Hanfu is More than a Costume: How China’s Contradictory Imperial Legacies are Creating a New Chinese Identity 

Hanfu craze: Young Chinese wearing Hanfu  

Tom Harper

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.[1]  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.[2]  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.[3]  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.   

Continue reading “Hanfu is More than a Costume: How China’s Contradictory Imperial Legacies are Creating a New Chinese Identity “

How the Century of Humiliation Influences China’s Ambitions Today

Fall of an empire: matchlock-wielding Qing infantry battle British forces at the battle of Chinkiang during the First Opium War.

Tom Harper

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. [1] 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. [2] 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”