Pretty much every job I've worked I've either been the boss, worked from home or clothing hasn't mattered. So I've always been able to wear what I like and very much do so. I wear Chinese clothes a lot and am often asked why. Here's how that conversation goes:
Why are you wearing Chinese clothes?
Because I'm Chinese.
Um... uh... you don't look very Chinese.
What? Do you think we're all yellow?
And surprisingly often, the other person will then accept that I am actually Chinese; sometimes out of confusion, other times for fear of exhibiting racist behaviour and often just because it sounds so stupid it must be true. There are many reasons why I'm obviously not Chinese - I'm white (they are all yellow), I have a British accent and, most damningly of all, I wear Chinese clothes.
This may sound odd, but Chinese people do not wear Chinese clothes. Just think about it for a minute. When is the last time you ever saw any Chinese people wearing non-Western clothing? It's only ever characters in films or perhaps staff at a restaurant. You simply never see normal people wearing traditional clothing. And that's a terrible shame. With at least 5,000 years of history and many dynasties (each tending to have a completely different style of clothes) there are thousands of different styles of Chinese clothes - many of them beautiful and elaborate. I find it simply awful that jeans and t-shirts have supplanted them all. Even on formal occasions or in business situations, Chinese people go with Western suits.
Japan has always been more at ease with its traditional culture which I feel is because they compartmentalise it: the ancient sits alongside the modern, but separate from it. Whereas in China, there is no boundary between the two. So in Japan, there are various formal occasions throughout the year when kimono are worn and that sits happily and easily within Japanese culture. Not so in China.
Recently there has been a movement in China to popularise Hanfu - Han dynasty clothing. In fact, the Japanese kimono is also known as gofuku which means "clothes of Wu" - a Chinese kingdom - as the kimono is modelled after Han dynasty clothing. My pedantic, nationalistic wife is very keen to point out that a lot of what we perceive as traditional Japanese culture is copied from or influenced by the Chinese. Well, whatever the origins, the idea that Chinese people ought to be able to wear their traditional clothing in the same way that the Japanese do is gaining traction in China today. There are a few problems though.
|Court ladies wearing qipao|
|A modern cheongsam [photo by Robbie Sproule]|
|Hanfu clothing designs proposed for use during the Beijing Olympics|
I like Chinese clothes (I like Japanese clothes too, but don't tell the wife) and I think it's a terrible shame that they've been abandoned and so quickly too. When Japan and Korea have managed to retain their own traditional dress it's a pity that China hasn't. So hopefully the hanfu movement will prove successful and we'll see Chinese people actually wearing their own clothes.