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Top 10: Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas of Summer 2018

These are the top-scoring TV dramas in China of this moment – and they are all produced in the PRC.

Manya Koetse

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Tong Liya in 'Patriot'

Turn on the airconditioning and get ready for some binge watching; these are the top trending TV dramas in China to watch this summer.

Note: also see our Top 30 of all-time classic Chinese TV Dramas here!

China still has one of the most booming TV drama industries in the world, with dozens of new dramas being released every month, drawing in millions of viewers through the country’s most popular online video streaming platforms.

We’ve compiled a top ten of most popular Chinese TV dramas based on the current popular charts of the leading websites in Chinese online video, including Tencent Video, iQiyi, Sohu, Youku, LeTV, 360kan, Sogou Video, along with Baidu’s and Weibo’s popular TV drama charts.

Like fashion and music, TV drama trends constantly change with the times and seasons. This summer, Chinese viewers are mostly into dramas that are themed around (historical) love stories and suspense. What is noteworthy is that the often very popular fantasy & martial art series, Sino-Japanese war dramas, and the ever-popular South-Korean tv dramas are not making it to the list of top-watched series this time; the current top 10 series are all produced in mainland China.

This list has been compiled by combining the top ranking lists of this moment to make sure we have all the current top-scoring TV dramas in China included. Please note that some of these series are currently still airing and have no English subtitles available at this time. Some links we provide here (such as those to Viki) have content restrictions depending on location. To circumvent you could consider purchasing a vpn (read more).

These are the dramas Chinese netizens are watching the most right now:

 

#10. Shanghai Women’s Manual (上海女子图鉴)

Mainland China
Genre: urban, romance
Directed by: Cheng Liang, 程亮
Episodes: 20, start May 8 2018, by Youku

Chinese video platform Youku released Shanghai Women’s Manual (or Women in Shanghai) last May, following the series Beijing Women Manual; both series are adapted from 2016 popular Japanese drama series Tokyo Joshi Zukan.

This successful TV drama, that currently ranks number 5 in Youku top 30, stars actress Wang Zhen’er (王真儿) as Luo Haiyan – a small-town girl who tries to make it in the big city.

Following Luo Haiyan’s life from college to corporate world.

The series revolves around career and romance in Shanghai, following Luo’s life from the days of university graduation to her first struggles and successes in the corporate world. Throughout Luo’s career path, her university sweetheart Zhang Tianhao (played by Taiwanese actor Li Chengbin 李程彬) keeps on playing an important role in her life.

Two pluspoint aspects of this series; the scenery is enjoyable (nice images of Shanghai streets and aerial views), and some of the music used in the episodes is great. The TV drama can be watched here (no subtitles, if you know of where to watch with English subtitles please leave comment).

 

#9. On Fire (走火)

Mainland China
Genre: suspense, crime
Directed by: Li Xiaoping 李小平 and Li Xiaoting 李小亭
Episodes: 40, start June 6 2018, by Zhejiang TV

Ranking no.4 in Weibo’s current most popular charts of the day and no.6 in Youku top 30, On Fire or Flame (走火) is a TV drama about a group of young police officers facing complicated and serious cases.

 

#8. White Deer Plain (白鹿原)

Mainland China
Genre: Contemporary historical drama
Directed by: Liu Jin 刘进
Episodes: 77, start July 16 2017

Currently ranking first in Baidu’s popular drama charts and number two in LeTV top 10, White Deer or White Deer Plain is a succesful tv drama that is based on the award-winning Chinese literary classic by Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) from 1993.

The preparation and production of White Deer Plain was certainly not rushed; it reportedly took 17 years before this TV drama finally went on air.

This work’s success in China has previously been compared to that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. White Deer Plain was previously also turned into a movie (2011).

The historical epic follows the stories of people from several generations living on the ‘White Deer Plain,’ or North China Plain in Shanxi province, during the first half of the 20th century. This tumultuous period sees the Republican Period, the Japanese invasion, and the early days of the People’s Republic of China.

The series is great in providing insights into how people used to live, from dress to daily life matter. The scenery and sets are beautiful. Some Youtube channels work on providing subtitles for this show, but we couldn’t find one channel with complete English subtitles yet.

 

#7. Great Expectations (远大前程)

Mainland China
Genre: Period drama, romance
Directed by: Xie Ze and Chen Xitai 谢泽、陈熙泰
Episodes: 48, start April 1 2018, by Hunan TV

Scoring number one position in the LeTv popular dramas chart, Great Expectations is set in Shanghai in the early 20th century.

The drama follows the story of Hong Sanyuan (played by Chen Sicheng 陈思成), who has come to Shanghai from a small town in search for a better life together with his mother and close friend Qi Lin. The new life in Shanghai does not come easy, however, and Hong gets wound up in political affairs and power struggles as he transforms from a street hooligan to a revolutionary.

Fun fact: besides starring in this TV drama as the main actor, Chen Sicheng is also the screenwriter and producer of Great Expectations. Drama is available through Viki here.

 

#6. Dr. Qin Medical Examiner 2 (法医秦明2清道夫)

Mainland China
Genre: crime
Director: Li Shuang, Chen Jiahong 李爽、陈嘉鸿
Episodes: 20, June 15th 2018, Sohu TV

This series is currently ranking number one in the Sohu hot drama charts. It is the sequel to one of the most successful network dramas on Sohu TV: Medical Examiner Dr. Qin (法医秦明), an adaptation from best-selling novels by Chinese forensic expert Dr. Qin Ming.

The series sheds light on the profession of forensic doctors, following their hardships and professional working attitudes, and stars Eric Liu Dong Qin, Liu Chang, and Yu Shasha. The original series is now available on Viki with subtitles.

 

#5. Patriot (爱国者)

Mainland China
Genre: Historical drama
Directed by: Gong Chaohui (龚朝晖)
Episodes: 50, June 9 2018, Jiangsu

Zhang Luyi (张鲁一) and Tong Liya (佟丽娅) star in this 50-episode drama that is curerently number two in Weibo’s popularity charts, getting a 7.1 rating at Sogou Video.

As the only series in this list, it is set at the time of the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), and tells the story of underground Communist party member Song Xiaqiao on a secret mission, who has to deal with spies and traitors. His love interest is played by the beautiful Tong Liya.

The marketing posters for this TV drama really stand out; they are original and quite stunning. Available to watch on YouTube (Chinese).

 

#4. Love Won’t Wait (如果,爱)

Mainland China
Genre: Urban, family drama
Directed by: Zhang Zheshu (张哲书)
Episodes: 47, May 27 2018, Mango TV and others

After 40 years of hard work, Wan Shicheng (Zhng Shuangli 张双利) has succeeded in establishing the biggest restaurant in the city. Despite his success, his family and daughters are facing many struggles – one of them, played by Cecilia Cheung (张柏芝), is caught in an abusive relationship while the other becomes pregnant after a one-night stand.

Love Won’t Wait is the top scoring tv drama in iQiyi charts at time of writing, and is ranking number 4 in Weibo’s popularity charts. The series can be viewed here (no English subtitles, let us know if available.)

 

 

#3. The Way We Were (归去来)

This is the number one show at 360kan and Youku, and top scoring show in Tencent Video this week.

Shu Che (Luo Jin 罗晋), Xiao Qing (Tiffany Tang 唐嫣), Liao Ying (Amelie Xu 许龄月) and Ning Ming (Tim Yu) are Chinese children from rich households living in the US. The TV drama follows the trials and tribulations of these students and their elite lives – facing challenges in love and legal battles.

The Way We Were is available for viewing on Viki or through Youtube (above) with subtitles.

 

#2. Summer’s Desire (泡沫之夏)

Mainland China
Genre: Youth drama, romance
Directed by: Yu Zhonzhong (于中中)
Episodes: 36, May 8 2018, by Zhejiang TV, iQiyi and others

The number one hottest tv drama at Sogou at time of writing, also ranking number three at Weibo’s weekly best-rated tv drama’s, is “Summer’s Desire.”

The popular TV series is based on the 2007 novel Summer of Foam by Ming Xiaoxi. It stars Zhang Xueying (张雪迎), Qin Junjie (秦俊杰), Madina Memet, and Huang Shengchi (黄圣池) and focuses on the love story between female protagonists Yin Xiamo and Ou Chen and Luo Xi.

 

#1. Lost in 1949 (脱身)

Mainland China
Genre: Suspense, historical drama
Director: Lin Ke (林柯)
Episodes: 47, June 11 2018

Lost in 1949 is the number one TV drama on Weibo’s popularity charts this week, along with the top scorer on iQiyi, and scoring a 8.8 rating on Tencent’s Video.

The stars of this spy drama are Chen Kun (陈坤) and Wan Qian (万茜). Chen actually plays two different roles in this drama.

The story is set in early 1949 at the time of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Huang Liwen is on her way to Shanghai to mourn her lost husband when she runs into Qiao Zhicai, who has been released from prison and is on a mission to find the person who framed him. In a coincidence meting, the suitcases of Qiao and Huang get mixed up. Huang’s suitcase contains an important item she needs to deliver to the underground organization of the communist party. It is the beginning of their adventure and lovestory, in which the protagonists’s devotion to their country plays an important role.

Want to read more? Check out:
Top 10 of TV Drama in China 2017
Top 5 of Best Drama Series Winter 2017/2018
Best TV Dramas in China Summer 2017
Most Popular Television Series in China in 2016
Top TV Drama 2015

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    labarron

    June 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Can someone recommend good VPN for streaming China’s TV dramas?

    • Avatar

      ralph

      June 19, 2018 at 6:28 pm

      Nordvpn is the one to go 🙂 An excellent and reputable provider! Here is a coupon code 75OFF to save some $

    • Avatar

      admin

      June 20, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      Hi Labarron, we recommend NordVPN or ExpressVPN. NordVPN currently has a very good deal, check it out: See https://www.whatsonweibo.com/best-vpns-for-china-summer-2018/.

  2. Avatar

    bren

    June 21, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Great article! Lots of new shows to check out.

    Just a small note, I think 白鹿原 takes place in 陕西, which is usually written as Shaanxi.

  3. Avatar

    Chris

    November 29, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Hi,

    I found Love won’t wait with English subtitles here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJof90AYsK8&feature=youtu.be

    Have a good one

    Chris

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China Arts & Entertainment

Zheng Shuang, Zhang Heng, and ‘Surrogacy Gate’: A Timeline

One celebrity couple breakup, two children born through surrogacy: this sad and messy topic has exploded on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A celebrity surrogacy scandal is dominating discussions on Chinese social media, with one hashtag on the case attracting over 3 4 billion views. The scandal is triggering discussions on the topic of surrogacy in China.

Her name is Zheng Shuang (郑爽, 29), his name is Zhang Heng (张恒, 30). They’re both celebrities in China; she is a super famous actress, he is a well-known producer.

This week, it is not their work that made them go viral on Chinese social media, but a surrogacy scandal taking place in the United States that is dominating all trending lists on Weibo.

Zheng and Zhang in happier times.

The social media storm started on Monday, January 18, when rumors surfaced on Weibo and Wechat that the celebrity couple had separated. Some netizens had located a ‘dissolution’ case concerning the couple through the public access of the US federal court system.

Subsequently, news and rumors began circulating that the couple had two children in the US through a surrogacy arrangement, but that actress Zheng Shuang refused to have them because she and Zhang had broken up – even though her name was on their birth certificate.

The topic soon became known as the Zheng Shuang ‘Surrogacy Gate’ (郑爽”代孕门”).

Chinese media outlet Netease Entertainment published images of the children’s birth certificates and confirmed through sources close to producer Zhang Heng that he was stranded in the United States with the two babies, unable to bring them back to China with him since Ms Zheng allegedly did not cooperate with the necessary legal procedures.

It was Zhang Heng himself who spoke out about the situation on his Weibo account (@张恒KN) on January 18. He wrote the following post:

“Hi everyone, I’m Zhang Heng. Long time no see. As everyone has seen, I again hit the hot search lists recently. Since the past year or so, there has been baseless slander, disrespect, and endless online violence against me on the internet. My family is also frustrated, helpless, and mentally exhausted because of my problems. There’s no way to lead a normal life or to socialize normally. We’re unable to reunite because of this. I really feel so, so bad.   

I realize I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer. Because it’s not just me facing everything; it’s also my cherished family members. I’ve decided to speak up, for my family and for myself, and to set the record straight. 

The online rumors about me committing fraud, borrowing from loan sharks, evading debts, taking funds and slinking off to America, etc –  they’re all rumors and I swear I’ve never done these things, nor would I ever do them. It is true that I am in America, but my family and I have been in the United States for over a year because we had to take care of and protect our two young and innocent children. We had no choice but to remain here.

I have hired a lawyer to handle related matters, and I believe the actual facts will be restored by the American and Chinese courts. Finally, I hope the media and righteous people can recognize the truth in this matter, and will not be blinded by internet rumors.” 

The children caught up in this scandal are one girl, born on January 4 2020, registered in the state of Nevada; and a boy, born on December 19 2019, registered in the state of Colorado. The birth certificates that were leaked to Chinese media show both Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang as the legal parents of the two babies.

Also leaked to Chinese media is an older audio recording in which Zheng, Zhang, and both of their parents allegedly discuss what to do with their unborn babies. In the voice recording, Zheng’s side argues that the children should be given up for adoption, with Zheng herself even complaining that the babies could not be aborted because the surrogate mothers were already seven months pregnant.

On January 19, Zheng Shuang herself also responded to the matter on Weibo (@郑爽SZ), where she did not address the matter directly but said that this is “a very sad and private matter that I did not want to discuss in front of everybody.” She further wrote that legal teams in China and the US “never gave up defending the legal rights of me and my family since last year.”

Zheng Shuang, image via Sohu.

Of the two former partners, Zheng is the most famous celebrity. Born in Shenyang in 1991, she rose to fame when she starred in a popular TV series in 2009 (Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨). She became an award-winning actress and was chosen as one of the most bankable young actresses of the post-90s generation. On her Weibo account, she has over 12.4 million followers.

 

‘Surrogacy Gate’: The Timeline


 

While this case is unfolding in front of netizens’ eyes and through their own research, more and more details are coming up.

Money plays a major role in the falling-out between Zheng and Zhang, and a private lending dispute – involving no less than 20 million yuan (around 3 million dollars) – seems to be one of the reasons for their break-up.

Since the story is somewhat messy and complicated, we will attempt to reconstruct a timeline of events here.
 

TIMELINE:

2018, May
• Zheng and Zhang meet on the set of the variety show This Is Fighting Robots (这就是铁甲), where Zhang does the show’s production. Weeks later, intimate photos of the two surface online.

2018, August
• The couple officially announces their relationship status and start a company together.

2018, November
• Ms Zheng allegedly loans Mr Zhang 20 million yuan ($3 million).

2019, January 19
• Zheng and Zhang ‘secretly’ get married in the United States on January 19 of 2019. Zheng’s dog, “Wolfberry Kris” (@枸杞kris), has its own Weibo account where some ‘wedding photos’ of the joyous occasion are shared on this day.

2019, Fall/Winter
• Zhang and Zheng both appear on the TV show Meeting Mr. Right (女儿们的恋爱).

• An annual report of Zhang and Zheng’s entertainment-meets-tech company, a joint business venture named Shanghai Whale Valley AI Tech (上海鲸谷座人工智能科技有限公司), shows that Zheng Shuang invested over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) while Zhang – the company’s legal representative – only contributed 200,000 yuan ($30,800).

2019, September
• In a Weibo post of January 2021, Zheng Shuang claims that Zhang cheated on her in September of 2019, which is why she left the US and went back to China.

2019, October 31
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang go viral on Chinese social media when Zhang writes a love song for Zheng, and publicly announces his love for her (#张恒给郑爽写歌#).

2019, December 18
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang announce their breakup, and rumors suggest that the two are caught up in a dispute over money.

2019, December 19
• The son of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Colorado.

2020, January
• The daughter of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Nevada on January 4.

• Zheng Shuang files a lawsuit in Shanghai, suing Zhang Heng for borrowing 20 million yuan from high-interest loaners under her name to invest in personal business ventures.

2020, November
• Shanghai Jing’an Court rules that Mr. Zhang needs to pay back 20 million yuan ($3 million) plus overdue interest to Ms. Zheng. Zhang Heng appeals the case, arguing the money involved was never a loan but a financial compensation and advance payment for invested labor, since Zhang also acted as Zheng’s manager while they were together.

2020, December
• Zheng Shuang quits as a mentor on the Shine! Super Brothers (追光吧!哥哥) variety TV show after a clip exposing her gossiping about the past relationship of two co-stars circulated online.

2021, January 18
• Zhang posts his story on his Weibo account, stating he is stranded in the United States to take care of his two young children, implying Zheng has abandoned the babies. He also posts a photo of him with the two children.

• A voice recording in which Zheng talks about what to do with her unborn children surfaces in Chinese media, along with the birth certificates. The topic explodes on Chinese social media.

2021, January 19
• Zheng Shuang posts a reply to the matter on her own Weibo account, in which she is vague and evasive about the issue concerning the children. She implies that Zhang has “ulterior motives.” She later adds that Zhang cheated on her in the fall of 2019.

• In light of all controversy, Italian fashion brand PRADA cuts ties with Zheng Shuang, with whom they had a cooperation agreement. Zheng was announced as one of the brand’s new Chinese ambassadors earlier in 2021.

• London jewelry brand Lola Rose deletes all content including Zheng from their social media.

• Harper Bazaar deletes a feature on Zheng Shuang from their social media.

• Chinese cosmetic brand Chioture also posts a statement on Weibo saying it has terminated its contract with Zheng Shuang, who formerly was a spokesperson for the company.

• The second hearing of the Zheng versus Zhang lawsuit takes place in a Shanghai court over the disputed loan. Zhang and Zheng are both represented by their lawyers. (No news on outcome yet).

• State broadcaster CCTV condemns surrogacy in a post on Weibo.

• Zheng Shuang appears in public in Beijing, where she is followed by paparazzi. She does not respond to any questions, but her appearance still goes viral on social media with over 640 million views (#郑爽风波后首现身#).

2021, January 20
• Huading Awards announces it will revoke the honorary titles of Zheng Shuang, renouncing Zheng’s former awards as best actress and favorite TV star. Over 2.2 million people ‘liked’ this update on Weibo (#华鼎奖取消郑爽荣誉称号#).

• China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television officially shuts out Zheng Shuang.

• The Weibo hashtag “Birth Certificates of Zheng Shuang and Zhang Heng’s Children” (#郑爽张恒孩子出生证明#) reaches a staggering 4 billion views.

2021, March 22
• The hearing for the supposed dissolution of Zheng and Zhang’s marriage is scheduled to take place in Denver, US.

 

Surrogacy Abandonment


 

Although the timeline of events leading to the current situation might suggest that Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang are both at fault for handling matters in an irresponsible way, it is Zheng’s “surrogacy abandonment” that mostly triggers the public’s anger on social media.

Many people feel that Zheng Shuang is lacking morals for abandoning her children and call her “cold-blooded.” There are also those who think the actress has serious mental problems. Despite all backlash, Zheng still has a strong fan base with people who still support her.

The scandal has sparked more discussions on the issue of surrogacy in China, which already was a big topic earlier in January when a story came out on a baby born through surrogacy who had no birth certificate and no legal registration (link here).

Although surrogacy is officially not legal in China, there is a flourishing underground surrogacy market, and many couples who are struggling with fertility issues travel overseas for surrogacy arrangements. It is not clear why Zheng and Zhang used surrogates to have children.

On Weibo, many people speak out against surrogacy practices, arguing that having children is not a business and surrogacy puts vulnerable women at increased risk of exploitation.

The hashtag “Firmly Oppose All Forms of Surrogacy” (#坚决反对一切形式的代孕#) received over 290 million views and thousands of comments.

One person commented: “Children are not a commodity you can buy, sell, or return. They’re a life-long responsibility, they are the future of our society.”

 
This story will be updated following the latest developments.
 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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.

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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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