Chinese elegance: Hanfu associations flourishing in Paris

Jin Yiling Sun Yuting
Twenty-seven hanfu lovers, dressed in traditional Chinese clothing, gathered at the Buttes-Chaumont Park in Paris to celebrate the Double Ninth Festival on October 22 this year.
Jin Yiling Sun Yuting

On October 22, in celebration of the traditional Chinese festival known as the Double Ninth Festival, 27 lovers of hanfu, a traditional Han-style clothing, gathered at the Buttes-Chaumont Park in Paris, wearing the elegant Chinese attire.

"Both Chinese and French people enjoyed the activities," said Jing Jing, founder of a hanfu amateur group in France known as the "Mugua (木瓜) Association," who organized the event.

Chinese elegance: Hanfu associations flourishing in Paris
Mugua Association

Celebration of the Double Ninth Festival in Paris

Established on August 9, 2022, Mugua came together "as a response to Dior's cultural appropriation," Jing recalled. The group quickly assembled 80 members, majority of them Chinese with a few French enthusiasts.

Named after a line from an ancient Chinese poetry collection The Book of Songs, "You throw a peach to me, I give you a white jade for friendship," Mugua has since organized various cultural activities to display Chinese traditional food, art, and handicrafts in Paris.

Similar hanfu amateur groups have flourished in Paris. Established in 2008, the Boyan Association has been organizing the Hanfu Festival in Paris for ten years. As the largest Sinology association in France, Boyan has nearly 400 members, of which 30 percent are French.

Chinese elegance: Hanfu associations flourishing in Paris
Mugua Association

A flyer of the Hanfu Festival in Paris by the Boyan Association.

The Paris city government welcomes such cultural activities.

"We only need to apply on the governmental website when planning a hanfu event, specifying the venue, scale, etc. The government even provides subsidies based on the situation and helps us to promote our event on its website as long as our event is open to all Parisians," added Jing.

"Hanfu is incredibly elegant, and different colors and patterns symbolize various social statuses," Davy, a French member of Boyan, noted after attending the hanfu activities. Another Boyan member Philippe, in his 60s, pointed out that the uniqueness of hanfu lies in its ability to serve as a vessel for tracing back China's rich history.

As a traditional attire of the Han people (China's largest nationality), hanfu has a rich history dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (1045–221 BC). However, since it was not convenient to wear such traditional clothing modern times, it slowly faded away in the course of history.

On November 22, 2003, a hanfu enthusiast donning traditional attire on the streets in Henan Province hit the headlines, bringing hanfu back to the fore. That momentous occasion has since evolved into an annual gathering, drawing hanfu enthusiasts from near and far.

With the rise of social media, hanfu culture has flourished over the past two decades, piquing the interest of the younger generation. "In 2014, I once searched weekend activities on Douban (a Chinese social media platform), and I chanced upon a local cultural event where I had the opportunity to participate in various traditional activities dressed in hanfu," said Jing.

Data shows that the number of hanfu lovers in China has maintained a growth rate of more than 70 percent for four years, and the market size of hanfu is expected to reach 19.11 billion yuan (US$2.64 billion) by 2025.

Reformed hanfu preserves some of the Han elements according to the traditional form and redesigns it for use in modern daily life. In Paris, people love "Sino-foreign eclectic" design, to combine hanfu with Western-style shawls, top hats, or handbags. Shi Guang, a Chinese student studying fashion design in Paris, loves to match hanfu with other styles of clothing.

"I often wear Mamianqun (马面裙) with a Western-style shirt to work, which attracts the attention of my French colleagues, who are also eager to try it," said Zoey, a Chinese member of Association Boyan.

Some persist on wearing traditional attire to educate on the origins of hanfu. Photographer Xuan Xuan once wore a set of hanfu and sang Chinese songs at a cultural event in Paris. He seized this opportunity to tell the audience that this kind of attire originated in China. "Many foreign onlookers came to praise our appearance and request photos with us," he recalled.

Chinese elegance: Hanfu associations flourishing in Paris
Mugua Association

Davy dressed in hanfu and his material to introduce hanfu.

The modern revival of hanfu is about to mark its 20th anniversary, Boyan and other hanfu groups are busy arranging events to celebrate this anniversary and invite more people around the world to embrace the beauty of hanfu and traditional Chinese culture.

(The authors, Jin Yiling, is a graduate student of journalism and communication at Shanghai International Studies University, while Sun Yuting is an undergraduate student of French department at Shanghai International Studies University.)

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