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.   

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