2010 Expo: Shanghai Residents Stop Wearing Pajamas Out!

Children inform a pajama wearing resident about the new dress code for the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. (Photo from Xinmin.cn)

Children inform a pajama wearing resident about the new dress code for the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. (Photo from Xinmin.cn)

“Those who wear pajamas cannot go out.” This is the government request Shanghai residents are receiving months before the 2010 World Expo (May 1 – October 31) held in Shanghai. This request has provoked widespread controversy. Some people think wearing pajamas in public does not conform to international etiquette, while other people believe that if the government wants to control whether the residents should wear pajamas or not, the community will lose its freedom. Interesting enough, the slogan for the 2010 Expo is Better City – Better Life.

It matters to the image of our country.

Those that have been to Shanghai know that it has been a tradition for Shanghai residents to wear their pajamas out. One can always find pajama wearing people in alleys, farmers’ markets, supermarkets, on the streets, and even in the famous shopping area along Nanjing Road. A woman comes out to buy a pack of salt at the front of the alley, wearing a pajama with flower patterns and a pair of fairly sophisticated pump or to throw trash out with hair rollers all over the head… all of these are regarded as the typical Shanghai culture in the alleys. However, when the bulldozers overturned the alleys, people could only cherish the memory of the old life style. The habit of wearing pajamas in public suddenly became the enemy of civilization.

Haibao, the official mascot of the 2010 Expo, along the Bund in Shanghai (Photo from Expo2010.cn)

Haibao, the official mascot of the 2010 Expo, along the Bund in Shanghai (Photo from Expo2010.cn)

“It matters to the image of our country,” said Guofang Shen, who is part of a residential district committee. There is also a team of volunteers who is responsible for persuading residents not to wear pajamas on the streets. The team has this activity twice a week, each for one to two hours in the front gate of the district. Whenever they see the residents with pajamas, they will go to them and try to persuade them to change their clothes before they go out.

In only over an hour, there have been hundreds of residents who accepted the persuasion of these volunteers; this activity has shown great social effects, recorded as the first day of such achievements in the web log of the committee.

“The activity has been carried out for more than two months now. We have good results. The number of people with pajamas has greatly reduced,” said Shen with satisfaction.

The volunteers have also thought of other different approaches, such as getting children involved because people are more likely to listen to them and take advantage of friendships so the talk can be kept in a more relaxed environment. Although the committee is optimistic of their efforts, they admit some residents still find it too hard to change their habits.

Photos of Shanghainese residents in theirr favorite clothing. (Photo from Xinhuanet.com / Justin Guariglia)

Photos of Shanghainese residents in theirr favorite clothing. (Photo from Xinhuanet.com / Justin Guariglia)

Being asked the opinions about the requirements of “no pajamas out,” some “Shanghai Aunts” will get pissed off. “It simply does not need to be so exaggerated. Every country gets a chance to hold the Expo. Will it be fun if everyone overreacted like this?,” complained a resident who was going out to buy some bread, while wearing a pajama patterned with little bears and a pair of leather sandals. On the street right next to her home, everything is readily available, from small supermarkets, banks, clothes stores, to bakeries, restaurants, pharmacies, stationery stores to farmers markets. The residents can get whatever they need within only a few steps from their home.

Many Shanghainese do not understand why they should inconvenience themselves to change out of pajamas for buying something just outside one’s home. In the early days, as seen in the movie Sleepless Town and Kung Fu Hustle, wearing pajamas out was a symbol of class. To ask Shanghai people to take off pajamas is to take off Shanghai style! The reasons Shanghainese have for wearing pajamas sound reasonable: no need to walk too far, not attending a formal occasion, and not staying outside too long. There is no way to argue with these reasons because of the close connection between living quarters and facilities. If someone dresses to the farmers’ market or supermarket, he will look weird. To them, this kind of relaxed life is the remaining culture of Shanghai style.

When the habit of wearing pajamas lasts long and strong, it becomes a label of the culture. In the old times, pajamas normally belong to two kinds of people. One is the rich; pajama shows leisure. The other is people working in entertainment, say dancers; pajama shows charm. After the founding of PRC, pajamas became popular gradually for normal people. In the 1970’s, wearing pajamas on the street once became an urban landscape in Shanghai and was a fashion trend. Pajama is beautiful, wearing pajama shows I have a comfortable life are the general opinion of the people pursuing fashion at that time.

Walking the dog, Shanghainese style. (Photo from Xinmin.cn)

Walking the dog, Shanghainese style. (Photo from Xinmin.cn)

Due to this fashion trend in the 1970’s and the small living space in Shanghai, the wearing of ‘convenient’ pajama was passed down for generations. The most traditional residential buildings in Shanghai are Shikumen and in alleys. People are squeezed in alleys like birds in cages. Different families, no matter whether they know each other or not, divided their space simply by a piece of curtain, in which way it was not possible to differentiate public space and private space, so that people’s clothing had no difference in different occasions.

Why do we need someone else to tell us what to wear? … acting like this for the Expo seems somewhat like taking an exam.

A survey named What do you think of Shanghai people wearing pajamas on the streets? (started July 20, 2009) on Shanghai Hotline has shown that up to now, while most people think wearing pajamas in public as ‘lack of quality and civilization’, the percentage is only 42.03%. While, 33.95% of voters think it’s ‘normal, only for convenience’ and 24.02% of the voters chose ‘it’s very normal for Shanghai people to wear pajamas out, do not look at it if you cannot tolerate it.’ That is to say, more than half of the people do not object to wearing pajamas in public. As a native of Shanghai, Kaiye Li is one of them. Living in the alleys for almost 14 years, she thinks it’s a little bit inappropriate for those who wear pajamas out. However she has a natural good feeling for that kind of ‘geniality’. She thinks it is fuss and ‘a bit silly’ of the persuasion activities. “Why do we need someone else to tell us what to wear? … acting like this for the Expo seems somewhat like taking an exam,” said Li.

As for the issue of shame or not, this native of Shanghai who was born in 80’s said: ‘as long as we Shanghai people do not feel shame, it does not really matter. Maybe those experts and officials (who proposed this request) are not from Shanghai.’

Some people also opposed the persuasion activities on the Internet. In an online forum some users said they saw the videos of those activities, ‘some grannies do not wear pajamas but only some leisure and loose clothes. Those volunteers rushed to them. It doesn’t make any sense.’
It seems that the modern civilization for Shanghai World Expo has to face this most powerful opponent – freedom of dressing.

Xiong Yang, president of the Institute of Social Development, Shanghai Academy of Social Science held ‘survey of civilization in Shanghai family’ in 2006. The survey shows ‘there hasn’t been significant improvement for the phenomenon such as wearing pajamas out. 16.5% of people said they themselves or their families often wear pajamas out while 25% said occasionally.’ The seriousness of this problem has been repeatedly presented.

After the publication, this report has been widely cited by both national and international media. What made Xiong Yang really feel the international image of Shanghai would be affected by this issue is when a foreign student told him specifically that his mother was very surprised when she read about the report in England and she showed the newspaper to her child who was in Shanghai: “I cannot believe people wear pajamas out in Shanghai.”

“Foreigners think this is very big news and they pay great attention on it,” said Xiong Yang. In Xiong Yang’s opinion, wearing pajamas on the streets is indeed inappropriate with international etiquette and should be revised. However, he said that this should not be misinterpreted as a moral issue of Shanghai people and not to exaggerate it.

Shoujun Hu, a sociology professor in Fudan University, thinks the committee can advocate not wearing pajamas on the streets, but they have no rights to prohibit it. Although he strongly opposes wearing pajamas out, he also disagrees about forcing residents comply.

“The ideal status of the Expo is on one hand to improve the government’s work efficiency and quality of execution; on the other hand to improve the self-awareness of the residents. It should not be controlled by the government in every detail. In that way the self-awareness of the society and the residents will be drawn back. We need to encourage every resident to show their enthusiasm and be proud of participating in the Expo,” said Shoujun Hu.

The advertisement on this issue from the government and media has never stopped. While the work for preparing Shanghai for the 2010 Expo has much greater intensity, the pajama dispute is also much more vigorous.

Wearing pajamas or not, is it a matter of dressing or freedom? What do you think?

Sources: Sina, Xinmin, Xiahuanet, Justin Guariglia

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