Achievements and Shortcomings of the Han Clothing Movement of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Disclaiimer: Originally submitted to the History Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for HIST5011A ‘Perspectives to Comparative and Public History’ (December 2012) and University of Melbourne Admissions (January 2013) under the title “Shaking off double-colonization: The Achievements and Shortcomings of the Han Clothing Movement of the 20th and 21st Centuries,” with insert illustrations and images.

Author’s repost foreword: This essay is a continuation and completion of Gao and Cheng’s 2006 essay, which was one of the better attempts to ensnare the importance of the ongoing Hanfu Movement in its current context from a historical approach. While a social movement involves hundreds of aspects from thousands of faces, through this we hope to catch a glimpse of the opportunities presented to us in the times of social media and power of the individual, as compared to the industrialist times of our Republican forefathers.

Shaking off double-colonization:
The Achievements and Shortcomings of the Han Clothing Movement of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Juni L. Yeung, MACPH candidate, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Introduction: Chinese Dress, the double-colonized nation

            In the short days after the success of the Wuhan Uprising on October 10, 1911, Han Chinese citizens dazed in their newfound liberation: While some cut their hair queues, imposed by the Queue Order of 1644 to eliminate the sartorial and appearance practice of the Han, without a second of doubt, others clung onto the practice for decades into the Republic. A popular tale involved merchant Chen Shutong being challenged by a young student in Western dress why Chen was still wearing Manchu dress. Chen asked, “What dress are you wearing now?” When the student replied with the term foreign dress (waiguo fu), Chen coolly followed through, “Well, so am I.”

            Tales regarding the matter of dress in the Republic and identity litter across personal memoirs of the period, to which Gao Xialing and Cheng Xiaoming have specifically filtered and compiled into an argument with immediate relevancy and importance to our present moment since its publication in 2005. In their article published in the Journal of Xinzhou Teachers’ University[1], the authors argue that on the dawn of the Han ethnicity’s emancipation from Imperial Manchu rule, they have let a golden opportunity to restore their traditional appearance and sartorial practices slip by in favour of prescribing to a total Westernization program for the sake of the nation’s continued survival, and the Hanfu Movement since 2003 is a continuation of that continued dissatisfaction among those curious enough to question the dislocation between present Han dress customs to that of prior to Manchu conquest. However, references of this ‘continuing movement’ were nowhere to be found but in the abstract and the concluding statement. While the date of the article’s publication meant that the majority of social controversies have yet to occur, there was a total absence of any comparison between the proposed parallel phenomena between the early 20th century hanfu revival and the 21st century movement. Therefore, it is the mission of this paper to account for this unfilled gap in the Gao and Cheng endeavour, prior to analyzing the successes and shortcomings, blind spots and bottlenecks of the movements’ pundits over the two periods.

Contrary to intuitive belief that an anachronism a century ago would only be more ‘out of its temporal context’ in the present, I intend to argue that the concept of ‘antiquarian revivalism’ is misplaced and rather, the Confucian method of criticism by borrowing an idealized past is a constantly evolving means adapting to the times. Instead, the primary comparison should be in how the expression of Han nationalism and what encompassing values have changed over time in response to shifts in global events and external pressure to the Han identity.

Ex Machina: Communications technology and proliferation of ideas

The majority of counter-Qing revolutionaries rallied on the premise of “expelling the Tartars and restoring Huaxia”, which ethnic identity is based on the traditional Confucian doctrine of centrality. At the forefront of this discourse, the Queue Order of 1644 was publicized through reprints of various Revolutionary literature such as Accounts of the Ten Days of Yangzhou in Japan to Chinese overseas students. Utilizing this newfound freedom of the press, prominent student thinkers quickly wrote manifestos declaring their ideas of ethnic and national identity, and often followed by changes in sartorial practices to disassociate themselves with Manchu identity or rule. For example, existing photograph portraits of Qiu Jin and Zhang Taiyan depict them in Japanese kimono, a close cousin of Han Chinese clothing with similar crossed collars, and the biography of the latter outwardly expressed that his clothing was “Han”, as denoted by the customized Han character kamon insignia on his jinpei robe, now on display at the Zhang Taiyan Memorial Museum in Hangzhou[2]. Qian Xuantong claimed to have studied various Confucian notes on the specifications of the scholars’ shenyi robe and personally handmade it, and wore it to his Zhejiang office in 1912[3]. In an account of the liberation of Lishui, Zhejiang Province, a minor note recorded of two men in “two people “donned square caps, wore Ming ancient costume, hung Longchuan swords by their waists, and stood in the street to greet [the troops].”[4] The above incidents are recorded in form of newspaper editorials and personal memoirs of the person in question and at times direct witnesses, which were relegated as curios for certain individuals over the dinner table, rather than mass-oriented results such as retail of a clothing line or government edict on dress on the national level.

The impetus of the Hanfu movement one century later came under similar context as Chinese citizens discovered and utilized the information dissemination potential of the Internet, a wildly more liberal platform for idea exchange free of government censorship (or at least subverted in a cat-and-mouse game of evading automatic and human-based censors) than official news channels including newspapers, radio and television. Largely self-regulated by civilian administrators, early Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) was the sole choice of modern bilateral communications and was seen as a spiritual successor to Democracy Walls in Chinese university campuses and public spaces but was gradually outlawed from 1980 onwards[5]. More


February 2013
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