Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, November 2010 (Pt.2)

First meeting in Tsim Sha Tsui, October 23.

In continuation to my last article, I would like to bring one more Hong Kong newspaper column from the aftermath of the Chengdu Hanfu burning incident, before discussing some ideas put forward by non-PRC Hanfu promoters in concern over their efforts in their locality. Afterward, I will give an account of my “field work” with a Hanfu advocacy group in Hong Kong, and identify the unique situation and potential solutions with promoting to Chinese raised outside of Communist rule and its education system. To read that section, please click read more below.

First, the other column: Investigator’s Needle: Boxer’s Public [feces] Rage, the Scar of Han Clothing (Kung Jit-Sang 孔捷生, Nov.8 Apple Daily, [square brackets] and bold modifications added by the translator)
說來設計國服的先行者首推國父孫中山,其次是前「國母」江青。先說中山裝,作為國服不謂不莊重,可惜考其源頭卻來自日本學生裝。不過昔有孫中山,今有天安門城樓上正襟危立的胡錦濤,反日憤青要剝掉它是無甚指望了。江青的貢獻是改革旗袍,蓋漢族女性的腿和頸脖都比西方人短,比起關外旗人也短一小截,江青獨具創意地把旗袍下襬改為百褶裙,旗袍高領改為 V型杏領,百褶裙成功掩蓋了腿的長短, V型杏領則恰到好處地拉長了漢人的頸脖,看去別具風韻。不幸中國歷史太跌宕,政治太沉重,江青入獄,竟「因人廢服」,這款國服便成絕響。
With the breezy winds of autumn, the mainland youth’s Japan visiting trip went almost synonymously with the “Anti-Japanese trip [demonstrations]”. The several hundreds of Chinese youth happily visiting Japan are the direct result of Kan Naoto, who was part of the 3,000-some Japanese youth delegation invited by Hu Yaobang 20-some years ago, and the Chinese reception then was the Secretary of the Communist Youth Party, Hu Jintao. As for the Anti-Japanese demonstrations, it was nowhere as glorious – they couldn’t go out to sea to “Baodiao [protect Diaoyutai]”, they couldn’t Baodiao online at home either, and the most they can do is protect a “Senkaku Islands” [TL: a joke referring Liu Xiaobo’s blog article on how he was unable to transmit a message on Chinese forums with the term Diaoyutai, until he changed it to Senkaku Islands, hence mocking the Chinese government as indirectly admitting their sovereignty]. So from there, these hot-blooded Fenqing [TL: “angry youth”] can only go smash their compatriots’ Japanese cars and Japanese stores. The most out-of-line act was to strip away one of their female countryman’s Hanfu, causing her great shame and anger.
What is this Hanfu? This is precisely the embarassment of the Han people, and on a deeper level, also a shame of Zhonghua culture, because its fate could hardly escape the destruction from authoritarianism. Qin Shi Huang’s book burning and scholar killing, Han Wudi establishing Confucianism as the state ideology and dumping the Hundred Schools, Zhu Yuanzhang banning the “common people more important than the Crown” ideology and expelled Mencius from veneration, and now in our Red dynasty corrupting and rewriting the meaning of “Taoguang Yanghui [lit. ‘hiding one’s light and shadow’, or keeping a low profile], referring to Deng Xiaoping’s reference in the early 1990’s on China’s military policy and English interpretators mistranslation as “hide capabilities and bide our time”]…all these are created out of political necessity. In today’s words, “to maintain the unity of the country”. Han Chinese officials in the Qing Empire visiting Korea saw the locals still wearing Ming robes and headgear, and none could hold back their tears. Afterall, in Qing China, only in death can Han people wear Hanfu, and hence today’s Hanfu is actually a variation of joss clothing.
The Fenqing who stripped our female countrymen’s clothes are in no doubt to have a perverted sense of patriotism, but Hanfu does indeed look quite similar to Wafuku [kimono], and the kimono originally contains many elements from Tang Chinese culture. If you don’t believe me, please take a look at the Dunhuang Mural Paintings and the clothing on the characters. In the 1990’s, the daughter of Gen. Nie Rongqin, Nie Lizhong, advocated the Qipao as the female national dress of China. Regretfully, the Qipao is not of Han Chinese sartorial tradition, but since we talk of “ethnic unity”, to have Han Chinese establish Manchurian Qipao, Cheongsam and Magua as the official national clothing is not out of the question. Can’t you see that on CCTV’s New Year Evening Gala, Qipao and Magua dance all over the screen, flying everywhere with the Golden Age [shengshi] and Harmony [hexie]. The only thing that’s missing – there’s not a trace of Hanfu to be found.
Coming to talk of it, the first to design a “national clothing” is our Guofu [Father of the Nation] – Dr. Sun Yat-sen, followed by former “Guomu [Nation mother]” Jiang Qing. Let’s talk about the Zhongshan Jacket, it is certainly stately, but its origins are from the Japanese students’ outfit [TL: See ‘Gakuran’]. But then, we have had Dr. Sun defending it in the past, and now we have Hu Jintao, stiffly clad on top of Tian’anmen tower – if the Anti-Japanese Fenqing wanted to strip that off, they’re out of luck. Jiang Qing’s contribution was to revolutionize the Qipao. As generally Han females have shorter necks and legs than Westerners or even Manchus outside of the Great Wall, Jiang Qing with her unique creativity changed the lower part of the Qipao into a pleated dress, while changing the tall collar into a V-neck, successfully hiding away the lack of length on the legs, and the V-shaped open neck elongated the lack of a neck feature, creating a different kind of refined air. Unfortunately, Chinese history was much too tumultuous then, and the politics was too heavy. Jiang Qing was imprisoned, and unbelievably the design was “scrapped like the person”, and this sort of national dress became no more.
Nowadays, everything with the term “national” is in vogue – determining the national mountain, national tree, national flower, national animal, bird…just when things were getting exciting, everyone seemed to have their own idea when it comes to national dress, with little room for concensus. Originally, Hanfu combined the ritual and elegance of Han and Tang brilliance, and certainly has the style fitting of a “Zhonghua Minzu‘s Great Renaissance”, but unexpectedly these clothes have been ripped right off the body by raging Fenqing, just like the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution “Destroying the Four Olds” and shaving the Yin-Yang queue hairdo. Oh elegant Han clothing, I’m afraid that you’ll never have a chance to show yourself again! (Apple Daily, Nov. 8, 2010)
This kind of editorial and standpoint is typical of many found in both Hong Kong and mainland press. From the bolded highlights seen here, are points that Hanists, Hanfu advocates, and anyone who strongly identify as Han (that being at least 90% of China) would find objecting or even repulsive. While “compassionately” lamenting for the disappearance of Hanfu, the author takes no prisoners in bashing the entirety of Chinese history as a dark one, one of great oppression from the “evils of autocracy”. His examples of Qin, Han, and Ming ‘absolutist oppression’ had nothing to do with Hanfu, and even went as far as to mislead people (and infuriate Hanfu advocates to the memory) of it as joss [funeral] clothing, which had been the casus belli to a full litigation in the Zhengzhou Provincial Court in early-mid 2006.
The following sections are no less forgiving – perhaps Kung is writing sarcastically, but many in China do truly believe the concept of Zhonghua Minzu (Chinese ethnicities) – a Soviet model that the 56 ethnicities found in the borders of the People’s Republic and their cultural-historic heritage are all to be considered “Chinese” – and find no problem in taking Manchu clothing to represent all of Chinese people (especially when the Han majority has been wearing “the same clothes”, or close approximations of them, for over the past three centuries). However, Hanists and any educated person in the West will see this as a fundamental fallacy in historiography, and a great disrespect to both Han and Manchu tradition to not differentiate them.
In the third supporting paragraph, Kung insults all Han Chinese women, if not all men as well, on the features of Han genetics. This paragraph needs no more explanation, as the tone is clearly set to belittle the Han majority as an inferior race. Unless Kung is not Han (to which I suspect more hot-headed Hanists will be ready to accuse him as a Manchu), he has not spared himself from this. To put down one’s own race and genetics in this unhealthy manner is only heard of in extreme times (such as Japan and Korea ages in its “reflection” ages during Westernization and after the Second World War), and is none other than blatant, irrational racism (despite it being self-oriented).
As in the last article I have translated by Lee Bik-Wah, Kung here considers Hanfu to be the clothing from the “Han and Tang brilliant” eras, but is still relagated either as “dynastic” period dress, or simply as obsolete, ancient clothing – a common fallacy.
To put this together, this article with its mix of factual truths with fallacious and wild opinions on the inferiority of (Han) Chinese would be considered no less as “ideological poison” by pro-Han or the pro-individualistic ideals person. When both mainstream paper and digital media are filled with this kind of “data” for the common consumer, it is not difficult to understand why Hanfu advocates have such a difficult time convincing fellow Chinese people to wear the clothes and be proud of their identity and heritage.
Now onto my field report.
On October 23 and 30, 2010, members from (HuaHan Cultural Centre, 華漢文化會館) and representatives from PropLuxurians Cultural Industries gathered in the back room of the Starbuck’s in Tsim Sha Tsui, overlooking the Star Boulevard boardwalk and the harbor. I attended as a representative of Toronto’s Hanfu movement, observing the general state of ideology found among Hong Kong’s fellow promoters, their methods of furthering public awareness, and integration with related businesses to provide the material requirements of the clothing itself. was founded in October 2006, shortly after the first public event organized by HanfuTor, to organize likeminded Hong Kongers for Hanfu promotion in the city, as well act as a relay forum for disseminating necessary Hanfu-related knowledge and know-how in Traditional Chinese characters (most of the movement’s information are in Simplified Chinese, as they are written by mainlanders and posted in mainland sites). A more formally recognized volunteer group was formed in 2008, but the site has no recognized “organization leader” – rather, it is a loose federation of board administrators, and fellow promoters stepping up to organize events and activities, forming a verbal understanding of “The four pillars” of the organization.
PropLuxurians Cultural Industries and its non-profit branch PropLuxurians Healthy Living Society is a startup registered business organization, originally dedicated to developing chessboard games and other health-oriented recreation, but recently inspired to pick up on Hanfu as a ‘culturally healthy’ aspect. Its founder, S.C. “SoHome” So, is a newcomer advocate for the clothing and is currently working to open up a Hong Kong branch for Guangzhou’s Hanshang Hualian clothing atelier, as a first step to solve the city’s lack for local dealer. To avoid a conflict of interest, the Cultural Industries business branch consists of a different set of administration from the NPO.
 On the start of the meeting, I took the initiative to first introduce myself and briefly describe the history of the Hanfu movement in Toronto, as well the current state of having two organizations with different directions for promotions (that being TQS primarily focused on artistic activities, while HanfuTor focuses on poster and stage shows for a greater audience). After the introduction of the Hong Kong groups, they began their course of agenda, which was originally set for determining what to do for the Dongzhi gathering. However, both and PropLux lacked human and material resources to do events similar to Toronto’s groups’ ability – for example, while they have connections with the Hong Kong Weiqi societies, they do not have anyone talented enough to host a tutorial event, nor do they have musicians or artists to host a show of the kind. Furthermore, a busy day job or school meant that dedication is limited, and a lack of a sense of unity among members further deteriorates a chance to organize a coordinated effort.
Upon asking more in detail, it was made known that because of the structure of, members are largely attracted to events of their own liking, as well as repelled by verbal conflicts by other members. For example, a member by the alias Wutian Xinren (武田信人, Takeda Nobuhito in Japanese reading) was openly branded as an “unwelcome member” by one of the administrators on grounds of pestering other members on MSN Messenger and “inciteful speech” which caused discomfort by some others.
Differing takes on what and when Hanfu should be used for is also cause for divide, as members confess that in most situations they feel too embarassed to wear a full set of Hanfu in a non-group setting in Hong Kong society. For the two meetings, I attended the first in a casual Hanfu outfit (a zhongyi and a silk top, with a pair of black Western silk trousers) while no other person wore Hanfu of any sort, and some members imitated the act by the second meeting. The Hong Kong members note that for full sets of Hanfu, their usual practice is to change at the venue, before and after the event (the common practice among some at HanfuTor as well, but not TQS who come and go in them without changing) for reasons previously described. To testify their claims, I went out onto the streets of Hong Kong on multiple occasions fully dressed in Hanfu, to receive the following incidents:
– A girl secretly snapping a photo of me on the MTR station platform, musing and giggling with another friend beside
– Countless strange stares, some whispering about me as a Korean/Japanese (thankfully, no physical attacks)
– A salesman by Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry dock greeting me, “Hey miss, shooting a movie? (小姐﹐拍戲呀﹖)”
– Lee Bik-Wah’s interview (see last article)
– My own sister (a Hong Kong local no less) expressing discontent for the ‘unwanted attention’ walking beside me
– Cousins’ bewilderment (and later respect) for my ‘bold’ actions, and other relatives’ general apathy or utter distaste
From these events, I can confirm that their pressure from the environment exocitizing them is indeed present and ubiquitous. For confidence and safety concerns, Hanfu advocates in Hong Kong resort to even more conservative measures than the mainland when it comes to wearing the clothing, to which they realize and are eager to improve upon.
One factor they have noted is that when discussing the nature of Han clothing and culture, a debate about mainland versus Hong Kong identity usually becomes the main opposition, to which at times advocates report that their audience will refuse wearing it because of their rejection to mainland Chinese culture and doctrine, preferring their ‘more Westernized’ status as Hong Kong locals. From Taiwanese Hanfu advocates’ accounts online, the same is true but to an even more extreme degree on the island – while Taiwanese do recognize that the majority are of Han descent and within the Han cultural circle, their stigma primarily is set in the distinction between the dichotomies of “Old Chinese”  versus “New Western/Japanese”. During the discussion in the first meeting on the 23rd, we discover that when the term “Han” is brought out, “Han chauvinism” is the usual term the audience will first counter with – an accusation that predates Mao and the Communists, but nonetheless enforced today with current events and the ethnic policy. In summary, Hong Kong advocates felt that to emphasize to non-mainland educated people the concept of “Han” versus “minority” using the same lines as mainland advocates indirectly indoctrinate Hong Kongers of the current ethnic policy enacted by the People’s Republic, to which the locals are generally repulsive to, and may generate more problems in the convincing process than to solve them. From there, we worked out the idea that to promote Hanfu as an object of self-identity to other Chinese, one needs to know the general understanding of Chinese identity in the community and the boundaries of what “Chinese” mean in contrast to “non-Chinese”. For the Hong Kong case, there is a mix of different levels of understanding of what it means to be “Chinese”, ranging from the mainland definition, to Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s era of “Five Races” or simply the “Han-Manchu difference”, to simply “all of them are Chinese”. Only from discussing this with the target audience and getting the level of general understanding, can the advocate work to adjust his/her promotional information and direct the audience to the understanding that Hanfu is “timeless” instead of “ancient”, and represents the image of the “Chinese people” and their heritage in the ultimate sense.
As the Hanfu movement’s scope targets all Han Chinese people in the world, it is important to understand the varying cultural, social, and political differences in understanding across the varying regions. This field report has briefly identified some of them with the help of an engaged conversation and investigation with other front-line advocates, and hopefully be of some help to understanding to people wishing to further understand the psyche of the Chinese identity and modernity.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. GKC
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 09:15:52

    You didn’t understand the newspaper article did you? For example, what do you mean, ‘misleading’ people into thinking of Hanfu as funeral clothing? He simply stated that *in Qing China* it could only be worn as funeral clothing.

    And do you know what he really meant when he related Hanfu to ‘autocracy’? What he meant was that the LOSS of Hanfu was connected to the autocracy of the Qing rulers (=in this case their action of banning the Hanfu). [Note: Same as their decree to ‘keep the head and lose the hair or keep the hair and lose the head’]

    As for the zhonghua minzu issue, Kung does differentiate between Han and non-Han/Manchu. AND he expresses his regret (and disapproves of the fact that) Hanfu cannot be seen (alongside the others).

    By the way, how is saying that Han women (or people) have shorter necks and legs (whether it is true or not), in any conceivable way, racist? Are you suggesting that having a shorter neck makes you ‘inferior’? Or at least that saying that someone has a short neck makes you a racist or a nasty person? Do YOU have a long or short neck? Do you feel good, or bad, about yourself, because of that? Does it really matter?


  2. Qin Jiangtu
    Nov 27, 2012 @ 19:51:31

    Besides, during Manchu conquest han clothing was prohibited, specially for men… there was some cases of scholars being killed/enslaved by
    storing a shenyi in their estates/properties…

    At least they did allow monks to keep the han-styled clothing… and their topknots or else stuff would go bad. See?? the manchu did some horrible things but at least
    they didnt go to the extremes of Maoist régime and killing monks or forcing them to marry/secularize themselves.

    Now, associating superiority with neck height or average height is stupid and rather vain. the truly superior person doesnt need NOTHING to prove it really is superior right??
    For example Confucius was a greater sage,gentlemen and teacher than great part of people of the humanity but he didnt go here and there saying ”im da best,obey me” around the Empire.

    Seems to be a inferiority complex reeking from the stench coming outside the modernity cult we have today in the Middle kingdom… people today follow a mindset which almost says
    ‘I’m shorter than an average western european/american, and I want to be like them’ garbage. Similar to the Meiji restoration in japan and the ”japan is not asia” mentality which
    unfortunately led such beautiful nation to ww2 and that whole stuff, this is inferiority complex INCARNATE.


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