History of Ancient Traditional Chinese Clothing
Han Chinese clothing, or Hanfu (TC: 漢服; SC: 汉服; pinyin: hànfú;; literally "Clothing of the Han people") refers to the pre-17th century traditional clothing of the Han Chinese, the predominant ethnic group of China.
Hanfu encompasses all types of traditional clothing worn by the Han Chinese ethnic group. As such, it has a history as long as the history of the Han Chinese people. Hanfu was eliminated by Manchu invaders by force in the 17th century, and is largely unknown in China today, except among a small but vocal group of people advocating the revival of Hanfu as a Chinese national costume.
Qipao and Tangzhuang, although usually regarded as traditional Chinese clothing, are not regarded as Hanfu by advocates of Hanfu revival. This is because these were introduced by the Manchus, whom revival advocates accuse of having stamped out Hanfu in the first place. Qipao and Tangzhuang are also relatively recent clothing styles, and cannot represent the entire history of Chinese clothing.
Many traditional costumes of Asian countries, such as the kimono in Japan, along with the traditional dresses Korean Hanbok and Vietnamese ao dai, are derived from Hanfu and have the same style as Hanfu. In contrast to China, Japanese and Korean traditional dress have been preserved over the centuries, and are close to what pre-Manchu Hanfu looked like.According to Chinese tradition, Hanfu can be keith traced back to the Yellow Emperor, a great sage king of ancient China whom legend says ruled in the 27th century BC. Hanfu itself has a recorded history of more than 3000 years. It was worn by Han Chinese people from the semi-legendary Xia Dynasty (c. 21st century BC - 16th century BC) all the way to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The traditional dress of many Asian countries have been influenced by Hanfu, especially those of Japan and Korea.
Hanfu was regarded by Han Chinese as a very important part of their culture. The wearing of appropriate styles of Hanfu was an important part of courteous refined behaviour. Confucius considered Hanfu a very important part of Chinese ceremony and ritual and many of his quotations contain references to Hanfu.
The disappearance of Hanfu
Hanfu disappeared at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Qing Dynasty was founded not by Han Chinese who form the overwhelming majority of the population of China proper, but by the Manchus, a semi-nomadic people which first rose to prominence in Manchuria. Taking advantage of the political instability and frequent popular rebellions convulsing China, the highly organized military forces of the Manchus swept into the Ming capital of Beijing in 1644 (which itself had earlier fallen to rebel forces under Li Zicheng), and formed the Qing Dynasty.
The Manchus foresaw that they would have great difficulty ruling the Han Chinese, who outnumbered them vastly and had a much more sophisticated culture.
Soon after the takeover of China proper, the Manchus forced the Han Chinese men to adopt Manchu hairstyle (the pigtail) and Manchu-style clothing. There was enormous resistance to these policies, especially against the pigtail, which required shaving the entire top front half of the head. (Chinese traditional dictated that removing hair was against filial piety because one received one's hair from one's parents.) Popular uprisings flaired up immediately, but those were put down brutally, especially in massacres occurring at Yangzhou and Jiading. Up to 30 to 50 million Han Chinese people may have perished in total as a result of the Manchu invasion and conquest. Enforcement of the policies was swift, brutal, and effective. Hanfu was replaced by Manchu-style clothing, and soon every Han Chinese male wore a pigtail. Hanfu was still permited for women, however without the traditional support of the palace, women started replacing their hanfu clothing with styles that were influenced by the imperial court and Hanfu was completly gone within a century of Qing rule.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Manchu dress and the pigtail disappeared quickly in favour of western-style dress. Today most Han Chinese wear western-style clothing, and Han Chinese clothing is largely unknown. Recent attempts by Hanfu advocates in China to wear Hanfu outdoors have provoked curious reactions from onlookers, many of them mistaking Hanfu for Japanese dress.
However, there is a small but vocal movement in China to revive Han Chinese clothing as a Chinese national custom.
According to legend, the first ruler of the Chinese nation and the ancestor of the Chinese people is an immemorial sage king called the Yellow Emperor.
According to traditional reckoning, he unified the North China Plain in 2697 BC. Legends say that under his rule, China was a prosperous and powerful nation with stable politics and advanced culture. Many cultural and technological inventions are attributed to his reign, such as the Chinese written language, methods of agriculture, music, the Chinese calendar and so on. The Yellow Emperor's imperial consort, Leozu [Su], was said to be the first person to know how to raise silkworms and make silk from the silkworm cocoon, from which Hanfu was woven. Thus the Chinese Hanfu was invented. Because Leizu had provided China with beautiful silk and Hanfu, she is often revered as the female ancestor of the Chinese people, and respectfully addressed with the title of Xianchan since the Western Zhou Dynasty.
During ancient times, human beings wore clothing for practical purposes. During the Stone Age, they learned how to make and use increasingly complex tools.
They invented the bone awl and the bone needle and created primitive clothing with the aid of these tools.
Approximately 5000 years ago, China was in the Neolithic Period. People's lives were becoming more stable, allowing the development of primitive agriculture and the textiles industry. At first people wore clothes of woven linen. Later they discovered how to raise the silkworm and spin silk, and as a result their clothing became increasingly elaborate.
According to archaeological discoveries, the basic shape and style of Hanfu were already and almost completely developed during the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century BC - 11th century BC), the first attested dynasty of China. Clothing from this period was mainly composed of two parts, the Yi (coat) on the top and the Shang (skirt) underneath. The sleeve cuff was narrow. The Yi did not have any buttons and was fixed with a broad sash tied around the waist. A Bixi hung from the waist sash was used to shade the knees.
Archeological finds show that fabrics in this period were mainly in warm colors, especially yellow and red, along with brown. There were also cooler colors like blue, green etc. Because the red and yellow dyes were made from mercury sulfide and orpiment, they were brighter than the other colors and were of stronger penetrability; hence they were more able to last unchanged until today. Modern scientific analysis has shown that dyeing and weaving methods were often used at the same time during Shang and Zhou periods. Orthochromatic colors such as red and yellow were often used to draw on the fabrics after they were woven.
Western Zhou Dynasty
The Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC - 711 BC), established under a feudal system, consolidated the empire by a strict social class system and formulated a set of extremely exhaustive and thorough etiquette to standardize society and stabilize the country. The different styles of Hanfu worn symbolized each person's social class. As Hanfu was one of the cornerstones of the political foundation, stipulations were very strict.
Zhou Dynasty Hanfu followed the form and style of the Shang Dynasty, with a few changes. The style was slightly looser compared with the Shang Dynasty.
There were two kinds of sleeve styles: broad and narrow. The collar were crossed and tied to the right, known as "Jiaoling Youren". The Yi had no buttons but instead had a sash tied around the waist for closure. Sometimes people also hung ornamental decorations made of jade on the waist sash as well. The length of skirts and trousers varied from reaching the knees to reaching the ground.
Eastern Zhou Dynasty
Shenyi (deep robe), an important kind of Hanfu, was introduced during Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period. Shenyi is a kind of full-length, one-piece robe which links the Yi and Shang together to wrap up the body. It is cut separately but sewn together. Shenyi was named because when it was worn "the body was deeply wrapped up". Shenyi continued the Hanfu's characteristic of Jiaoling Youren and made a big impact on society. Everybody could wear it regardless of gender, profession or social class. During this time the weaving and dyeing techniques were already very advanced, as many complicated and magnificent patterns already appeared on Hanfu.
The Influences of Hanfu
Due to the length of its history and China's overwhelming cultural influence on the region, Hanfu has significantly shaped the styles of traditional costumes of many other Asian countries. Some countries such as Vietnam, which was frequently either a vassal state or under the direct control of China before 1884 (when the French invaded Vietnam), have traditional dresses that are exactly the same as Hanfu. Other Asian countries' traditional costumes, such as Korea Hanbok and Japanese Kimono, do have some differences from Hanfu. Compared with Japanese Kimono, Korean traditional dress is much more similar to Hanfu. of all the traditional costumes of Asian countries influenced by the Hanfu, the Japanese Kimono differs the most from the original. However, all the traditional dresses mentioned above inherited the unique Hanfu Style: Youren and wide sleeve. Some people in China today also mistake Hanfu for Korean Hanbok and Japanese Kimono.