comic.

Yan in online parody. "Yan Chongnian: Manchu hornblower, fake scholar and academics; Promoting Manchu slaughter as reasonable, supporter of powderfaced national shame Qixi, propagandist for nobility of Manchuria; Slandering Han Chinese civilization, stepping on Han ethnic pride, and brainwashing the masses."

And just one day previous, on October 6 in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, the CCTV-Lecture Room star lecturer Yan Chongnian was slapped in the face in a book-signing by Huang Haiqing 黃海清, or Dahanzhifeng (大漢之風, DH) mentioned in my previous article on Hanfu promotion in Shanghai. Although many expressed concern and some denounced Huang for using violence against a 73-year old scholar, more agreed with the fact that Lecture Room has become a breeding ground for “academic stars” than a place of question and mutual discourse, and Yan’s controversial views on Qing history has infuriated many readers and netizens on his flawed historiographical views. Huang’s actions were not particularly spontaneous, however: he claims that over the past year, he has questioned Yan over various public instances on his historiographical accuracy, and Yan has even claimed that “I would be happy to discuss this with you after the session for three hours” but never got actualized – out of frustration that civilian and netizen collaborative research have no channel of expressing their results, especially if it is to question or counter institutional research or Party policy: This study and discourse was beyond just textbooks, it is a matter of setting values of right and wrong, justice and turncoating, according to a response written by Huang after his release from detention.

It is also interesting to note that all attempts by Yan to promote his essays outside of China have been flatly rejected by Western scholarship. Yan himself has also denied to the accusations of publically stating various anti-humane statements, such as “the literary inquisition of Yongzheng was indeed not good, but it was necessary and has a positive effect on Qing rule” (Lanzhou Daily Inteveriew, published Oct.25 2005), and “[Manchurian culture as grazing-hunting society] have conflicts with the agrarian Han culture, and the Ten Days of Yangzhou was but a perfect representation of such cultures.” (Lecture at Changjiang Meilian Dajiangtan, day 12, argument 3)

I will skip the further detailing of Yan’s statements that are the target of the accusations, as one can find further reading below (but take some of these with a grain of salt, as they are somewhat partial to Yan’s age rather than the incident): (ZH-CN, Huang engages in a net dialogue answering questions on the incident on Tianya BBS. Also note that several of the pro-Yan arguments by denying “false” accusations have also been verified as true)

In conclusion, the Huaxia Restoration Movement and its subsidiary Hanfu Movement are only fitting in our time as a counter-movement to the official Party-driven direction to whitewash dynastic history as pretense to a “Great Zhonghua Minzu coming together”, in that cultural identity and heritage are being eliminated and replaced with a shallow facade of modernity. Moreover, as the Han are the majority of the state, they are pressured to concede in various ways to other minorities in-country as well as the global stage, as if to appease the rights and political struggles left over from history with other nations and countries, hence fearing the repeat of the iconic split that is Yugoslavia and Kosovo.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ying
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 02:31:39


    I just chanced upon your blog while researching on the hanfu and I must say, this article was very interesting!

    As a 20 year old Chinese Singaporean, my ancestors were immigrants and all their outfits were of the Manchu style. Thus even in our tea ceremonies at weddings and CNY, it’s all qipaos or the “Kua”. I grew up appreciating this style of dress but always felt like it wasn’t very representative of my ancient heritage as a Chinese, which I am fiercely proud of. I guess, just like your article mentions, I was looking towards Japan and Korea and wondering why, we as Chinese people didn’t have a style of ancient dress that has withstood tests of time, such as the Hanbok and Kimono. The qipao, while definitely Manchurian based, is obviously westernized (or rather, has become westernized over time) with the ideal qipao as “body-hugging and fitting”, compared to it’s loose fit back in the Qing Dynasty.

    I did some research because I just found it so puzzling that probably East Asia’s oldest civilization didn’t have that while their slightly younger counterparts did— I found the Hanfu and it pleased me very much.

    I know the history behind why no one hardly wears it today, the Queue order of the Qing dynasty etc. However, when I wear my Hanfu, it is MOST definitely not a sign of spite and rebellion against the dynasty that oppressed the culture of my ancestors. I am shocked to think that some people even regard it as such. That fight is not mine to pick and honestly, I didn’t grow up in an environment where there were racial tensions between Hans and Manchurians so I can’t quite identify with it. That part of Chinese history is over and now with China’s blooming economy, it would be a waste to dwell on old tensions and not harness China’s greater potential.

    I wear my Hanfu with pride of the history of my ancestors and it excites me that I am wearing something that they wore too. It creates a connection for me– a 3000 year old connection. I wear my qipao and celebrate it too because it is still part of my Chinese identity. It’s what my closer and more “recent” ancestors wore and identify with, thus it translates itself into part of my identity. However, the Hanfu goes into a deeper part of my Chinese identity. Chinese history is just so rich and colourful that it almost seems like a legend to me. So wearing the Hanfu is such an experience of reconnection with this part of my identity that is so mystical yet beautiful to me. Very much like Renaissance fairs in Western countries where western people dress like their ancestors– it is not to spite anyone at all but to celebrate those who went before them and the culture they had.

    These are just my thoughts but please feel free to correct me if I missed something because I am very new to the Hanfu movement and would love to know the issues surrounding it’s revival.

    Best Regards,


    • Yen Weng
      Aug 21, 2009 @ 15:19:35


      Enjoyed your article and Q&A section much! I agree with Ying regarding the sentiments to wearing a hanfu and I must say it is rare for a Singaporean to be interested in ancient chinese culture – something which is very much lost amongst my friends. Well done, Ying!

      As a child, I wore the cheongsam and saw my parents don it every New Year. But as growing up, I began to wonder why a culture of conservative and modest values would have a traditional dress that is sexy, figure-hugging and totally impractical. Especially when contrasted with the loose and relatively modest costumes of many Asia and South-East Asia cultures.

      It is later on that I found out that it was the influx of Westerners after the collapse of Qing Dynasty that drove prostitutes and showgirls to alter their qipao into tight and revealing outfits. Imagine! Our traditional dress is an icon of brothel evolution? (*on a side note, geishas have also influenced the way of wearing kimonos but geishas are not typically prostitutes.)

      Also, having grown up watching period dramas and kung fu films set in the eras before Qing Dynasty, I did not realise the restricted access you face. Hopefully the internet would break down some barriers in terms of information available!


  2. felice
    Jan 05, 2010 @ 21:34:33

    I’ve been researching this for a few months, and initially felt very positive about the hanfu movement and about buying or making hanfu for myself.

    However, as I am half-Manchurian and with regard to some of the very anti-Manchurian, anti-minority rhetoric, I in good conscience cannot wear hanfu. While it is half of my heritage, I feel that doing so would make me some kind of denialist, and that simply isn’t fair to my ancestors. Still, saying this saddens me very much, because there is another half that cannot be acknowledged with a pure heart.

    One thing I would point out about the revival of a culture is that culture’s main function is to serve the people it represents and governs. The kimono has changed over 300 years, as has the hanbok (I recently attended a hanbok fashion show and can attest to it!). Hanfu, therefore, must enter the 21st century by addressing the needs of Chinese in the 21st century. This, I believe, means that it must be flexible. There are 1.3 billion in China, and even more overseas, all claiming to be Chinese – who should be denied the right to claim their origins? Similarly, the revival of Confucian teachings must be updated. After all, Confucius didn’t support the education of women – how would that work in this world? Would a woman with a career or college education be stigmatized for being too western? That would be ridiculous.

    At the heart of this, I have hope for my fellow Chinese, Han and non-Han. But with that hope comes the worry that they can’t hold to the spirit of their aspirations.


    • Satsuki Shizuka
      Jan 05, 2010 @ 22:14:09


      Perhaps you should note that this article is becoming dated, and the fact that Manqing (Manchurian Qing Dynasty) does not equate to Manzu (ethnic Manchurians alive today), and there’s been a conscious effort among us to differentiate group that committed the atrocities against civilization and humanity, and the group that has chosen to coexist with us today.

      I believe that change to Hanfu must not be consciously made (or rather, remade). We cannot define what are “the needs of the 21st century” in concrete terms, neither can we define “modernization” as conforming to today’s Western values. Rather than saying that Confucianism needs to be updated, it seems from today’s popular preaching of “Confucian” values are divided among the original teachings of Confucius (which, BTW, does not say that women should not be taught – that is a popular misinterpretation of the Analects), versus the Qing revisionism that continues to oppress the natural sense of justice in favor of centralized control.

      Please don’t give up on your quest for understanding Hanfu, nor feel stigmatized by the clothing and the people who support them – because they’re not.

      For further reading, please read the more recent articles on this blog, in particular Song Yuren’s speeches on “Han/Tartar/West” cultural systems.


  3. felice
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 13:01:55

    One thought though – it’s true that the vast majority of Chinese are Han and naturally Chinese culture will and should reflect that. But if Han is to be the definition of what is Chinese, where Han=Chinese, then it must find a way to be inclusive of the other 55 minority groups. Otherwise, the Hanfu movement cannot be for all Chinese, and that would be a weakness, not only domestically but especially on the world stage. Given the recent violence between Han and Uighur, it’s important that the language and intent of the movement does not make the Uighur, for example, out to be any less Chinese than the Han majority. It may seem very unfair, but the majority holds power by simply being the majority, and thus has the burden of that inclusive responsibility – like being the oldest sibling 😉

    Even though Song Yuren’s referring several times to how uncultured the Tartars really offends me academically (cultural anthropologists would argue that every group has a culture that serves to help them function and define their meaning and values), I’ll read the rest of it.

    I suppose I should couch all these comments by saying that I’m an overseas Chinese, grown up in America. As a citizen of a country that has had a long history of racially-based struggles for equality and basic rights, it certainly colors my opinions, and so this Hanfu discussion makes me think a lot about those parallels. I’m honestly not trying to spam/troll! 😀


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