They sit on a bamboo mat, refilling the covered bowl and letting the tea leaves steep. For a split second, the aroma of leaves fills the teahouse and surround them. T-shirts, shorts, skirts are ubiquitous during Summer in Hong Kong. But still, some of them prefer clothing with multi-layered or wide sleeves — that’s the lifestyle of Hanfu enthusiasts.
What is Hanfu?
In broad terms, Hanfu refers to clothing worn by Han Chinese. There are various styles of Hanfu in dynasties throughout history. Qixiong Qunshan is a unique costume in Tang Dynasty, in which the skirt is tied at chest level. Daopao, a full-length robe, was popular among men from every social status in Ming Dynasty. It is a wide-sleeve design, and there are pleats surround his bottom part, which connects to the back. This man gown reflects the Chinese aesthetic of elegance and modesty.
“It is clothes, objectively speaking, but surpasses its thing-in-itself.”
Said Amy Cheung.
In addition to costume culture, Hanfu embodies the courtesy, civilization and aesthetics of ancient Chinese. The design and cuttings have their implications, such as Confucius thought. In ancient times, tailors could not make clothes in one cloth due to its narrow width. When they sewed up two fabrics into a garment, there will be a central structure-line on the front and back of it. People then endowed this structure-line with the meaning of integrity, a moral personality.
Hanfu constitutes a reservoir of aesthetics and craftsmanships (dyeing, weaving, embroidery) inscribed onto the National Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) or even a higher threshold, the World ICH. From fabric to accessories, the ancients were conscientious and meticulous in design and actual practices. For example, K’o-ssu is a technique in Chinese silk, which has listed in the World ICH. It is a weaving craft that first appeared in Tang Dynasty and scaled height in Ming Dynasty. Some Hanfu hobbyists wear Hanfu clothes on special occasions, but some people wear them every day. They also have their hairstyle ready.
According to the statistics by CBN Data, consumer numbers on Hanfu at Alibaba is expected to approximate 20 million and implied consumers are 415 million. Thousands of new Hanfu businesses have sprung up in the past ten years to cater for the significant market demand. Data from Qiqicha suggests a total number of 2115 Hanfu-related enterprises in Mainland China and 660 newly registered companies in 2020. A tremendous increase of freshly catalogued companies happened between 2018 and 2019, a 300% surge. The trend of Hanfu is on fire, and the market demand is still far to reach saturation. Meanwhile, not only in Mainland China, but Hong Kong also exists Hanfu enthusiasts.
Hanfu Movement in Hong Kong
Hanfu Hong Kong is a non-governmental organisation established in 2012. She advocates promoting traditional Chinese culture and integrating Hanfu into people daily lives. From now on, there are approximately 300 members in the organisation and are from each age groups. The committees will hold internal activities like tea gathering, museum visits, etc. They are vigorous in advancing Hanfu to the broad public, especially in secondary schools and universities. In October 2020, the Chinese society of the University of Hong Kong invited her as a guest speaker of the Hanfu-topic talk and hosted a scented sachet workshop.
“The trend of Hanfu in the mainland and Hong Kong is quite synchronous. Hong Kong follows what the mainland does. Song-styled Hanfu was popular last year in China, and enthusiasts here also went with the tide,” said Matthew Leung, the chairman of Hanfu Hong Kong, with ten years of experience in Hanfu.
Although Hong Kong has a similar Hanfu fashion trend to the Mainland, her Hanfu development is still far to catch up. Amy Cheung, the committee of Hanfu Hong Kong, expressed her opinion on a radio broadcast, “China Diandiandian”, on May 4. At all time, the Hanfu movement in the Mainland began ten years earlier than in Hong Kong, and there were already people wearing it in 2003. She thinks that the development of Hanfu in Hong Kong is not yet mature, and it is running behind.
Inevitably, in a modern manner, commercial elements are needed when promoting traditional culture. Some Hanfu enthusiasts then establish Hanfu studios, providing Hanfu clothes rental services to boost its development through business. There are currently five Hanfu studios in Hong Kong, mostly centralized in Kowloon, especially Lai Chi Kok.
“I’ll have my hair styled when I have location shooting. My friends find that Hanfu photography attractive and they want to wear Hanfu too. I come up with an idea, perhaps establishing a Hanfu Studio could help them, “said Grace Cheng, a 25-year-old undergraduate and the founder of Fa Seon Cau Hanfu Studio, founded in 2019. In her studio, she provides Hanfu rental services. Customers can pay a surcharge for makeup and hairstyle. Customers who are shy to wear Hanfu outside can also take photos with classic Chinese setting in the studio.
Grace’s studio is established at the moment of the COVID-19 outbreak. She said that she did not suffer a great loss in revenue but even gain. Since people could not travel to the Mainland and have Hanfu photography, they turned to visit the studio in Hong Kong. Although some customers cancelled their appointment at the third wave of Covid-19, Cheng’s studio was not severely impacted.
“Whether Hanfu equals China, it will be a great deal of controversy,”
Hanfu is in the progress of being accepted, yet, misunderstandings exist due to insufficient publicity. Some people perceive it as unconventional or a drama costume only. Besides, some people think it has an affiliation with the Chinese regime and resists it potentially in mind. Leung said it is ineluctable for Hongkonger to link these two under particular political circumstance in Hong Kong. “Whether Hanfu equals China, it will be a great deal of controversy. All we may admit that it is a culture of China, but we should review if it is a derivative of the regime,” said Leung.
On March 3, 2021, Cheng Xin-Xiang, the National People’s Congress and the heir of Xiang Embroidery Intangible Cultural Heritage, advocated establishing National Hanfu Day on the Thirteenth National People’s Congress. She suggested exploiting Hanfu to stimulate people’s national consciousness, to preserve authentic Han culture. As the chairman of Hanfu Hong Kong, Leung supported the idea for sure. Giving Hanfu an official status is always good news to her enthusiasts. However, he also expressed his concern if Hongkongers may further misinterpret her political sense or even treat her as propaganda of the central government.
The rise of Han nationalism in the Hanfu movement is attributed to the national crisis the Chinese perceived. In recent years, the Chinese central government strongly endorses the revival of traditional culture and she has frequent diplomatic conflicts with other countries. Under this background, some Chinese realized they have a low sense of national confidence and fail to improve it. They then focus on promoting Chinese culture, attempting to acquire a leading role in soft power and boost national pride. In this vacuum period, being the most acceptable Chinese culture among the public, Hanfu gradually becomes a carrier of Han nationalism.
There are nationalists in the Hanfu movement trying to exploit it to achieve nationalism. Under their deliberate induction, an ideology of Han nationalism is formed in the movement. For sure, there are enthusiasts enchanted by the look of Hanfu, it is undeniably true that Han nationalism does live inside the Hanfu movement.
In Weibo, a social media in the Mainland, it is uncommon to see some Hanfu organisations or Hanfu store to publish their support to government policies or condemnation to any issues which harm the country’s sovereignty. That is how nationalists in the Hanfu culture react. They think their national dignity is harmed and they must safeguard their country. For example, some Hanfu organisations declared their criticism against the Anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong and its independence issue.
To a small extent, the Hanfu movement in Hong Kong is influenced by the ideology of Han Nationalism, relating to its popularity and the city’s social condition. Hanfu is a microculture with small numbers of hobbyists. Young people spontaneously promote the Hanfu Movement, and they are the backbone. However, in Hong Kong, Hanfu society is not seen in every secondary schools or university. Students have to compromise with the school policy even if they applied to establish a Hanfu society due to insufficient members. It does not have a significant influence over juveniles and fails to obtain their recognition.
Unlike in Mainland China, it is rare for Hongkongers to experience Hanfu or Han customs activities like Xitang Hanfu Week, worshipping Confucius, glorifying emperors, and revering the Flowers Gods at the Flower Festival. Sometimes they are not even familiar with those historical figures. On the contrary, they are more inclined to Western commemoration, such as Remembrance Day on November 11. This is the day to commemorate the British soldiers who died in the two World Wars. Although Hong Kong has ended the British colonial era, she still retains the tradition. Religious groups and disciplinary services will attend the condolence ritual, and social media will report it for sure. Theoretically, millennials are not people under colonial rule, but they pay more attention to History and dress up when attending the ceremony to show respect.
Hong Kong is not also encountering a so-called Han-race cultural crisis, or the issue is not being greatly concerned and discussed. Hongkongers always feel distant from the central government, regardless of policies or History.
They have a low sense of belonging to the country, let alone of nationality. The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute published survey results on Hongkongers’ sense of identity on June 16. The institute has conducted a phone interview with 1002 residents by random sampling. The option “being Hongkongers” rates 8.6 out of 10, which is the highest score since June 2019. However, “being Chinese” and “being members of the Chinese race” only score 5.7 and 6.2, respectively, a nadir record since August 1997 and June 2007.
Hongkongers’ confidence or attachment to the country has been drastically reduced to the recent social movement. Rather than reviving Han culture, they may shift the focus onto preservation and promotion of local cultures.
“The issue of Xinjiang Cotton reflects the loopholes of national policy and human rights. I can’t see any affiliations with politics.”
Hong Kong has been accustomed to the convergence of Chinese and Western cultures since the colonial era. Society or people does not show antipathy against the domination of Western cultures and civilisation. Hongkongers have less contact with Chinese culture, making them more challenging to develop a sense of belonging to the country.
Whenever China has a diplomatic altercation with other countries, Hongkongers will rationally analyse the issue and not blindly support the Central government, not even shaping the consciousness of Western hegemony and cultural aggression. Just as in the case of Xinjiang cotton, Leung said, “The issue of Xinjiang Cotton reflects the loopholes of national policy and human rights. I can’t see any affiliations with politics. (Hanfu organisations in Mainland China)They actively declared their stance and support towards the Xinjiang issue, mainly due to the affection of the country, I think.”
Cheng also said Hanfu enthusiasts in Hong Kong have a clear perception that culture is not always needed to be coupled with politics. The ideology of Han nationalism in Hanfu does not have great space to ferment.
“It isn’t a matter of nationalism. Hanfu hobbyists in Hong Kong are mainly and purely into traditions and aesthetics,” said Grace. Even if they have an attempt to revive the Han culture, they are not Han nationalists.