Prove your humanity

Hanfu cyberpunk. Yeah, we thought it sounded mad to the max as well, until we saw the fantastical futuristic creations of Lao Ba Ba, who seamlessly meshes her love for traditional Chinese dress with techwear–hemlined with hints of ancient wisdom.


Close-Up: Hanfu, A Saga of Passion, Fashion and Fusion


Reporting on the business of luxury in China, Jing Daily wrote in October 2020 how the cyberpunk style had “unexpectedly gone mainstream in China’s post-COVID fashion scene. Chinese fashion lovers have seen the industry’s September magazine issues bearing the theme on their covers and in various advertorials.”

In December that year, the platform followed up on their initial assessment, stating that “with the spread of [the newly released video game] Cyberpunk 2077, the style is likely to enter China’s mainstream. The launch of the video game stirred up enthusiasm among China’s youngsters, and it has turned cyberpunk from a subculture trend to a mainstream one almost overnight. The latter half of 2020 has set a tone for China that is disconnected from the rest of the world, and the need for escapism is continuing to grow.”

On May 27 this year, fans received leaked news that Cyberpunk 2077: Expansion is slated for release in 2023. Joy to the world. With many Chinese cities once again climbing their way out of a COVID-19 resurgence at the time of yours truly writing this, and the nation still largely disconnected from the rest of the world, will the current sense of escapism spark renewed interest in a dash of cyber dressing? A bit far-fetched, perhaps, but we’ll see.

What we have already spotted, is the one vlogger’s idea of lending traditional hanfu (汉服| hàn fú in Chinese), meaning Han Chinese dress, a futuristic edge.

hanfu cyberpunk

Blade Runner 1982, the style that inspired the future.

Game On

Cyberpunk 2077 is an action role-playing video game developed and published by CD Projekt. It sold 13.7 million copies in its first three weeks of release back in December 2020–no wonder when you consider Keanu Reeves stars in it. By April this year, the game had sold over 18 million copies worldwide. Cyberpunk 2077 is set in the future, but draws on influences from the 1982 classic Blade Runner, and manga series–more like media franchise, we’d dare say–Ghost in the Shell, which first aired in 1989. Turns out Chinese consumers were digging it.

Cyberpunk, a science-fiction subgenre characterized by countercultural antiheroes trapped in a dehumanized, high-tech future. The word “cyberpunk” was coined by writer Bruce Bethke, who wrote a short story with the title in 1983. Cyberpunk fashion (or “techwear”), then, is heavily influenced by films like Johnny Mnemonic, Blade Runner, and The Matrix and could be interpreted as being “futuristic gothic fashion” and involves trench coats, boots, shiny black clothing, tech-inspired materials, glow-in-the-dark “stuff” and colored dreads for all those in dire need.

Cyberpunk 2077: Keanuuuu.

As a style, cyberpunk ( 赛博朋克| sài bó péng kè in Chinese) generally is dark and post-apocalyptic and draws on hacking, futuristic DIY, and anti-authoritarian motifs. Being part of a subversive culture, the cyberpunk style does not follow a specific set of rules – leaving plenty of room for self-expression.

While subgenres also include steampunk, cybergoth, and post-apocalyptic styles, cyberpunk fashion is about having a punk attitude and wearing the style to match it in cyberspace. It’s about pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable and defining your own reality in a world where the virtual is as real. #TemperTeachings

And on that note, we enter the YouTube-verse of Lao Ba Ba.


Such a Tease: Beijing Queen Velvet Teese Strips Gender Norms

Ancient + Futuristic 

Meet Lao Ba Ba (老八捌| Lǎo Bā Bā), the post-95 photography teacher with an immense heart for hanfu. Over the past one+ year, she has been taking the style to new fantastical and futuristic frontiers on her YouTube channel (simply 老八捌) and on Weibo, China’s Twitter. Take a look:

Qianlong-inspired. Image: Lao Ba Ba.

The inspiration for above creation came from a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Qianlong porcelain art piece now on display in the National Museum of China. The whole artwork contains the meaning of “the sea is calm, the rivers are clear, and the country is peaceful.” Beautifully crafted and painted, the piece symbolizes the peak of Qianlong porcelain.

Lao Ba Ba combined the ancient national treasure with futuristic science fiction, a cyan Qing costume, a tian-tsui crown, tian-tsui meaning “the art of kingfisher feather inlay,” and golden nail guards. The details lie in the headgear and makeup design: two swallows bring a sense of times long gone and the lines, all painted on in exquisite and sharp manner, highlight a taste of the future of technology.


Close-Up: Nailing It — China’s 5,000-Year Saga of Adorning the Fingertip

Tang Steampunk

Steampunk (蒸汽朋克| zhēng qì péng kè) style mixes the beauty of Western European clothing with that dusty, austere, strict, cold and scientific feel of fiction literature and the technological revolution. The steampunk aesthetic is inspired by the fashions of the Victorian Era in England (1837-1901), but also by the Belle Époque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). The clothing from these eras is often modernized by the addition of mechanical elements–all gears on show. #TemperTeachings

Steampunk started in the 1970s as a type of literature. It was thought of as a sub-genre of science fiction and its authors imagined a world in which Victorian-era fashion and technology existed in modern times.

Lao Ba Ba created one furiously fierce eyecatcher meshing Tang Dynasty (618-907) makeup and steampunk aesthetics. A Tang round neck collar robe (團領| tuán lǐng) ties in with a more Lolita inspired dress design. Add to this the many small details of the “steam era,” such as the small gear patch under the eyes, clock elements, and so on. Behold:

hanfu cyberpunk

Another one of her creative references channels the early Tang’s subtle and gentle makeup palette. A light layer of lead–not too gentle, we’d dare say–powder on the face and a sweep of rouge intended to bring out the woman’s most natural beauty. Observe:

hanfu cyberpunk

Dunhuang Goes Punk–Cyberpunk

Grottoes are a significant symbol of Chinese Buddhism. Located in Dunhuang City, northwest China’s Gansu Province, the Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, are the most notable Chinese Buddhist grottoes listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are renowned for their abundant collection of statues and murals that span 1,000 years of Buddhist art. Home to 45,000 square meters of frescoes and more than 2,000 painted sculptures, the site holds great historical and religious value.
The Flying Apsaras (飞天| fēitiān, “angels” or “heavenly maidens”) are often considered the No.1 symbol of the Mogao Grottoes. They refer to a spiritual being in Hindu and Buddhist culture with an image of a beautiful female. It is said that Chinese craftsmen first painted the apsaras in murals in the Mogao Grottoes during the Sixteen Kingdoms era (304-439).
In the Tang Dynasty, the painted apsaras were characterized by traditional Chinese artistic features, marking the peak of China’s Flying Apsaras art. The murals carry information about their attire, musical instruments and other social artifacts of their times. Having witnessed the spread of Buddhism along the Silk Road into China, they have left a touchstone of the diverse cultural exchanges in world history. Nowadays we can see the lively images of heavenly maidens in various forms, such as dances, trademarks and ads. And vlogs.
hanfu cyberpunk

Dunhuang Buddhism

Above creation refers to the Dunhuang frescoes with highly saturated colors. The costume features “mechanical arms” and Lao Ba has put in a pair of eery contact lenses to create a shocking effect that conveys an ethereal Buddhist feel.
By contrast, the image below features a more dynamic style. The costume is an assemblage of chopsticks, wire, iron pipes leftover from some home plumbing repairs, and a piece of carpet. All pieced together and painted to her utmost delight, Lao Ba Ba’s chopsticks, and carpets become hairpins, accessories and a “flowing” silk pibo (we cannot seem to find the characters, but it’s a type of ancient Chinese wrap):

hanfu cyberpunk

Honorary Interlude: Preps and Props

hanfu cyberpunk

Aligning past and present.

hanfu cyberpunk

Tang top with a sense of technology: oh yea, she’s going there!

hanfu cyberpunk

Tang techno top: check.

Anthropomorrr- What Now?

Hanfu aside, Lao Ba Ba’s channel also comes with an “urban anthropomorphic” series. Her first stop was Chang’an (长安 as seen in the pic), the ancient city now basking in neon lights. Better known to us mere modern mortals as Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, Chang’an was the bustling capital of the Tang Dynasty as well as the capital of 13 dynasties for 1,000 years, with a total of 73 emperors ruling it. The Tang referred to the metropolis avant-la-lettre as Chang’an.

Lao Ba Ba’s hairstyle here refers to the popular double-ringed Tang bun (望仙九鬟髻| wàng xiān jiǔ huán jì) featuring a pomegranate, the official flower of Xi’an, pin. She’s wearing a classic qixiong ruqun (齐胸襦裙| qí xiōng rúqún),  a short jacket characterized by a high waistline and worn under a long skirt.

Lao Ba Ba puts a lot–a lot— of time, effort and passion into her creations. Whether cyberpunk will return to the mainstream (in whatever modern shape or ancient style) or not, her concoctions are indeed lit. And as composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) once said…

Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.

















Elsbeth van Paridon
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