Hanfu movement

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Hanfu being worn during a festival in London

The Hanfu movement (simplified Chinese: 汉服运动; traditional Chinese: 漢服運動) is a social movement that has developed in China since the beginning of the 21st century. In 2003, supporters of Han revivalism launched the website Hanwang (Chinese: 漢網, "Han Network") to promote "traditional" Han clothing and Han supremacist agenda.[1][2] Participants revitalize their utopian vision of the authentic “Great Han” and corresponding “real China” through dress, reinvented Confucian ritual and anti-foreign sentiment.[3][4] They seek to restore and stress the purity and superiority of "traditional Chinese culture" through the promotion of the wearing of the "hanfu" which they claim to be the "traditional ethnic clothing" of the majority Han Chinese ethnic group.[1][5][6] While some Hanfu enthusiasts believe that the issue of Han clothing cannot be separated from the larger issue of racial identity and political power in China, some consider most supporters wear the style to show their appreciation for Chinese culture or just for fashion, without caring about the Han nationalism publicised by some leaders of the Hanfu movement.[7]


Wang Letian wearing Hanfu with his Western-style trousers and patent leather shoes

According to Asia Times Online, the Hanfu movement may have begun around 2003. Wang Letian from Zhengzhou, China, publicly wore Hanfu. Wang and his followers inspired others to reflect on the cultural identity of Han Chinese. They organized the Hanfu movement as an initiative in a broader effort to revive and preserve the Han Chinese identity.[8]

According to James Leibold, an associate professor in Chinese politics and Asian studies at La Trobe University, there were advocates of Han revivalism launched a website known as Han Network to promote "traditional" Han clothing and the Han supremacist agenda in 2003. The guiding principles behind the website is described as "Han-centrism", the belief in "the paramount importance of racial righteousness and the upholding of the Han race's position by defending on this core philosophy", the constitution asserts that "Han culture is the world's most advanced and its race is one of the strongest and most prosperous". Some pioneers of the movement who promote Han clothing and Han supremacist agenda admitted that the issue of Han clothing cannot be separated from the larger issue of racial identity and political power in China. Moreover, Leibold also mentioned that: "one would be mistaken in believing that all Hanfu supporters share the political agenda embedded in the Hanwang constitution. Rather, the movement encompasses a very diverse group of individuals who find different sorts of meaning and enjoyment in the category of Han."[1]

The Hanfu movement has been controversial since its initiation. While supporters often applaud its reviving of Han culture, some others criticize its exclusiveness. The Han Chinese society as a whole has not accepted revival of wearing Hanfu for daily wear. People who wear Hanfu in public, rather than what is now the more common western dress, are often considered eccentric.

Hanfu enthusiasts often hold events to encourage the public to wear this traditional clothing. Major events in recent years include Guan Li's and Ji Li's (Chinese coming of age ceremonies). Activists in this movement also wear Hanfu in numerous public and private ceremonies.

During an interview, a pioneer of the movement who promote Han clothing and Han supremacist agenda with other supporters admitted that the issue of Han clothing cannot be separated from the larger issue of racial identity and political power in China.[1] However, some supporters consider most of them wear the style to show their appreciation for Chinese culture or just for fashion, without caring about the Han nationalism publicised by some leaders of the Hanfu movement.[7]

Lecturer of Macquarie University Kevin Carrico said: "In this process, Han Clothing made the transition from a fantastic invented tradition to a distant image on a screen to a physical reality in the streets of China, in which one could wrap and recognise oneself... the movement promotes a sacred tradition surrounding profane reality, declaring an aestheticised warfare on the dictatorship of the real."[9] In 2011, an Hanfu enthusiast explained to Carrico his understand of nationalism:[10]

You can’t have nationalism without race. That’s what we want to do: promote Han racial nationalism... The multiracial nationalism we have now in China, with 56 races as part of a larger “Chinese race” (Chinese: 中華民族) is a big scam. It was imposed upon us by the Manchus, forcing us Han, the core of China from the beginning of time, into submission. All that this nationalism has done is to weaken China. You can’t just destroy the distinction between civilization and barbarism, incorporate a bunch of barbarians into our nation and then expect a strong nation. All this talk of “wealth and power” is empty and meaningless without Han nationalism.

Definition of "Hanfu"[edit]

Han and Manchu clothing during Qing dynasty
Han Chinese clothing in early Qing

The word "Hanfu" is not included in the authoritative dictionary of Standard Mandarin Chinese "Contemporary Chinese Dictionary" (Chinese: 現代漢語詞典) and its modern definition was created by internet users around the year 2003.[11][9]

According to "Dictionary of Old Chinese Clothing" (Chinese: 中國衣冠服飾大辭典), the term "hanfu" means "dress of the Han people."[12] It is a concept to distinguish Han people's dress from minority clothing.[13] The term/concept of "hanfu" which is not commonly used in ancient times can be found in some historical records from Han, Tang, Song, Ming dynasties and the Republican era in China,[14][15][16][17][18] yet there is no clear history indicating that there was any such apparel in existence under the name "hanfu".[19][20]

Supporters of the movement claim that hanfu's chief characteristics were symbolic of cultural moral and ethical values: "the left collar covering the right represents the perfection of human culture on human nature and the overcoming of bodily forces by the spiritual power of ethical ritual teaching; the expansive cutting and board sleeve represents a moral, concordant relation between nature and human creative power; the use of the girdle to fasten the garment over the body represents the constraints of Han culture to limit human's desire that would incur amoral deed. In the Qing Dynasty, officials replaced the Hanfu with the costume of Manchu. Though many persons believe that the Qipao or Cheongsam is China's national costume, it is fairly modern.[21]

The advocates of the movement believe the term "hanfu" refers to the vanished, pre-17th century historical clothing worn by the Han people, and the meaning of Hanfu in the movement is the same from what it was in the historical records,[22][20] yet scholarly research indicates that the "modern definition of Hanfu" was created on Chinese-language, collaborative, web-based encyclopedia Baidu Baike and Chinese online platform “hanwang” by internet users.[13][23][9]

Professor of Aichi University Zhou Xing (Chinese: 周星) said that the so-called "hanfu", which is not commonly used in ancient times, refers to the traditional dress imagined by participants of hanfu movement.[20]

Professor of China Youth University of Political Studies Zhang Xian (Chinese: 張跣) mentioned the "modern definition of Hanfu" is a concept publicized by advocates of the hanfu movement. Those advocates are mostly students, who created a non-academic, non-official standard of Hanfu that refers to the historical dress of the Han Chinese before the Qing dynasty and published it on Baidu Baike. He also argue that the promotion of Han clothing is a hollow "totem" which serves to mislead and deceive people about the underlining racist and regressive nature of the movement. By stressing the purity and superiority of Han culture, the Hanists are denigrating rather than reviving national consciousness, and thus represent a deviation and distortion from the mainstream of cultural nationalism in morder China.[23][1]

Kevin Carrico pointed out that: "in reality, modern hanfu is an invented style of dress that features broad sleeves, flowing robes, belted waists and vibrant colours. Its modern-day proponents claim it was the invention of the mythical Yellow Emperor and was worn for millennia by the Chinese people... Han Clothing made the transition from a fantastic invented tradition to a distant image on a screen to a physical reality in the streets of China, in which one could wrap and recognise oneself."[9]

Debates and Nationalism[edit]

Hanfu movement supporters wearing Hanfu
Two Hanfu promoters at the Chinese Cultural Festival in Guangzhou

In the 21st century, Hanfu advocates argue that making Hanfu a national dress could unite the country, creating a cultural symbol for China, and a renewed tradition for future generations.[24] But the movement's critics believe that this revival leans toward a narrow nationalism and that it is focused on looks rather than content.[24] They fear that an effort to reject non-Hanfu dress could lead to a rejection of the West in terms beyond clothing style.

Other critics note that Hanfu is the dress only of the Han people. The other 55 ethnic groups of China might not want to adopt it and give up their own dress.[24]

Some Hanfu advocates claim that the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty as single-mindedly dedicated to the destruction of the Han people and thus of China itself, has fundamentally transformed Chinese society and shifted its essence "from civilisation to barbarism". The real violence such as Yangzhou massacre during which a Manchu-led massacre devastated the city of Yangzhou, or the queue edict issued by the Manchu court imposing a particular hairstyle on Manchu and Han males alike, is combined with imaginary violence of the forcible erasure of Han Clothing. According to historians, the great majority of Han men were, in fact, free to continue to dress as they had during the Ming dynasty and the number of victims of Yangzhou massacre was highly exaggerated (the prefecture of Yangzhou had already been massacred twice by the Ming army before the city of Yangzhou was captured by the Qing army). Han Clothing devotees also claim that such "uncivilised practices" as spitting, line cutting, forcing others to drink alcohol, or corruption are the product of the "Manchu taint".[9][25]

According to historian Edward J.M. Rhoads, during the Qing dynasty, the Manchurian rulers required Manchu clothing only for Eight Banners members and Han men serving as government officials. Ordinary Han civilians were allowed to wear Han clothing, yet most of the Han civilian men voluntarily adopted Manchu clothing, as it represented what the elite were wearing.[26] Throughout the Qing dynasty, most Han women continued to wear Han clothing and did not adopt Manchu women's clothing.

Conspiracy theories among Han Clothing Movement participants claim that there is a secret Manchu plan for restoration that has been underway from the start of the post-1978 reform era. They argue that Manchus secretly control every important party-state institution, such as the People’s Liberation Army, the Party Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Culture and especially the National Population and Family Planning Commission which is regarded as a stronghold of Manchu influence. They believe that its one-child policy is but "an escalation of the long-term Manchu genocide that targets the Han people", since they consider " the one-child policy does not seem like something that one race would do to its own people".[9]


In February 2007, advocates of Hanfu submitted a proposal to the Chinese Olympic Committee to have it be the official clothing of the Chinese team in the 2008 Summer Olympics.[27] The Chinese Olympic Committee rejected the proposal in April 2007.[28]


  1. ^ a b c d e Leibold, James (September 2010). "More Than a Category: Han Supremacism on the Chinese Internet". The China Quarterly. 203: 539–559.
  2. ^ Thomas Mullaney; Eric Armand Vanden Bussche; Stéphane Gros; James Patrick Leibold (2012). Critical Han Studies. Univ of California Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN 9780520289758.
  3. ^ Bullock, Olivia (2014). "Ancient apparel is China's newest fashion trend". The World of Chinese.
  4. ^ Kevin Carrico, "The Great Han Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today", UC Press, 2017, ISBN 9780520295506
  5. ^ Zhao, Jianhua (2013). The Chinese Fashion Industry: An Ethnographic Approach. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 81. ISBN 978-1847889355.
  6. ^ Sylvie Beaud, "Han Clothing Movement & Nationalism", Dissertation Reviews, May 6, 2014
  7. ^ a b Yan, Alice (2018). "400 years after falling out of favour, the flowing, and sometimes controversial, robes of the Han ethnic group are back in style". South China Morning Post.
  8. ^ "Han follow suit in cultural renaissance", Asian Times Online
  9. ^ a b c d e f Kevin Carrico, A State of Warring Styles
  10. ^ "Book Review: The Great Han — Race, Nationalism and Tradition in China Today". Asia Sentinel. January 12, 2018.
  11. ^ 羅, 雪揮 (2005-09-05). "《「漢服」先鋒》". 《中國新聞周刊》.
  12. ^ 高, 春明 (1996). 《中國衣冠服飾大辭典》. 上海: 周汛. ISBN 7-5326-0252-4.
  13. ^ a b 华, 梅 (14 June 2007). "汉服堪当中国人的国服吗?". People's Daily Online.
  14. ^ 《宋史》:“吾家世為王民,自金人犯邊,吾兄弟不能以死報國,避難入關,今為曦所逐,吾不忍棄漢衣冠,願死於此,為趙氏鬼。”
  15. ^ 倪在田 (1957). 《續明紀事本末》 (in Chinese). 臺灣大通書局. p. 214. “(金)聲桓預作數十棺,全家漢服坐其中,自焚死。”
  16. ^ 樊綽; 趙吕甫校释 (1985). 《云南志校释》 (in Chinese). 中国社会科学出版社. p. 143页. “裳人,本漢人也。部落在鐵橋北,不知遷徙年月。初襲漢服,後稍参諸戎風俗,迄今但朝霞纏頭,其余無異。”
  17. ^ 《馬關縣志·風俗志》. “男子衣褲用棉布係以腰帶,有鈕扣與漢服略同者,稱之為漢苗”
  18. ^ 《廣州市黃埔區志》. “清末民初時期,大多數人都是以穿漢服(唐裝)為主”
  19. ^ Carrico, Kevin (2017). The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Univ of California Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-520-29549-0.
  20. ^ a b c 周, 星 (2012). "汉服运动:中国互联网时代的亚文化". ICCS Journal of Modern Chinese Studies. 4: 61–67.
  21. ^ "Chinese Clothing - Five Thousand Years' History". Culture Essentials Explore Chinese Culture. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  22. ^ 李冬青; 刘涛 (2014). "汉服的文化意義及傳承方式研究". 遼寧絲綢. 2014(2): 18–20.
  23. ^ a b ""汉服运动":互联网时代的种族性民族主义--《中国青年政治学院学报》2009年04期". 2016-08-04. Retrieved 2005-09-01.
  24. ^ a b c "Should China Adopt Hanfu as Its National Costume? ", Beijing Review, 10 July 2007
  25. ^ Struve (1993) (note at p. 269), following a 1964 article by Zhang Defang, notes that the entire city's population at the time was not likely to be more than 300,000, and that of the entire Yangzhou Prefecture, 800,000.
  26. ^ Edward J. M. Rhoads (2000). Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928. University of Washington Press. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-295-98040-9.
  27. ^ "Submission for a Proposal on Hanfu dress for the 2008 Chinese Olympics to the China Olympics Committee", Phoenix TV (in Chinese)
  28. ^ 官方首次表态北京奥运礼服不用汉服 (in Chinese)