The Hanfu Movement in Toronto

Originally submitted as sample paper to the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), University of Toronto, University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong during the period of November 2011 to April 2012.

Canadian multiculturalism: True mutual integration?

The Hanfu Revival Movement in Toronto
by: Juni L. Yeung

In April 2011, a fiasco arose with Conservative Party of Canada as Immigration Officer Jason Kenney was accused of ‘harbouring hateful sentiments’ towards ethnic minorities as the Party was organizing a photo op with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the upcoming election. The arrangement was to organize twenty people wearing ethnic garb of their various origins, in order to show the Conservative Party’s support of diversity in the Canadian populace, but the plan was jeered by ethnic associations and other parties alike as ‘a kind of amateurish naivety’ and ‘the height of patronizing, pandering, and belittling the contributions of new Canadians’[1].

While this kind of political stunt is increasingly perceived as a superficial or patronizing action in the West, to the minds of the mainland Chinese, this is all normal and commonplace, as the People’s Republic often sported images and various media of its 56 officially recognized ethnicities, distinguished first and foremost by dress in its own propaganda. A pictorial guide to the recognized Chinese ethnicities, distinguished by dress is posted on the Chinese government portal website[2]. All of these recognized ethnicities are considered to be members of the greater “Chinese ethnicity”, or Zhonghua Minzu as promulgated by the government and taught in school curricula, its imagery are often put on public display, the most recently recognizable one being an event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies[3]. Despite international and academic skepticism about the international recognition of the success or legitimacy of such an ethnic policy, it is ingrained into the common psyche of the mainland Chinese person, and following the process of emigration, such values are spread to Chinese diaspora communities.

However, as Canadian Chinese society is comprised of subgroups with distinctly different values and cultural contexts, their relation to this ‘mainlander’s issue’ takes on a kaleidoscope of variant interpretations to the necessity of recognizing, having, and wearing Hanfu, a dress otherwise extinct for over three centuries, as the representative ethnic dress of the Chinese people. More

Gr.12 Chinese girl sent home from school for wearing own ethnic clothes

Originally submitted to the Anthropology Department, University of Toronto for ANT322H1 (Anthropology of Youth Culture), taught by Dr. Marcel Danesi, on April 4, 2012.

The Counter-Culturing of Tradition: The Struggle of Representation in the Han Chinese Clothing Revival Movement


By: Juni L. Yeung, University of Toronto 

HU Shen is a Gr.12 high school student in Lizhou High School in Yongkang, Zhejiang Province. She came to school dressed in Hanfu on March 18, 2012 to promote Chinese culture, but was sent home by the authorities in the afternoon, sparking nationwide criticism online.

An Alien on Home Turf

On the evening of March 19, a message titled “A time-travelling girl shockingly appeared in Lizhou High School” was posted on Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), along with a picture of HU Shen walking down a school hallway, clad in a short-Quju robe and skirt while holding in both hands typical breakfast – a glass of soy milk and a zongzi (steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf). Described as “a typical quiet Gr.12 student, with good marks and behaviour” in a private-run Zhejiang Province high school, she acted cool and unfazed as classmates and faculty alike went ballistic in reaction to her clothes.

When a Zhejiang Daily reporter tried to contact her by noon, the school authorities replied that Hu has been “invited away to lunch by the faculty”, and 10 minutes later received a text message from Hu herself: “I’m already on route home, the teacher has driven me home to change my clothes, and for certain reasons I cannot speak with you. My apologies.” Hu then refused to receive calls all afternoon, except for one text message from another local newspaper reporter, where she said she was “advised not to return to school for the day; and scared being home alone, will wander in town and probably stay at a relative’s place for the night.”[1]

Various levels of authorities displayed signs of deniability on the subject. Some staff from the school commented to the media, “Perhaps the school couldn’t accept a student dressed like this all of a sudden, and we need to have more communication.” Another faculty was quoted, “If other students came in dressed like Shi Huangdi (the First Emperor of China), you’d think that’d be weird, too.” The Zhejiang Ministry of Education stated in response, “I have never heard of situations where students wear Hanfu to school before. While many schools have set rules to forbid students from wearing strange and outlandish clothing, whether Hanfu counts as such is still up for debate.[2]

Chinese netizens responded with outrage to the authorities’ attitude on the matter. A commenter from Shaanxi wrote, “As a Han Chinese, why can’t they wear their own traditional Han clothing? The school is mentally deranged to do this to the girl!” Another from Jiangsu wrote, “Ethnic minorities can wear their own [traditional] costumes out, so why not the Han, as long as they’re not interfering other people.” A Fujian commenter lamented, “This is how Chinese culture gets extinguished.[3]

Hu’s actions were hardly random or uncommon. Since 2006, Chinese netizens have taken to the streets dressed in self-made or independently-produced Han robes, its designs dating prior to the Manchu Qing invasion of China in 1644. Their mission was to remind and convince the Chinese public to question their own perceptions and values tradition from an authenticity perspective, but have often been responded to with various degrees of resistance, mockery, and violence. The roots of this antagonism against practicing tradition stretch back to over a century ago, but the casus belli of the people taking direct action against the mainstream took place at the crossroads of China’s recent modernization program. More


May 2012