It 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!”
Over 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??