A dressing down for Shanghainese

Nowhere else in China will you find residents wandering around their neighbourhoods in distinctive pajamas, and families hanging their clothes out to dry in outdoor clothes-lines that run across many of the city’s narrower streets.

As far as Shanghai’s traditions go, there are not many that are quainter and uniquely representative of the city’s history.

But, like many other traditions that China has relegated to history’s dustbin in its rush to embrace the modern, these old Shanghai customs too may now be on their way out, if officials have their way.

The local government has launched a controversial city-wide campaign to stop local residents from wearing their pajamas in public.

The “No Pajamas in Public Be Civilised” campaign is part of its efforts to present Shanghai as “an international metropolis” and show a “civilised” face of the city to foreign visitors, when it hosts the World Expo next May. Authorities have even set up a “Civilised Dress Persuasion Team.” Its neatly-dressed 500 volunteers have already begun twice-a-week activities, going into old neighbourhoods to convince residents to shed traditional pajamas for suits and trousers.

The moves have sparked debate; with locals defending what they say is a unique and definitive Shanghai characteristic.

“Given time, these traditions will evolve. But we should not be tempted to hasten their evolution — or demise. We may wax nostalgic when they are gone,” columnist Raymond Zhou argued in the State-run China Daily newspaper.

The customs are a legacy of the city’s old “shikumen” or stone-gate communal houses. These were built in the late nineteenth century, when the city was transformed into a bustling European trading centre after the Opium War.

Many neighbourhoods were designed in a distinctive style that combined Western and traditional Chinese architecture. The narrow alleyways and interconnected houses, built for Chinese migrant workers, brought many families together to live in cramped confines and close proximity.

This redefined communal living, as well as the boundary between private and public spaces.

Officials said recently they did not want to present an “uncivilised” image of China’s financial capital and “lose face” to foreigners.

Residents, though, are none too pleased. Li Hoiyan, a self-confessed pajama-wearer for 14 years, said the government’s opposition was “a bit silly.” “Just because of the World Expo to engage in this is a bit fake,” she told the news website “And why do I need someone to manage what I wear?”

A quaint custom has been ordered out as the city readies for the World Expo.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 9:06:34 PM |

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