Monday, September 8, 2008

Han Chinese clothing

Han Chinese clothing or Hanfu , also known as Hanzhuang , Huafu , or guzhuang , and sometimes referred in English sources simply as Silk Robe or Chinese Silk Robe refers to the historical dress of the Han Chinese people, which was worn for millennia before the conquest by the Manchus and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. The term ''Hanfu'' derives from the ''Book of Han'', which says, "then many came to the Court to pay homage and were delighted at the clothing style of the Han ."

Han Chinese clothing is presently worn only as a part of historical reenactment, hobby, coming of age/rite of passage ceremonies, ceremonial clothing worn by religious priests, or cultural exercise and can be frequently seen on Chinese television series, films and other forms of media entertainment. However, there is currently a in China and overseas Chinese communities to revive Han Chinese clothing in everyday life and incorporate in Chinese festivals or celebration.

Some costumes commonly thought of as typically Chinese, such as the qipao, are the result of influence by brutal laws imposed by Manchurian rulers of the Qing Dynasty, and are regarded by some advocates as not being "traditionally" Han. Technically, the Qing dynasty and afterwards would be considered modern China, so the qipao would be modern clothing and not traditional. Today, most Han Chinese wear western-style clothing in everyday life. Some urbanites wear modified or modernized traditional clothes, while many in the countryside still use distinctive peasant dress.

Many East Asian and Southeast Asian national costumes, such as the Japanese kimono, the Korean hanbok and the Vietnamese áo t&, all show influences from Hanfu, as historically these countries were part of the Sinosphere.


Hanfu has a history of more than three millennia, and is said to have been worn by the legendary Yellow Emperor. From the beginning of its history, Hanfu was inseparable from silk, supposedly discovered by the Yellow Emperor’s consort, Leizu. The first solidly historical dynasty known of in China, the Shang Dynasty , developed the rudiments of Hanfu; it consisted of a ''yi'', a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash, and a narrow, ankle-length skirt, called ''shang'', worn with a ''bixi'', a length of fabric that reached the knees. Vivid primary colors and green were used, due to the degree of technology at the time.

The dynasty to follow the Shang, the Western Zhou Dynasty, established a strict hierarchical society that used clothing as a status meridian, and inevitably, the height of one’s rank influenced the ornateness of a costume. Such markers included the length of a skirt, the wideness of a sleeve and the degree of ornamentation. In addition to these class-oriented developments, the Hanfu became looser, with the introduction of wide sleeves and jade decorations hung from the sash which served to keep the ''yi'' closed. The ''yi'' was essentially wrapped over, in a style known as ''jiaoling youren'', or wrapping the right side over before the left, because of the initially greater challenge to the right-handed wearer .

In the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, the "deep robe" appeared a combination of tunic and skirt. The upper and lower halves were cut separately but sewn as a single unit. An additional change was the shaping of the left side of the costume into a corner, fastened on the chest. Perhaps because of Confucian influence, disapproving of a hierarchical society in favour of social mobility based on personal merit, the ''shenyi'' was swiftly adopted. There still existed an elite however, and they monopolised the more ornate fabrics and grandiose details.


The style of Han Chinese clothing can be summarized as containing garment elements that are arranged in distinctive and sometime specific ways. This maybe different from the traditional garment of other ethnic groups in China, most notably the Manchurian influenced Chinese clothes, the ''qipao'', which is popularly assumed to be the solely recognizable style of "traditional" Chinese garb. A comparison of the two styles can be seen as follows:

A complete Hanfu garment is assembled from several pieces of clothing into an attire:
*Yi : Any open cross-collar garment, and worn by both sexes
*Pao : Any closed full-body garment, worn only by men in Hanfu
*Ru : Open cross-collar shirt
*Shan : Open cross-collar shirt or jacket that is worn over the yi
*Qun or shang : Skirt for women and men, respectively
*Ku : Trousers or pants

People are also able to accessorize with tassels and jade pendants or various ornaments hung from the belt or sash, known as ''pei'' .

Hats and headwear

On top of the garments, hats or hairpieces maybe worn. One can often tell the profession or social rank of someone by what they wear on their heads. The typical male hat or cap is called a ''jin'' for commoners and ''guan'' for the privileged. Officials and academics have a separate set of hats for them, typically the ''putou'' , the ''wushamao'' , the ''si-fang pingding jin'' and the ''Zhuangzi jin'' . A typical hairpiece for women is a ''ji'' but there are more elaborate hairpieces.

Traditionally, the Chinese wear their hats indoors as well as outdoors unlike their Western counterparts. This is mainly because most hats are too impractical to take off and carry around.


Han-Chinese clothing had changed and evolved with the fashion of the days since its commonly assumed beginnings in the Shang dynasty. Many of the earlier designs are more gender-neutral and simple in cuttings. Later garments incorporate multiple pieces with men commonly wearing pants and women commonly wearing skirts. Clothing for women usually accentuates the body's natural curves through wrapping of upper garment lapels or binding with sashes at the waist.

Each dynasty has their own styles of Hanfu as they evolved and only few styles are 'fossilized'.

Informal wear

Types include tops and bottoms , and one-piece robes that wrap around the body once or several times .

*Shenyi : a long full body garment
:*Quju : diagonal body wrapping
:*Zhiju : straight lapels
*Zhongyi or zhongdan : inner garments, mostly white cotton or silk
*Shanqun : a short coat with a long skirt
*Ruqun : a top garment with a separate lower garment or skirt
*Kuzhe : a short coat with trousers
*Zhiduo/zhishen : a Ming Dynasty style robe, similar to a ''zhiju shenyi'' but with vents at the side and 'stitched sleeves'

A typical set of Hanfu can consist of two or three layers. The first layer of clothing is mostly the ''zhongyi'' which is typically the inner garment much like a Western T-shirt and pants. The next layer is the main layer of clothing which is mostly closed at the front. There can be an optional third layer which is often an overcoat called a ''zhaoshan'' which is open at the front. More complicated sets of Hanfu can have many more layers.

For footwear, white socks and black cloth shoes are the norm, but in the past, shoes may have a front face panel attached to the tip of the shoes. Daoists, Buddhists and Confucians may have white stripe .

Semi-formal wear

A piece of Hanfu can be "made semi-formal" by the addition of the following appropriate items:

*Chang/shang: a pleated skirt
*Bixi : long front cloth panel attached from the waist belt
*Zhaoshan : long open fronted coat
*Guan or any formal hats

Generally, this form of wear is suitable for meeting guests or going to meetings and other special cultural days. This form of dress is often worn by the nobility or the upper-class as they are often expensive pieces of clothing, usually made of silks and damasks. The coat sleeves are often deeper than the shenyi to create a more voluminous appearance.

Formal wear

In addition to informal and semi-formal wear, there is a form of dress that is worn only at certain special occasions or by special people who are entitled to wear them .

Formal garments may include:
*Xuanduan : a very dark robe; equivalent to the Western ''black tie'' or ''white tie''
*Daopao/Fusha : Taoist/Buddhist priests' full dress ceremonial robes
*Yuanlingshan , lanshan or panlingpao : closed, round collared robe; mostly used for official or academical dress

The most formal Hanfu that one can wear is the ''xuanduan'' , which consists of a black or dark blue top garment that runs to the knees with long sleeve , a bottom red ''chang'', a red ''bixi'' , an optional white belt with two white streamers hanging from the side or slightly to the front called ''peishou'' , and a long black ''guan''. Additionally, wearers may carry a long jade '''' or wooden ''hu'' tablet . This form of dress is mostly used in sacrificial ceremonies such as ''Ji Tian'' and '''' , etc but is also appropriate for State occasions.

Those in the religious orders wear a plain middle layer garment followed by a highly decorated cloak or coat. Taoists have a 'scarlet gown' which is made of a large cloak sewn at the hem to create very long deep sleeves used in very formal rituals. They are often scarlet or crimson in color with wide edging and embroidered with intricate symbols and motifs such as the eight trigrams and the yin and yang Taiji symbol. Buddhist have a cloak with gold lines on a scarlet background creating a brickwork pattern which is wrapped around over the left shoulder and secured at the right side of the body with cords. There maybe further decorations, especially for high priests .

Those in academia or officialdom have distinctive gowns. This varies over the ages but they are typically round collared gowns closed at the front. The most distinct feature is the headwear which has 'wings' attached. Only those who passed the civil examinations are entitled to wear them, but a variation of it can be worn by ordinary scholars and laymen.

Court dress

Court dress is the dress worn at very formal occasions and ceremonies that are in the presence of a monarch. The entire ensemble of clothing can consist of many complex layers and look very elaborate. Court dress is similar to the ''xuanduan'' in components but have additional adornments and elaborate headwear. They are often brightly colored with vermillion and blue.

Court dress refers to:
*Chaofu : ceremonial dress of officials or nobility
*Mianfu : ceremonial/enthronement dress for emperors

The practical use of court dress is now obsolete in the modern age since there is no reigning monarch in China anymore.

Ethnic identity

According to Tang Dynasty scholar Kong Yingda's official commentary to ''Zuo Zhuan'' and ''Shang Shu'', Chinese clothing plays an important role in the Chinese ethnic identity. It says, "In China, there is the grandeur of rites and social conduct; that is why it is called ''Xia'' . There is the beauty of dress and decoration; this is called ''Hua'' ." The words ''Hua'' and ''Xia'' combine to form the word ''Huaxia'' , which is a name that is often used to represent the Chinese civilization.


1 comment:

Elfinn said...

Such garments were (in previous times) often worn as normal daily clothing by men. Compared to men's clothing, women's clothing tends to be attractive, often intended to be looked at by men.

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