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Chinese Students Introduce Chinese Hanfu in France


On February 4, 2024, a Chinese New Year parade was held on Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris. In the procession, a traditional Chinese culture club set up by Chinese students brought a display of Hanfu, the traditional Chinese costumes.


Mu Gua – the club's name, is from "The Book of Odes and Hymns," which means a kind, reciprocating friendship. The club is organized by Chinese students in Paris who love traditional Chinese culture and aim to introduce it to the world. Hanfu, the traditional Chinese dress, is a significant part of Chinese culture and has evolved into various forms after thousands of years of dynasty changes. In modern China, Hanfu is no longer the main everyday dress. After two decades of efforts by Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu has only become popular again in China in recent years as a way to preserve traditional culture. Mu Gua club does not draw attention in Western countries as a marginalized cultural group, not even among Chinese students. In the years when traditional culture gradually returned, they were more quietly trying to spread and introduce Hanfu.


One trigger brought the Mu Gua club to the attention of the mainstream media. In June 2022, French luxury brand Christian Dior proposed a skirt model as a new collection. The brand claimed it is the iconic Dior silhouette. However, the Chinese rapidly found that this "Dior original design" was precisely the same as a Chinese traditional skirt named the "Ma Mian," which originated more than 600 years ago at the end of the Song Dynasty. The incident has caused much anger online in China, with people seeing it as a typical case of cultural appropriation. After several rounds of complaints, Dior refused to admit this propaganda was an error and has not issued any response to the incident. When the online debate between the brand and customers raged, the Chinese students studying in Europe made a surprising move. They organized protests against cultural appropriation and promoted traditional Chinese culture in some major European cities such as Paris, Madrid, London, etc. The Chinese students quickly gathered volunteers around Europe, and these protests were carried out in full compliance with local legal procedures.

Chinese students protested in France, Uk, Spain and the US

On July 23, 2022, the Mu Gua club organized a protest in front of the Dior flag store on Champs-Elysees Avenue. As a student community, their power is minimal compared to big, powerful international brands. Chinese students established the community out of hobby without commercial purpose, and their protest had no financial support. Such a weak resistance will not impact Dior's sales or brand image. However, mainstream media picked up their activities and soon sparked heated discussion in China. There were supportive voices, skeptics, critics, and onlookers. Still, their passion for traditional culture has infected many Chinese students, who have organized various Hanfu publicity campaigns in their countries of study. The club gained more attention since the protest's preparation and focused on attracting Chinese students in France to join them. The club members want to avoid being immersed in resistance; their interest is burning the traditional Chinese culture back into the public's eyes. They rejected many interviews after the Dior incident, even though that could make them famous.



One of the difficulties of cultural inheritance lies in the young generation's education. Finding a traditional lifestyle in a fast-paced, efficient society is complex. In China, for example, more wearable clothes like T-shirts, jumpers, and jeans are the most popular among young people; even for formal occasions, people prefer to choose suits and dresses. In addition, Chinese people's aesthetics has been changed with the popularity of Hollywood movies and European fashion brands. These brands and celebrities' promotion in the Chinese market has been very successful, and they become the ambassadors of "high aesthetics." In this condition, fans of traditional culture have encountered many challenges in the promotion process. As I have mentioned before, when those Chinese students went to the street to protest, some people argued that it was unnecessary nationalist behavior. In their opinion, Hanfu, like other ancient artificial objects, is supposed to be a "dead place" in museums and has no connection to modern life.


An interesting phenomenon is that after Western culture has been popular in China for decades, young Chinese people show more passion and confidence in traditional Chinese culture than their parents and grandparents. It could be a great research topic to study the theory of cultural transmission, though, why and how young Chinese people develop this cultural confidence. Even though the Mu Gua club's action was controversial, the members received support from Chinese students studying abroad and Hanfu lovers in China. 

Chinese Hanfu exhibition in Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann 

After receiving no public response from Dior, the community has been on this case for a while, and they quickly moved on to provide ongoing cultural activities. To promote their events, they put more effort into social media. They are more active on The Red, a Chinese social media platform with many young users, which can be seen as a Chinese version of Instagram. Their promotion attracts more Chinese students to join them, and the activities are also more regular every month. They organize events in Paris and have recently expanded to other cities in France.


Traditional Chinese cultural events 

The most efficient way to preserve and spread traditional culture is to integrate it into daily life. Mu Gua club started organizing conventional cultural activities in Chinese festivals, such as flower viewing, tea tasting, intangible cultural heritage exhibitions, handicraft workshops, culture lectures in schools, and so on.


For the young Chinese people who love traditional culture, introducing the history and beauty of traditional culture is their expectation. They do not want their cultural identity to be replaced by globalization. The death of tradition is not a culture's dilemma alone; perhaps one day, we will see marginalized cultural groups unite to protect their culture.

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