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.

The Hanfu Movement: From ethnic policy to traditionalism and politics

The original ‘casus belli’ of the movement can be traced to the APEC 2001 Summit in Shanghai, where Chinese and foreign political leaders alike donned a short magua-inspired jacket they called xin-tangzhuang (“New Chinese Jacket”) made of Chinese brocade with embroidered motifs and cloth frog buttons. Mass television coverage of the leaders led to a fad for the jacket, which was hailed as the modern Chinese national dress, complementing the rising popularity of the qipao or cheongsam at the same time[4]. Some Chinese disagreed, however, citing that this tangzhuang and its predecessor were Manchu designs, which were violently forced upon the various Chinese ethnicities at the beginning of the Manchu Qing Empire and hence cannot represent the true image of Chinese heritage. Debates ran rampant in newsgroups and discussion boards on the rapidly expanding realm of the internet at the time, and like-minded dissidents decided to take more substantial action in protest to popular opinion.

In November 2003, a Zhengzhou electrician named Wang Letian wore a set of cross-collared robes with large sleeves onto the streets, window-shopping and riding on public transit. He was accompanied by a friend who photographed and accounted the happenings then, which were then reported online and later picked up by Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore[5]. The news went viral on the Chinese Internet, and thousands of supporters and like-minded Chinese from around the world collaborated intellectual and creative resources to form what is now known as the Hanfu Fuxing Yundong, or Han Chinese clothing revival movement[6]. While ideological and intellectual production are held online and unbounded by geographic barriers, real life manifestations of this movement lead to the inevitable development of local societies and support groups, first appearing in major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

            While choice of clothing is a matter of personal expression and freedom, the amount of initial social resistance was unprecedented. In October 2004, A group of people in Beijing dressed in Hanfu and paid their respects to the grave of late Ming dynasty general Yuan Chonghuan, and was reported by the local newspaper Jinghua Shibao as “Hanfu gathering” However, an altered version of the article widely circulated online read “Joss clothing takes to the streets,” which sparked outrage from the group and resulted in litigation towards a Beijing company for slander and name infringement in December 2004[7]. However, verbal and even physical harassment on the internet and to individuals wearing the traditional robes are a daily occurrence in China, as thousands of posts on Hanfu-related forums and bulletin boards (BBSs) flurry with anecdotes ranging from family disagreements and peer heckling[8], to getting their clothing stripped and burned in public by hundreds of protesters, mistaking their clothing as the Japanese kimono[9]. The government’s response to Hanfu and other clothing competing for recognition was also ambivalent, as Cultural Minister Sun Jiazheng noted in an interview, “I have heard about the news of young people wearing Hanfu, but up to now I still do not know what clothing can really represent China, and this is perhaps the greatest anxiety we are facing now.”[10]

            Today, the Movement’s mandate  is to recognize “Hanfu, is the ethnic dress of the ethnic Han people, which was created and evolved as an ethnically distinct clothing, [dating back] from ‘Huang Di draping robes and ruling all under heaven’ to the Ming Dynasty, according to our unique lifestyle and aesthetics, merging together with economic and production standards.”[11] Despite the constant barrage, the movement boasts an ever-expanding support base worldwide, with internet discussion boards and forums membership counting in the tens of thousands and a permeating influence onto all aspects of contemporary Chinese culture, from unofficial to government-organized rallies, to mass media on print, television, and animation. During its heyday in media coverage just prior to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, Hanfu was proposed as a revision to the Chinese “national dress”, ethnic dress, and academicals standards in post-secondary institutions.

           

Hanfu in Toronto : Importing a foreign dress and problem

The first Hanfu group outside of China was formed in August 2006, as a group of ethnic Chinese living in Toronto, Canada was called on by Chin Yuen-Cheung (Qian Yuanxiang) for an impromptu promotion opportunity at the third annual CPAC summer festival. Its promotional catchphrase was copied verbatim from Chinese internet material at the time: “Did you know that: Of the 56 official ethnicities in China, which ethnicity does not have their own ethnic dress? That’s right, the Hans![12]” The group later officiated its name as the Toronto Association for the Revival of Hanfu, or HanfuTor for short. Online, the group was hailed as the vanguard of Hanfu promotion overseas, as it was the first recognizable group outside China to follow the evolving movement, repeatedly appearing in local Chinese newspapers and media in high profile.

During the group’s heyday from 2006 to 2009, Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese immigrants make up most of the group’s composition, of which the large majority are female, in secondary or post-secondary education. Interviews querying several of these members indicate they were drawn to the movement from reading information available from the Chinese internet portals, and then found their way to the group.[13] Participation in events heavily depended on personal schedule availability, as they can only invest time in ‘extracurricular activities’ on weekends and holidays. Hence, HanfuTor’s founder personally handled most of the poster exhibits on usual weekends in Chinese shopping malls in the Scarborough-Markham area, but for most of the time the area is left unstaffed.

Aside from mundane discussions revolving around internet essay reposting, discussions online focused on two activities: Asking group members to organize a bulk order from a Hanfu store in China in order to minimize risks and share often-expensive shipping costs, and announcements from the founder/president on the next venue of activity, usually a poster exhibition or stage performance activity displaying the various styles of Hanfu design. Although private meetings among members have organized unofficial do-it-yourself (DIY) workshops to learn how to make certain basic articles of clothing, Hanfu of reputable quality is not a commercially available product in Canada and must be imported from China, where even there is limited to specialized boutiques in major urban centres or private ateliers by custom-ordering online.

However, the demographics of HanfuTor’s participation also show the shortcomings of its marketing strategy. Toronto and its surrounding areas’ expanding ethnic Chinese community, asides from mainland emigrants, is comprised of largely Han Chinese who emigrated from Hong Kong and Taiwan in the latter half of the 20th Century, as well as third or fourth generation descendents of those who immigrated before the Second World War[14]. As none of these groups were previously educated in the PRC’s ethnic policies, the slogan initially had little appeal to the naturalized Canadian “Chinese” label, further specifying not by ethnicity but by hometown, and tend to self-address their kind with the term Hua-ren or Hua-yi (Hua people/descendents). Although some older Hong Kong and Taiwanese immigrants may be familiar with the “Five Races Under One Union” (Wuzu Gonghe) concept as taught in Republic of China (Taiwan) and some Hong Kong schools prior to 1997, the lack of common experience in the Chinese Cultural Revolution which abolished the qipao and magua meant the latter half of the slogan “which ethnicity doesn’t have its own traditional clothing” was previously a non-issue to these groups. By inadvertently introducing the ‘fifty-six ethnic groups’ concept and the underlying context of China’s ethnic policy, narratives expressing skepticism to the movement are subliminally transmitted, which created additional roadblocks to its own objective – to have the politically and socially diverse Chinese community unite to change their impression of traditional dress.

Hanfu in Toronto: Exporting revolution

HanfuTor’s disposition as a ‘foreign’ organization to an otherwise strictly Chinese movement had brought international attention. While individuals had reported wearing their robes on display from all corners of the world, Toronto was the only city outside China to have a recognizable association until the formation of similar societies in England and Malaysia in 2008.

HanfuTor’s recognition by promoters and academics alike is also due to its participation in several high-profile petitions shortly after its timely formation. HanfuTor petitioned numerous times from 2007 to 2011 by writing to Xinhua News Agency and Xinhua Online, as well as the Chinese consulate in Toronto to change the profile image of the Han ethnicity as depicted on the then-new Xinhua News Agency website, which originally depicted a woman wearing a dudou, a form of undergarment loosely similar to a bustier. “How could our proud Huaxia which we once called ‘the superior nation of robes and coronets (yiguan shangguo)’ end up in this rut – the clothing can barely cover [her] body, rendering her almost naked![15]”Although this petition was started and led by netizens in China, particular media attention was given to the Toronto group, almost overshadowing its Chinese main counterpart. However, its effect was minimal as the consulate and Xinhua gave only knee-jerk affirmative reactions for every open letter sent, and the replacement description was, perhaps deliberately, deliberately ambiguous. For example, the first change to the Han profile picture consisted of a cross-collar ‘costume’ in the wrong direction, and the next version involved covering the collar and all other features of the dress with a broad sleeve. Although Hanfu advocates hailed the changes as a victory, future incidents prove time and again that whether it was a red T-shirt, Manchu-inspired magua and qipao, or some kind of fabricated costume design in between, not a single style or design deemed as authentic by Hanfu advocates are depicted. In fact, netizens reported that after a suggested image of a man in formal court attire and several women in shenyi robes was posted, it was taken down and replaced by an image of only women with lacy imitation costumes.

To this date, the Han ethnic profile on Xinhua is the only one of 56 that does not have a profile image beside the content text, and Hanfu is still not recognized by the Central government as the ethnic dress of the Han[16]. Mentioning of Hanfu by official papers and event notices often put the term in quotation marks, and often reinterprets it as “Han dynasty costume” despite constant corrections from readership petitions. In contrast, Chinese media overseas, including Toronto’s, reported local Hanfu advocacy as described in the original words of promoters, clearly expressing the difference in ethnic origins with the more popularly recognized tangzhuang[17].

A spark from distant shores: Toronto’s legacy on changing the Chinese traditional dress

            Today, Chinese communities in the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan are forming regional social groups for promoting Hanfu as the representative Chinese traditional dress. Canada recently saw the formation of a second group based in Vancouver, boasting over 80 members since its founding in 2010. In addition to surpassing its Toronto counterpart’s numbers, it is an officially registered Canadian non-profit organization, with successful presentations and workshops held in conjunction with the University of British Columbia[18].

In contrast, HanfuTor’s activities have decreased significantly after a coming-of-age ceremony held in the CPAC Summer Festival 2008[19], with its repertoire of events limited to picture and catwalk exhibitions of clothes and no interactive workshops. However, the group’s contributions and legacies are not to be underestimated – the successful establishment of HanfuTor first proved to the Chinese the power of diaspora communities participating in social change of their ethnic homeland, as well demonstrated the positive results from equal and honest cultural exchange with other groups and communities.

Most importantly, however, is sharing the fundamental Canadian value of multiculturalism – the freedom of cultural expression from wearing one’s own traditional clothes without worry of discrimination, harassment or violence – to Chinese people around the world. “I started to realize,” a Torontonian blogger reflected after wearing Hanfu, “the ones who were weird weren’t the ones wearing ‘strange’ clothes on the streets – they were just wearing their own clothes. The ones who were weird, was actually ourselves.[20]


[1] “‘Ethnic costumes’ Sought for Conservative op,” Published in Toronto Star, April 14, 2011. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/974447–ethnic-costumes-sought-for-conservative-photo-op, last accessed December 24, 2011.

[2] The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China. “Zhongguo 56 ge Minzu”. http://www.gov.cn/test/2006-04/17/content_255861.htm, last accessed December 24, 2011.

[3] Leibold, James. “The Beijing Olympics and China’s conflicted national form,” in The China Journal, No. 63 (2010).

[4] Finnane, Antonia. Changing Clothes in China. Columbia University Press, 2008, p.285.

[5] Cheong, Song-Hing (pinyin Zhang Chongxing). “Hanfu Chongxian Jietou [Hanfu Reappears on the Streets],” published in Lianhe Zaobao, November 29, 2003. p.25

[6] Satsuki Shizuka (pseudo. Yeung, Juni). “A Brief of Actual Results from Chinese Culture Renaissance Mvt.: Major Events (2001-08)”, in Accounts of the Lutenist at Beaver Creek, October 1, 2008. https://torguqin.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/a-brief-of-actual-results-from-chinese-culture-renaissance-mvt-major-events/, last accessed January 3, 2012. Leibold, James. “More Than a Category: Han Racial Nationalism on the Chinese Internet,” China Quarterly 203 (Sept 2010): 539-559, London: Cambridge.

[7] Satsuki Shizuka (pseudo. Yeung, Juni). “Hanfu”, in Accounts of the Lutenist at Beaver Creek, https://torguqin.wordpress.com/hanfu/ Last accessed January 5, 2012. Lanzi Fangxi (pseudo. Yang, Na) “Hanfu Yundong Dashiji (2009-nian 11-yue Di’erban) [Hanfu Movement Chronicle (November 2009 2nd edition)”, Article 8. In hanminzu.com/bbS, posted November 3, 2009.  Last accessed January 6, 2012.

[8][8] Qilu Feng (netname). “Zhenzheng de Hanfu Jiong Shi [The seriously “jiong” events for Hanfu]”. Posted on Baidu Hanfu Bar November 29, 2009. http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kz=663505954, last accessed January 6, 2012. Satsuki Shizuka (pseudo Yeung, Juni) “How people deal with ignorance in the Hanfu Movement”, in Accounts of the Lutenist from Beaver Creek, posted January 13, 2010. https://torguqin.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/hanfu-jiong/ Last accessed January 6, 2012.

[9] NOW News (Chinese). “Wuba Hanfu dang Hefu, Chengdu Daxuesheng Jingyao Nvhai Dangzhong Tuoyi [Mistaken Hanfu as kimono, Chengdu university students force girl to strip],” posted October 18, 2010. http://www.nownews.com/2010/10/18/162-2655994.htm Last accessed January 5, 2012. Wikipedia (ZH). 2010-nian Chengdu Hanfu Shijian. http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh/2010%E5%B9%B4%E6%88%90%E9%83%BD%E6%BC%A2%E6%9C%8D%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6 Last accessed January 6, 2012. Satsuki Shizuka (pseudo. Yeung, Juni). “Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, November 2010 (Pt.1)” in Accounts of the Lutenist from Beaver Creek, posted November 25, 2010. https://torguqin.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/rethinking-the-hanfu-movement-nov-2010-pt1/ last accessed January 3, 2012.

[10] “Sun Jiazheng tan Hanfu Yundong: Wo Buchingchu Shenme neng daibiao Zhongguo fuzhuang [Sun Jiazheng talks about Hanfu Movement: I am not sure what can represent Chinese clothing]”. Published by Netease News, May 25, 2006, http://news.163.com/06/0525/11/2HVE56O40001124J.html Last accessed January 10, 2012.

[11] Hanfuba Suoshi (netname). “Hanminzu Fushi (Hanfu) Wenhua Fuxing – Rumen Xuanchuan Zhuanyong Tie [Han Chinese clothing (Hanfu) Culture Revival – Introductory promotion thread],” in Baidu Hanfu Bar, dated November 15, 2009.  http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kz=669012218 Last accessed January 3, 2012.

[12]Zeng, Jessie Xian. “Duolunduo Hanfu Diyiren [The first to wear Hanfu in Toronto],” Ming Pao Daily (Eastern Canada Edition), September 24, 2006, p. A5. Toronto Association for the Revival of Hanfu. “Yizhang Hanfu Xuanchuandan [A Hanfu promotional leaflet].” http://hanfu.goodinfocopy.com/Flyer_Download.htm, last accessed January 3, 2012.

[13] Yeung, Juni. Interview with Georgette (alias), conducted on October 29, 2011.

[14] It should be noted that despite existing studies that give classifications as such, the City of Toronto’s recent census data does not differentiate between these groups, and classify all of the above as “Chinese” or “Taiwanese”, hinting at difference based on language between Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese. For details, see City of Toronto Social Atlas 2006, http://www.toronto.ca/demographics/atlas_2006.htm#3, last accessed January 3, 2012.

[15] Toronto Association for the Revival of Hanfu website. “2006-nian Zhongguo Zhengfu zhengshi renke hanfu shi hanminzu de chuantong minzu fuzhuang – de shimo [2006: The year the Chinese government recognized Hanfu as traditional clothing of the Han ethnicity,” http://hanfu.goodinfocopy.com/Belly_Girl.htm Last accessed January 10, 2012.

[16] See footnote 2. The Han profile is last on the list, located at http://www.gov.cn/test/2006-04/17/content_255850.htm. Last accessed January 13, 2012.

[17] For example, see OMNITV Mandarin News, April 27, 2009. Mirror available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDPEMt0mCSA, last accessed January 14, 2012. Jia, Xueying. “Hanfu Tupianzhan, Shijiabao Liangshang [Hanfu picture exhibition open in Scarborough]”, published in World Journal (Toronto), December 29, 2009. http://tor.worldjournal.com/pages/full_story_to/push?article-%E6%BC%A2%E6%9C%8D%E5%9C%96%E7%89%87%E5%B1%95+%E5%A3%AB%E5%98%89%E5%A0%A1%E4%BA%AE%E7%9B%B8%20&id=5347580 Last accessed January 13, 2012.

[18] UBC Asian Library website. “Hanfu (hanfu) Exhibit.” http://asian.library.ubc.ca/2010/10/20/hanfu-%E6%B1%89%E6%9C%8D-exhibit/ last accessed January 11, 2012.

[19] “Jili Yishi ji Hanfu biaoyan [Jili ceremony and Hanfu show],” published on Sing Tao Daily (Toronto), August 17, 2008. Mirrored at http://hanfu.goodinfocopy.com/HuaXiaJie_JiLi_SingTao.html, last accessed January 13, 2012.

[20] magudo (netname). “Qizhuang Yifu de yuanlai shi wo ziji [The one wearing strange clothes is actually ourselves],” posted on Baidu Hanfu Bar, December 8, 2007. http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kz=295415331 Last accessed January 15, 2012.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 趙里昱
    May 24, 2012 @ 03:02:16

    State website claim bustier as ethnic garment! I don’t think this happen often in history!

    http://www.google.com/search?q=bustier&hl=en&client=safari&prmd=imvns&source=lnms&tbm=isch

    Reply

  2. sou
    May 30, 2012 @ 02:44:56

    Really, I don’t think Hanfu will ever come back.
    With Hanfu members in Toronto numbering less than 80 and less than 500 worldwide, I don’t think you can convince the 1 billion Han chinese on this planet. Most of the chinese, I’ve noticed, do not admire or respect their heritage. They drone on about western cultures (especially Hong Kong and Singapore) harder than many yutori-sedai Japanese gals and concentrate solely on monetary gains. The Hanfu Movement, I think, is and will be looked upon as an eccentric little group movement that might get snuffed out any moment. I noticed this as a Hong Kong expat, therefore I think the future of the Hanfu as an ethnic garment is intensely dismal. Good luck on the movement and kudos to the Han culture but… I don’t think it will go anywhere.

    Reply

    • Satsuki Shizuka 五月靜
      Jun 08, 2012 @ 10:58:11

      I see your point and lightly agree, if it’s only Toronto.
      http://tieba.baidu.com/p/1433099865 < This is only Kaifeng, a 2nd tier city in China. You should've seen what they have in Chengdu. 500 people worldwide? I'm pretty sure you're underestimating the size now. The group in Malaysia alone is almost already that size.
      The reason why I'm not willing to measure the scale of participation among the Hanfu movement is because there is no way to – aside from the blind men approach. Clothing sales, online participation rates, real life participation rates…all these figures only tell a part of the story. When the movement overtly avoids being a niche and people wear it but never talk about it online, what's important is the changing overall belief climate over time and generations. With fashion shows displaying Hanfu as the 'new' and young people able to tell the importance and difference of Han/Manchu clothing, I think with optimism that even if by the end of our time that Hanfu doesn't become ubiquitous, at least the so-called Tangzhuang will come to pass.

      But whether you call it half-full or half-empty, it's still half.

      Reply

  3. sou
    Jun 09, 2012 @ 11:26:49

    The picture you posted is indeed amazing. I’ve seen no publicity of it, however, which drives the excitement down. How many participants were there and how frequent are these events? I’m still being a sceptic. Are there links to the Chengdu event?

    Reply

  4. Xiao Hung
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 11:31:29

    I would love to join the movement. Dose any one know how and whare I can buy a Hanfu also whare I can get step by step instructions on how to sew one?

    Reply

  5. map
    Dec 02, 2014 @ 06:58:35

    sou ur underestimating the size. even here in nz theres people who know of it so 500 people worldwide is no where near close to the real amount

    Reply

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