On the 22nd November 2003, an electrical power worker from the Chinese province of Henan, Wang Letian, walked around his home city of Zhengzhou wearing a traditional Chinese costume called the Hanfu. Wang intended to promote traditional Chinese culture by generating interest in traditional Chinese garb. At the time, Wang’s actions were unusual, with the Hanfu being largely confined to film sets and tourist attractions. Nevertheless, Wang received significant attention in China, and has often been cited as the originator of the current Hanfu craze sweeping China today.
Wang’s goal of promoting Chinese traditional culture appears to have been fulfilled in recent years, with the costume becoming a mainstay of social media platforms popular with Chinese millennials. The popularity of the costume coincides with a wider discussion over the state of China’s identity, which marks a break from the previous focus on China’s economic development. This has often sought to emphasise the uniqueness of China’s identity as well as presenting China as a civilisation state rather than a nation-state in the Westphalian sense. By delving into China’s past, the rise of the Hanfu movement and the debate over China’s identity thus symbolises the contradictory nature of the legacies of China’s imperial dynasties, most notably the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the role that these have played in shaping the present Chinese perception of China.
Iacopo Adda Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva
On 4 December 1675 (14 December in the Gregorian calendar), gunshots were fired into the air from the fortress of Nerchinsk. A conspicuous group of Cossacks had been approaching the fortress and they immediately answered the salute. It was a signal for the arrival of a special traveller, who had been sent by Tsar Alexis I to lead a Russian embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor. This special envoy was the Moldavian literary man Nicolae Milescu Spătaru, known in Russia as Nikolai Spatharii or Spafarii, who had taken up service as a diplomat of the Tsar a few years before.
Spătaru was not the first envoy whom Moscow had sent to Beijing to discuss the settlement of the border between Russia and China, but he was the first to take the internal Siberian route from Moscow to China. He was also the first to provide the tsarist court with a fairly detailed, though sometimes imprecise, description of the geography of the Russian imperial possessions east of the Urals, which was published as Journey through Siberia from Tobol’sk to Nerchinsk and the Chinese Border (see photo above). However, scientific exploration was not the primary goal of the expedition. As the Cossacks had only recently pushed down to the Amur valley, the border situation was unstable, but the Russians hoped to secure both a good strategic position on the Amur and a stable trade route to China. This would have meant reopening a sort of Russian-branded Silk Road, almost 300 years after the collapse of the one that had accompanied the pax mongolica between the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue reading “Memory Erasure of Trans-Imperial History in the City of Nerchinsk”→
The rapid economic and military ascent of China has been one of the major geopolitical developments over the past four decades, with the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping entering its 40th anniversary this year. This has seen China go from a ramshackle, quasi-feudal empire into one of the Great Powers of the 21st century.  What has been the driving force behind this push has been China’s historical experiences, most notably those of the 19th and early 20th centuries, known to the Chinese as the Century of Humiliation (百年国耻), where China lost both its territory and its prestige to the imperial powers of the day.  These experiences have also been a tool in China’s relationships with the wider world as well as a unifying force within China, the legacy of which persists in the light of current tensions. Continue reading “How the Century of Humiliation Influences China’s Ambitions Today”→