Hanfu: centuries-old Chinese fashion makes a comeback

By Wu Chaolan (People's Daily Online) 16:24, April 23, 2021

Li Guoguo wears a long robe with sweeping sleeves over a heavily embroidered green silk shirt while strolling about in a park covered by cherry blossoms, with traditional Chinese velvet flower pins adorning her hair and an exquisite Chinese fan folded in her hand. If not for the outfits of others passing by, she might be mistaken for a time traveler sent from a bygone China centuries in the past.

As an enthusiast for the hanfu, a type of traditional clothing of the Han ethnic group, Li fell in love with this style of clothing during the time when she was still in middle school. A decade later, Li's wardrobe is now bursting with hanfu of every variety, color and pattern. The outfit has become more than merely a style of dress, but a way of life for the young woman.

"I bought my first set of hanfu simply because of its beauty," she said. "But when I started to learn more, I became entranced with its textiles, craftsmanship, and the culture behind it."

Photo shows Li Guoguo wearing a hanfu in the park. (Photo provided to People's Daily Online)

Antique fashion and modern life

Li's passion for hanfu was also carried into her career. In 2017, Li uploaded her first video on Bilibili, a video-streaming platform, showcasing her immaculate hanfu wardrobe, which to her surprise went viral online. "The overwhelming success of the first video spurred me to use the platform as a channel to share my ideas with other kindred spirits," said Li, who is now an online influencer with nearly half a million fans. She routinely uploads videos about hanfu, which express "her ideal state of wearing traditional attire in modern society."

"When it comes to hanfu, people always related it to drama shows, which is far away from our daily life," said Li. "I hope they can appreciate the different possibilities of hanfu in my videos."

This deep-seated intention runs to the core of Li's content. With an aim to breaking down the public stereotype that hanfu cannot be worn in one's daily life, she always makes an effort to share her experience and knowledge on selecting an appropriate hanfu and accompanying accessories for different occasions, filming a vlog with its overarching theme hinging on the donning of hanfu for everyday life.

She also tries to mix and match different hanfu styles, making the wearing of the ancient garment a closer approximation to our everyday clothing habits. In her most played video, entitled "how to fool your boss: hanfu dress code for work," she swaps between six sets of hanfu, with outsiders hardly being able to tell any difference with modern clothing styles. This video attracted heated discussion online about the adoption of mix-and-match hanfu styles in contemporary society, with many supporting Li's notions on the subject.

"This is an excellent mix-and-match outfit, which has helped me to have a better understanding of the hanfu," as one netizen commented on Li's video. "Such an approach can inject vitality into the hanfu and encourage people to wear it."

"Introducing the hanfu into modern life is an excellent way to revive our ancestors' fashion," another commented.

In order to showcase the full potential of the hanfu to her audience, Li thrust herself into her work and hoped to generate further innovations in her hanfu and video themes. For instance, she created a new way to combine the Chinese attire with elements of Western culture. Her video entitled "Hanfu dress code for Christmas" has become one of Li's featured content for four consecutive years running, having caught the attention of a wide audience, with many having been caught surprised by her unconventional ideas.

"Only the hanfu and Christmas can vividly showcase the appeal of matching Red with Green," one commented. "What a super beautiful hanfu outfit. This is my ideal form of hanfu revival," another comment wrote.

Photo shows Li Guoguo wearing a hanfu in the park. (Photo provided to People's Daily Online)

Growing enthusiasm for the hanfu

Li epitomizes a growing number of hanfu aficionados who have already been promoting hanfu for some time, with the outfit seeing a strong comeback only in recent years. From out on the street to social media posts, it's now much more commonplace to see people sporting the elegant flowing robes of the hanfu.

Moreover, the number of hanfu enthusiasts is expected to double from 3.56 million in 2019 to 6.89 million in 2021, according to iiMedia Research Group, a Chinese consulting agency. Hence, the total sales value for hanfu is predicted to reach upwards to 10.2 billion yuan (1.55 billion US dollars) in 2021.

Due to its growing popularity, a member of the National People's Congress proposed establishing a National Hanfu Day. Apart from attracting millions of enthusiasts, the hanfu has entered into ordinary people's daily lives and has already gained a high degree of domestic recognition.

"People, especially the older generation who thought I was wearing drama costumes, always casted a confused stare when they saw me wearing a hanfu. No one thinks it's strange anymore because they all recognize and understand that this is our traditional clothing," explained Li.

For most people, their interest in the hanfu arose from a recognition of its beauty and an appreciation for traditional Chinese aesthetics. What fueled the craze for the outfit is the hanfu's connection to China's cultural roots. Traditional clothing is an indispensable part of Chinese history and culture, embodying the distinctive features of different dynasties in the past.

"Every time I wear a hanfu, I feel that I have travelled back to a former dynasty and am experiencing the life of ancient people anew," said Liao Jiaying, a hanfu enthusiast.

As a symbol of Chinese culture and the embodiment of a country's history, the hanfu provides younger generations with an immersive experience in their rediscovery of history, finding a greater sense of belonging and exploring their cultural identity.

"The hanfu helps to cement our cultural identity," said Li, when referring to the meaning of the hanfu in our modern age.

Photo shows Li Guoguo wearing a hanfu in the park. (Photo provided to People's Daily Online)


(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Hongyu)


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