Nov 26

Shanghai Style: Pajamas in the Great Outdoors

Written by Steve on Thursday, November 26th, 2009 at 7:19 pm
Filed under:culture, General | Tags:, , , ,
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Shanghai PajamasIt seems the long held social custom of Shanghainese to walk down the street in their pajamas is causing some discomfort to the organizers of the Shanghai World Expo scheduled for next year and a campaign has been started by the municipal government to end the practice.

It’s not that unusual to see middle aged women milling around on the street in their pajamas, or even walking to the subway or local shopping mall. So the slogan “No Pajamas in Public – be Civilized for the Expo” has been coined to end what the government feels is uncivilized behavior in a modern, world class city. As China Daily columnist Raymond Zhou said recently in “In Defense of Pajamas”:

“So, it’s not really about whether we like it, but rather about whether we are liked. Again, it’s the quintessential concept of “face” and “saving face”.

Not many Chinese are shocked to see a street full of pajama-wearing pedestrians, but if international visitors feel squeamish about it we should stop doing it. Or so the implied rationale for the crackdown goes.”

The city’s tactic to stamp out street pajama wearers was to create a team of 500 volunteers to use persuasion at bus stops and other venues to convince pajama wearing Shanghainese residents to change their clothes.

The Wall Street Journal had this to say:

“It is also not the first time the Shanghai government attacks the pajama issue. Previous fruitless attempts have mostly served to show that pajamas have become a deeply rooted part of nontang, or old neighborhood, culture in Shanghai.

“Shanghainese have a delicate lifestyle that includes changing to pajamas once they get home. In other cities, they don’t think it is necessary to do that.” says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University. “When cooking and suddenly realizing more spring onions are needed for dinner, they just hurry to the nearby market.”

“At the beginning, people in pajamas didn’t understand our meddling with their business.” says Chen Zhuoya, who is in charge of the propaganda team. But she said that after three months of the campaign, “We do see fewer and fewer people going out in pajamas.”

In the eyes of Fudan University’s Mr. Yu, foreign visitors to the Expo will accept the pajama fashion with tolerance and appreciation: “Why not? It is Shanghai!”

PajamasOver at China Hush, some residents had interesting comments:

“Everyone has been to Shanghai knows that people of Shanghai have the habit of wearing pajamas in public. They can be seen in the alleys, farmers markets, supermarkets, streets even the famous shopping street Nanjing road. Lady wearing patterned pajamas, and a pair of fairly sophisticated leather shoes, goes to buy a pack of slat in the alley, or with her hair full of pin curls taking out the trash. This is seen as a typical picture of Shanghai culture. However, when the bulldozers run over every alley, people still remember the old way of life, but the remaining pajamas habit suddenly becomes an enemy of “the civilized”.

The upcoming 2010 Shanghai World Expo, an event that represents modern civilization can no longer tolerate the ordinary people’s “bad habits”. Only two or three stops away from the World Expo site, Qiba residential community along with all the Expo areas in Pudong, will be sized up using standards of “modern civility”.

Shanghai residents must survive the stares of international eyes, “This is an issue of our country’s face.” Shen Guofang said.”

“None of your business!”

“You are interfering too much!”

When asked about their views on “not going outside wearing pajamas”, some Shanghai aunties still stumbled their feet.

Although the neighborhood was positive about the work at the present stage but they also accepted the fact that some residents had difficulty to change their habits.

“These things simply do not need to be exaggerated. The World Expo is hosted in every country, what is the point of being so excessive!” Across the street from Qiba, in Changsi community building number 37, there is a resident woman often complained, her tone mixed with anger and impatience. In the evening, she was dressed in teddy bear pajamas, a pair of leather sandals and went out to buy bread. The street between Qiba community and Changsi community had a small supermarket bank, clothing store, snack store, restaurants, pharmacy, stationery store and a farmers market etc. Residents only walk a few steps to buy various items required.

Many Shanghainese do not understand why they are required to change out of their pajamas when going shopping in front of their homes? I remember back in the days in the movie “Sleepless Town” wearing pajamas when going outside showed social status. Let’s imagine: a  young lady just going outside to buy a lottery ticket, and she is required to change into her work shirt; a man who works in a state-owned office during his day off, wants to buy the newspaper “Everyone” but discovered it is sold out at the newsstand in front of his house. He forgets he is wearing pajamas, walks 2 more blocks on the street to find newspaper; a middle aged woman wearing a huge hair clip is too lazy to cook for herself, so she walks to the farmers market to get some noodles, (The woman speaks in Shanghainese) “don’t want to change clothes for that.”

There are a wide variety of views, so making Shanghainese taking off their pajamas is like taking off their Shanghai style! Their reasons for going outside wearing pajamas seem to be reasonable: going somewhere not so far, not a formal occasion, not staying outside for too long. Living facilities around the residence are closely integrated, also makes the argument more valid. “If anyone dresses up to go to the vegetable market, they will be the ones who stand out.” In their eyes, lazy nature living is part of the Shanghai Style.”

Finally, the Educational CyberPlayGround added their two cents:

For a still visibly large number of Shanghainese, wearing pyjamas outside has become more a way of life than a fashion statement, and to outsiders, the phenomenon is part of the city’s charm.

Guo, however, called pyjama-wearers “visual pollution” and a public embarrassment to the city.

But some residents still argue wearing pyjamas is perfectly acceptable.

“Pyjamas are also a type of clothes. It’s comfortable, and it’s no big deal since everyone wears them outside,” a retiree surnamed Ge was quoted as saying.

Rixin’s pyjama purge campaign is not the first of its kind. In the 1990s Shanghai officials put up signs and ran education campaigns to tell people not to stroll around in night gowns. The campaign’s managers eventually gave up.”

I always enjoyed this aspect of life in Shanghai. I saw it as a distinct cultural trait that harmed no one and made Shanghai different from other cosmopolitan cities. My feeling is that it’ll disappear for the World Expo but re-appear just as soon as the Expo ends.

In the months before the APEC conference was to be held in Shanghai, hundreds of traffic officers suddenly appeared at every major street corner to force pedestrians to obey crossing signals. I got a kick as every red traffic light saw at least two or three people try to get across the intersection while the traffic officer blew that whistle and forced them back. It was great entertainment! But once the conference ended, the traffic officers disappeared and Shanghainese went back to the usual way of ignoring lights, crosswalks and any other method of getting them to obey crossing signals. That was fine for me; I routinely did what they did and crossed when it was clear, sometimes one lane at a time as cars whizzed past me.

What do you think of the great pajama controversy? Do you think it’s a quaint local habit or uncivilized behavior? Do you feel the practice needs to end for the World Expo? Once the Expo is over, do you believe the practice will stay dead or rise from the ashes and Shanghainese return to their street pajama loving ways??

There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 55042.

23 Responses to “Shanghai Style: Pajamas in the Great Outdoors”

  1. Stinky Says:

    Pajamas in public. Big deal. I can think of a few other things that the Chinese should be more embarrassed about.

  2. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Didn’t the local Beijing government also offer a crash course in “civility” before the Olympics? Does anyone know how that went?

    Do Shanghainese tend to sleep in the buff? Otherwise, if they wear their PJ’s out on the town then crawl into bed, it’d be like me crawling into bed with T shirt and jeans. But if that’s their thing, then that’s their thing. And if I went to the expo and saw PJs on the street, well, that’s Shanghai, and I should just deal with it. If I wanted the locals there to look like the people of a Canadian city, then I should’ve just stayed in a Canadian city.

    Besides, wearing PJ’s on the street is not unsanitary for the public. Quite different from other habits like spitting etc.

  3. BMY Says:

    There is a reason that we northerners call southerners 南蛮子(southern barbarian ). I always went out with my suit on to buy tomato and put them into my leather brief case.
    Shanghai government has my full support of ending the uncivilized practice.

  4. hohhot Says:

    Colorful pajama is a good national costume, if you accept it, it can be as elegant as kimono. If pajama is accept outdoors, it will benefit not only pajama factories, but also fashion and textile industries, maybe finally Chinese will have a national costume of their own, as many other ethnic groups

  5. Joyce Lau Says:

    I love pajamas. All power to the Shanghai people! They should walk around in whatever they want.
    Once, I had an American friend over and he stayed quite late.
    “Do you mind if I change into pajamas?” I asked. (This was not a come-on, since my husband was there too)
    I changed into (totally unsexy) Chinese-styled pajamas with long sleeves and pants, with pink and white stripes. My guest laughed and laughed at me, but I didn’t care.
    My husband, who is a Westerner, is ridiculous.
    I bought him some nice Hong Kong-styled striped pajamas, which he wears at home.
    But each time he goes out to smoke (just outside our door) he changes into jeans and a T-shirt. He’s changed back and forth 3 times tonight.
    Just go outside in your pajamas! I say. Who cares what the neighbors think?

  6. Raj Says:

    Whilst I found it strange the first time I saw it, I can’t say as I think it’s a big deal. People who care are overly sensitive. It’s not like this is a recent thing started by tramps.

    If some people want to stop this tradition for the expo because they’re worried it will damage Shanghai’s image, they should bring in a law to say that all Shanghai citizens must wear business suits and black shoes for the duration of the expo. The Shanghai government can pay – I’m sure they have deep pockets and can get Shanghai tailors to whip out cheap suits at cost.

  7. real name Says:

    just general btw. to costume changes

  8. Berlin Says:

    Let them wear what they like, as long as they wear something.

    I don’t think government has any business in people’s wardrobe. Maybe someone in Shanghai should organize a “pajama day” as kids in the US sometimes have. These kids simply love it. Their teachers too.

  9. TonyP4 Says:

    Act like the Roman while in Rome. When in SH or most parts of China, wear pj. However, when in outside China, observe local custom. In US, it is ok to wear tight sports shirt and short to reveal the body, but not pj – strange custom? You bet.

    The only exception is no fatso should wear tight dress. 🙂

  10. Rhan Says:

    I was once in Dongguan and notice there are quite a number of guys walking on the street and shopping complex baring their chest swaying a hand fan. I think this is perhaps the result of fast pace development. Monkey that used to be in the jungle opposite my housing estate is now sharing the same hangout with us.

    Btw, does this have anything to do with human rights or animal rights?

  11. Allen Says:

    @Berlin #8,

    You wrote:

    Let them wear what they like, as long as they wear something.

    Why the qualification about wearing something? If being naked becomes all of a sudden the rage with the local communities of Shanghai, I’d say we ought let them be – the Expo notwithstanding! 😉

  12. Wukailong Says:

    @Allen: “If being naked becomes all of a sudden the rage with the local communities of Shanghai, I’d say we ought let them be”

    Allen, you’ve been in the Bay Area for too long! 🙂

  13. Allen Says:

    @WKL #12,

    If the Shanghai people can be as sure of their own identity as the Bay Area people (weird though they may be), we wouldn’t have this pajama controversy in the first place!

  14. Steve Says:

    @ Allen #11: Native tribesmen wandering the Shanghai jungles? Sounds like a National Geographic special! 😉

    So far, outside of BMY no one else seems to have a problem with Shanghainese wearing pajamas in public. It appears that none of the foreigners on this blog have a problem with it and none see it as a ‘losing face’ situation for the people there or for China in general. Is there anyone else out there that would like to see the custom eliminated? Why do you think the government is so upset about the practice in the first place? Personally, I had heard about and seen pajama wearing Shanghainese in the past but had never heard a negative comment. I am curious why the local government is so keen on seeing this end.

  15. Cissy Says:

    If underwear (slip=>spaghetti dress) can become a fashion, why not pajamas? I will wear pajamas to Nanjing Road to have a stroll, just to protest against the Pajamas Nazi.

    Even a better idea. I should e-organize a pajama party in people’s square, right in front of the municiple building. Anybody care to join?

  16. Cissy Says:

    I remember last year during the olympics, there is a rule that gave me a good laugh: for women with big legs, please wear dark color stockings.

  17. TonyP4 Says:

    Cissy, everything is relative. I bet the average fat lady in US doubles the size of the average fat lady in China.

    We ask them to stay home, but we would end up in a lawsuit for discriminating fat ladies and violating their human rights. 🙂

  18. hzzz Says:

    I was actually in Shanghai last week, and even in the winter some people wore padded pajamas (some people still don’t have heat in Shanghai) outside. For the most part, the young people don’t wear pajamas outside, it’s mostly the retired who don’t care about fashion and who don’t need to change to go to work. In better neighborhoods you also don’t find many people wearing pjs outside.

    I would say it’s equivalent of people wearing sweat pants/shirts the US. A lot of people wear them to sleep and go out in them as well. In fact, Victoria’s Secret has a line of pajama looking sweat pants which its trying to push towards late teens and I have seen tons of people wearing them in the malls.

    Finally, for those who are wondering the pj wearing Shanghaiese typically have 2-3 sets of pajamas. They would go to sleep in one set and go out in the same set. But at the night they would switch to a new set and wash the set which they went out with during the day.

  19. arsent Says:

    Shanghai is not the whole of China, despite what Mr. Zhou thinks… this isn’t normal outside of Shanghai.

  20. ECP Says:

    Great job with this story! Used to be people were poor – really really poor. Only able to afford 1 set of clothes. Work and sleep in one set only. Wore them till they fell off your back. Terrible Poverty. When you made enough money to be able to afford a 2nd set of clothes it would be for sleeping.
    Originally walking in you sleeping clothes was to show off – show that you were rich enough to have a 2nd set. Something to be envied by your neighbor.
    This is essentially the origin of pj’s. To show off your wealth. But . . . this really isn’t a measure of status but uneducated dirt poor farmers / workers who really didn’t understand what it means to have wealth. This is the root of the cultural practice. However it started it is still a wonderful quirky expression of culture and it would be a shame to loose it.
    ~ Educational CyberPlayGround

  21. Ibn Warraq Says:

    Muslims wear ugly pijamas all the time, as mini-muhammads. Civility is not part of their education or pseudo-culture, nor is for chinese either. Social behaviour cannot be instantly or artificially instilled to socially retarded segments of population; a few centuries may help.

  22. Chan Says:

    I think it’s a funny tradition, and they should be allowed and even encouraged to continue it despite what the Dictators in Government say! Pajamas in the streets is part of what makes Shanghi unique!


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