Trade Resources Blog Chinese Hanfu Culture: Its History and Current Appeal

Chinese Hanfu Culture: Its History and Current Appeal

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By Celinelee on Jul 26, 2021
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As one of the most recognized symbol of Chinese fashion and history, the Hanfu is making a comeback in modern society. This style of dress, translated to mean “Han clothes”, relates to any period in which the Han Chinese ruled.  Some of the reason for this popularity has been television shows that have recently highlighted the style, causing today’s generations to become more interested in the traditional clothing available. Others are those who want to return to their heritage, honor their history, and own something authentically Chinese.

To best understand the meaning of the Hanfu, its history including the early origins of the garment will be explored, as well as the modern appeal. We'll even talk about the best places to find Chinese Hanfu, and what you should expect when you go to purchase one online.  It is not just any ordinary piece of clothing, which is why you should prepare and know the best places to find it. Let's get into the history of the clothing before we discuss your options for purchasing your new Chinese traditional dress.

History of Hanfu

The history of this style of dress dates back to the 3rd century BCE.  It was created during the first Han Dynasty, which would occur from 206 BC to 220 AD.  Yet, this style would not disappear over the ages.  As the Han Chinese would continue to rule over the people throughout Chinese history, this style would see continuous reappearances. It would not just be during one or two dynasties, but nearly all of them, and again during the modern times.  Here’s a brief introduction into the history of the Hanfu from the start of Chinese civilization until modern times.

Early History and Legend

The legend says that Leizu would be the first to make the Hanfu out of silk, back between 2700 BC and 2550 BCE.  Despite the popularity of this legend, there still is no evidence that this is actually true.  In its earliest days, the style of dress was confined to knee-length tunics, sashes, a skirt and an apron.  With the limited ability to produce variety, many people of this time resorted to green and red.

During several different dynasties, this style of dress would change as the technology and the rulers implemented their own expectations for their people. In the Zhou dynasty, clothes became a symbol of power and wealth. The one-piece clothing and the religious court dress would make an appearance, formally becoming part of the transition to a more hierarchical society. The style would also make a shift to wider sleeves and jade decorations. 

In the Qin and the Han dynasties, the dress would again undergo a unique shift in its appearance.  It would become the favored style of dress and there would be a new formal option created out of linen.  Those who had power in the royal courts would commonly be seen wearing green, while those who were poorer and not given the same power would wear white linen. 

The Golden Age

During what was referred to as China’s golden age during the Sui and the Tang dynasties, the Han would broaden as a culture and diversify into other areas. Women were seen with less strict requirements for their dress and many of the garments would now include decorations and embroidery. Capes would also make an appearance with those who could afford to implement them into their style.

Even when the golden age was over, the implementation of the Mongolian culture would continue to use the Hanfu, but allow for more traditional collars and shorter lower garments. As the last Han-led dynasty, the arrival of the Ming Dynasty would bring the restoration of Han culture. People would return to the expected longer lower garments and women would wear more conservative clothing. 

End of the Hanfu Era

One of the most interesting aspects of its history was the fact that it was banned during the Qing Dynasty, which would be the last of the dynasties in Chinese history. From 1644 to 1912, the Qing rulers would require Han individuals to wear a long cheongsam, also known as a long gown. Western clothing would also be integrated into their world, influencing their culture to become more and more diverse.

This would also be around the same time that the English and other western societies would begin to visit China. It would be a symbol of the times that they would have to modernize. The Han style of dress was banned, as mentioned, but this would also be revisited as time passed and the Chinese began to reflect on their history and their culture. Even after all this time, the Han style of dress has made a comeback in modern society. Surprisingly, this is most common among the younger generations.

Typical Han Chinese Fashion

While the translation relates to the idea of any sort of clothing from the different eras of rulers, the Hanfu that people are referring to today is in reference to a specific kind of garment.  This typically is a long flowing robe with loose sleeves and a belt that is seen at the waist.  There are many reasons why this style of dress became popularized, one of them relating to the traditional values that the Chinese had.

The Chinese have always been a conservative group of people and their style of dress is reflective of this. The women were always covered up and as time passed on, they would begin to show more vibrant colors as a sign of their wealth or their status in society. Many people would reflect their social standing in their dress, which was important at the time, especially in the Chinese courts and among the rulers of the dynasties over the years.  However, it was more commonly associated with the Han rulers more than any other dynastic family of power.

Cultural Impact and Expansion

As mentioned, the Chinese had a unique style of dress that related to their cultural values and their values as people.  To the Chinese, their style of dress was a symbol of the traditional aspects of their culture.  However, the Chinese Hanfu was not only isolated to the Chinese. This would also spread to the Japanese, who would also regularly wear this within their society. There is also the Korean hanbok and the Vietnamese Áo giao lĩnh.

The Chinese Hanfu in Modern Times

Even though the Chinese traditional dress has a history dating back over four thousand years, there is now a renewal of interest in wearing this dress.  It has been seen as a trend for those who want to show their Chinese heritage, their pride in their culture, and also to celebrate Chinese history in general.  It helps to show collective national identity, which is symbolic for a nation that has experienced such significant and strong history for thousands of years. 

With all this information in mind in regards to the Chinese Hanfu, it might not be entirely clear why this style of dress might have appeal today.  Yet, when people look around cities today and at special events, there are many models and younger individuals wearing this unique style of dress. Here are some reasons why the dress has made a comeback, and why it is important to recognize these trends within the market.

Why the Chinese Hanfu Has Modern Appeal

The Beauty of the Garments

One of the primary reasons why the Chinese Hanfu has such an appeal in modern society is because of the beauty of the clothing. There are many individuals who have commented on how the Hanfu is seen as something that is both traditional, but incredibly artistic in nature.  With so many designs and unique styles to choose from, it makes it easier for people to become interested further and make their own collections of gorgeous garments to fill their closets. 

The Hanfu is no longer just a simple dress today, but it can be made more modern, more traditional, with unique patterns, and also in solid colors. There are numerous ways to diversify the Hanfu, and people are continually finding more ways to show their talents and their unique sense of style. The beauty of one’s clothes in Chinese society, now and then, also is a nod to their inherent position in society and their presumed wealth of their family.

A Connection to History

Another significant reason that people are turning to the Chinese Hanfu now is because of the way that it captures Chinese history. Unlike many other items or symbols that could have been chosen, the Hanfu style of dress is one that dates back to the earliest days of the dynasties.  There are very few other methods that have quite the same appeal as the Hanfu, which can be seen as a form of national dress.

The Hanfu means a lot to the Chinese and it is a symbol of their enduring culture. No matter what has happened throughout their history—even during the warring periods—this dress has continued to prevail and been one of the consistent styles that people always return to. For many young fashionistas, it is a way to connect to history and show off their unique taste.

Cultural Revival

It would be a shame not to mention all of the cultural and historical shows that have begun to appear in recent years.  Much like people have been flocking to shows like Bridgerton, there are equivalents for the Chinese people.  Some of the most famous shows are The Imperial Doctress or even Serenade of Peaceful Joy.  Both of them are important, as they showcase some of the traditional dresses that people are choosing to wear now.

Both of these shows have numerous influences from the Ming and the Song Dynasties, both of which were incredibly important and used the Hanfu as their desired style of dress.  It can be argued that the modern revival of these styles for the purpose of television has also allowed people to become interested in revisiting their heritage and wearing them on their own!           

Authentic Chinese Craftsmanship

For some people, including many Chinese individuals, the opportunity to own something authentically Chinese is appealing. People believe that fashion trends and brands like Nike might be cool, but the artisanship that it takes to produce a Chinese Hanfu shows its importance, its significance, and the chance people have to have something unique and Chinese like this dress. 

To receive this kind of artisanship, people have to be willing to shop in China and seek out the right artisans from the nation. People from all around the world might be able to offer Hanfu, but this might not be as authentic and traditional as others who have been trained in the art from masters themselves. If you want to have authentic Chinese craftsmanship for your Hanfu, be sure to shop within the Chinese markets!

Younger Generations Are Inspired 

One of the main reasons that the Hanfu has made a comeback is not because of the older generations who have returned to their heritage, but the younger girls who long to have something traditional to wear.  In reports that were made public on the market in China, generation Z is among the top consumer category.  The number of enthusiasts for this traditional wear has grown from 3.56 million in 2019 to 6 million in 2020.  People expect this to only grow as the years pass on and people continue to explore their options with the Hanfu.

Conclusion

Chinese traditional garments are among some of the most stunning designs that you can choose from, whether you enjoy traditional or modern styles of fashion.  We hope you learned a lot about Hanfus, and recognize the power of how this market is truly growing and developing, even hundreds of years on. With the current market expected to grow as much as it will in the next few years, there’s plenty of potential to create a great business and market to an eager group of customers!

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