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“Made in China” Fashion – Forever Doomed?

‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion expert Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so. Is “Made in China” Fashion doomed?

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‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion writer Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so.

It was a wild week in the world of China fashion news. First, popstar Katy Perry draped herself in a   Taiwanese flag at a Taipei concert. Then Su Mang, one of China’s most influential fashion figures, spoke at the 2015 Harvard China Forum about the future of Chinese fashion. Most controversially, the famous A-list ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called on celebrities to dress for the theme of Chinese influences on western fashion at the beginning of May. The ball became trending on Sina Weibo and dominated Weixin discussions. Many Chinese netizens ridiculed the outfits of America’s celebrities, like Sarah Jessica Parker, who ‘looked like a Beijing Olympics mascotte’, or Rihanna, whose dress resembled ‘a Chinese omelette’ according to Weibo’s netizens.

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and China fashion writer. She is based in Beijing since 2010, and works in the fashion industry. She gives her view on this week’s happenings for What’s on Weibo:

 

Chinoiserie: Friend or Foe?

 

b8ac6f27b00016b3a4b801Rihanna’s dress, mocked by Chinese netizens for ‘resembling a Chinese omelette’.

Monday May 4 stood out in many a fashion-aficionado/a’s calendar as the annual outlandish couture fest (or frenzy, perhaps) that is the Met Gala rolled out the red carpet once again, sporting the theme “Chinoiserie” (one that many avant-gardists related to China fashion had awaited with baited breath — not this one though, I’m slightly skeptical when it comes to Queen Bey and the likes showing us their take on the wardrobe pick-of-the-season, no offense Your Madgesty).

Now, in hindsight, let me make an attempt to be politically correct in summarizing the A-list peacock feathers du jour: opinions were definitely divided. I’m the first one to agree that Fashion is the Land of Freedom and any take on a specific theme should be completely and utterly personal; but as I stood peering through the looking glass, I had a hard time spotting the ‘Chinois’ in the whole thing. And when the China flash did appear, it gave off somewhat of the “very average design school graduation project idea”, as Beijing designer Iris Wang put it: more tragic than transcendent.

 

Will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed?

 

Then, lo and behold, what are the chances…Coincidence or not (probably the latter, I do get that), a few days prior to the photo-opp of the year, on May 1, the Harvard China Forum hosted a talk on China fashion, and more specifically asked itself: Is China still able to fulfill and live its dream of becoming the reigning Queen Bee of the International Fashion Hive? Or will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed to burn in Vogue purgatory? E-commerce in China, i.e. purchasing your Monday outfit on ultra-popular sites such as Taobao and Alibaba, is thriving; yet that ain’t got that real Alexander McQueen feel to it, now does it?

 

160045_1306606.jpg.800x533_q95_crop-smart_upscaleSu Mang speaking at the Harvard Forum.

Both entrepreneurship and fashion remain relatively new concepts in China anno 2015. One-woman-powerhouse Su Mang, President and CEO of Trends Media Group, has been working in the industry for almost two decades now, and impeccably dressed, she had her say at the forum. In the early 2000s, with China fashion in its newborn stages one might say, Su took on her first job as editor-in-chief and founded “Bazaar in China, and embarked upon a period to which she refers as being one of “trial and error”. Heading a crew of no more than 30 at the publication, she started weaving the little silk she had been given and over the next decade “saw China fashion growing into an increasingly powerful tool able to influence artists, musicians, dresses to the stars and thus the clothing trends of hundreds of thousands across the nation”. Again, that all happened within the span of merely ten years. Not too shabby.

 

“China will grow into its own style.”

 

Putting the final hemlines on her discourse, Su pointed out how her fiercely fiery dreams regarding China’s fashionable development are by no means slowing down, let alone been diminished to cinders, on the contrary: the Fashion Dragon roars (I’m slightly paraphrasing here; thought it sounded more passionate, anyhoo). “After all, who is to say what fashion really is? Is it merely couture; or does it cover a wider range of clothing[racks]? China will grow into its own style mode; let’s just see what that will be. But in no way does it end here.” Amen to that, Su.

Maybe the MET should have another “China-do” in another decade then. Let’s wait and see.”

_82774782_82767298British model Cara Delevingne was covered in fake floral tattoos as she arrived for the gala. As reported by BBC’s Saira Asher and Heather Chen, the Weibo verdict: “Those fake flower tattoos – Frightening!“, and: “Aren’t cherry blossoms Japanese?

 

By Elsbeth van Paridon
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Images:

http://www.thecrimson.com/image/2015/4/27/sumangchinaforum/
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32586993

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and fashion writer. Since 2010, she has been living in Beijing, where she has become an expert on all the ins and outs of the world of China fashion. She has her own blog on China fashion: Chasing the Fashion Dragon.

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China Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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China Fashion & Beauty

The ‘Fake Rich’ of Shanghai: Peeking Inside a Wannabe Socialite WeChat Group

A Shanghai fake ‘rich girl WeChat group’ has become the talk of the day after a Chinese blogger went undercover in their bizarre social media circle.

Manya Koetse

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A Shanghai Lady Socialite WeChat Group has become top trending on Chinese social media after a blogger exposed its workings. From splitting the costs for an afternoon high tea at The Ritz to sharing a Gucci pantyhose, these girls are taking the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it’ a bit too literally.

 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
 

How to become part of Shanghai’s super-rich social circles? Some people think joining a WeChat group is the way to go.

A Shanghai ‘Female Socialite WeChat Group’ has gone mega trending on Chinese social media today after a blogger went undercover in the group for two weeks, giving netizens a peek inside a world that’s all about faking it. The topic reached over 1.2 billion views on Weibo on Monday.

The Chinese blogger Lizhonger (李中二) invested 500 yuan ($75) and pretended to be a girl in order to become a member of the WeChat group after one of his readers tipped him off about its existence.

The group profiles itself as the ‘Shanghai Female Socialite’ group that is all about “Young / Fashion / Money”. The profile poster states that the WeChat group is a place to share information about (Hermes, Dior, etc) luxury products, to have afternoon tea together, to get to know social media influencers and to share updates on wealthy and eligible bachelors.

Besides a 500 yuan membership fee, new members are required to provide proof of having at least 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in their savings account.

Faking such proof is probably not too difficult; most of the active members of the ‘Shanghai Ladies’ WeChat group appear to be anything but nouveau riche – nor old rich, for that matter.

Lizhonger discovered that instead of being an actual WeChat group for rich girls to talk about their latest Louis Vuitton bags, the group is in fact all about finding ways to appear rich. Part of it is sharing resources and splitting the costs of experiences where these luxury-loving girls can post photos of themselves.

“It turned out to be a high-end version of Pinduoduo,” Lizhonger writes. Pinduoduo, sometimes referred to as ‘the Groupon of China,’ is an interactive group-buying shopping platform that offers quality goods at extremely low prices.

As exposed by Lizhonger, the members of the WeChat group would do things such as sharing the cost for an afternoon high tea at the Ritz-Carlton. The high tea, which is meant for two people, was split among six people, with each person paying 85 yuan ($12.5). The girls then took turns to attend the high tea, with the first girls promising not to touch any of the food so the other girls could still take pictures of it once it was their turn to show up at the Ritz.

Screenshots of the WeChat group, where members agree to share a 2-person high tea at the Ritz with 6 people.

Likewise, the booking costs for a 3000 yuan hotel room at the Ritz was shared among 15 members of the WeChat group, with each person paying 200 yuan ($30).

The price for a room at the glamorous and expensive Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai was shared with no less than 40 people, each person paying 125 yuan ($18) just to go up, take a pic, and share their location on social media.

The madness does not stop there. Lizhonger also exposed how the group members would rent one designer bag with four persons, passing them on to each other to wear on a date with a prospective boyfriend.

Or how about renting a white Ferrari for one day with 60 people? For 100 yuan ($15) per person, each lady got to take a picture to post on social media.

The girls even went as far as sharing the costs for a second-hand Gucci pantyhose, while also discussing how guys driving a BMW or Benz are just not good enough.

One WeChat group can hold a maximum of 500 people. Groups that are popular, such as the one described here, are sometimes split up in multiple groups (A, B, and C) so that more than 500 people can participate.

Since Lizhonger posted his article on WeChat on Sunday, it’s become all the talk on Chinese social media. One post about the topic on Weibo reached over 1,4 million likes.

Although many people laugh about the matter, there are also many who criticize these Shanghai women for pretending to be rich and chasing after money in order to increase their social status in order to find a wealthy husband.

“They are faking their appearances, but actually they are just faking themselves,” some commented.

Others are not surprised that these kinds of groups are popular. “Did you think this was rare? There are so many of these groups!”

Although this group goes to extremes, the fake socialite life is not just a Shanghai thing. Since some years ago, it was reported that influencers in Russia were booking grounded jets for photoshoots. More recently, some influencers in the US were exposed for renting a photo studio made to look like a private plane for their Instagram photos.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image by Yuan Zhe Ma

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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