After falling down the hanfu rabbit hole in lockdown, the artist is carving out a space to appreciate and reinterpret traditional Chinese culture
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Like a lot of bored people in lockdown, 23-year-old Chuyan Wang joined the hanfu revolution of young Chinese people dressing in traditional historical clothes that swept Douyin (Chinese TikTok). Trending with over one billion views on #hanfu alone, and millions on pretty much each related subcategory of that hashtag, the practice of wearing pieces once censored by the Chinese Cultural Revolution has found a fresh platform. Now, a newly initiated young audience are choosing to incorporate key pieces into their everyday wardrobe, as seen in popular Douyin streetwear fashion edits.
Half-Chinese and raised in Seattle, Wang (better known by her handle, @mochihanfu) used this opportunity to really get in touch with her roots. She began sharing obsessively-researched explainers on niche aspects of Chinese aesthetics through the ages, which were delivered while recreating the looks on her face. It was, by her own admission, a journey “downhill into the rabbit hole of hanfu, and I haven’t looked back.”
“When I’m into something, I want to know everything about it,” she explains, adding that she was inspired by film adaptations of Chinese myths like Monkey King (about Sun Wu Kong) and Shanghai animation The 9 Coloured Deer, as well as her childhood exposure to Chinese culture through her mum. “I definitely appreciate how unwaveringly Chinese she was,” Wang says. “A lot of my other half-Asian and Asian-American friends didn’t have the opportunity to learn the culture or language and then when you get to an age where you’re trying to find your identity... it feels like something is missing.”
Filling in the blanks for a new generation on TikTok one huadian (forehead design), xiehong (temple cut), and yedian (dimple dot) at a time, Wang translates ancient history into living present through her work, relearning to love her features through embracing make-up that was actually made for them in the process. “I feel like my ancestors when I wear hanfu,” she says, describing why she feels the most beautiful in a full face of historical make-up, hair heavy with the weight of jewellery that clinks with every step, or even just incorporated into her modern wardrobe through the rise of xinzhongshi (新中式/ “new chinese style”). “I feel like an imperial consort. An empress.”
Here, we speak to the artist about evolving from her Insta baddie to Tang dynasty consort era, identifying with Studio Ghibli’s Princess Kaguya, and the value of sharing her culture online.
What are you trying to communicate through your work?
Mochi Hanfu: I think above all I’m just trying to show how beautiful and rich Chinese fashion is. I think a lot of people, myself included, don’t know a lot about all the different types of clothing throughout China’s five-thousand-year history and all the different types of make-up as well. I think a lot of people think of China as pretty monolithic but I want to show that it’s actually very, very diverse.
Which fictional character do you most relate to?
Mochi Hanfu: I think I relate to Kaguya from Studio Ghibli’s Princess Kaguya movie the most. That movie actually makes me ugly cry every time I watch it. Kaguya grows up insanely fast, her parents force what they want for her onto her, she doesn’t feel connected to people, and there’s this scene in the movie where she hears people at a party talking about her and saying mean things and she just snaps. I don’t know what it is, but even typing about it now gives me chills. She sobs, breaks a dish, and then starts running and the art is just breathtaking. All the delicate lines turn into these thick emotional charcoal lines and oof. It is just so good and expresses a lot of emotion that even I can’t describe. Definitely a must-watch.
Who is your beauty icon of all time?
Mochi Hanfu: My beauty icon is definitely Princess Shouyang! She was the princess credited with starting Huadian (forehead designs) and changed make-up history for the remainder of the dynasties.
What is your favourite look you’ve done?
Mochi Hanfu: I think my favourite personal look so far is when I did a recreation of Yang Guifei. I just look so delicate and soft and it took me around four hours so I think I am attached to this look because I know how long it took. Another recent favourite is from Geya (pictured above) on Xiaohongshu (the Chinese Instagram equivalent) which I actually recreated for my DIY tutorial. She just has such an ethereal look to her and I aspire to have this type of makeup aesthetic.
What is your current obsession?
Mochi Hanfu: Xinzhongshi (新中式/ “new chinese style”)! It’s this new trend coming out of China that incorporates traditional elements into modern styles. It really clicks for me, especially as a half-Chinese person and Chinese-American. I highly recommend the diaspora try it out because it just feels right. I love all the new designs coming out recently, my closet is now mostly xinzhongshi. You can always check out my personal Instagram (@chuchuchuyann) to see some daily xinzhongshi outfits on my stories. I’m always playing around with it. There are also a lot of xinzhongshi influencers on Xiaohongshu – I love 善善子, for example.
What does beauty mean to you?
Mochi Hanfu: Experimenting. I think a lot of us, especially in western culture, are so used to kind of a uniform look. During the Instagram baddie era of 2014 to 2016, for example, everyone wanted to have those thick Anastasia Beverly Hills brows, the bronze eyes, the matte lips… and I know a lot of my POC friends wanted to fit in with white people and white culture so they would do make-up that didn’t necessarily compliment their features. I think thanks to TikTok and the pandemic, there’s a lot more diversity within beauty and people are doing make-up that compliments their own features instead of trying to fit in with a certain look.
For me personally, discovering traditional make-up was life-changing. I was definitely part of the Instagram baddie craze and it looked odd on me. I look at my Snapchat memories and cringe. But traditional make-up... oh man, it’s just completely the opposite of everything that we see nowadays. A wide, round face is favoured! As someone with chubby cheeks who prayed that they could have chiselled cheeks as a child... life-changing. Smaller lips are favoured, completely different from Kylie lips. And I’m pretty pale so embracing that with traditional make-up was pretty crazy too. Just everything about traditional Chinese make-up suits Chinese features, but discovering that myself definitely helped me gain more confidence and changed the way I view myself for the better. I’ll never be an Instagram Kylie baddie but at least I’m the hottest consort in the Tang dynasty, you know?
When do you feel most beautiful?
Mochi Hanfu: I feel most beautiful when I am dressed head to toe in historical fashion: my hair decorated in pounds of gorgeous jewellery that clinks when I walk; my huadian (forehead designs), xiehong (temple cuts), yedian (dimple dots) freshly applied; my lipstick looking small and pouty like a rosebud; and of course wearing beautiful silks and layers and layers of dresses. It feels so right. I feel like my ancestors when I wear hanfu. Although these days I have also expanded into feeling the most beautiful when I wear xinzhongshi and have a cool combination of traditional and modern make-up on, my high heels on so that I can be as tall as I want.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Mochi Hanfu: Of course! I’m a pretty optimistic person in general. I’m the type of person – Pisces mars – to kind of go with the flow and see where the universe takes me.
What is the future of beauty?
Mochi Hanfu: I think the future of beauty is definitely people embracing their culture and incorporating it into their daily style. I think we see that already with xinzhongshi and it looks so cool. I would love to see styles like that from every culture, every ethnicity on earth. I think it would be dope.
You have to replace part of your body with that of an animal or a mythological creature. What do you go for?
Mochi Hanfu: I think I would want to replace my skin with dragon scales. I don’t know, I feel like that would be cool. Just like a dragon lady in hanfu would be a look.
You have the ability to live in a video game. Which would it be and why?
Mochi Hanfu: Just based on my personal preference, Fire Emblem. I love that game so, so, so much. It’s my favourite game ever! I would want to be a pegasus knight and swoop down and kill enemies with a lance while looking absolutely gorgeous.
If I had to choose based on aesthetics though, probably Cyberpunk! I did play the game and it sucked but the aesthetics were so cool. I would love to be a lil cyberpunk hanfu princess – I think my make-up look that I did for the DIY tutorial would fit right in!
Watch @mochihanfu’s DIY tutorial below.