Professional Guidebook to What is a Hanfu - The Traditional Clothing in China

What is Hanfu? Traditional Clothing in China

August 3, 2020 0 By admin

Almost every ethnic has its own unique costumes in the world, which embodys the connotation of national culture. Chinese traditional clothes have a long history for nearly 5000 years since China originally began, and it once had the reputation of “the country of clothing”. Four most distinctive types of China traditional clothing come into being through over 5000 years of history, for which called Hanfu, Cheongsam (Qipao), Tang suit and Zhongshan suit (Mao suit).

But you may ask a question, what is the most classical traditional clothing in China, Cheongsam, Tang suit, Zhongshan suit or Hanfu?

4 Types of Traditional Clothes For Chinese - Hanfu

What is a Hanfu? The Traditional Clothes For Chinese

Compared with other traditional costume of China, as one of the oldest traditional clothes in the world, Hanfu is the best costume of China to respresent Chinese traditional Culture. Today, clothing such as cheongsam, Tang suits, and Zhongshan suits still retains the important features from Hanfu. As the Ancient Chinese Clothing, hanfu not only refers to the costumes of Han Dynasty, but also refers to the traditional costumes of the Han people in China.

1. Three Features of Hanfu

There are three features to distinguish Hanfu:

1.1 Collars, Right lapel.

The typical collar of Hanfu is that collars diagonally cross each other, with the left crossing over the right.

Features of Hanfu - Collars and Right lapel

1.2 Long clothes with long and loose sleeves.

Chinese traditional dresses are long, large and loose. So long clothes with long and loose sleeves is a significant feature of the Hanfu except Tang Dynasty. Comfort and casualness are the epitome of Chinese Hanfu culture.

Long clothes with loose sleeves

1.3 Hanfu’s belts and sashes are used to close, secure, and fit the garments around the waist, buttons are sparingly used and concealed inside the garment without displaying.

sashes buttons

2. A full set of Hanfu

Component Hanfu - The Ancient Chinese Clothing
Upper Garment, Lower Garment, and Inner garments
Hat, which called “Mianguan”(冕冠) and “Jinmao”(巾帽)
Headwear, Sash, Shawl, etc.
What is a Chinese Hanfu - Traditional Clothes For Chinese

2.1 Shoufu

The “Shoufu” or “Yuanfu”, referring to everything wrapped around the head, is one of the most important part of Hanfu. Even the coming-of-age ceremony in ancient China was related to Shoufu.

In hanfu system, there were three kinds of Shoufu: jin (towels), mao(hats), and guan (crown), but they were used for different purposes, the ancients tied towels for convenience, and hats were used for cold protection, they wore crowns just for formal decoration. However, because of the superiority of man to woman in ancient China that it was a privilege for men to wear shoufu, women were prohibited from wearing Shoufu unless the woman who was given a title or rank by the emperor.

Shoufu can often tell the profession or social rank of someone by what they wear on their heads , officials and academics had some special Shoufu such as putou (幞頭), wushamao (烏紗帽), si-fang pingding jin (四方平定巾) and the Zhuangzi jin (莊子巾) and so on.

Managing their hair was also a crucial part of Han culture.

Males and females was cutting part of their head from infancy, the rest of the hair was bundled into buns with headbands or hair bands.

After Chinese coming of age ceremony Guan Li, they would stop cutting their hair and letting it to grow naturally until they died due to the old saying by Confucius- “身體髮膚,受諸父母,不敢毀傷,孝之始也”.

They tied their long hair into a bun called ji (髻) behind head and fixed hair by adornment called zan(簪)with different Shoufu.

Hanfu Adornment Peishi for Woman

However, in Qing Dynasty, the emperor Dorgon forbided Han Chinese from wearing hanfu and forecd the male Han people to adopt Manchu’s hairstyle which called queue or cue(金钱鼠尾).

2.2 Tiyi

A complete set of Hanfu is assembled from several part of clothing into an attire:
Waiyi(外衣): A coat worn outside
Zhongyi(中衣): A coat worn inside, which likes a shirt
Neiyi(内衣): An underwear

Waiyi has 4 Basic Forms:

Shang yi xia chang(上衣下裳): 

Shang yi xia chang are the most basic form of Hanfu. Yi reffers to a short shirt, and Chang reffers to a skirt that both men and women can wear it. Howerer, men gradually changed to wear Paoshan as their daily clothes, but the chothing women wore were still Shang yi xia chang, for which called Ruqun.

Shang xia lian chang(上下连裳)(Also called Shenyi) :

Shang xia lian chang reffers to a Hanfu that is assembled from a top garment shirt and a bottom garment skirt into an entire by sewing in waist, Shang xia lian chang is also called Shenyi.

Shang xia tong cai(上下通裁):

Shang xia tong cai reffered to a clothes that was made by a piece of cloth and was no seam in the upper garment and lower garment, which was obviously different from Shang xia lian chang and Shang yi xia chang.

This form of chinese clothes was created in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, which was a pioneering work at this time because that Hanfu was divided into two parts before Shang xia tong cai.

There were many types of Shang xia tong cai, including round neck gowns, blouses, straight shirts, straight bodies, robes, mules, gowns, and monk clothes.

The most popular periods of this form were Song and Ming dynasties, even emperors and aristocrats liked to wear them in daily life, and they were also casual clothes for literati and celebrities.

Shang yi xia ku(上衣下裤):

Shang yi xia ku, a shirt with trousers, were one of most common and regular clothes for civilian and worker in the past few thousand years.

2.3 Zuyi

Zuyi refferes to footwear of Hanfu today. In Qin Dynasty, everything wore by foot were called Zuyi, since Han Dynasty, Zuyi had been divided into internal footwear and external footwear. Internal footwear was socks, and external footwear referred to shoes.

In ancient China, barefoot was rude to another people, and people always take of the hat and walked barefoot to apologize, which reflected the importance of Zuyi.

There were various styles of Zuyi in ancient China, and its development experienced a process from simple to complex, from coarse to fine.

Besides the functions of warm keeping and cold protecting, it can often tell the profession or social rank of someone by what they wore on their foot. Through Zuyi, we can also see the integration and progress of the development of Chinese civilization.

Xié(鞋) – External footwear, also called shoes.

Component Meaning


Xi, shoes with double bottoms. The upper layer was made of leather or kudzu. The kudzu is used in the summer for ventilation, and the winter is used in winter for cold protecting. The lower layer was a wooden space with soft stuff. It was usually used for major occasions such as sacrifice and worship.


Xi, straw sandals.


Ju, shoes made of leather or kudzu with single buttom.


Ji, shoes with wooden buttom, were worn when travelling before Tang Dynasty. However, After Song Dynasty, ji were wore in the rainy day or snowy day.


Xue, a kneeboot made of leather and tightly tied to the shin when worn, were the main Zuyi of national minority in the western regions.

6 types of Zuyi of Hanfu

Wā() – Internal footwear, known as sock, was made of texttiles or leathers.

was a few feet long with two bands on the top, people tied this two bands to shin in their daily life.

In Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty, people had the habit of taking off the shoes before entered the door and wearring socks on the seats.

2.4 Peishi

Peishi reffers to adornment. Adornment existed in people’s lives with its aesthetic and practical functions, but once it entered the strict hierarchical society of ancient China, it had become the most important things to show hierarchy.

The adornment that people used were something like jade, beads, knives, and puppets, and there had a clear gender distinction in the adornment.

Hanfu Adornment for Man
Adornment for Man

2.5 Hanfu for kids

There is no much difference between adult’s Hanfu and children’s clothes. Shang yi xia ku was the most popular form of Hanfu for kids.

Girls wore Ruqun in both Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty and wore Aoqun in Ming Dynasty. Some young children usually wore underwear such as bellybands and tube tops.

Hanfu for kids - Shenyi and Aoqun

Qing dynasty didn’t forbit children to wear Hanfu so the tradition of wearing clothes from ancient china has persisted to Qing Dynasty, which reminded children of Ming Dynasty and their ancestors.

Children’s Shoufu is different from adults. Babies and young children often wear tiger hats, people believe that tigers have the power of protecting children from evil and ghosts and give children strength.

In addition to general shoes, babies and young children also wear animal shoes such as tiger-head shoes and pig-head shoes.

Hanfu of kids - Tiger hat and Tiger Shoes

3. History of Ancient Chinese Clothing - Hanfu

When you talk to the costume of China, the first thing comes to your mind must be Hanfu. With the full name of “Chinese Han Nationality Traditional Costume”, Hanfu was made by Leizu(the partner of the Yellow Emper) about 4000 years ago and improved throughout several dynasties until the middle of the 17th century AD (Ming and Qing Dynasty).

3.1 Neolithic

About 5,000 years ago, the textile industry was first domesticated in Neolithic times. People in ancient China used mulberry silkworms and silk spinning to make clothes, which contributed to the gradual formation of Chinese traditional clothes.

3.2 Shang Dynasty – The Prototype and Officially Formed of Hanfu

In written records of China, Hanfu had appeared in Shang Dynasty, which proved the earliest time of existence of Hanfu. Different styles of Hanfu represented different classes, and clothes in this period had a general form, which called “Shang Yi Xia Chang”.

3.3 Zhou Dynasty

In Zhou Dynasty, The gradually. Due to the development of politics, economy, ideology and culture, the clothing and customs of the satellite began to develop in ways. “Shenyi” was created in this period.
The emperor started use clothing system to rule the country. Since then, Hanfu had officially formed.

3.4 Hanfu in the Qin and the Han Dynasties – Hanfu Established a System

After Qin unified China, Hanfu clothing system was established. At the beginning of Han Dynasty, it followed Qin’s styles in general.

Han emperor LiuZhuang established Shoufu(hat) system to distinguish grades of the society. Women combed her hair into buns and the aristocratic women  always decorated their hair with calyxes. Slaves often wrapped their heads with towels. Women’s main dresses in the Han Dynasty were Shenyi, and Han Dynasty also had strict grade rules for Zuyi(shoes).

3.5 Wei, Jin, Southern And Northern Dynasties

The costumes of the Wei, Jin, Southern And Northern Dynasties were affected by socio-political, economic, and ideological aspects.

Features of traditional Chinese clothes – Hanfu in this period were loose and comfortable, clean and elegant.

Towel was the main headwear of man and hairwear of women was quite characteristic, which adopted a fake bun. Traditional clothing in China in this period was mainly shirts with wide cuffs and no clothes.

Traditional Chinese clothing female inherited the legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties but had improved on the traditionl. Generally, they wore tight shirts or tight jackets with long loose skirts for which made them pretty and charming.

3.6 Tang Dynasty

Tang dynasty clothing was a connecting link between Sui Dynasty and Song Dynasty. Legal clothes and regular clothes coexisted in the same time. Legal clothes was traditional dresses such as crowns, clothes, clothes, etc.
Regular clothes, dresses for public occasions which known as public clothes, included round neck shirts, buns, leather belts, and boots.

The color of Hanfu was used to distinguish different grades. Ordinary civilians were dressed in white.

Women in Tang Dynasty had complicated hair styles. The main clothing of women were “Qun”(skirts), “Shan”(shirts) and “Pi”(jackets) and ruqun was one of the most popular clothing in this period.

But there were still something different than before that women wore short “Ru”(Upper Garment) with small sleeves and tight waists-high “Qun”(skirts) with ribbons. However, Ruqun in the middle Tang Dynasty was wider than that in the early Tang Dynasty.

3.7 Song Dynasty

The clothing of the Song Dynasty generally followed the style of Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty. However, because of the long years of internal and external wars, coupled with the influence of Cheng Zhu Neo-Confucianism, clothing in this period advocated simplicity, rigorous, implicit.

Traditional Chinese male clothing in the Song Dynasty was still dominated by gowns with round neck . Officials wore robes except offerring sacrifices to gods or ancestors. People of different grades were distinguished by wearing different colors.

The hair styles of Tang Dynasty were considered as superiority, wearing a hair clasp with flower had become a custom. Women’s skirts in the Song Dynasty were narrower than before with fine pleats.

3.8 Yuan Dynasty

In Yuan Dynasty, the long clothes were called robes, and styles of the robes were not much different from the north to the south. The hair styles of the Han males had not changed too much, but the hair styles of the Han females in the north have been simplified. At the beginning of Ming Dynasty, government had tried to eliminate the influence of the Mongolian clothing but failed.

3.9 Ming Dynasty

Because of the popularity of cotton, the materials of China traditional clothing for ordinary people was became better than before. Ordinary people’s clothing was long, or short, or shirt, or skirt, which basically inherited the traditional clothing with a variety of styles. In the Ming Dynasty, in addition to the hats worn by ordinary people in the past, the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang formulated two kinds of hats for all people, which named the six-in-one uniform hat and the si-fang pingding jin(Four-in-One hat).

3.10 Qing Dynasty

However, Hanfu has been eliminated and replaced by Manchu’s costume – Qipao (Chi-Pao) during the establishment of Qing Dynasty in about 300 years. This is why it is hard to see Chinese people wearing Chinese traditional costumes in daily lives today.

4. Opinion of Chinesehanfu

Although Qipao, Tang Suit and Zhongshan Suit are unique the beautiful in the circle of costume of China, but in Chinese mind, Hanfu is always the best traditional clothes for chinese, which represents the Chinese traditional culture, sense of worth and reputation of “the country of clothing”. With the develop of Hanfu movement, I believe people not only in China but also all over the world will wear Hanfu in daily life one day! Welcome to travel to China.

Hanfu is a beautiful traditional dress of China