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Edited BY:Fang Shuaiyin

Young Chinese with a penchant for traditional aesthetics add to the romance of Hangzhou's historic West Lake by parading along its shores in their exquisite hanfu creations, Li Yingxue reports.


A new enchanting attraction has emerged along the banks of West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. There, a man and a woman dressed in exquisite traditional garments, seemingly transported from ancient China, graciously offer flowers free of charge, presenting a captivating glimpse into the past.


The man, clad in attire reminiscent of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), carries a bamboo pole adorned with a basket teeming with budding lotus flowers. At the other end, an umbrella, lantern and a box for carrying miscellaneous goods dangle gracefully.


The woman, adorned in the elegant attire of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), holds a delicate bamboo fan, gracefully wafting it to and fro. A basket laden with lotus flowers is decoratively positioned on her back.


Videos and photos featuring the pair swiftly gained traction on social media, garnering effusive praise from viewers, who found their romantic and classic attire captivating. Some even expressed their intention to visit West Lake in the hope of crossing paths with these beguiling figures.


The "Song Dynasty" maiden is actually Chen Xiyue, a 22-year-old vlogger specializing in content featuring hanfu (traditional attire of the Han ethnic group). She humbly responded on her Sina Weibo account, stating, "It is not I who has gained popularity, but rather the timeless allure of traditional Chinese culture itself".


She was inspired by the flower peddlers of the Song Dynasty and wanted to interact with passersby, by distributing lotus flowers, and bestowing blessings of good fortune.


Inviting her friend, Cai Jiale, who she thought embodies the same essence as the ancient peddler in her imagination, Chen conceived a way of exchanging lotus flowers for answers, and she prepared three questions for passersby, including asking what they would say to graduate students embarking on the next stage of life's journey.


"I have received an abundance of blessings, ranging from those meant for families, graduates, to Hangzhou itself. They are all genuine and deeply moving," she recalls. "Numerous passersby took notice, with some taking photographs, and I have been fortunate to receive an outpouring of positive feedback."


She remembers that, several times, she asked children to recite ancient poems in exchange for lotus flowers, and when some children struggled, she invited their parents to recite alongside them.


"At that moment, I felt the essence of cultural inheritance — the oral tradition deeply ingrained within the Chinese people, passed down through generations. It is through this process that many remarkable traditional cultural practices have been preserved and transmitted," she says.


Born in Jurong, Jiangsu province, Chen says she was inspired by the animated movie series, Qinshi Mingyue (The Legend of Qin), which she saw as a child. This ignited an interest and a strong desire to create artwork rooted in history and traditional culture.


In 2018, Chen moved to Hangzhou where she enrolled in the China Academy of Art, majoring in the conservation and restoration of cultural relics.


During her undergraduate studies, she learned how to restore porcelain and acquired a wealth of knowledge about Buddhism.


Living in Hangzhou, Chen noticed many people were wearing hanfu and after trying it on herself, she enjoyed wearing it too.


Consequently, she gained a deeper understanding of hanfu and realized that it is more than just beautiful garments. "Hanfu carries a rich historical significance, reflecting the societal, cultural, political and economic aspects of its time," she says.


For her graduation project, Chen chose to make a video themed on the evolution of hanfu worn by women during the Song Dynasty, which took her six months and an investment of 100,000 yuan ($13,870) to produce.


"For me, the styles of hanfu from the Song Dynasty are well-suited to our modern lives. They can be incorporated into our everyday attire," Chen remarks.


In the video, Chen showcases approximately 20 meticulously replicated outfits, sourced from ancient books, paintings and murals of the Song Dynasty. In addition to the garments, she also produced the makeup, hairstyles and accessories, all meticulously crafted based on historical references and materials.


Ancient glamour


After graduating last year, she decided to become a full-time vlogger, though she also takes on part-time jobs as a hanfu model and art director.


Chen and her friends have been making videos to re-create the daily life of people in ancient China, taking inspiration from the classic long-scroll painting, Qingming Shanghe Tu (Along the River During the Qingming Festival). They have also brought back the ambience of a Song Dynasty "milk tea shop", drawing references from ancient paintings like Maijiang Tu (selling drinks).


To celebrate last year's Qixi Festival, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, a traditional celebration of romance, Chen made a video to show how people in the Song Dynasty celebrated the day, and this year, she is also planning on creating something new to promote this traditional Chinese holiday.


To prepare each video, she will explore various resources to make sure the content is accurate before proceeding with creative endeavors.


She thinks that approaching traditional culture requires a careful and serious mindset, coupled with a deep sense of reverence. "We should not treat traditional culture as a mere gimmick, or a tool to generate attention. Instead, we should seek to understand the allure of traditional culture from the inside out, appreciating both its inner and outer beauty," she says.


Chen reveals that most of her team members have jobs and only come together during their free time to engage in activities related to traditional culture.


Cai Jiale, who dresses like a peddler and distributes lotus flowers with Chen at West Lake, is a tailor specializing in hanfu. The 27-year-old has his own studio in Hangzhou and already has a full order book through to next year.


Cai moved to Hangzhou in 2012 to learn makeup. However, his involvement in the field of antiques sparked a deep interest in traditional culture. Drawing upon his childhood experience of studying fine arts, Cai discovered a passion for creating hanfu and embarked on a career as a tailor of traditional garments.


In 2018, he established his own studio, specializing in custom-made hanfu. Each order is meticulously crafted by Cai himself, with completion times ranging from a single day to two weeks. "Some customers request hanfu as wedding attire, while others wear it in their daily lives. There are also students studying abroad who order hanfu to wear in different countries," Cai says.


Every garment Cai makes has an original counterpart that existed in history, whether it is depicted in a mural or a relic in a museum. The clothing is faithfully re-created based on the individual's specific measurements.


Cai specializes in creating hanfu styles worn during the Tang, Song, and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, drawing from extensive historical resources. During his free time, he has a penchant for learning history and visiting museums to deepen his knowledge.


As an advocate of hanfu culture, Cai incorporates it into his daily attire. He has observed that, in Hangzhou, it is not uncommon to encounter people wearing hanfu on the streets, particularly at scenic areas around West Lake.


When he is out distributing flowers to passersby, Cai finds it exhilarating when people recognize his clothing as being from the Tang Dynasty, while recognizing Chen's attire as being from the Song Dynasty.


Chen says she can clearly perceive the deepening appreciation and resonance among individuals toward China's traditional aesthetics.


Many places have invited them to visit and distribute flowers in other cities, and Chen says she is planning on creating something new to promote traditional Chinese culture.


"I will continue to share the inherent romance of Chinese culture. I aspire to bring innovation to each of my works and explore a broader range of subjects, presenting a more diverse and multifaceted traditional aesthetic to everyone," she says.


Enthralled by the exceptionally vibrant cultural atmosphere in Hangzhou, Chen is seriously contemplating the idea of making Hangzhou her permanent home. Excited by the upcoming Asian Games in September, Chen also plans to create new videos to promote the city and its cultural offerings.


 Source: China Daily