The Hanfu Movement and Chinese Society’s Issues

Yunnan Hanfu members handing bottled drinking water to schoolchildren.

A glimpse at the past week of Hanfu events across China, in comparison with the founding days in late 2003 can bring us to marvel at how far this initiative to bring ethnic Han clothing back as a living practice has come. The days of simply parading down the streets have long since past, and now Hanfu is a symbol of showing concern over society, the meaning of tradition, and public responsibility over both.  

Let us take a look at several common perspectives of how and what people use Hanfu to present themselves for, with three pieces of recent news: An upcoming Zhuju (the ancestor of soccer/football) game in Beijing, an homage to Gen. Wen Tianxiang that led to a discussion over female rights in ritual participation, and a water donation drive to the suffering villages of the drought-ridden Yunnan Province.  

New bit 1: Celebrating spring in Beijing with an international audience

Hanfu promoters give international participants a chance to don Hanfu and play Zhuju.

千龙网北京4月2日讯(通讯员 汝涛)昨天,世界公园举办主题为“清明节世界公园踏青,还原古人游春场景”的第三届传统汉服饰文化体验活动,十余名汉服爱好者穿上古代的汉服,现场进行汉服展示、蹴鞠比赛和雅乐演奏等活动,向中外游客展示中国的清明节文化,引领市民重拾久违的民俗与传统。
北京日报讯 (通讯员汝涛) 清明节期间,世界公园将邀请乌干达、乌克兰和俄罗斯等国家的友人组成联队,身穿汉服,和中国的汉服志愿者们进行一场蹴鞠比赛,共同体验中国的清明文化。  据了解,中外蹴鞠比赛是世界公园举办主题为“清明节世界公园踏青,还原古人游春场景”的第三届传统汉服饰文化体验的系列活动之一,另外,汉服饰免费体验,雅乐演奏、蹴鞠比赛、女红演绎、客串四大才子秀吟诗等节目也将成为展示清明文化的一个重要平台。  其中,汉服展示,通过表演和讲解,使游客对汉服的款式全面系统的了解;汉服体验区,10多种不同款式的汉服让市民免费试穿。

Yesterday (April 1), in Beijing World Park, the third annual traditional Han clothing Culture experience event gave local citizens and visitors a chance to don graceful Hanfu with the help of several “Hanfu amateurs”, as well demonstrating elegant (court) music and Zhuju, leading participants to pick up on the long-lost customs and tradition. ( the Qingming Festival, the World Park will also be inviting friends from Uganda, Ukraine, Russia, and other countries to form teams, dress up in Hanfu, and have a friendly match of Zhuju, experiencing together the Qingming culture. Other events include nature walks, presentation on embroidery and sewing arts, and a poem recital show.

Wen Tianxiang Homage @ Beijing Wen Tianxiang temple

Wen Tianxiang Homage @ Beijing Wen Tianxiang temple

On the morning of March 28, a group of Hanfu promoters cum Confucian scholars paid an authentic homage ritual according to traditional ritual standards to late Song general and prime minister Wen Tianxiang. The rituals were researched by scholar Zhou Tianhan and logistics planned by Lanzi Fangxi (See: Yang Na), who gave the opening dedication remarks. Observers of this ceremony include a professor from Kyoto University, who “despite being over 70 years of age…did not sit in the chair provided by the staff and observed the entire ceremony standing” (Post #5).

Observers of the Wen homage. Some raised questions and criticism of leaving women out as per "tradition" as sexist.

 The members of the homage and three sacrificial rituals were performed strictly by men (as per tradition dictates), which led to a series of criticisms denouncing the organizers as using “tradition” as a facade for sexist conservatism, by denying women the right of direct participation in sacrificial rituals and homages.

This incident is not the first time where the role of women in traditional rituals has been questioned, and from the discussions shown online, there is a visible concensus that both males and females are not satisfied with adapting traditional concepts of “protecting the females” or “necessity of discriminating males from females”, and are against traditional concepts of “female (Yin people) are inauspicious”, “let not the sexes intermingle”, and “women must not overstep the (male) rule”. (Post #65, QingyunJiuxiaoshang1) While there have been experiments with letting both sexes each pay their respects in the same ceremony, the results were criticized by other (often older and more prestigious) scholars, which led these young practitioners to abandon further attempts with this effort towards equalizing participation rights. (Post #180, jotanst) Regardless, this does not seem to discourage further efforts by younger students and restorationists to attempt new methods and write new procedures to rituals that allow both sexes to participate in the same ritual without clashing against the traditional code of “male and female giving and receiving is improper”, (Post #71, 76 etc.) but until that is created and accepted by academia and the public, there will still be a clear divide of ritual participation code due to lack of definition and fear of trespassing over traditional morals. (Post #87, 123 etc.)


Yunnan Hanfu members donate 1512RMB worth of bottled water in initial run of their water donation drive to two schools.

News bit 3: Hanfu group initiates water donation drive, alleviates two drought-plighted villages and counting

The drought in Yunnan that followed after the nation-wide sandstorms have left millions of acres of agricultural land unproductive, and dozens of waterways dry from its source. With even well-water dried up, rural Yunnan residents have little than mud water in puddles here and there to drink from, which leads to a hygiene and sustenance issue. On March 25, Yunnan Hanfu (also known as Hanfu Zhenyun) publicized an online donation drive that asked for donations of 24RMB for one case of bottled water, and received over 80 pledges from all over the country, with several making donations for ten cases of water by the evening of the 26th (source, post #7). On the night of the 27th, a truck filled with bottled water was packed and ready for departure, and the water was distributed to Shaqiaozhen Central Elementary School and Tuanshan Complete Elementary School on the 28th (pictures post #14-20).

This fundraising and water distribution event is the first non-profit event that targets directly at a general social cause and urgent calamity in the name of the Hanfu movement.

Post 23 includes three accounts of the volunteers who helped distribute water that day, and are translated below:

Jiang Yong’s account:

The prolonged drought has caused much of Yunnan’s fields and paddies to be unworkable, because the water sources are continuing to dry up. These have moved our hearts of those who live in the city, and Yunnan Hanfu Association organized this “Sending our prayers and thoughts, letting the spring rain upon the world (溫情寄祝禱,春霖滿人間)” drought-fighting event. Utilizing the Internet, we have received kind-hearted donations from all over the country. On the day before your departure, we received a large sum of 1587RMB by the alias of A Person of Love (Kaixinzhiren) from Kaifeng, Henan Province. We spent the night loading the purchased water onto a large truck, and Chuxiong Nanhua (transl: the organizer of this drive) departed early next morning.

Murals at Tuanshan Elementary, depicting characters from Chinese idioms - in Hanfu, of course.

The first is called Shaqiaozhen Central Elementary School, where the leaders at the schools have given us a proper reception. We passed on over a hundred cases of water to them. After lunch, our caravan circled around the mountaneous paths for over an hour before arriving in Tuanshan Complete Elementary, our second donation spot. Despite the school being old and run-down, it has been thuroughly swept clean. We found this school under the direction of local villagers, and climbed halfway up the mountain to where the school is. The principal told us that there are about two to three thousand students in this mountain, in 25 elementary schools. The upper grades all reside on campus, and are grateful for the water being delivered to them. Water is rationed every day, and they try hard not to bathe and do laundry. Every weekend, the children would help us bring the water uphill to the school. Seeing the smiles on the children’s face brings us to quietly pray for them to overcome this crisis as soon as possible. The principal and teaching staff greeted us with great passion, and offered tea for us despite such a terrible drought. We all politely declined, not bearing to waste a single drop of their precious water. The whole school is encircled in this loving atmosphere.

Our truck quickly went on its way back to Kunming before sundown, but it wasn’t until just before midnight that we arrived. However, we did not feel a single bit of our fatigue – for the sake of our compatriots in the disaster zone to live as happily as us, we are willing to work even harder. But, on the last leg of the journey, the toll booth at Bijiguan made us pay the toll for the trucks for the disaster alleviation team. “When one is in distress, support comes in from all eight directions”. The drought is not fearsome, for we, the Huaxia people, are one family, and we shall overcome hardships together.

Dengxin’s account:

In order to send water to the most needy places, members of the Yunnan Hanfu Association drove over 60 kilometers of mountain paths, and finally came to Tuanshan village. This village originally has a stream, but since there was no rainfall for half a year, it has all but dried up. On our way there, we noticed that many fields have been abandoned, and the crops originally planted there are yellow and wilted. Under the directions of the local villagers, we came to Tuanshan Wanxiao, an elementary school built on the slope of the mountain. Although it’s weekend, the school leader (transl: principal) rushed to the school upon notice, and wholeheartedly greeted us friends who brought the water. In our talks with the principal, we realized that the drought is pretty severe in the region.

There are about 300~400 students in this school, and usually they can only receive a share of water downhill for drinking. In order to save water, they almost never bathe or wash their clothes. A female teacher (who graduated last year and is an intern here) says that the greatest luxury is if one can take a shower once a week. According to their introduction, their village isn’t considered the most hard-hit, since there’s another village on the opposite mountain that has no connecting road that is in an even more dire situation, and need to traverse several mountains on foot to get water. Although we really want to send water to them, but due to objective limitations, we really couldn’t do it. Hence, we call on more people in society to “when one is in distress, support comes in eight directions”. Let’s all work together and overcome this challenge.

Xiaoyao’s account:

Children carrying case after case of water uphill to the school.

It’s a pity that we couldn’t send water to the children drinking muddy water this time, and we feel guilty about it. Next time, we have to find them.
But after some observations, I discover that the cause of the drought has another huge factor other than a climatic one. Let me summarize them:

1) Distant villages do not have a watermain system. It’s already the 21st century, and using tap water should be a citizen right. If they can do that with electricity, with mobile bases, why couldn’t they do the same with water? I noticed on some villagers’ faces that they’ve developed bacterial cankers, and it’s obvious that they’ve been drinking unclean water for a while now. These villages are not all so distant, and are but a mere 2-hour drive from the closest town. Letting them have tap water isn’t such a hard matter. If we can create a large watermain network, then we can provide water to those in need from distant rivers and reservoires. Yunnan has 20% of the nation’s fresh water, and three major rivers flow through the province. Furthermore, droughts are becoming increasingly harsh each year, and establishing a large water distribution system is the only solution.

2) Unequal distribution of water: Dry villages are only individual cases. Within 5 kilometers, there is lush mountains and reservoires, but the river flow has been cut from the middle. As for when the gates open and close, who controls it, and who can possibly know when people need water downstream? When the gates upstream are closed, then of course there is no water downstream, and without water there is no irrigation, and agricultural production is cut short. We saw the lush upstream and the barren downstream, two opposite worlds, all but a mere five kilometers apart. The river belongs to everyone, and rational distribution is the only fair way. I heard that in the dryest place, there is a large water reservoir, and that reservoir is for the waterworks in Kunming, but the ones who live next to this reservoir has no water to drink, what extreme irony. Equality for all and equal power, is the vaccine and antibody for this country’s most fundamental social problems. Without equal status and equal rights, this society will only continue to infect others with disease, and new diseases will continually spring up, and there is no cure.

3) Agricultural methods: We saw farmers tracing the water on the riverbed. Because the source upstream has been cut, it has become a tiny trickle downstream, and the farmers trace the riverbed, and naturally fertilizers and pesticides will follow this small trickle to pollute the larger waterways downstream. Farm chemicals are a large contributor to causing cancer. On the dried paddies, only eucalyptus trees sprawl, and all the grass underneath are gone. Eucalyptus trees are an import from Australia and a cash crop, but infest quickly and suck away large amounts of ground moisture. Its secretions also poison other plants, hence often it is barren where eucalyptus trees grow. Under a lack of regulation of agriculture and the environment, drought, water runoff and pollution are contributors to this situation.

I tend to be noisy on these kinds of things, but when this issue is not solved at its root, the problem will always be a problem; now we are forced to spend large amounts of energy to send buckets of water to the disaster zones, which is a huge expenditure and loss for the country. The Huangdi Neijing wrote: Diseases are to be cured before its actualization, and the environment, society, and country should be the same. Without broad and long term management, it is inevitable that the climate will undergo acute and drastic changes. When society moves, it forms disasters and other negative results, causing tens of millions of people to lose their homes and starve. 

The ancient texts repeat this line time and again: Barren earth for a thousand Li, and people eat each other. These painful and frightening instances in our history, could very well happen again.


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April 2010
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