Rethinking the Hanfu Movement Nov. 2012: Rethinking reimaginations

Ji Enxu (Zhou Tianhe) curates over the exhibit and explains the differences between the designs over the years and scholars’ re-imaginations.

On September 29, 2012, fashion design group Celestial Spring and several renowned Confucian scholars ran a 2-day exhibit on the evolution of the Confucian scholar standard regalia – the Shenyi. Often deemed as “the most original and antiquated Chinese robe design thought possible,” the loose robe’s design is long thought to be a static, rigid standard due to its unchanging definition that fills the entire contents of the Book of Rites’ chapter XXXIX. The group referenced various Confucian scholars’ detailed annotations on the Shenyi standard over the span of 1,700 years, and has produced replicas of 12 robes to come to an astounding conclusion that not only our perceptions of the past often clouded by mysticism of the textual ambivilency, but the same can be said that of our ancestors, in no less a degree than our wild imaginations and re-imaginations today.

Below are the 12 Shenyi robes, as well as the textual account given in the exhibit. Note that most names of historical figures are addressed in last name-courtesy name basis, with their first names addressed on a separate line in Confucian tradition in respect of prominent figures.

It is particularly important to see, through this display of actualized reproductions of shenyi designs and its concepts throughout the ages, how imaginations of what “Chinese clothing”, “Confucian sartorial regulations”, and how text is interpreted by different diciplines and individuals. In another perspective, it also represents how the changes in Chinese fashion, or the absence of visible environment for the clothing (such as the Qing) has affected the imagination of Han Chinese clothing.

Implications of the reimaginations of the Shenyi in the modern context may have various directions, including the discussion of how far should traditional hanfu design encompass – would satisfying the textual evidence be enough, or would a continuity froom previous specimens be required? It is my hope that the following article will open a discussion on the subject with the general community. More

Beyond Flat Cutting: Debunking Hanfu as a 2-D tradition

N15 Restoration Team

Artifact N15 Restoration team (from left): 王鹏智 Wang Pengzhi, 柯宇鹏 Ke Yupeng, 鲁余栋 Lu Yudong, 琥璟明 Hu Jingming, 罗海波 Luo Haibo

Original Title: 华采衣兮若英—江陵马山一号楚墓(N15)复原 [Flamboyant and Illustrious Clothing Such As Petals – Restoration of Jiangling Mashan Chu Grave No.1 Artifact N15]
By: Hu Jingming, Hunan Normal University
Translated by: Juni Yeung  

Translator’s Foreword: This is a prime example of how the Hanfu movement challenges previous authorities on Chinese historical sartorial research. Whereas in the past visual analysis of actual artifacts and artwork alone made up the bulk of empirical research, the new generation takes to active analysis of the clothing’s structure as a livable, usable piece. Numerous pieces of knowledge regarding the history and structure of Hanfu itself have been debunked as myths thanks to these people’s work, and leads us to all the more in awe to the creativity and genius of our ancestors.  

Hu’s Foreword: As Duanwu arrives, our restoration research project draws to a successful close. This may be a new way of examining and savoring our history, as we try in the past to understand history through reading words, but now we analyze and organize historical accounts with archaeological data, and restoring a visual impression to actualize our point. Not only is this an effective supplement to textual information, but also a more sensual way of interpreting history. From restoring our ancient clothing, we also provide valuable reference material for our modern fashion design and development.  

This restoration was done by the Hanfu Research Team at Huangshi Polytechnic Institute Fashion major, consisting of Hu Jingming, Lu Yudong, Luo Haibo, Wang Pengzhi, and Ke Yupeng. In order to achieve as close a texture to the original artifact, we used silk as the fabric of choice, while the collar is real silk brocade. We combined hand sewing with machine sewing for our handiwork.  

Also, we would like to thank netizen Piaoguo Yinzhou 飘过沂州, as her research results have provided great help and guidance to our efforts. When our model put on the piece, I could feel this piece’s own unique aura and aesthetic, and I am nothing short of awed and inspired from our ancestor’s sense of beauty and creativity.  

In the modern context, I believe this clothing is really suitable as a wedding dress, but definitely not something for the streets. It must be worn on a clean, polished floor, or a carpeted, bamboo-matted ground, or of the sort.  

Let us begin. More

Fluttering Hems: The Issue of Taxonomy of Several Robe Types

Various styles of male Hanfu. This article focuses on the long robe variants and their names.

Although Hanfu becomes more readily available in a maturing market, a newcomer may still be driven to a daze by the flood of new terms and jargons used to describe and explicate the types and elements of this diverse sartorial culture.  

It does not help to the situation when there is an ever-changing understanding of the archaeology and taxonomy of the clothing within the civilian and institutional academic Hanfu researchers, as well the liberties taken by some Hanfu makers in its design and market labelling. Just what is the difference between a Zhishen and a Zhiduo? Why is a Shenyi of a totally different price and prescribed occasion for wearing compared to a round-collared robe or a simple long straight robe? Why is the Xuanduan so exclusive, if it even refers to the same thing to different people?  

Let us take a brief look at some of the finer details these clothes’ definitions:  

  • The Xuanduan (Black-hem) 玄端 Outfit,
  • the Zhiju Shenyi (Straight-hem deep-robe) 直裾深衣,
  • the Zhiduo (straight robe) 直裰,
  • the Zhishen (straight-body robe) 直身,
  • and the Daopao (Daoist robe) 道袍.


The Shenyi for Dummies: A design with no absolute measurements!

The completed clothes should look like this!

EDIT: Here is the completed thing!

Revised diagram.

Revised diagram.

For someone with next to zero tailoring skills (such as myself), here is the simplest explanation as to how a proper Shenyi, the “white-tie” for the civilian adult male, is made.

The Ruqun, which is the standard dress for women that can be formal or casual (depending on sleeve size), is more or less the same, with exception to detaching the top from the bottom, and adding a separate skirt head. The Ruqun’s technicalities is beyond the scope of this post, for now.

With this diagram, one can fabricate a Shenyi by acquiring some black and white fabric. At 120cm broadcloth, one would require about 5m of material (on the safe side). Dark blue or green can replace the black, but black is still recommended.

NOTE: Sashes for tying up the clothes itself for wearing is not included in these diagrams. These are assumed knowledge for the Hanfu tailor, and sashes should be sewn on all Hanfu in four places:

  1. The inside of the left armpit, and is tied with 3 when worn.
  2. The upper edge of the end of the left collar, which is tied with 4 when worn.
  3. The upper edge of the end of the right collar, which is tied with 1 when worn.
  4. The outside of the right armpit, and is tied with 2 when worn.

In the details of this post, I will summarize the recent discussions and findings of the Hanfu Movement in regards to necessity of cutting seams, fabric widths, and the shape of the skirt. Please read on.



June 2023