Love for hanfu brings people together


Liu Jianqiao
Friday 27 October 2023 13:31 BST
Models walk down the runway in hanfu at an event held in Luoyang, Henan province, in September, 2023
Models walk down the runway in hanfu at an event held in Luoyang, Henan province, in September, 2023 (ZHANG YIXI / FOR CHINA DAILY )

Hanfu, the traditional Chinese attire, has gained popularity as a symbol of Chinese culture, captivating enthusiasts worldwide.

Rian Neves, 29, a Brazilian, was fascinated by China’s vibrant history and diverse culture when he arrived in the country more than five years ago.

Growing up with his grandparents in Rio de Janeiro, he joined the military after completing his education. However, he soon felt the need for a change in his life, prompting him to make a life-changing decision to move to China.

He knew little Chinese, and the stark differences in culture, cuisine, environment and way of life sent him into culture shock.

“At the time my English was not good, and I could barely speak anything in Chinese. I felt very lonely as a new arrival.”

To overcome this disorientation Rian engaged with Chinese friends who introduced him to various facets of Chinese culture. Through their companionship and frequent outings his interest in Chinese culture gradually increased, and he began to feel more at ease.

In 2019 he and his friends stumbled upon a group of young Chinese individuals dressed in hanfu near picturesque West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Impressed by the flamboyant hanfu style, he developed a fascination for this costume.

He later moved to Xi’an in Shaanxi province, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, where he discovered a multitude of people donning traditional costumes while exploring historical sites, taking pictures and shooting short videos.

“My friends told me: ‘Rian, just have a try. And what if we make a channel about you dressing up in hanfu, and let’s see where we can go.’ So I began to do the makeup and shot my first video.”

Encouraged by his friends, he decided to try this experiment and document his experiences. He embarked on his first video shoot last year, applying make-up and presenting himself in a hanfu ensemble on Chinese social media platforms, receiving words of encouragement from Chinese viewers.

Rian now has more than 15,000 followers on Xiaohongshu, a lifestyle platform popular with young people in China.

Initially he had only a broad understanding of China’s extensive history and profound culture, he said, but now he has a more intricate understanding of such matters.

“Throughout this journey I have gradually enhanced my knowledge of hanfu and China. Now I can distinguish between various hanfu styles from different dynasties, and I particularly adore the Tang Dynasty (618-907).”

Rian’s hanfu videos have drawn numerous positive comments from Chinese viewers, and these act as a source of inspiration for this hanfu enthusiast to continue his endeavours.

He eventually plans to explore various locations in China and delve into diverse local cultures, particularly those of ethnic groups, he said.

“In addition to creating hanfu videos as before, I intend to showcase more Chinese cultural elements. For example, I want to reveal how traditional costumes are made by Chinese people, and share the historical significance behind the process.”

A woman dressed in hanfu paints on a Chinese fan in Huzhou, Zhejiang province
A woman dressed in hanfu paints on a Chinese fan in Huzhou, Zhejiang province (XINHUA)

The same passion for hanfu has driven JongMay Urbonya, originally from the United States, to establish her own business with the aim of promoting Chinese dressing.

JongMay was born in China but spent her elementary to high school years in the US before returning to China to pursue a degree in Chinese dance. Since then she has been living in Beijing for more than 10 years.

In April last year she founded a company focusing on promoting traditional Chinese culture through social media videos, inspired by her love for hanfu.

Recalling her college days, she said wearing hanfu was seen as a “niche hobby” for which the garments had to be tailor-made. However, today she incorporates hanfu into her wardrobe and buys a variety of hanfu costumes online.

Through their ongoing efforts, enthusiasts like Rian and JongMay are building bridges between cultures and fostering a deeper appreciation for the beauty and richness of traditional Chinese attire.

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