Dressing up in hanfu for a lesson in Han Chinese culture

Public servant Gong Pan Pan, 31, first fell in love with hanfu - a style of dressing of the Han people - after she wore traditional Chinese dresses for her wedding photo shoot a few years ago.

SINGAPORE - When people think of a piece of clothing that represents the Chinese, most think of the cheongsam.

That is something Ms Gong Pan Pan, 31, hopes to change.

“Cheongsam is actually a Manchurian creation,” she said, adding that the hanfu is more representative of Chinese culture.

Hanfu is the term for traditional clothing worn by the Han Chinese before the 17th century. Of the 56 different ethnic groups in China, the Hans are the largest. As of 2014, the Hans make up 92 per cent of the population in China.

“I read up a bit more and realised that there are so many different styles of hanfu because of the different periods of Chinese history. It’s not just a dress. It’s something that speaks of a certain era and psyche that influences a culture.”

Depending on the dynasty and time period, hanfu ranges from translucent silk robes to robes that resemble a Japanese kimono. Each period also has its hairstyles and make-up looks.

Ms Gong, a civil servant, estimates that she has between 50 and 100 sets of hanfu, all bought from Chinese online marketplace Taobao, and has spent “at least $10,000” on them. Her elaborate hair pieces, jewellery and props, such as embroidered fans, cost quite a sum too.

Her interest in hanfu started after she wore one for her wedding photo-shoot in 2015.

Every other weekend, the fair-skinned Ms Gong and a group of girlfriends will dress up in hanfu for a round of photo-taking at her home.

The photographs are then shared on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/hanfugirls) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/hanfugirl/), often accompanied with historical tidbits.

Ms Gong and her friends do head out in public dressed in their costumes, and she also appropriates the hanfu for work by matching it with a maxi skirt and keeping her hair and make-up simple.

“It's really just a hobby for me,” she says, adding that she does not entertain requests for commercial shoots.

“It's artwork for me in a way. I like to do it as an exploration of the history behind it.”