Fashion trends are circular: what was popular in the 1920s are now coming back as “vintage” fashion. But Chinese youth are taking this a step further, bringing back the traditional Chinese Hanfu that has existed for thousands of years.
The Hanfu comes from the Han ethnic group, which consists of over 1.2 billion people–over 90% of China’s population. However, their traditions have mostly gone out of style in the last 400 years. The Hanfu movement is trying to change that.
This movement is most popular among college students; the large majority of participants are under 30. Some people only wear the Hanfu for special events, but others wear it everyday: to work, to school, or even merely to go grocery shopping.
The Hanfu dates back almost 4,000 years, but the basic form used now was established during the Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1046 B.C.). The Hanfu usually consists of a long, flowing robe with large loose sleeves and a belt at the waist. Some Hanfu include a crossed-over collar and embroidery.
The Hanfu was the fashion of choice in China until 1644, when the Manchurians in north took over all of China and started the Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1911. At first, the Qing emperor made it compulsory for everyone to wear Manchu-style clothing. Although this restriction was lifted after a while, Manchu clothes remained popular, becoming the new fashion norm in China. After the Qing Dynasty fell, China went through a period of foreign rule, which brought in heavy Western influences to the country. Since then, Western-style clothing have become the norm in China.
This Manchu-style dress is the most recognizable Chinese style in the world today.
The Hanfu movement started in 2003 when a picture of a man in Zhengzhou wearing a Hanfu went viral. The picture shows Wang Letian, a power utility worker, walking to work sporting a traditional robe. This sparked off the Hanfu movement. With the development of the internet and online shopping, the movement has grown more as even people living in rural areas can get outfits delivered.
Now, Hanfu festivals in China can attract more than 40,000 participants, such as the annual Hanfu Cultural Festival in Xitang. Festivals often include activities for participants to learn more about ancient Chinese culture, such as archery competitions and various handicraft workshops.
Many Chinese universities also have Hanfu Society clubs that promote traditional Chinese culture through activities such as music and dance performances and Hanfu hair and traditional Chinese makeup tutorials.
If you want to join Hanfu Society but don’t live in China, not all hope is lost! There are some Hanfu societies in cities outside of China, such as New York and Vancouver. For example, the New York Hanfu Corporation hosts get-togethers for people interested in the Hanfu. It also sponsors speakers to teach people about ancient Chinese traditions.
If you are interested in the Hanfu and Chinese customs, there might be a Hanfu Society right in your city or college!