Translator’s Foreword: In regards to Hanfu in the Republican era (1911-1949), two major essays are readily available in Chinese, one in academia and one outside. The other one is a photo-essay posted on Baidu Hanfu bar located here, which sources occurances of Hanfu from biographical and photographic evidence from the period.
Translated from Chinese journal article by GAO Xialing and CHENG Xiao-Ming, “Shi lun Qingmo Minchu Hanzhuang Fuxing de Jiyu [Brief Comments on the opportunity of Han’s dress in Chinese modern times]”, from Journal of Xinzhou Teachers University, Vol.21:3, Xinzhou: 2005.
Original Chinese versions can be obtained from Wanfang Data at http://d.wanfangdata.com.cn/periodical_xzsfxyxb200503018.aspx or http://d.g.wanfangdata.com.hk/Periodical_xzsfxyxb200503018.aspx, reposted in http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kz=52423925.
An attempt to account Late Qing, Early Republican era encounters on the revival of Han dress
By: Gao Xialing, Hunan Normal University
Cheng Xiaoming, National University of Defense Technology
Translated by: Juni Yeung, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Translated Abstract: “Restoring Huaxia Clothing and Headress” encompasses restoration of the ruling position Huaxia ethnicity, as well as reviving their outer appearance and posterity in their dress. The fall of the Qing and rise of the Republic provided a historic opportunity, but due to the “Westernizing” penchant in the modernization process, the appearance of Han clothing was considered as “antiquarian” and overlooked, its political and cultural meanings are left to be discovered. Today, The reappearance of hanfu on the streets is a reprise and continuation of the phenomenon.
Original English Abstract：The nationalism has a very important function to the dress’s reforming in Chinese modem times．The peasant uprising named as Taipingtianguo and revolt of Revolutionary Party will appeal for Han people to overturn the Qing dynasty，in name of regaining China’s traditional dress，when dress’s reforming means a political intention — National Revolution．After the Republic of China was built．Han people’s traditional dress had been forgotten．But the historical event has a profound influence to us today．
Key words：traditional dress；nationalism：Modern Times
In the visscitudes of dress in the transition from the Qing to the Republic, Han traditional dress (such as the Shenyi) briefly flashed in a comeback, bringing itself to the attention of the people and was duly noted on record. What is regrettable, however, is that aside from certain individuals, those who have tasked themselves with restoring Huaxia dress traditions after overthrowing the Manchu government have not shown their supposed passion. With the lack of understanding from the public and the support of the government, such an opportunity came to a pass. Now as we look back to this piece of history, it still captivates our hearts even over a century later.
Historically, the habitants of the Central Plains called themselves as “Huaxia” to praise their dress and rituals. Year 10 of Duke Ding from the Zuo Annals records: “The Middle Kingdom has the grandeur of ritual, hence called Xia; there is the beauty of dress and pattern, hence called Hua.” [TL: This is mistaken, as this is in the Kong Yingda annotations rather than the original text] Its meaning imposes significance on appearance, as well as using dress as distinction for setting up a strict class system deeply ingrained in the practice of wearing clothing and headwear, forming the Huaxia tradition of achieving harmonious rule by dress. This tradition lead to the idiosyncratic concepts of “Hua-Yi debate”, “Yi-Xia sense of security” and so forth, and “loose hair and left-lapeled” became the a derogation by these people towards the “Yi-Di” barbarians. One can almost suppose: The strong sense ethnic-based nationalism by the Huaxia people are synonymous to their clothing tradition. Hence, any foreign ruler changing this tradition, would mean the deliberate toppling of Huaxia civilization and insult to their race, as well invite total resistance from all its members. Even though not all foreign invaders brought change to this tradition, but the Han has always cited restoration of its dress code as a clarion call for resistance. Obviously, Huaxia dress is an alias to Huaxia civilization and rites, as well as the marker of its outer image and appearance. Hence, restoring Huaxia dress has two layers of meaning: First, restoring tthe ruling status of the Huaxia race, and second, restoring the appearance or dress of the Huaxia people. The reason lies in that ethnic culture is comprised of dress, headdress style, customs et cetera, aside from oral and written language. If language is the internal decorum of a race, then dress and hairstyle is its outer appearance, and often it is placed heavier than that of the former. This is become appearances can be identified instantly, but refinement and decorum requires further investigation. in the feudal age where production means are primative and illiteracy or semi-illiteracy run rampant, the common person perhaps will not understand the deeper meanings of ethnic culture, but they can tell the difference of “this ethnicity” versus “foreigners” based on outer appearance – to them, external appearance meant almost everything.
A representative view is: “In contemporary times, features of traditional robes such as wide belts and long skirts have all become downfalls, and is increasingly unfit for the accelerating pace of life. This kind of wide clothing impedes work, and early on people have already improved and compromised upon it. The strict social stratification of dress code is unfit for contemporary values of equality, and represses the typical civilian’s pursuit for elegant clothe. Also, its complexity makes people unaccustomed to it. [1:379]
” Hence, traditional Han dress lacks real need and social basis, and its reappearance on the streets would only lead others to think of it as a display of ‘antiquarianism’, and ‘moves against the tide’, without any particular social meaning, as China’s acceptance of the Western view of civilization and progress also shows that there is no need for the revival of traditional Han dress.” The above description attempted to describe the meaning of the change from a utilitarian angle, but overlooks the political culture and historical coonnection, especially of its over-simplified account towards the reappearance of Han dress onto the streets. The fact is, the revival of Han dress then not only had a social basis, but also had profound historical and utilitarian meanings.
1: The revival of Han dress has a certain societal basis. Ever since the fall of the Ming, the Han have taken the Queue Order as a painful token to remind them of the shame in losing the country, and it re-escalated during the antagonization towards the end of the Qing. “Restoring Huaxia dress” was a message by the democratic revolutionary bourgeoisie with utmost clarity in meaning: “The recent shame to our country and fallen armies, our realms divided and threatening our borders; our great Huaxia is considered unworthy by our neighbours, our artifacts and dress taken lightly by foreign races. (近之辱國喪師﹑剪藩壓境﹑堂堂華夏不齒於鄰邦﹑文物冠賞被輕於異族。)” “Retribution over shame, expelling foreign races, and restore our headdress and clothes. (雪仇耻,驅外族,復我冠裳。)” “The demons and spirits in the ancestral temples are not of the ones [of our] countryside altars; the hair queues and braids are not fashion [of our] bian and mian coronets; the Qing written form and national language, is not the decorum and pattern of our culture. (堂子妖神,非郊丘之教; 辮髮纓絡,非弁冕之服; 清書國语,非斯、邈之文。)” 
On the other hand, traditional Han clothing has had an impact on the Revolutionary Party members. “I am already thirty-three…and even past the age of independence, I still wear clothing of barbarians, not daring to trespass the code by even an inch. By not being able to cut it off, the crime is mine alone to bear. I shall don the shen belt [a part of the Shenyi] and grow out my hair, in order to restore the recent antiquity, but time is hasty and the clothes are all but unattainable.”  Lu Xun in his account of Nanshe’s “desire to liberate the old things” also mentioned the influence of clothing: “For example the people of Nanshe are at first very Revolutionary, but they hold a fantasy that once the Manchus are expelled, everything will go back to ‘the glorious face of the Han official (漢官威儀)’, and everyone wiill wear large-sleeved robes with tall coronets, taking large strides down the street.” Although there are slightly different takes on interpreting the phrase “restore our headdress and clothes”, there is no difference in meaning from overthrowing the Manchu Qing regime, and mobilizing the masses on the Revolutionary front. Just as the above accounts have recounted, there were some who suggested from before the Xinhai Revolution to restore ancient dress, modelling the clothes after the martial roles in Tales of the Water Margin (Shui Hu Chuan) and Seven Wanderers and Five Heroes (Qixia Wuyi) , with “high topknots over the heads, with tight fitting clothes, with a round-collared long robe with double-knots outside.”  They believed that this outfit was “aesthetically pleasing, yet agile and not losing out the martial spirit.”
After the Xinhai Revolution, Temporary President Sun Yat-sen emphasized in his edict to cut the queue on March 5 “Manchu bandits, in their act of stealing the nation and changing our headdress and clothing and imposing the braided queue by force, have stenched our customs. At first that time,gentlemen of tall virtue and humaneness, as well as those of unbendable spirits, have willingly sacrificed their lives, or hid themselves amongst the torrents for the rset of their lives…now that the Manchu court is overthrown, and the Republic is successful, all of my compatriots are allowed to cleanse the filth of this past stain, and become citizens of a new nation. (满虏窃国,易于冠裳,强行编发之制,悉以腥之俗。当其初,高士仁人或不屈被执,从容就义;或遁入流,以终余年。……今者满廷已覆,民国成功,凡我同胞,允宜涤旧染之污,作新国之民。)”  “…Removing barbarian practicse to reinforce aesthetics. (以除虏俗而壮观瞻。) When Lishui, Zhejiang was liberated, two people “donned square caps, wore Ming ancient costume, hung Longchuan swords by their waists, and stood in the street to greet [the troops]. (头带方巾,身穿明代古装,腰佩龙泉宝剑,站在街头欢迎。)”  Qian Xuantong, the first person to call for the downfall of the Tongcheng school of Confucianism for its fallacious teachings and claimed that “the Republic and Confucian canon cannot coexist”, reported to the Zhejiang Military Government as new Minister of Education in a Confucius-era Shenyi and black gauze cap in 1913, as well published “A study on Shenyi cap and outfit (Shenyi Guanfu Kao)”for public dissemination. [1:382] 。”At that time, many people donned strange and exotic clothing for the sake of restoring Han Chinese clothing. So tied their hair in a topknot and wore Daoist garb, others tied their full heads of hair into straight tails, and some cut their queues to have short hair.” Undoubtedly, the social basis for reviving traditional Han dress is brittle at best, but such a basis does exist. From the clothing and hairstyle revolution in the Taiping to Nanshe’s proposed ideas all show this basis of the desire of restoration, hence a straight-cut statement of “restoring ancient dress” lacking any social support would be too sweeping a generalization. Restoring “Huaxia dress and headdress” required support from both the government and prominent members of society, but both failed to demmonstrate corresponding passion, and pundits taking action were sparse.
If we were to seek its cause, it is related with another change of customs that began just slightly earlier. With modernization movement of dress began as a measure to improve moral customs, and had extensive effect in the Hundred Days’ Reform. Kang Youwei, Song Shu and others were adament on the change of dress, as “when the King changes ruling methods, clothing and colors must change (‘王者改制,必易服色’). If the clothing has not changed, the hearts of the people cannot be shifted to become custom, hence the new system will not work.” “If this change is to affect domains Manchu and Han, civil and martial, we must begin from the official practice: if we wish to connect the spirits of the sovereign and servant, official and civilian, we must begin with establishing a parliament. If we are to flourish the studies of military and agriculture, water and fire, we must begin from changing the examination system. Before these three begin, one must change before these: If we are to change our civil service, parliamentary, and examination systems, we must start from changing into Western dress.” However, their sartorial revolution was put to a dead stop with the end of the Hundred Days’ Reform. The Reformists saw the change of dress to be an important aspect of establishing Western-style governance, and had a distinctly different political need from those petitioning for the “restoration of our traditional dress”.
Revolutionary Party members were no different in their misunderstandings toward traditional dress, but with the end of over two millennia of feudal [sic] rule with an Emperor, the feudal [sic] code of rituals crumbled away with it. In the Temporary Constitution of the Republic of China, it clearly states: “The people of the Republic are all equal without discrimination of race, status, or religion.” The traditional dress code which was an important device for maintaining a social hierarchy was soon outlawed. Not long after, Sun Yat-sen’s four principles of dress formally ended the politicized morality of sartorial tradition. In his response to a letter from The Association of Maintaining Chinese Local Goods, he pointed that “this clothing style’s main purpose is for its suitability to hygiene, ease of movement, yet economical and aesthetically pleasing.” The main concensus of the government and the society at large was set in the context of ‘learning from the West’ – First, the Republic’s new dress should abide by Universalism, promote equality, study from Western utilitarian values, hence should be of Western design. As previously stated, wearing Western clothing is the most ardent representative face of the bourgeois revolution around the world, and due to the success of the Revolution, they have become the most significant force influencing the new dress of the Republic.” Although Sun also believed that using Western clothing as the formal dress of the Republic may be “not entirely appropriate”, and pointed that “after doing away with the queue and intent on changing the clothing standard, but no appropriate clothing to meet the demand, will only lead to expediant importing of tweed to compete in the conversion to Western standards. This only will lead to booming sales of foreign goods and stagnation of local ones, and the negative impact will be as described by textbooks.” But at the same time,adopting Western dress was the mainstream direction, hence the Republican government’s “universalist” ideology legitimized Western design as legit and rational. Although former Revolutionary Party members stressed on nationalism and extended their request on sartorialism, their understanding on clothing remained on the utilitarian and economic basis. The understanding on the meaning of traditional dress from the early days of the Revolution was largely forgotten.
“When traditional culture is situated in the climate of heavy Western influence and shock, without the support of official bodies, this obviously is difficult.” Since dress modernization is ‘intoxicated on Westernization’ from the start, irregardless of Reformist or Revolutionist, neither side was willing to “restore” traditional Han dress, hence other than arousing the curiosity of the public when it reappeared on the streets, few questioned its background social reasons.
Secondly, in the early years of the Republic, the confusing sartorial situation meant space for the potential restoration of traditional Han dress. Is the end of the Manchu rule and end to politicized morality of sartorialism also relegating Huaxia dress into the past? The problem is not as simple. Ethnic dress is the external mark for differentiating one ethnicity from another, hence most races around the world have their own unique dress. although the “Western clothing fad” in the beginning years of the Republic spread fervantly, the result was “ladies’ dress of those pursuing with the times, pursue the styles of Shanghai irregardles of design, mostly out novelty from the circle of courtesans. Men’s clothing may imitate Beijing officials and self-titled elites, or chase after actors or others who endeavour in chasing after the mode.” This kind of confusing situation was detrimental to both the new government and the image of the citizen, hence Sun Yat-sen’s anxious exclaimation “and yet there is no appropriate clothing to meet demand.” Speaking strictly on the ethnic revolution, the Xinhai Revolution has only been successful in restoring the ruling status of the Huaxia people, but not in their external appearance, image, or clothing. Despite Sun’s “Zhongshan suit” being of fashion at one point in time, this kind of dress did not attain recognition as a traditional article of clothing. Its military design and uniform nature also meant that the world did not recognize it as the hallmark image of the Huaxia people. On the other hand, years afteer the death of Sun, cheongsam and magua are still the de facto dress of Chinese people across all social strata, and represented the international image of the Chinese people. This can only prove one point: in times of turmoil and revolution, clothing has always been a means for political or partisan identity, to display a certain group’s existance and power through the uniformity of dress. For example, Communists in China perceive red markers and accessories as the symbol of justice, revolution and progress, and grade schoolers still don the red scarf as a token of honour. The Nationalists also once pushed forward the Zhongshan suit as the materialization of national revolution and development of the Three Principles of the People. We can see that not only can heavily politicized clothing not be accepted by the people in the long run, it cannot evolve into the category of traditional clothing, and to the degree of replacing another culture’s dress.Just as the tyranny of over 200 years of Manchu rule and the slogan “Restoring Huaxia Dress” still has a powerful draw, Manchu dress, which has a strong derogatory meaning imbued towards the Han, cannot totally replace the traditional dress of the Han, and the reappearance of the “Shenyi” has then escaped from the individual meaning of ‘antiquarianism’ but rather into the social meaning of re-establishing ethnic identity.
On the other hand, is “wide sleeves and sashes, elegant steps with long skirts are inconvenient in global competition” the only reason to “match our customs with Euro-America”, or is “matching our customs with Euro-America” the only solution to “wide sleeves and sashes, elegant steps with long skirts being inconvenient in the face of global competition?” The answer, needless to say, is no. Otherwise, we would not be able to explain how Japan, our neighbour, would be able to keep its traditional ethnic dress – the kimono, despite their modernization progress being far ahead to that of China’s. Despite that they have already “cut their hair” and “changed their dress” in the workplace, the kimono is the undisputed international image of the Japanese. At the same time, it cannot explain why the cheongsam and magua regaining popularity today. Hence, it is not hard to conclude that “wide robes and sashes” can still find room for coexistance with modern civilization, nor does ‘following Euro-American customs’ mean simply wearing the clothing of said cultures. In actuality, due to the similarities between Han and Japanese dress, many Revolutionary party members staying in Japan loved to don the kimono, not just for the reason of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, but more because of their disdain of Manchu clothing and longing for Han traditional dress. Many of them continue to wear the kimono after returning to China: “In 1906 (Guangxu 32), The Shanghai Zhongguo Gongxue where Hu Shih studied in reflected a diverse era of sartorialism. Amidst the student body and faculty, there are those who wear Western suits, while some don the kimono, and others the cheongsam magua, with pigtails behind their heads.”[1:380] Regardless of the standpoint of supporting Chinese local goods, or from supporting ethnic revolution, the chaos of social transition provided room for traditional Han dress to display itself onto the world stage. Amidst the choice of Manchurian robes and magua, Western suits, Zhongshan suits, and traditional Han dress, which was further away from or higher above the political strife and conflict? When the dust of political struggle finally settle, which was more likely to become the people’s choice? The answer almost goes without saying. We can presume, under the circumstance of elevated nationalistic spirits mixed with governmental support, reinstating Han dress is not impossible. Today, when people wear Han dress to the streets again, could we perhaps understand it as: “In the age of change, aside from using dress as a way to express political and religious views, it can also be used to symbolize and mark certain group ideologies, cultural ideals, and use the dress of the individual to foil their rebellious logos toward tradition, which has become a moving and spectacular scene in this century.” If we haven’t misunderstood this, to what degree is this this kind of “rebellion towards tradition” seen as a return and renaissance of Han dress in the late Qing, early Republican era? Without doubt, dress here has surpassed the functional need for survival, and has become a means of expressing a certain cultural language, or even as the cultural language itself. Evidently, “in our age where knowledge and democracy is promoted and respected, the former two kinds of faith become increasingly blurred, the reason being the modern man is much clearer in perceiving that dress is fundamentally insufficient to represent and demarcate a certain kind of political and ideological view, as Baudrillard pointed that the ‘place’ of human existance and their selection of dress does not have an everlasting or inevitable relationship of cause-effect between them.”  But in the past and present where nationalism is born and hastened by market economics, the survival of man’s ‘place’ and their choice of dress will have a perhaps un-everlasting yet inevitable causal relationship, and this cause-effect relationship has a decisive if not lethal meaning towards those who can only live under specific historical stages – such as those who had to choose between dress and life during the late Ming, early Qing era.
Thirdly, because the meaning of dress and ethnic identity cannot be underestimated, historical changes in dress and fashion always have profound socio-political meaning, and such meanings are often deemed important by the ruling class. Because culture and national identity and state are closely related, and ethnic identity is a matter within the scope of culture, it reaches out to matters of idiosyncracies, moral, values, philosophies, customs etc.. Hence one’s ethnic traits are deeply rooted in the cultural structure. As dress is an important ingredient to a culture, its unique intuitiveness, continuity and connotative thoughts are obviously equal to that of ethnic identity. History does not limit itself to this incidence when it comes to ethnic identification from dress. “Tang-era dress was differentiated into Hua clothing from Hu clothing, where Hu dress was worn by Northern tribes, and had its influence on Tang people, and Hua dress continues its lineage from Huaxia dress customs since antiquity. The evolution of Tang dress can be divided largely into two periods: Early Tang to Kaiyuan and Tianbao, where Hu dress was la mode; and mid-Tang from Zhenyuan and Yuanhe right to the end, where although Hua and Hu dress coexist, it has gradually restored to its older look as of Han and Wei times. Hua clothing grew in popularity, and Hu dress was largely discarded. This change not only showed the evolution of Tang people’s aesthetic senses, but its underlying change in Yi-Xia [foreign-Huaxia] perspective had lasting effects on future generations.” Hence, “historians who observe ancient cultural development pay particular importance to the mid-Tang, and see it as ‘a turning point in ‘antiquity towards modernity.’ Aside from people like Han Yu who ostracized Buddhism and revived Confucian doctrine in the mid-Tang, the dress reflected this change of Yi-Xia perspective, and at the same time reflected the rejection of foreign culture and trend towards returning to one’s own indigenous culture. These all directly influence the development of Song and subsequent eras’ traditional culture, which forms the transition of ‘Tang-style culture’ and ‘Song-style culture’ as we know it today.” Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming under the call of “Expelling the Hu barbarians, restoring Zhonghua” and banned Hu dress, especially of parallel-collared robes, while obviously for the purpose of affirming his “own private gains”‘, but “Enforcing the Great Difference between Hua and Yi” on the other hand strengthened Han self-recognition of their ethnic identity. The Queue Order of the Manchu Qing empire led to the Han losing their millennia-old traditional hairstyle and dress, to the degree that “not a trace of Tang-styled dress and headdress was to be found”, not only led to the Han losing that pride, but their dignity, self-confidence in spirit, and even their self-identity became questioned, to the degree that no description is an overstatement. “With the barbarian Yuan toppling the Han, their fortune lasted less than a hundred years, the antiquity was not distant, and the dress and headdress standards was still Han. In addition, the scholar-literati, half with their lineages to Zhao Jianghan, Liu Yin and various saints, many of them can differentiate between Hua and Yi. Hence, when Li Siqi bided his time in Guanzhong, Liu Ji, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, Hu Shen all then walked toward the ancestor of the Ming [Zhu Yuanzhang], and rose against the Hu, and hence such a feat was ultimately possible.” But then on the other hand “Manchu barbarians have stolen the nation for two hundred and some years, the styles of the Ming and its survivors were naught to be found. With the scholar-literati long under repression and cajoled by foreigners, the oral and textual history forgotten. With all sense of honesty and humility lost, no loss was greater than this. Although people like Luo [Luo Zenan], Zeng, Zuo, Guo claim to be prominent scholars of their time, in the end they fail to understand the great justice of the nation, and is stuck in the ploy of using Han against other Han, and fell to their demise along with the Taiping Tianguo.” After the Republic was established, their “Queue cutting and clothes changing” measures indeed reached their intention of “removing the barbarian customs and fortifying aesthetics”, but it was not to restore the traditional dress of the Han, but to replace it with yet another new set of clothes. If this replacement were really to succeed, naturally it will help strengthen ethnic self-identity, but regrettably, as previously described, this replacement was not successful, because its effects on a new ethnic self-recognition should be limited. If the Xinhai Revolution’s limitations are to be relegated to the ineptitude and compromising nature of the bourgeoisie, the incompleteness of the revolution, and the blind worship of the West, then the performance of this process is particularly evident in sartorial transition. Undoubtably, the Revolutionary Party members had a stronger sense of democracy or global perspective than any previous monarch, but their ethnic sense, especially in their governance sense may not have surpassed those before. Just as how they have failed politically, their sartorial revolution can be said to “have yet to succeed” in the same sense.
GAO Xialing (1973-): Female, from Jiaozuo, Henan Province. Postgraduate researcher in modern history, Hunan Normal University Institute of History and Culture, Class of 2003.
CHENG Xiaoming (1973-): Male, from Jiaozuo, Henan Province. Lecturer in National University of Defense Technology Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. M.Law, engaged in research and teaching of political theory.