BEIJING — They flocked together in silky, flowing gowns, arms draped in billowing sleeves, with many wearing high black hats or intricate floral headpieces as a flourish.

If they resembled time travelers teleported from a Chinese imperial ritual of a thousand years ago, that was just the desired effect.

These hundreds of retro-style dressers, gathered on a university campus in Beijing this past weekend, are devotees of the “Hanfu” movement. They are dedicated to reviving the clothes they believe China’s Han ethnic majority wore before their country succumbed to centuries of foreign domination — and to taking pride in the past they evoke.

“Hanfu is a social scene, and that’s why I’m into it, but it also has deeper levels of national feeling too,” said Yin Zhuo, 29, a computer programmer, who joined the day of activities in a long blue gown and red cape with a fake fur fringe.

“Xi has always promoted reviving traditional culture, and naturally that includes clothing,” she said.

“When we first opened, people would often ask if we were filming a show or holding a costume party,” said Yue Huaiyu, the owner of the store, who said she has sold Hanfu clothes for over a decade. “They didn’t get it.”

Now, in terms of customers, “There are more and more.”

Yet as Hanfu has spread, it has also become more fractious. Hanfu websites are loud with debate about what counts as authentic clothing.

“Much of the history and traditions that the movement cites are invented,” said Mr. Carrico, the author. “They are creating this history for themselves.”

People also fight about how much modification to fit modern tastes is acceptable.

Gu Meng, a financial manager in Beijing, who sometimes wears Hanfu to work, said he was disgruntled with “Hanfu fundamentalists” who resisted altering their clothes to suit modern needs.

“I’ve asked the store many times why can’t they add a pocket at the back for my phone and cigarettes,” he said, referring to a Hanfu boutique he frequents. “They think I’m a heretic.”

Above all, followers differ over whether Hanfu is primarily about ethnic assertion, instilling ancient values, or simply making a bold fashion statement in a gown embroidered with dragons or flowers.


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