May 14, 2010
The Pajama Game Closes in Shanghai
By GAO YUBING
ONE hundred thousand fireworks lighted the sky over Shanghai on April 30, marking the grand opening of the 2010 World Expo. For the city’s many pajama wearers, it also signified the start of a nightmare.
After pumping $58 billion into staging this mega-event, which is expected to attract more than 70 million visitors over the next six months, city authorities started a campaign to suppress one of Shanghai’s most distinctive customs: wearing pajamas in public. Just as Beijing discouraged men from going shirtless during the Olympics, Shanghai wants everyone to wear “proper attire” for the Expo.
Catchy red signs reading “Pajamas don’t go out of the door; be a civilized resident for the Expo” are posted throughout the city. Volunteer “pajama policemen” patrol the neighborhoods, telling pajama wearers to go home and change. Celebrities and socialites appear on TV to promote the idea that sleepwear in public is “backward” and “uncivilized.”
But many residents disagree. Pajamas — not the sexy sleepwear you find at Victoria’s Secret, but loose-fitting, non-revealing PJs made of cotton or polyester — have been popular in Shanghai since the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader, sought to modernize the economy and society by “opening up” to the outside world. The Chinese adopted Western pajamas without fully understanding their context. Most of us had never had any dedicated sleepwear other than old T-shirts and pants. And we thought pajamas were a symbol of wealth and coolness.
Shanghainese began wearing them to bed — but kept them on to walk around the neighborhood, mainly out of convenience. At that time in Shanghai, people lived in crammed, communal-style quarters in shikumen — low-rise townhouses in which families shared toilets and kitchens. Through the 1980s and ’90s, the average person had less than 10 square meters of living area. To change out of one’s pajamas just to walk across the road to the market would be too troublesome and unnecessary.
Besides, as a retiree told a news reporter: “Pajamas are also a type of clothes. It’s comfortable, and it’s no big deal since everyone wears them outside.”
Read the whole op-ed HERE.