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#Qipao旗袍 Chinese Dress #design #culturalappreciation Vs. #culturalappropriation

May 9, 2018

Recently, a Utah native Keziah Daum, aged 18, took to Twitter last weekend to reveal a series of photos of herself wearing a red Chinese qipao dress and her friends at her high school prom. Because of this, she has been accused of cultural appropriation. The link to the full story can be found here.

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Qipao, also know as Cheongsam in Cantonese, is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women. It originates from Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and took definitive shape in Shanghai in the 1920s. Its status was cemented when the newly established Nationalist government recognised it as formal dress in 1928. In contemporary times, this dress has been designed in multiple shapes by different fashion designers to appeal to various styles of Chinese women. In some formal occasions like Chinese New Year and Chinese weddings, this dress is also seen as the formal wear.

This 18-year-old American girl wore a long Chinese dress to her high school prom this has aroused huge amount of comments, criticism and debates among internet. Twitter user Jeremy Lam, from Hong Kong, accused her of cultural appropriation by saying ‘My culture is NOT your goddam dress.‘ The statement quickly went viral, and others began to accuse the teen of cultural appropriation as well. Some other people also wrote: wrote:’ This isn’t ok. I wouldn’t wear traditional Korean, Japanese or any other traditional dress and I’m Asian. I wouldn’t wear traditional Irish or Swedish or Greek dress either. There’s a lot of history behind these clothes. Sad.’

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(Definition: Cultural appropriation is defined as the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own.It especially applies when a person does not show that he or she understands or has respect for the culture.)

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However, there are some positive voices showing their support for Keziah as well because they think her wearing a traditional Chinese dress is actually cultural appreciation. Including Keziah herself tweeted that,

‘To everyone causing so much negativity: I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture.’

‘I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a f*cking dress. And it’s beautiful,’ she added.

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Twitter user @judemercenary wrote: ‘It’s just a dress. It’s a nice looking dress. A beautiful design. She’s showing respect, not defaming it.’

Undoubtedly, Keziah wore a long Chinese dress to her high school prom simply to show her personal appreciation for the design and shape of this red Chinese dress. On the individual level, apparently she has nothing critical against the Chinese culture. Instead, she is showing her cultural appreciation and respect for Chinese culture. People, including that Chinese man Lam, who accused her of cultural appropriation are not appropriate in terms of positioning themselves in treating different cultures, difference people, and different races in this cosmopolitan world. Culture is to be celebrated by everyone. That’s why we watch international film, make friends with foreigners, eat international food, and shop international brands.

If a non-Chinese person wearing a Chinese dress needs to be judged and criticised, how about people from every country in this world wearing western style clothes from brands like Zara, HM, and Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel? Western style are seen everywhere worn by everyone–modern T-shirt, jeans, animal prints, revealing sexy dresses, suits and ties. These styled garments all originate from the West and are now seen on everyone in this world. Why isn’t there any criticism against this trend? Likewise, Chanel-style suits are everywhere in shops no matter in Europe, Africa, Asia, America and South America. No one, even fashion designers and councils literally say or write anything against this trend. Based on this philosophy of those opposers on her wearing a Chinese dress to her high school prom, if a westerner wearing a dress from traditional Chinese culture or other cultures for example India or Africa needs to be accused, then s/he should NOT eat Chinese/Japanese/Indian/African (etc.) food as well because foods from these countries also have profound history and culture behind. S/he should NOT travel to these exotic countries or watch any films or listen to any music from these countries. S/He should NOT even talk to Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Africans whomever because these human beings are products of their specific culture and history. We are all products from the past. Do these criticism against this American girl stand for ‘post-colonial’ aftermath?

Lam’s position that ‘My culture is NOT your goddam prom dress.’ shows deep cultural inferiority in his mindset as well. Though he did want to show his patriotic emotion for Chinese culture. Just imagine, if CoCo Chanel were still alive and she saw so many fashion brands are copying Chanel style suits and non-French people wearing Chanel suits, would she say something like ‘My design, my French culture is NOT your goddam design and daily wear.’? Obviously she wouldn’t. Instead, she would definitely feel damn proud of this because she is absolutely confident of herself, her design and her culture. Anyone, any brand can copy Chanel but literally no one in this world can really infuse Chanel spirit and replace this brand’s prominent position in this world. Likewise, anyone can wear/copy Chinese style dress but no one can replace the position of Chinese culture. Just be relaxed and don’t discriminate against yourself and your culture.

As a Chinese national myself, nowadays Chinese culture is everywhere seen not only in people’s dressing style, but in food, drinks and intertational relations. Chinese dress to be worn by foreigners to formal occasions is just a good sign to show that Chinese culture is being celebrated and China’s international status in this world is rising. We are living in a multicultural and global world celebrating different cultures, races, ethnicities. These are  the things that construct this planet and have made what we are today. Finally it’s not about one person wears what kind of cultural dress, it’s about whether or not this person is able enough to embrace and be exposed to other cultures and history. This, I believe is important for an individual to thrive in this global world because everyone is a global citizen in contemporary times.

In terms of the issue of cultural appropriation, I see no point of this on this girl wearing a Chinese dress. She’s not Chinese but she did express her views of her appreciation and respect for Chinese culture. However, examples that can reflect real cultural appropriation can be the designers like Stella McCartney, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Stella McCartney, as a British designer, is using massive African prints on her design while selling her dresses at extremely high prices. She used the Ankara prints from Africa without acknowledgement and a dress made with these prints can be sold at £1000+. Meanwhile, Italian fashion houses Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana are using huge amounts of Chinese cultural elements into the design of their clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories while selling at high prices as well. For them, these exotic cultural elements boost their brand performance thus increase in sales. I am not here to judge or criticise any trend like this because we are living in this international stage of the world. But, if you use something from a culture that is not your own and you do NOT know much about it, I believe it is a proper thing to make necessary acknowledgements in public, no matter to be reflected in the web page, product description, price or whatever. This is simply to show your respect for the specific culture no matter Chinese, Japanese, African, Indian, etc. I believe it is a right thing to do that fashion designers do NOT take for granted that you should use something from other culture (especially those culture or countries that were once colonised by the West) as a way to boost your own brand and thus sales performance. Vice Versa.

 

(Views by Skylence Tianmo Zheng)

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