Hanfu Movement: Cultural Revival or Awkward “Time Travel”?

China Hanfu Revival

Chinese Hanfu Revival

The proliferation of “time traveling” in Chinese television shows in recent years has gained popularity especially amongst Chinese youth who yearn for palace intrigue and romance. At the same time, it also reached the point where the state has stepped in to crackdown on the supposedly superstitious and anachronistic themes.

But part of this “time traveling” or traditional revivalism phenomenon in China has roots in the Hanfu movement where those active in the movement sought to bring back Hanfu or traditional Han style clothing to everyday life, not unlike the acceptance of the Japanese Kimono in present times. The revival of Hanfu and traditional rituals has led to divided opinions online, with one side rabidly defending their revival movement and the other side criticizing the corporeality of their movement and arguing that traditional dress is not the panacea to the problems of a spiritual vacuum in China.

From NetEase:

Awkward “time travel”

In recent years, the return to traditional culture/fashion has suddenly become popular. Traditional costumes and etiquettes began to appear in various occasions; whether to show off one’s personality, or to attract attention. However, this resurgence of returning to a nation of etiquettes also brought about many awkward cases of “time travel” [things looking out of place/time or being historically inaccurate, not literal time travel].

China Hanfu Revival

2011 September 1st. The Lizhai Center Elementary School in Dexing city in Jiangxi Province, a hundred first grade elementary school students wore ancient costume and recited the classic Standards for being a Good Pupil with their teachers. The children wore on top of their head a “traditional cap” made out of a disposable cup and chopsticks. In reality, ancient men only bound their hair and wore a cap during the maturation ceremony when they reach age 20.

China Hanfu Revival

2006 February 10th, at Chongqing Gele Mountain Forest Park, Hanfu lovers held a “classic birthday party”, with soda and snacks on the table. The organizer claimed that this is meant to spread the word about Hanfu, with the ultimate goal of reviving ethnic culture and reawaken the nation’s self-esteem and pride.

China Hanfu Revival

2007 April 15th, at the 2006/2007 A1 International Auto Competition opening ceremony in Shanghai, over a hundred youth wore Hanfu and gathered on the race track to hold a ritual ceremony.

China Qing Dynasty Revival

2009 September 1st, at Hangzhou Ziyang Elementary School, over 90 students wore Qing dynasty costumes to participate in an ancient induction ceremony. Afterwards, the school officials received dozens of emails from netizens “protesting against students wearing Qing Dynasty costumes”; the school’s website was also hacked.

China Hanfu Revival

2009 March 29th, at the Nanjing Confucius Temple, the Confucius School students welcomed two “Olympic Vessels” from Beijing, with over 1000 students and teachers holding a grand ceremony to receive the vessels. Those “red scarves” wearing ancient costumes loudly recited poetry to celebrate the arrival of the “Olympic Vessels” to the Confucius School.

China Hanfu Revival

2011 September 6th, at Hangzhou Gongchenqiao Elementary’s “Mingren Academy’s” classics class, teachers and students wore ancient costumes but were using multimedia teaching methods.

China Hanfu Revival

2007 November 16th, Qionghai City in Hainan Province, HNA Group invested 1 million RMB to organize a “harmonious Hainan” traditional Han style wedding for 78 couples.

China Hanfu Revival

2011 April 5th, coinciding with Qingming Festival, a Hanfu enthusiast group arrived at Nanjing Yuhua Martyrs’ Cemetery and put on a performance of “ancient people” paying their respect to revolutionary martyrs.

China Hanfu Revival

2009 August 8th, at Shandong Qufu City Confucius Temple, university students participating in a coming-of-age ceremony wearing Hanfu and traditional cap posing for pictures.

China Hanfu Revival

2011 June 19th. In Jinan City of Shandong province, 30 or so high school graduates followed the ancient “coming of age” rituals. One girl wore traditional Hanfu while wearing cartoon sneakers.

China Hanfu Revival

2011 April 19th, calligraphers from China and abroad gathered at “the mecca of calligraphy” in the Orchid Pavilion at Shaoxing, Zhejiang to reinvigorate themselves in the ways of the ancients among other musings. The calligraphers changed clothes with some still wearing boots and sunglasses.

China Qing Dynasty Revival

2011 October 1st, the first day of the National Week holiday, Shanxi Province Pingyao County party secretary, county leader Wei Mingxi personally acted as a “Qing Dynasty County Magistrate” and led the old town’s “nobility and merchants” along with “other plebs” out of the city gate to welcome visitors.

China Hanfu Revival

2007 March 24th, a Han culture themed restaurant named “Hanfeng Shishe” opened in Beijing, guests wore Hanfu while eating hotpot.

China Hanfu Revival

2007 January 1st, Beijing Chaoyang Court, a Hangfu-wearing city resident confronted a Beijing based newspaper in court in defense of his reputation. On 2006 October 29th, over 20 netizens from the Beijing/Tianjin area gathered at Badachu Monastery wearing Hanfu to participate in a traditional ethnic cultural rite – the coming of age ceremony. The next day a certain media organization in Beijing published an article headlined “Netizens wear Hanfu to park, city residents thinks this performance art is odd”, while on the paper’s related websites the headline “Netizens wears Hanfu to park, waving to others while undressing” was used. The case has already been decided, with the four residents wearing Hanfu losing the case.

China Hanfu Revival

2009 March 30th, the second annual China Zhengzhou Emperor Yan and Huang Cultural Week were held at the Emperor Yan and Huang Plaza located on the banks of the Yellow River scenic area. Students wearing Hanfu sang modern bard Guang Weiran’s “Ode to the Yellow River” at the opening ceremony.

China Hanfu Revival

The night of 2005 October 17th, the ancient city of Xian used “ancient style of entering the city” to welcome the artifacts and archeological experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The hostess girls wore ancient costumes and displayed “chinglish” style banners. The revival of ancient customs has no faults by itself, but in an era where classic learning is diminishing, the awkward sights were also unavoidable.

Comments on Netease:


An economic slowdown can be revived at any time, but the disconnect of culture can never be rekindled, so no matter how realistic the clothing is, it can never cover up an empty heart.


So long as the people still processes dynastic feudal mentality, any progress will be difficult.


A prime example of a shanzhai nation. After seeing Koreans wear hanbok and Japanese wearing kimonos they became jealous and want to join in. Without the continuation of culture, they can only follow the trend, imitate others only to have it backfire, neither fish nor fowl!


I’ve never seen something so shallow… So the passing down of ancient culture is reflected in the clothing??? So tragic.


China already lost its core essence, therefore this all looks so strange.


Hanfu revivalism is not a return to the past, we are not cosplaying the ancients but rather we want to return Hanfu to everyday life. I hate the fact that of the 56 ethnicities, only the Han ethnicity does not have their own national costume!!! What time travel? Can you please do some research before reporting on Hanfu, lest you want to be the laughingstock of everyone.


Han people do not need Hanfu, what they need most is the revival of their spiritual essence and thinking. Or else it will only be empty garbs covering one’s backward, ignorant, blind and empty soul, making them look silly and laughable.


This is another form of singing “Red Songs”. With this, China can be “saved”.

[Red Songs are patriotic Communist Chinese songs that were promoted (and ridiculed) in recent years.]


It has already been 101 years, barbarians still won’t die off, and you can tell from all those people wearing Qing dynasty costumes, what does that it have to do with Hanfu?

The last Han-controlled dynasty was the Ming Dynasty, and this is why after the Xinhai Revolution Sun Yat-sen paid tribute to the Ming Dynasty emperor and not the Qing Dynasty emperor.


Just a form of culture spending and consumption…

What do you think?


Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai


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