In response to a comment posted in an earlier “Rethinking the Hanfu Movement” series article, a question raised was, “If the Republic of China (in Taiwan), Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese are largely unaffected by the destruction of the Cultural Revolution and have maintained the authenticity of Chinese culture, why didn’t the Hanfu Movement start there, but rather the mainland instead?”
A simple online search for this question first leads to a Baidu Zhidao Encyclopedia entry quoting summaries from the discussion in Baidu Hanfu Bar (which was reposted on Tianya):
[Quote] According to popular explanation, Chinese cultural traditions are mainly preserved in Taiwan, Hong kong and overseas Chinese communities, and the mainland is where the tradition is at the thinnest. This is to the degree where Singaporean academics suggested that china should “Import Chinese tradition from overseas”, and people like Du Weiming and others wanting to investigate “after the Cultural Revolution, is there any news of re-emerging traditional culture”.
Yet the most odd thing was, the first people to bring back out Hanfu originated from the mainland, and the most vocal and active Hanfu Movement also is a mainland movement – not one from the “better preserved” regions of Taiwan, Hong Kong, or overseas. Why is that?
As we all know, the Manchu Qing used violent acts to force the Han Chinese to adopt new dress, and its effects were not effectively cleansed during the Republican period. Today, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas, this set of things [ie. Manchu-style dress] have hijacked the position of “traditional costume”. Despite anyone having an interest towards traditional Chinese dress, all he/she can contact is Qipao, Magua, and of the sort (which should be called “counterfeit ethnic costume”).
It is different for the mainland, however, as this concept of Qipao/Magua representation of counterfeit ethnic dress was completely swept out by the “iron broom” of the various movements after the Liberation (especially during the “Destroy the Four Olds” of the Cultural Revolution). This has caused a short blank in the history of Han ethnic costume, to which its historical meaning and effects cannot be underestimated:
- Because the Han Chinese no longer have their traditional dress (to its truest meaning, since they lost even the “counterfeit” stuff like Qipao/Magua), its position in relation with its sibling ethnicities [TL: of the 56-ethnic Zhonghua Minzu] and their flamboyant and unique dress becomes an extremely embarassing one. This has in turn become the impetus for people to find their ethnic dress.
- Because the “counterfeit ethnic dress” forced by the Manchu Qing also disappeared, it has given us [ie. Hans] a unique opportunity to re-establish a code of ethnic dress. Although in its initial stages, the “counterfeit traditions” lingering in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas caused some interference (such as the so-called Tangzhuang as seen in APEC [of 2001]), but since we are no longer living in the Qing, once we have made clear the true forms of Han ethnic clothing, then those “Tangzhuang” and other “counterfeit traditions” will immediately lose their ground, and step back from the stage of history once and for all.
Originally intending to completely decimate traditional Chinese culture, the “anti-tradition” has destroyed instead the “counterfeit tradition” as rewritten by the Manchu Qing period. With the original purpose to destroy all traces of tradition, “Breaking the Four Olds” have become the prerequisite context for the renaissance of Hanfu. History at times is just simply this strange. [Translation Juni Yeung]
Being a summary of Internet discussions, there are naturally insufficienies and more questions to this explanation. In this article, I shall try to list out a few. If there are any further questions, please feel free to leave a comment in the end.
To most Hanfu supporting or sympathetic youth, one of their primary qualms involves the whitewashing of the Manchu invasion and the resulting forced cultural assimilation. They remark on discussion boards that due to the historical determinism of the Manchu people and their territory contributing to the makeup of the PRC today, it is considered improper to denounce the Qing Empire or to de-recognize it as “Chinese” (Examples: 1, 2) To the degree where even teachers may even mistake [so-called] Tangzhuang as Tang dynasty clothing (Example). The accounts often cite ignorance of the Queue Order or of the nature of traditional clothing, or the lack of correlation between “China” and “ancient costume (古装 guzhuang)”, or the necessity of a difference between Han and Manchu clothing.
So are the “Old Chinese” from territories not having met the ‘Iron Broom’ useless in this dramatic era of change afterall? Let us examine several major areas of the world where Hanfu has left recent footprints.
In February 2002, Chinese university student Wang Yuliang studying in Australia posted under the alias Huaxia Xuemai the first Hanfu manifesto “A Lost Civilization – Han Chinese Ethnic Clothing” (Hanwang original gone, various reposts online, such as here and here), and later posted an image of his self-made Hanfu online.
This has inspired Zhuangzhi Lingyun, or Wang Letian, to go out in Hanfu and record the happenings. The historic report on November 23, 2003 by journalist Zhang Chongxing was reported in Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean newspaper. It was only after the article reached Chinese online news gateways that information about this emergent Hanfu movement spread. (Zhang’s has a reflection of this during an interview with People’s Daily here and here)
The first Hanfu regional societies in China sprang up during late 2005 (eg. Hanweiyang of Shanghai) to 2007 (eg. Guang Han Hui of Guangzhou), whereas the first society outside of China was first established in Toronto in August 2006. With the exception of Toronto and NTDTV-sponsored New York, Hanfu societies or events are primarily organized by overseas visa students from mainland China or recent immigrants, with stronger ties with contemporary Chinese information and culture than to their physical locale. For the most part, these overseas socities aim to influence their Chinese peers in a similar fashion to the mainland Chinese ones, while also recognizing their unique position to also promote to other cultures the ‘authentic’ cultures of China, especially ‘elegant’ or elite practices which Hanfu promoters perceive to have been under-represented by official and commercial Chinese media. Half in jest, early overseas promoters describe themselves teaching about Hanfu to the Westerners is “saving the nation by a curved path (曲線救國, quxian jiuguo)”, referring to Wang Jingwei who coined the term. This double-entendre of appeasement and ‘collaborating with the enemy’ is not far off from the reality of the discourse in 2006, as the skepticism in the early years in being reluctant to “expose the embarassment of the Chinese nation” to foreigners was strong especially to the mainlanders in China, some of whom strongly opposed the idea of first spreading awareness to Westerners and making it a trend and spreading that back to the pro-Western culture Chinese people.
Falun Gong affiliated media New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) began their “International Hanfu Design Competition” as part of several other “International Competitions” related to other facets of Chinese culture in 2008. When news of this seeped back into China, Hanwang and other Hanfu online groups and societies quickly issued a statement to disassociate themselves with this competition, and warned overseas promoters to do the same. Asides from obvious potential political persecution from the PRC authorities, other reasons for doing so include the rejection of the Falun Gong’s vision of cultural melting-pot between the Han and Manchu peoples, and their treatment of Hanfu as a hyperbolized icon of Chinese tradition (as the promoters seek widespread adoption of the clothing in daily life), still unable to escape the pedestal of ‘elegance’ from an imagined and ‘unattainably distant antiquity’. They also accuse participants of the NTDTV contest to have paid no attention for the proper use of certain accessories (such as the Bixi, or ultra-wide sleeves), and are less than meticulous in handicraft and research of historical authenticity. However, it is also due to the difference in media potential that in contrast, civilian-run overseas Hanfu societies have considerably less influence and track record in comparison to NTDTV towards their local community-at-large. However, this is not to discredit that these societies have not done enough to their potential.
It is also important to look at the case of Malaysia (and to a lesser degree, the Chinese communities of Singapore and Indonesia), where the idea of accepting Hanfu as representative Chinese clothing met little to no resistance. Spreading knowledge through the Internet, Chinese individuals have picked up the Hanfu movement in Singapore and Malaysia and promoted them using the terms “Hanfu” and “Huafu” – entirely bypassing (or ignoring) the ethnic minority issue as seen in mainland China and consider it to be the default image representing Chinese (to which they equate to Han)heritage, as they do not abide by the Zhonghua Minzu values as set out by the PRC. Since 2008, the societies in Malaysia have invited Song Yuren and Shen Ziqiang to host a series of lectures and weeklong “Han Shi (literati/gentry) camps” which trains participants in clothing knowledge, etiquette, classics, and nationalistic spirit. As a result of continual promotion, there is a significant (but not yet majority) foothold for Hanfu as the representative image of the Chinese, as reflected in state functions and official events. (For example, see the Muhibbah Dinner and the Malaysia Hanfu group blog)
Chinese Community, Imported Chinese Culture
A major flaw to these overseas societies, however, is the nature of them being visa students – societies consisting mainly of these people lose momentum or may even break down when core members finish study and find jobs elsewhere or return to China. From personal observation, taking Hanfu Yinglun of London, England as example, reports of their activities have rapidly declined (and have also become much lower-key) after some of their key figures returned to China in 2010.
Given the complete Chinese language context in the business of Hanfu (whether ordering or looking up information to make one), the consumption of Hanfu and its relative cultural practices are nothing short of an imported luxury, even for places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and even more distant and remote parts of China. So far, English sources provide few choices and mediocre quality compared to the range of products accessibly to the Chinese-speaking market, and the lack of methods to safely do business and transfer funds in and out of China also discourages individual buyers. Within the Sinic circle but outside of the PRC, Hanfu not only faces the primary stigma of being viewed as an anachronism or ‘feudal dreg’, but also as a ‘strange fad of them Mainlanders’: While many Hans openly accept the historical fact in Hong Kong and Taiwan, another reason for being reluctant to don the dress is because of their skepticism to being influenced by mainland culture. Political issues such as individual identities as Taiwanese or Hong Konger may also have them considering other fashion statements first in order to disagree with identifying or relating themselves with the mainland people and culture. (Example of such statement here)
From this past decade, we have seen the formation of the problematization of the Chinese (or Han) image and the necessity to discuss and uphold it, to the determining and execution of methods to promulgate the clothing, its awareness, and its message of reviving Chinese (esp. elegant and ‘elite’) culture, resulting in small scale systemization of objects and commercialization of its industrial chain. By universal convention, this would be called a ‘counter-culture’, as it challenges mainstream stereotypes and has a devoted following, to which one can even call it “anti-fashion”. Taking the definition from Malcolm Barnard, Hanfu is often perceived as ‘static, unchanging, and often regional’ designs as contrasted to the Western ‘fashion’ world that sees preference as ‘universal, and constantly in flux’, changing in every season. Hanfu makers and enthusiasts, as well as observing scholars to the subject like Antonia Finnane would perhaps reject this notion, as following this contrasting pair would relegate Hanfu into ‘ancient costume’ – spectres of an imagined static timeframe, when in actuality it is a living clothing trend that has an aesthetic trend cycle of its own, evident in records of the past and present. However, given the scale and influence of the movement, one can conclude that its first decade has the identity of a counter-culture, but with much bigger ambitions and agendas.