A short introduction to Han ethnic clothing and the importance of its conservation.
1. What is traditional Han ethnic clothing?
Traditional Han ethnic clothing — commonly called hanfu 漢服／汉服 — is the ethnic dress of the Han Chinese, 漢人／汉人, or 華人／华人.
2. What era is it from?
Through the ages, Han Chinese have been wearing their ethnic dress up until the Qing Dynasty 清朝 (1644 — 1912), when the Manchu 滿族 regime made it illegal for Han Chinese men to wear their ethnic dress. This was to force the Han Chinese to submit to Manchu rule under the Qing court.
3. What about the qipao/cheongsam 旗袍/長衫／长衫 and magua 馬褂/马褂？
The cheongsam, qipao, and magua belong to the ethnic dress of the Manchus, who were part of the Eight Banners People 八旗, hence the name given to their garments旗袍, the pao/袍 of the Qi/旗 people.
4. So Manchus are not Han Chinese?
Manchus and Han Chinese belong to different ethnicities.
5. So the qipao and magua is not Chinese either?
The qipao and magua belong to the Manchus, and therefore should not and cannot ever be used to substitute or represent the ethnic dress of the Han Chinese.
6. So why do people wear the qipao and magua today?
During the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu rulers made it illegal for Han Chinese men to wear their own ethnic dress under pain of death. Anyone who violated the precept would be beheaded. Today’s custom of wearing the qipao and magua is a carryover from the Qing. The ethnic dress of the Han Chinese today should be based on the form of hanfu from the Ming Dynasty 明朝, the last of the Han Chinese dynasties.
7. Why the Ming Dynasty?
Because we should pick up where we left off. The Ming Dynasty was the last of the Han Chinese dynasties. Hanfu evolved through the ages up until the Qing where it was then outlawed. But the rule did not apply to monks and religious, which is why Buddhist and Taoist monks today wear robes that look very much like garbs of the common people of the Ming Dynasty.
8. Can we choose to wear clothes from the Song Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, or any of the dynasties that preceded the Ming?
No. Doing so would basically be cosplaying.
9. Why not?
Because hanfu evolved through the ages right up to the end of the Ming Dynasty. Therefore, hanfu conservation and promotion in the modern day should pick up from that point in history. Not even people living in the Ming would have worn clothes from the Song or Tang or Han or Qin dynasties — it is utterly silly and ridiculous. Unfortunately, we see many hanfu enthusiasts wearing garbs said to be patterned after hanfu from earlier dynasties. In actual fact, these robes are made after their figments of imagination or costumes they see on TV or in movies. It needs to be reiterated unequivocally: Any form of dress from any dynasty preceding the Ming is obsolete, and while they may still carry cultural significance and value, the conservation of hanfu today may only be based on the garments we inherited from the Ming.
10. So why/how is Ming-style attire relevant today?
Following the demise of the Ming Dynasty and the birth of the Qing regime, the Manchu rulers forbade Han Chinese men from wearing their own ethnic dress. But fortunately the rule did not apply to opera troupes and religious clerics. This means that the use of Ming-style garments did not completely disappear from the face of this earth — it lived on in ways that we don’t usually pay attention to. Every race has its own ethnic dress — the Malays have their baju melayu, the Japanese have their kimono and the Koreans have their hanbok. We have our Han ethnic dress, our hanzhuang/hanfu 漢裝／汉装 漢服／汉服, which we Han Chinese must preserve and continue to promote and wear. Because we are not, and we cannot ever be, a naked race.