Hanfu And Chinese Heritage: Moment Of Cultural Awakening

Hanfu And Chinese Heritage: Moment Of Cultural Awakening

How I discovered what it means to be Chinese and how a set of costume changed my outlook on life.

Have you ever asked yourself the question: where did I come from? No, I don't want you to answer where you were born or where you were raised. Dig into your family tree and you may be surprised where you actually came from. In a highly homogeneous society like the US, we willingly throw ourselves into a melting pot of cultures and never think about who our ancestors were and what that means to us. But maybe at some point in your life, whether from the tales told by your grandparents, or from participating in a traditional event; that you realize just how fragile yet precious your heritage really is.

My moment came when I put on my first set of Hanfu, several years ago. It came into my life in such an uneventful, discreet fashion that I was caught off guard by the unusually large package that was sitting at my doorstep. It was a gift from an elderly relative in China who I have unfortunately distanced through years of living abroad. When I opened the package, I was astounded by the garments that lay within. Subtle yet elegant patterns combined with masterful needlework, upon noticing the ornate design of this garment I realized this is no factory product but a masterpiece crafted by a diligent seamstress who has undoubtedly spent hours on it.

Minutes later, I stood before a mirror in awe as my eyes swept over my ensemble again and gain. The image of a young scholar who probably lived somewhere around the 1200 BC stood before me, his confused expression mirrored my own. I could be the son of a peasant, stepping through the grand gates of Chang'an for his first imperial official examination, or I could be a hermit who lives in a bamboo forest, dedicating his life to calligraphy and poetry; I could even be an adviser to the emperor, proudly offering his sagely insights to the embodiment of the true dragon.

Initially, it was difficult for people to understand my passion for Hanfu. Some dudes poked fun at me when I uploaded my Hanfu photo as my Facebook profile pic, "nice dress Peter!" "Thx man" is what I said, I don't blame them because I chose to believe they are not mean, just ignorant. In the US, the typical Chinese have always been portrayed as someone barbaric yet effeminate, devious yet cowardly through the image of the stereotypical "Dr. Fumanchu" wearing western clothing. I don't blame that stereotype not only because I understand xenophobic sentiment is unavoidable, but also because I know people propagating that sentiment are truly ignorant. They are ignorant of the fact that we are the only ancient civilization that survived till this day; that our civilization was once the pinnacle of human development for hundreds of years without a rival; that after a hundred years of colonialism, invasion, famine, massacres and civil wars we rise again as a strong independent nation. When people from the West admire the long sleeves and elaborate robes of the Japanese Kimono, they never learned Japanese adopted Tang Dynasty clothing 1500 years ago. The Japanese perfectly preserved all the nuances of their culture because they have been very adamant about the importance of tradition and cultural uniqueness. While in modern China, the notion of a traditional costume is completely foreign to a generation of people grew up wearing T-shirts. During the cultural revolution, the rich cultural heritages was destroyed by those who were supposed to inherit them. Therefore, we became a people economically affluent yet culturally impoverished. During a school cultural fest, I felt deeply upset by the fact that the only ethnic group that didn't show up in their national costume is Han Chinese (which makes up 20 percent of the entire human population). I swore on that day that if I have the opportunity to attend any more of these events, I will tell the world that we have our own costume and we are proud of our own culture.

In 2003, a movement began in China. Led by millennials, a movement of restoring Hanfu to its former glory has taken root in numerous cities in China. The Hanfu movement was destined to be an arduous endeavor because most manuscripts containing instructions of Hanfu trailorship were long lost. I have seen young designers go to museums in groups and sit before a piece of artifact for hours, sketching, imitating, thinking. The tailors piece together the fragments of designs scattered throughout the ages and glance from what they can gather the complexity of a civilization lost in time. Then they combine archaeological evidence and imagination to create revived versions of Hanfu. As it turns out, the gift I received was the product of their endeavor. According to Chinese philosophy, clothes exists not to emphasize the features of one's physique but to bring out one's inner spirits. Instead of using restrictive deigns and crisp, precise tailoring to enhance body shape as commonly employed in Western clothing, Hanfu designs focuses on showing the natural beauty of one's body instead of modifying it.

As it stand now, the prospect of the Hanfu movement is unclear. Although increasingly more institutions and individuals began to show interest, the future of Hanfu is still very much dependent on the government's opinion. Despite some criticism I have received, I hold hope in my heart for Hanfu and the future of my people. During the last hundred year, we took a big hit as China was embroiled in what seemed to eternal chaos. Yet after merely several decades, we are competing with the strongest powers on the world stage again. Knowing the importance of my heritage made me appreciate the resilience of Chinese people everywhere in the world, wherever humans inhabit there must be Chinese people. It also made me admire even more those who hold onto their heritage despite all odds.

To know who you truly are is to understand yourself and to understand others. To always have conviction and confidence that your heritage is a source of empowerment and no one should be ashamed of the ethnicity they were born into. That even as members of minority groups, we should hold ones' head high because each one of us represents not just ourselves but pride of our peoples.

Just like the old prophecy said, China rises again. I am glad to be a Chinese born in this era to see this ancient Dragon soar into the sky.

Cover Image Credit: Photographer: my mom

Popular Right Now

To The Parent Who Chose Addiction

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.


When I was younger I resented you, I hated every ounce of you, and I used to question why God would give me a parent like you. Not now. Now I see the beauty and the blessings behind having an addict for a parent. If you're reading this, it isn't meant to hurt you, but rather to thank you.

Thank you for choosing your addiction over me.

Throughout my life, you have always chosen the addiction over my programs, my swim meets or even a simple movie night. You joke about it now or act as if I never questioned if you would wake up the next morning from your pill and alcohol-induced sleep, but I thank you for this. I thank you because I gained a relationship with God. The amount of time I spent praying for you strengthened our relationship in ways I could never explain.

SEE ALSO: They're Not Junkies, You're Just Uneducated

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

The amount of hurt and disappointment our family has gone through has brought us closer together. I have a relationship with Nanny and Pop that would never be as strong as it is today if you had been in the picture from day one. That in itself is a blessing.

Thank you for showing me how to love.

From your absence, I have learned how to love unconditionally. I want you to know that even though you weren't here, I love you most of all. No matter the amount of heartbreak, tears, and pain I've felt, you will always be my greatest love.

Thank you for making me strong.

Thank you for leaving and for showing me how to be independent. From you, I have learned that I do not need anyone else to prove to me that I am worthy of being loved. From you, I have learned that life is always hard, but you shouldn't give into the things that make you feel good for a short while, but should search for the real happiness in life.

Most of all, thank you for showing me how to turn my hurt into motivation.

I have learned that the cycle of addiction is not something that will continue into my life. You have hurt me more than anyone, but through that hurt, I have pushed myself to become the best version of myself.

Thank you for choosing the addiction over me because you've made me stronger, wiser, and loving than I ever could've been before.

Cover Image Credit: http://crashingintolove.tumblr.com/post/62246881826/pieffysessanta-tumblr-com

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Why We Are Boycotting Brunei

The tiny monarchy island of Brunei recently passed a new criminal law that includes stoning for gay sex, adultery, and even the amputation of limbs for theft.


The small island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, known as Brunei, just passed a new criminal law, whose penal code is based directly from Islamic law in the Quran.

Not only is this law outdated and simply barbaric, but someone hasn't been put to death in Brunei since 1957. How do you go from not using the death penalty to willingly taking the lives of people for things that aren't even acknowledged as actual crimes?

Who is the man responsible? Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, who has been the ruler of the small island since 1967.

With a population of just 430,000 people, the island makes an insane amount of wealth through its oil industry - making their sultan one of the wealthiest people on the planet.

Since 2013, the sultan had been planning on imposing an incredibly restrictive form of Islam on his country, who is majority Muslim.

According to The Guardian, The Sultan has billions of pounds of property wealth in the UK, shares in a leading tech fund and gets assistance from City auditing firms.

Among these hotels are the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles - which celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney have called a boycott for.

"Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up," DeGeneres said.

Ellen, amongst other celebrities, is demanding the boycott of nine hotels. Two in the United States, three in the United Kingdom, two in France and two in England.

Alongside Ellen stands Elton John, who has refused to stay in any Brunei-owned hotels since before the laws were passed; saying that his boycott began in 2014 at the first mention of such medieval tactics.

Think about it, in the United States, gay couples didn't feel accepted until 2015. But in some places, there isn't only a feeling of judgment but a threat to your life that can only be described as inhumane.

The law demands whipping or even death by stoning if you take part in extramarital or anal sex and other things. You could even have one of your labs amputated for theft - something that can sometimes be dealt with a slap on the wrist in the United States. Abortion is criminalized alongside lesbian sex which is punished by 40 whipping lashes.

Amongst this list of criminalized acts are things that people should have a certain level of privacy and comfort to do in their own homes with no one needing to know or necessarily care. Some things are simply right we all take advantage and usually don't even notice are subtle luxuries in our lives.

So, make sure to stay informed and updated while we #BoycottBrunei until these laws are overturned or the Sultan himself steps down. It's only just.

Related Content

Facebook Comments