The Rise and Fall of Hanfu in Shanghai Expo ’10

Members of the Chong Zheng Delegation from Hangzhou pose in Hanfu at the Shanghai Expo 2010.

Although not officially recognized, Hanfu is increasingly becoming the icon for the Han Chinese tradition among the post-Reform generation of mainland Chinese. It is also an ubiquiteous social phenomenon that can be found not only on the streets and Internet, but also on the official airwaves, with frequent mentions and interviews on radio and television. Young people often participate beauty pageants and reality TV shows in Hanfu to show their love for tradition, with a further implication of concern of the current image of the Chinese culture. Since the opening of Shanghai Expo ’10, Chinese people have been wearing Hanfu to demonstrate their cultural identity to international visitors and fellow countrymen alike, with many overseas student participants making use of their foreign language skills. However, this all takes a downward turn on August 8, three months since the start of Expo, for all this to take a drastic change as national security procedures suddenly targeted Hanfu participants and sending them away from the ‘Expo. The result from this incident is no less than a full-fledged reflection amongst Hanfu supporters and a round of conspiracy theories. Let us overview the history of Hanfu phenomenon of Shanghai Expo 2010 up to today. 

The “8-8 Incident”, August 6-9, 2010

As Hanfu is an inanimate object, it can be manipulated and used by anyone – and several groups which the PRC’s national security bureaus aren’t hesitant to use it to their own purposes. Primarily concerned about potential public gatherings that go virally large, they warned an open event organized by the Baidu Hanfu Bar, originally planning on congregating at the Shanghai Expo at 9:00AM on August 8, 2010, could be grounds for “certain parties” to take advantage of the situation and be allowed the potential to promote anti-government propaganda. Qi Lu Feng (See: “Dealing with Ignorance in the Hanfu Movement”), one of the organizers, received a phone call on the morning of August 6 by local authorities at his Qingdao residence with this warning, explicitly telling him that he is “not to leave Qingdao, or else the police will have a difficult time pardoning him of potential repercussions”. He quickly took heed of the warning and attempted to subtly warn others by saying that he has urgent business, while warning others not to go due to “extreme heat and weather, as a heat stroke could damage the image of Hanfu”. Some netizens took notice, while others openly questioned whether that was really Qi himself, or if someone stole his account – they took Shanghai forecasts and debated with him, while Qi was frustrated that his compatriots could not understand his implied message.  

User "Nalan Nalan"'s account of the situation, originally in images to counter Baidu's word filter system, is but one of many examples of the August 8, 2010 incident at Shanghai, where people in Hanfu were questioned and sent away, or forced to change clothes.

About 10 people in China and abroad openly confirmed in the said thread that they will come to visit Expo on August 8 with friends from local Hanfu groups or individually, dressed in Hanfu, and will connect with each other on the exhibition grounds. According to Minsheng Jianxia 民生劍俠, a Shanghai local Hanfu supporter, on the evening of August 7, several apartments and hotel rooms of Hanfu supporters from around the country were visited by civilian police out of uniform, warning them not to wear Hanfu or visit the Expo on the next day. Some participants event went as far as to take the advised precaution to leave Shanghai immediately on their own initiative, while two young female participants from Guangzhou had their clothes confiscated and mailed back home [Post #2, Para.3“]. 

With the first accounts being posted online, netizens were quick to postulate what could have these “external forces” meant – as the Shanghai Expo was considered ‘sensitive’ by national policy, people quickly cited that foreign intervention may have been the key, citing the recent (ongoing) military tensions in the Yellow Sea with the United States, as well as recalling the Falun Gong related NTDTV’s International Hanfu Return competition and claiming that the government now considers this event (if not the movement altogether) a puppet of foreign anti-Party dissent. However, other netizens (especially those who reside outside of China) testified that this is but a blind accusation and overestimating their influence. However, both sides agreed that at the time, the best course of action was to comply with the “competant authorities” (youguan bumen) in assumption that state security probably had leads that some “dissenting members” were going to appear on the open event. The majority of Hanfu Bar members also agreed that a petition or written protest is not only ineffective but detrimental to attaining acceptance of the authorities – or otherwise simply considered that a “democratic solution” is simply futile in China, where relations with local authorities and unwritten rules reign supreme. 

At the same time, Hanfu practitioners are becoming increasingly wary of Hanshe (漢社), a renegade organization organized by a certain Chen Zhenbing (陳朕冰) who claims to be the founding organization of the ultra-nationalist “Han Restoration movement” and the vanguard of restoring Han Chinese cultural dominance through monarchy. Their Baidu forums has claimed that many of the “heroes of the Han” in the Hanfu Movement from 2001 to 2007 are honorary members of their society, to which many have posted a clarification statement disassociating themselves with this so-called society, as well as expressing contempt for their anti-socialist, anti-government philosophy. On the same day as Hanfu was largely censored out of Shanghai’s exhibition grounds, Hanshe has affiliated itself with the International Han Poets Association, the administration of Yuanmingyuan and several other societies in a conference event in Beijing, claiming that it is the original and legitimate promoter association for Han culture and Hanfu in China.

Hanfu as an organizer event in Shanghai Expo


Hanweiyang (Shanghai) in the Public Participation Pavilion of Shanghai Expo, teaching traditional etiquette to participants. The picture here shows children doing a full bow to their parents, as demonstrated by the Hanweiyang volunteer staff.

A month previous to the conspiracy event, the Shanghai Expo was dotted with sightings of visitors dressed in Hanfu browsing the pavilions and grounds, local and national newspapers covered this phenomenon intermittently in form of photo columns and social newsbits. However, the largest event of them all was undoubtedly the official Hanfu demonstrations in early July, and despite its under-promoted disposition (Expo told the organizers explicitly not to publicize this event to the Hanfu circles online until after the event), it was considered to be a landmark event in Hanfu history of the month.

As one of the leading groups for organizing hanfu promotion, Hanweiyang 漢未央 was invited by the Shanghai Expo to perform in the Public Participation Pavilion on July 9-11, 2010. Their agenda consisted of a series of demonstrations and two major skits – “A Day, A Year, A Lifetime (《一日﹑一年﹑一生》)”, and “Trend — Change (《潮流·轉變》”. In the 13 two to three hour sessions, they demonstrated traditional etiquette in greetings, mannerisms, rituals, dance, music, clothing, the coming-of-age ceremony, and the wedding ceremony to a flowing audience of over 300 per sitting. According to the organizers, many people were enthralled by the content and have found it to be highly educational yet tirelessly fascinating. The group also learned to adapt its performance content on the spot to allow the audience to become participants and learn ritual and etiquette in practice, and their wedding ritual demonstration was particularly favoured by the public, whom demanded an encore presentation.


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