Chinese internet users have been left scratching their heads after a Twitterstorm accusing a US teenager of cultural appropriation.
That dress? It’s cultural appreciation, say Chinese internet users
Twitter user @daumkeziah, who is not of Chinese descent, uploaded photos of herself wearing a qipao – a tight-fitting, traditional Chinese gown – to prom. That tweet has attracted 17,000 comments so far, with some Twitter users accusing her of cultural appropriation.
But Chinese internet users have been left nonplussed by the online rage.
“I feel proud that some people are wearing clothes from our culture. Isn’t it a good thing that more people get to know more about the qipao?” wrote user Wu Nao Liu on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
Another user: “Cultures are not bounded by borders. I don’t think there are any problems, as long as there is no malice or vilification. Chinese culture should be spread across the globe.”
But some pointed out that the form-fitting qipao might not be the most flattering look for Westerners. “I think Western women may be too voluptuous for qipao,” said user Qu Cong Ji 99. “She can wear it when she can. It’s really not a big deal.”
How to explain the vast difference in opinion held by people of Chinese descent living in different parts of the world?
“People who are a minority in the country to which their ancestors emigrated are more likely to experience discrimination, and as a result they may be more likely to perceive harm associated with cultural appropriation,” says Susan Scafidi, the founder of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University.
Scafidi says the current political climate and the debate over immigration have also influenced the perception of cultural appropriation. “Are we keeping immigrants out but letting their cultural artifacts in, and is that a betrayal of American values?”
Erich Hatala Matthes, who teaches philosophy at Wellesley College, says the debate on cultural appropriation should be more in-depth than just discussing a single prom dress. “It’s crucial to see that the harms of cultural appropriation are a symptom of broader issues of injustice.”
Also known as the cheongsam, the qipao as we know it today is actually a product of Chinese and Western cultures.
They can originally be traced back to the clothing of the Manchus, the ethnic group who ruled China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The garment began life as a loose, flowing garment worn as everyday clothing. But over time, it became increasingly form-fitting. In the 1930s, Western-inspired features such as puffed sleeves and higher-slit skirts were incorporated.
The dress was highlighted in Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love, in which star Maggie Cheung (pictured, top) wore 21 different versions of the dress.
While Chinese internet users may have no issue with the dress, a photo of the prom group bowing is harder to defend.
Their palms-pressed-together greeting, known variously as the wai, the namaste or the anjali mudra, is specific to Southeast Asia, not China.