Some thoughts regarding Deep-level Commercialization in Hanfu Photography

By: Youxia Nalan 游侠纳兰
Original posting on, on Feb. 27, 2009.

The concept of “Hanfu photography” probably was developed since the beginning. At the moment, cities along Suzhou and Jiejiang have already established their own professional Hanfu photography shops or studios.
But, regretfully, as a professional photographer and amateur of Hanfu, I find that most Hanfu photos are, ultimately, falling into two modes:

1. Lin Daiyu style, and
2. Pan Jinlian style.

It’s like as if when one speak of Chinese-style photography is equivalent to some girl wearing a little dudou underwear and whoring on the streets – this is not Hanfu photography, this is a prostitute in a brothel. Or, people understand it as if one must dress up like Lin Daiyu and stand there lamenting or smiling like a fool. (Please, this is not a pirated version of A Dream of the Red Chamber. If that’s the case I’d rather watch Master Gungun’s performances)

Hanfu should not be like this, it should be a style of dress which possesses an Oriental essence.

An example of Hanfu in Taiwanese illustrative work, for a novel cover.

An example of Hanfu in Taiwanese illustrative work, for a novel cover.

I believe that many of my forum friends have seen the Nishang (Rainbow Skirt) series by Dezhen 德珍的《霓裳》, as well Chen Shufen’s 陈淑芬 illustrations. These two Taiwanese female illustrators, in my opinion, have made the perfect interpretation on the refinement of Hanfu and the people wearing them. Regretfully, most photographers in these studios have not the aesthetic refinement or discipline, nor do they know who Dezhen, Chen Shufen, or Ping Fan is, let alone CG illustration art. This is not just saying as a threat, but from my professional experience. The photography industry is a highly unstandardized industry, and many people enter studios after senior high school to earn their living, learning via apprenticeship of a master, and are total empiricists. Once they encounter new photographic themes (such as Hanfu), they do not know how to process it to display its appeal and culture. (Because some “photographers”, let us call them that for now, have long been in the “deep” art and business of “human body portraits”, we can come to understand why so many “Pan Jinlians” and that style of work gushing out today.)

Therefore, in my understanding, a superb Hanfu photographer must also first be a satisfactory computer illustrator. This is not only because of the demands on aesthetic discipline, but also a demand on the post-production design.  Hanfu, as a critical representative of Han Chinese culture, must also have close connections with Chinese traditional poetry, painting, folklore, architecture, and such. Moreover, since Hanfu photography is related with “Photography”, then it must not lack the human element. In the respect to representing classical personages, I believe  that CG artists like Chen Shufen, Dezhen, and Ping Fan have reached a peak of perfection, and is completely worthy of deeper study. (Although they are only but illustrators, but for photography, they have a very important meaning of reference.)

Next, regarding the concept of management.

Hanfu photography is derived for most out of an interest, or because of certain personal elements (such as having a small Hanfu atelier), hence building upon this separate conceptual stream. But since it is a commercial act, then it must follow the basic rules of commerce. A business act that does not consider commercial profit will inevitably be eliminated from the market. Hanfu photography should not be only  be limited to university campuses or certain civilian festival activities, but must turn towards a greater general audience. To this point, we can begin to have an elementary classification, and Hanfu amateurs become separated from Hanfu professionals. At first, many step onto this path due to their fervant attitude towards the clothing, so he does not really realize that he is opening a brand new domain in the commercial sector – don’t doubt it, because this is a totally new business domain.

Every business in its appearance must have its market demand. I believe that everyone on the forums have been “memorably” educated by their teachers about capital market theory in their high school years. Hanfu is favoured by people, and the market for custom-ordering Hanfu must have its unique market nicche. (This is evident and obvious, as the amount of Han Chinese  people equals the size of the potential market, and the question lies in how you open it up.) From here comes the question of market positioning, or the operation of the high-end or low-end market (because this involves many practical issues, I shall withold discussion here).

I want to explain here the question of management attitude, or how the typical Hanfu amateur differs mentally from the professionals. Amateurs require fervour and an idealist mind, and professionals require more rationality and analysis. For the operation of a project, such as Hanfu photography, we will need to think from a more commercial perspective, as to how to reach maximal capital return. This would require an organization’s intricate forming of its business team, with a reasonable operation flow, a complete business development plan and budget statement, and sufficient financial and material support. In all, in this perspective, setting up a Hanfu themed photo shop is no different from setting up a regular photo studio or a supermarket.

Thirdly, about the market.

In many business books, they all write about the award-winning salesperson, or “How to sell fireproof masks to polar bears”. This is actually a fairly stupid question, but many people are tireless in willing to discuss about it. Many insurance companies (including illegal promotions) use this anecdote to encourage their sales staff. The only purpose to this story is to teach by reverse example the though process of people, and market is unlimited – the problem is how you exploit it.

Since the introduction of the Internet into China, Internet e-business has revolutionized modern commercial organizational behaviour. Many traditional management concepts are undoubtedly out-of-date today, and digitization has provided more alternative methods in their business concepts. In our net society today, how to win people’s hearts and profit has already become a specific study of its own. (Online operations require a more specialized business team, so we cannot possibly expect someone who has no knowledge in perfumes to open a specialty boutique in Avenue de Champs-Elysees. All the same, we cannot expect a hobby-based Hanfu amateur to lead a newfound cultural industry’s rise.)

This essay is intended for catching discussion, and provide a new method of thinking for a new industry. If you are interested, please feel free to email me. My E-mail:

Youxia Nalan 游侠纳兰, Terran/Asian/Han Chinese. Professional photographer. Entered photography after not excelling in drawing, and it has been four years since. This person resides and scurries from place to place in the Yangtze River Delta, such as Suzhou/Wuxi/Changshu/Shanghai, and is wanted by various pretty girls year-round. Due to of his cunning craft, he has yet been caught. (Translator’s note: LOL.)


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