Doing it Hanfu-style: an interview with Durham Hanfu Society

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Hi Liyuan, it’s great to get in touch with you to celebrate Indigo’s East Asia issue. You’re president of Durham’s Hanfu Society, so for those reading who don’t know, what is Hanfu, and where did it originate?

The style of Hanfu is typically underpinned by five aspects: a symmetrical layout, loose-fitting robes and skirts, delicate embroidery, rich colours and fabrics, as well as a focus on layered dressing, with different variations for different occasions and seasons. The origins of Hanfu can be traced back to the period of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of China. Over thousands of years, Hanfu evolved from primitive society to feudal society, especially during the Han Dynasty, when it developed a more fixed style and form. By the Tang and Song Dynasties, Hanfu reached its zenith, becoming more diverse in style and form.

We understand that the society has recently been ratified – congratulations! What inspired you to create the society?

The Durham Hanfu Society was established in October 2021, inspired by the growing Hanfu revival movement in China at that time. As an enthusiastic participant in this movement, when I came to study in the UK alone, I found that this Han ethnic traditional dress, which carries rich history and culture, was not very known here, even among the local Chinese community. This sparked my idea to create a Hanfu society, aiming to find friends who share the same passion for Hanfu culture as I do. Our common goal is to promote Hanfu culture and to showcase its unique charm and aesthetic value to more people.

“When I came to study in the UK alone, I found that this Han ethnic traditional dress was not very known here”

What kind of events or activities does the Hanfu society organise in Durham?

Our activities are usually designed and organized around traditional Chinese festivals or solar terms, held once a month. So far, we have successfully hosted many events, including lantern night tours. During Durham’s Light Festival, we wear Hanfu and carry lanterns to experience the charm of traditional culture. We also held a Hanfu culture sharing event at Durham University’s Chinese Corner, introducing more people to the history and culture of Hanfu.

Have you faced many challenges in promoting Hanfu culture in Durham, and how have you overcome them?

Cultural differences and recognition barriers are the main issues we face. To address this, we organized various cultural exchange activities and lectures aimed at increasing people’s understanding and interest in Hanfu culture. Public acceptance is another consideration; we increase Hanfu’s visibility through collaborations with other cultural societies and participation in multicultural events. Lastly, to overcome language barriers, we use multiple languages in our promotional materials and event descriptions, ensuring they are easily understandable to everyone.

“Cultural differences and recognition barriers are the main issue we face”

Would you say that you can see the influence of traditional Hanfu styles today, and if so, where?

I firmly believe that the traditional Hanfu style has made a significant impact in modern society. As of now, the Durham Hanfu Society has grown to over a hundred members. Every time we step out in Hanfu, it catches the attention of foreign friends. They not only recognize the attire but are also keen to take photos with us, which makes me incredibly happy because it means they remember this unique dress. Additionally, having the opportunity to be interviewed and share our story is a great honour for me and a testament to the expanding influence of Hanfu culture. All these demonstrate that traditional Hanfu is not only a part of Chinese culture but is also becoming a part of global cultural diversity.

What are some common misconceptions we might have of Hanfu style?

Hanfu is often mistakenly thought to be similar to other Asian garments like Japanese Kimono or Korean Hanbok, but in reality, it has unique characteristics of Chinese culture. Secondly, many people mistakenly believe that Hanfu has only one style, whereas its style has varied and diversified across different stages of Chinese history. Additionally, there’s a notion that Hanfu is only suitable for formal occasions, but it can also be worn as everyday attire. Lastly, some think of Hanfu as merely an imitation of the past, but modern Hanfu designs actually blend traditional and contemporary elements, showcasing a unique aesthetic style.

“Having the opportunity to be interviewed and share our story is a great honour for me and a testament to the expanding influence of Hanfu culture”

What would you personally like to see happen in the future with both your society and the appreciation of Hanfu style in Durham?

I hope that in the future, our society will become a center for promoting the recognition and appreciation of Hanfu culture in Durham and beyond. I look forward to seeing Hanfu not just as traditional costume but as a bridge for cultural exchange, enabling more people to understand and appreciate China’s rich history and culture. I hope our activities will attract people from diverse backgrounds, using Hanfu displays, cultural lectures, and interactive experiences to make Hanfu a link connecting different cultures and communities.

How can students who are interested in Hanfu culture get involved or support your society? Where can we find you on social media?

We always welcome new members, whether you already own Hanfu or not! Currently, our main social media platforms are WeChat, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu in China. Considering the growing influence of Hanfu culture, we also plan to establish accounts on international social media platforms like Instagram, to showcase and share the unique aspects of Hanfu culture with friends around the globe. Through these platforms, we hope to bring more people to understand Hanfu, experience its charm, and join our big family.

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