QIPAO – A DRESS, AN IDENTITY, OR A SOURCE OF CULTURAL CONFLICT?

Written by Uyen Le-Khuc

On April 23, a US teen under the name Keziah sparked ‘cultural appropriation’ row on Twitter, after she posted a photo of her going to her prom in a qipao. After the photo was uploaded, Twitter user Jeremy Lam tweeted a response to her post: “My culture is NOT your… prom dress”. The photo caused a furore among the Chinese-American community in the US, with many accusing Keziah of appropriating the qipao.

Why should people argue about a clothing item?

Because to many Chinese-American, the qipao represents their cultural identity. While this is not the first time a qipao has been worn as a prom dress, the reason why Jeremy Lam reacted so strongly was because the person wearing the dress is ‘white’. The discussion boiled down to cultural conflicts, just as Twitter Roses-are-red summarised “[Chinese-American] are specifically taught that we gotta hide our Chinese identity and assimilate to white culture and then some white chick with a shallow appreciation of Chinese culture gets to wear a qipao and suddenly it’s cool and quirky.”

Meanwhile, another line of arguments rebuked Lam’s indignant post, citing that the garment was introduced by the Manchus, an ethnic minority group from China’s northeast – implying that the dress was itself appropriated by the majority Han Chinese. Furthermore, mainland Chinese also voiced out how the photo should be appreciated instead of criticised, as it showed that Chinese culture was recognised by many in other countries.

Above all, we can see that visceral reactions from both sides suggest that Chinese-white relations is only one of many factors forming attitudes to Chinese culture in the US. Chinese migration from the mainland is redefining what it means to be Chinese-American. This latest debate is a sure sign that the process is creating anxieties for many.

(Featured photo from usatoday.com)

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