World Expo Threatens Shanghai Pajama Culture

March 8, 2010 § 3 Comments

Wouldn't want to be the cop that has to take this lady in. (Image from Steven Chow's Kung Fu Hustle)

Apparently wearing PJs out on the streets at any hour of the day has long been a part of Shanghai culture. That I haven’t at all noticed this trend during the two weeks that I have been here is probably a sign that the government’s anti-pajama campaign is working. In preparation for the World Expo, starting here in May, the government launched an anti-pajama campaign that parades the slogan “No pajamas in public–Be civilized for the Expo”.

According to
The South China Morning Post reports that the city’s Qiba neighborhood “has mobilized neighborhood committee officials and volunteers since July to talk people out of the habit of wearing pajamas in public.”
The government is concerned that the sight of Shanghai residents–particularly the grown-ups and elderly-dressed in colorful, patterned PJs in broad daylight jeopardizes the desired image China wants to present during the Expo. As host nation, China understandably and predictably wants to come off to its visitors from across the globe as sophisticated, modern, powerful. But they’re approaching this matter in the wrong way. Don’t fault the pajama people. Here’s where it would have been politically beneficial to exercise some national hubris: Hell yeah, we wear pajamas here without giving jack about what time of the day it is. We do things differently here. And if you got a problem with it, you better learn to deal because we aren’t changing.

If China took that attitude toward Shanghai’s pajama culture, people would return to their home countries with stories about how unique, practical and smart Shanghai and Chinese culture is: It’s okay to wear your pajamas out in public there! They look so comfortable, and free. Not to mention, their pajamas are so cute. How come we don’t do stuff like that here? Shanghai’s pajama culture would be the envy of the people of the world. But by policing what people wear in public, China missed an opportunity to be a trendsetter.

Justin Guariglia, author of the photography book Planet Shanghai, laments the death of Shanghai’s pajama culture:
“…Shanghai has moved one step closer to looking like every other major city in the world. In the process, it has lost a really unique and fun slice of culture which put a badly needed face on China, which the West primarily knows only for cheap labor, cheap manufacturing, pollution, and, recently, being their creditor.”
Shanghai pajama culture is dead, but not lost. It has been documented by photographers both professional and amateur. See Flickr, National Geographic, and Guariglia’s photos from Planet Shanghai.



§ 3 Responses to World Expo Threatens Shanghai Pajama Culture

  • Madeline says:

    That’s too bad people aren’t wearing their pjs out anymore. They look so darn cute!

  • Allison says:

    I love PJs! I wish I can wear it all the time..I guess I kind of do ;).

    Makes me sad they don’t let people’s creativity and diversity show. It will only hurt them in the long run.

  • Aria says:

    Bummer this is seen as a negative- but maybe the publicity will inspire others worldwide to start wearing pjs in honor… maybe next week my co-workers will see a different side 🙂

    miss you lovely Kim! so happy to see a little bit of your life there now!

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