I had been exposed to Hanfu early as a child. I remember watching “Liang Shan Bo, Zhu Ying Tai” (1979) and Jacky Chan starring in “The Young Master” (1979) in theater while waylaying in Macau. I also remember seeing Shirley Temple films in black and white with her lavish dresses.
My young impressionable years were mired in TV period dramas and folklore made to film available for rental videos out of Chinatown. I would often daydream about the long flowing Hanfu of fairies and gods/goddesses in the Heavenly Courts. Great epics about Sun Wukong in his journey to the west for spiritual scroll or the battles of Nezha challenging the Heaven’s Forces were made to real life in long TV series portrayed by performing artists. Seemed they were fictional characters, and therefore their garments were costumes. But when regular people start dressing up like that, they were considered cosplayer. Opera garb was costume, not Hanfu. I felt the clothes were real enough, especially in the series involving historical figures. I even saw them burn incense and pray as if to ask permission to play the parts of those famous historical and legendary figures such as Guan Yu or Emperor Qin Shi Huang. So, what’s up with the deal with that? I mean, it is an apparent display of respect to ancestry of sorts even if they were actors and actresses.
And for a time during my teenage and young adult life, I had turned to Japanese kabuki for understanding about costumes and exotic makeup. Their version of theater opera-like performance art did not move me the way Chinese opera does. Partly, because I could not understand Japanese, and subtitles could only go so far to explain a story. I can say I appreciate an American musical or two, but they too do not connect with me.
Well, regardless whether fictional characters or legendary figures out of history, Hanfu was my focal point. There is a saying that: “The clothes make a man.” Then, I say so goes: Hanfu embodies a rich and vibrant culture that cultivated beauty from the Gods. The connection between human and nature encompasses the theme in Hanfu design like a mystical art form.
And now with Hanfu growing popular again the world over in recent years, I realize it was never a long lost forgotten civilization. Just suppressed. It exists alongside the changes in history, surviving dynasties, and modernization. Evolutionary history has only swept Hanfu a wayward chapter into shyness; and that has made us hunger and thirst to express it more in the open.
I have started to practice making Hanfu accessories and trying makeup. And well, my limitations are with challenges. I decided one Halloween to do a cosplay re-invention of Nine Tailed Fox 九尾狐. The above picture is my casting portrait for the part. It is a start. I have yet to learn how to make the Hanfu fit for the theme that goes with it. I know the wig is not Hanfu style. I am working on changing that.
Growing up American has made me prone to the propensity for embracing age old timeless things such as Hanfu. This is my perspective. Thank you for reading this.
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