Su Yan is a twenty-something woman who likes to dress up in hanfu – traditional Han Chinese clothing. She is not alone. Millions of young Chinese now don these free flowing outfits – most as a hobby, some as their day-to-day attire.
To further indulge her passion Su Yan has joined Gutao, a new Alibaba app. A recent video of the young woman shows her wearing a delicately embroidered, wide sleeved tunic, her hair piled high and embellished with jewels and decorative pins. Another clip shows Su wearing a delicate pink wrap at a banquet with hundreds of other hanfu aficionados – including men wearing traditional stiff headpieces known as guan.
The videos are accompanied by traditional Chinese music and visual effect such as smoke emanating from Su’s hands. The effects are added to the clips inside the Gutao app, which also allows users to share their videos with other hanfu fans, book hanfu photoshoots or buy new robes.
Huya, a video streaming platform, has also launched a similar app to allow fans to show off their fashion taste. Hanfuhui, an e-commerce site for hanfu lovers, has already been downloaded nearly five million times on Android since it was launched in 2015.
The emergence of these app suggests hanfu is becoming fashionable.
According to recently released data by Guangzhou-based market analysts iiMedia Research the hanfu market is now worth Rmb1.4 billion ($175.1 million) annually, with the potential to grow rapidly in the coming years.
Most hanfu fans are in their late teens and early twenties. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV estimates that over three million young people now buy and wear traditional Chinese clothes.
So what makes young Chinese want to dress in fashions that are over 2,000-years old (the equivalent of young Italians walking around Milan wearing Roman togas)?
Most trace their love of the clothes back to watching historic dramas on television – hence the slight overlap with fantasy dressing up or performance art (‘cosplay’).
Fans say they feel comfortable in the robes and more confident. A few say that it is also a patriotic act, helping to keep traditional Chinese culture alive.
Some people date the revival back to 2003 when an electrician from the central city of Zhengzhou began wearing the pre-modern clothes in daily life.
He recently told Tencent News that at first people scolded him for his choice believing it to be traditional Japanese dress (i.e. a kimono).
“They treated me as a monster… the biggest sadness for me was that no one recognised our own traditional clothing,” he said (there is a view in China today that the Japanese kimono actually evolved from the hanfu).
Today things are very different: visit a historic site on a sunny day and you usually find a group of hanfu fans posing for photos. Similarly, young Chinese couples are increasingly using hanfu in pre-wedding photo shoots.
But the trend doesn’t necessarily have official backing. When a couple from Xiamen tried to wear hanfu for their official marriage certificate photo in November they were told they had to wear to wear “modern” clothes.
© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.
Sponsored by HSBC.
The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.