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Hanfu — Traditional Clothing of the Chinese Han Majority

Hanfu, literally 'Han clothes', is one of the traditional types of Chinese clothing.

It served as the characteristic clothing for the Han ethnic group for more than three millennia and was outlawed at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

What Hanfu Is?

The term "Hanfu" was created in recent years by Internet users to describe the Han people's clothing during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

However, it refers to the historical dress of the Han people for all of history before the Qing Dynasty, when the Manchus reigned.

When people talk about Hanfu, they usually mean a long flowing robe with loose sleeves and a belt at the waist.

However, Hanfu is a diverse term including different styles of clothing from different dynasties.

Features of Hanfu

Hanfu features a loose yi (/ee/) 衣 'upper garment') with sleeves, and a skirt-like shang (/shung/ 裳 'lower garment' ). The belt sash was often decorated with jade.

It is considered a symbol of authentic Chinese culture, reflecting Confucian scholars' aspirations towards rituals, music, and moralistic ideals.

The Legendary Origin of Hanfu

It is said that Hanfu can be traced back more than 4,000 years, when the legendary Yellow Emperor's (2698–2598 BC) consort, Leizu, made clothes with silk.

However, no archaeological evidence has been unearthed to support this.

Hanfu in the Xia and Shang Periods (2070–1046 BC)

In the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC), top-bottom clothes prevailed. The basic form of the Hanfu was established in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC)…

The yi was a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash. The shang was a narrow, ankle-length skirt. Outside a knee-length apron or bixi (/bee-hsee/ 蔽膝 'cover the knees') was worn.

Due to limited technology, there were only two primary colors: red and green.

Hanfu in the Zhou Dynasty (1045 – 221 BC)

In the Western Zhou era (1045 – 771 BC), Kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty set up a strict hierarchical system linked by blood lineage and ethical norms based on families.

Clothes were used as a status symbol to accentuate their privileges, which had a substantial impact on clothes and ornaments, owing to great differences between the nobility and the common people.

Shenyi (one-piece clothing) and Mianfu (a religious court dress of ancient emperors and officials) emerged in the Eastern Zhou period (770 – 221 BC).

Hanfu sleeves were made wider, and the outer tunic was closed with jade decorations or a sash. The cross-over collar appeared.

Other ethnic groups' clothing, such as hufu (clothes of northern ethnic groups such as the Huns), was established and blended with Hanfu.

Hanfu in the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD)

During the Qin and Han dynasties, few changes were made to the details of the Hanfu. The shenyi was still the favored style of dress for the Han people and the Huns alike.

A new kind of formal dress, the pao (袍), a robe made of linen, prevailed.

It was stipulated that the third-rank officials and above wore green silk pao and shenyi, and the common people wore white linen pao during the Qin Dynasty.

Hanfu in the Sui, Tang, and Song Dynasties (581 – 1279)

The Sui and Tang dynasties were "China's golden age", when the Han culture broadened. Based on their predecessors, a clothing style combining elements of the Hanfu and the hufu became common.

Women's clothes became more relaxed and revealing than their previous counterparts, owing to women being less restricted by the Confucian ethical codes.