Adorned in elaborate lacquered jewelry, a braided updo, and a Ming Dynasty-inspired Hanfu (汉服) to match, @MochiHanfu, a 22-year-old “hanfluencer,” shares her latest look to her over 530,000 fans on TikTok. This is Hanfu: dynastic-era traditional Chinese Han dress, with flowing robes and multilayered ensembles.
For Mochi, the inspiration behind these historically-inspired looks (which take four hours to put together, not counting research and compilation time) largely comes from other like-minded creators on apps like Xiaohongshu, but also historical lore, artifacts, and paintings. At one point in the video, she turns to show the picture of Yang Guifei (楊貴妃) — one of the “Four Beauties” of ancient China — hung proudly in her room.
Though Mochi is relatively new to this (she’s been creating content for just over a year), the movement has long been home to a myriad of social media and IRL devotees since it burst into the popular imagination in recent years. Shiyin (十音), a popular Hanfu content creator with over 1.1 million followers on Weibo, began collecting in back in 2016 and shares all things Hanfu through her almost-daily vlogs, photoshoots, and short videos across four different social platforms.
With the mainland’s Hanfu market expected to reach $1.85 billion (12.54 billion RMB) in 2022 and to continue to swell to an impressive $2.82 billion (19.11 billion RMB) by 2025, the clothing style has perhaps now passed enough temporal (and financial) milestones to graduate from ephemeral trend to lasting subculture. Here, Jing Daily explores Hanfu’s expanding reach into the mainstream — and what its lasting power means for evolving style norms.
Hanfu integrated into everyday life
The rise of Hanfu in 2018 occurred in tandem with a surge in the cultural confidence of China’s youth. For many young citizens, this latter ultimately resulted in the desire to reconnect with and reclaim a sense of cultural pride. Encouraged by government policy investing in the nation’s heritage (ranging from a profusion of local tradition-centric events to a heavy statewide focus on building museums), “Guochao,” which literally translates to “national trend,” made a fair contribution to the revitalization of Hanfu.
Once a niche Gen-Z interest, Hanfu — transformed by its meteoric rise in the country’s mass consumer market — now exists as a fully-fledged community complete with unique social circles. “Young Hanfu lovers meet offline, visit museums, attend conventions, and travel to take photos wearing Hanfu,” says Xiaolei Gu, Director of Innovation Consulting at Fabernovel. Fans’ love for the clothing style also extends to other traditional and cultural activities like tea pouring, martial arts, and finger dancing.
Still, many Gen Zers in the community have taken Hanfu a step beyond Guochao, offering modern takes that integrate traditional elements into modern wardrobes. Often using a mixture of Chinese and western styles (汉洋折衷), such interventions reimagine Hanfu to enhance contemporary fashion — for example, “mixing the traditional Mamian Skirt with a modern collared blouse,” as Cindy Ang, founder of Hanfu Story, a Singapore-based Hanfu store explains.
This is no trend — Hanfu signals a shift in tastes
Hanfu’s appeal has even extended overseas to the Chinese diaspora. Perhaps exacerbated by pandemic existentialism, young folk have been using Hanfu to reconnect with their roots. To counter homesickness, “tons of user-generated videos created by Chinese students studying overseas” have appeared recently, according to Sarah Yam, Co-founder of Red Digital China.
The emotional connection is key to Hanfu’s popularity. Indeed, strong sentiment for traditional dress even sparked a protest, where around 50 Chinese students assembled outside the Paris Dior store amid the ongoing backlash against Dior’s Horse face skirt. The Weibo hashtag “Chinese students in Paris protest against Dior’s cultural appropriation” has gathered over 440 million cumulative views.
Clearly, shortcuts such as these will not fly with China’s youth. Patrick Gottelier, a professor at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (DeTao Masters program), tells Jing Daily, “this [Hanfu] is not a “fast fashion” trend, it is the fashion equivalent of a tectonic shift…Ignore Chinese customer sensibilities and suffer the consequences.” This change is evident in the classroom of Professor Jane Gottelier, who teaches at SIVA’s DeTao Master’s Program. She notes how, while dissertations leaned toward western-style references eight years ago, students are increasingly opting for eastern fashion sources for their final collections.
Indeed, almost everywhere you look there has been a growth in all things Hanfu: traditional activities, modern styling hacks, even the popularity of C-dramas like A Dream of Splendor 梦华录, The Untamed 陈情令, and The Longest Day In Chang’an (长安十二时辰). Social media gives some picture of its sheer size: to date, the hashtag Hanfu #汉服 has accumulated 6.9 billion views on Weibo while the associated hashtag on the intersection of western and eastern styles #汉洋折衷 has a supporting 80.65 million views.
For now, around 70 percent of Hanfu consumers frequent online platforms like Taobao and Xianyu to purchase their garments. More exclusive Hanfu designs have also found their nest: designer Shisanyu raised over $14.8 million (100 million RMB) in April last year, backed by video platform Bilibili and Loyal Valley Capital. Alongside this, physical and in-store Hanfu experiences are flourishing in cities like Chengdu, Xi’an, and Hangzhou — the famous “Hanfu Street” in Chengdu’s Champagne Plaza, for instance, serves as a gathering place for Hanfu fans of all kinds.
As the subculture grows, there is no doubt that the expanding style and use of Hanfu will develop the array of apparel, accessories, and activities available to consumers. Keep an eye out on this sector — it’s only just starting to take off.