Since late July, committee head Shen Guofang’s (沈国芳) had one more thing on his work list: to persuade the community residents not to wear pajamas when they go outside.
Shen is the “Alley President” of Shanghai Pudong New Area Changlidong road Qiba residential community. At this stage, his work is divided into two parts, one is managing residential district daily affairs, and the second is “Welcoming the World Expo”. The activity of “Not going outside wearing pajamas, become a World Expo civilized person” is one of the elements in the second part.
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.
Qiba residential district’s “civilized dress persuasion team” has activities twice a week, each is one to two hours. Shen Guofang said that the persuasion team has 10 volunteers, each wearing a red silk belt. They are dressed neatly and stand at the entrance of the residential community. When they see residents going outside wearing pajamas, volunteers approach the residents and dissuade them from going out like that.
“The volunteers we have chosen are residents who have relatively high awareness, love the residential community and care more about the World Expo.” Shen Guofang said.
“In just over an hour, hundreds of residents already accepted our persuasion, this event was very effective” Qiba’s website recorded the “achievement” of the first day of the activity.
The activity has been carried out for more than two months now, “with good results, the number of people wearing pajamas outside has obviously been reduced.” Shen was satisfied.
For those who turn back the other way once they see the persuasion team, Shen thought that “avoid avoid” also shows improvement, at least they have civilized consciousness.
Around the same time, Pudong new district World Expo site’s neighborhood committees all cracked down on the dress issue. Shanggang community, Chuanxin community and Beicai community and so on, all carried out similar activities.
Su Meizhi (苏美芝) is one of the members of the “civilized dress persuasion team”. She is in charge of the women and family planning (China’s policy of only one child per family) in the neighborhood committee. Prior to engaging in the persuasion work, Su Meizhi said she herself had the habit of wearing pajamas going outside. But after persuasion team training, she paid more attention to her dress code, also persuaded her family not to wear pajamas going outside.
Neighborhood staff have changed their views, and then are persuading more people to change their views as well. However years of habit is not easy to shake. So, Shen Guofang thought of many creative ways.
One of them is to incorporate children to join the volunteer team during summer breaks .
“They hold their uncle and aunt’s hands and say ‘auntie (uncle), you cannot wear pajamas to go out on the street.’ When people hear this they usually are very moved, for even children are persuading them and they feel more embarrassed.”
Second is to emphasize the seriousness and significance of the World Expo in order to achieve a deterrent effect.
“During the World Expo, the foreigners will come out from events holding their cameras into residential areas, it is very possible they will come to our community.” “We are the masters. Even small things when putting on the table become big deal”, we cannot disgrace Shanghai.
Number three, use acquaintances and pay attention to the choice of words.
“If you are too serious when talking to people about this issue, people sometimes cannot accept.” Shen Guofang said. In this regard, his approach is to “sidetrack” and “joke”.
For example, up ahead comes an old acquaintance wearing pajamas, Shen Guofang will go up and say “Hey, where are you going ah?” “To buy food ah?” “Huh, how come you come out wearing these?” “Can’t wear this next time anymore, this clothes doesn’t look good, go back and change.” The tact is based on circling around and then going back to the subject of wearing pajamas.
Su Meizhi even works outside of her hours. For some residents, her first attempts to change their minds would fail, but she would repeatedly talk to them, and reason with them privately; of course, her tone was soft, and her face was with a smile.
“In an international metropolis, the least you can do is to dress well. It’s not that you must wear brand name, but you must be dignified, and make a clear distinction between inside and outside (of your home), this can be an indicator of the quality of the residents.” Su Meizhi said.
What’s been taken off is not pajamas, it’s freedom
“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 being so excessive!” Across 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 are they required to change out of their pajamas when going shopping in front of their homes? I remember back 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.
While the habit of wearing pajamas is long and strong, it is a culture label. In the old society, two types of people usually wear pajamas in public. One is rich people, showing off their leisurely lifestyle. The other is people of entertainment, such as dancers, to display charm. After the founding of PRC, pajamas gained more popularity. In the 70’s Shanghai pajamas on the streets became the city scenery, it was a fashionable trend, “pajamas are beautiful;” “pajamas show our more comfortable lives.” These were the thoughts of people who followed the trend at the time.
After the ear of pajamas being trendy, what was left became habit, plus the traditional living space was small, so the convenient pajamas stayed. The most traditional residential buildings in Shanghai were the Shikumen or the alley housing. Alleys crowded with residents are just like what it is described in “72 tenants,” “Rooms were small like the white pigeon holes, it was like the tenants were living in a cage”. Whether you knew each other or not, each household pulled a curtain and declared their own space. There was no clear distinction between public space and private space, therefore people’s clothes were not categorized as such. In Stephen Chow’s movie “Kongfu hustle” the “Pig cage village” is such scene. The landlady played by Yuan Qiu had a head full of perm rollers, and her plump body was wrapped in large oversized pajamas.
That’s right, this is how everyone remembered the most common dress of an auntie in the Shanghai alley.
“Shanghai Online” (www.online.sh.cn) had a survey with the title “Shanghainese love to wear pajamas on the street, what do you think?” (Started at July 20th 2009) survey result showed the most common view was “low class, uncivil”, but only had 42.03% of the votes. “Very normal, not uncivil, it’s just convenient” had 33.95% of the votes, and “Shanghainese wearing pajamas on the street is very normal, if you are not use to looking at it, then stop looking at it.” had 24.02% of the votes. So more than half of the people do not oppose wearing pajamas.
As a native of Shanghai, Li Hoiyan is one of the people who do not oppose wearing pajamas on the street. She lived in the alleys for nearly 14 years. Although Li feels her aunties wearing pajamas outside is a bit indecent, but that familiar and warm feeling also makes her like it. As for the Qiba’s civilized persuasion activities Li Hoiyan thinks that they are making a fuss over nothing, that it’s “a bit silly”, “Do I need someone to manage what I wear?” Also “just because of the World Expo to engage in such activity is a bit fake.”
As for the issue of shame, this native Shanghainese born in the 80’s said “As long as we (people of Shanghai) do not feel ashamed ourselves, then we are not causing anyone to lose face. I guess the people (who made this proposal), experts and officials all are not Shanghainese.”
A number of netizens also opposed the civilized dress persuasion activities. A post on Tianya discussed the Shanghai pajama-wearing custom. Some netizens after watching the news on persuasion activities said, “Manyold grannies were not wearing pajamas, just some loose and relaxed clothes. A gang of neighborhood committee people then surrounded and criticized granny. It was unfair.”
It seems that the Shanghai World Expo modern civility has to face the most powerful opponent: freedom of dress code.
Forcing into shape the citizen’s characters?
This tug of war on the dress issue of Shanghai has been around for a few years now.
A resident at Qiba community named Ju still remembered clearly when the mayor Yu Zhengshen (俞正声) was interviewed by the Hong Kong reporter Wu xiaoli (吴小莉). He recalled the mayor saying, “Organizing the World Expo has three planed programs, in comparison with the plans of restoring city’s appearance and improving city services, the progress on civilizing Shanghai residents was too slow. Wearing pajamas was one of the bad habits Mayor Yu was talking about.
The president of Institute for Social Development, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Yang Xiong (杨雄) in 2006 conducted the “Shanghai Family Survey”, the survey showed that “the phenomena of wearing pajamas outside has not been significantly improved. 16.5% of the people said they or family members often wear pajamas going outside, 25% said sometimes.” The seriousness of the problem of wearing pajamas had been repeatedly mentioned.
After the publication of the report, it has been widely cited in the international media, which makes Yang Xiong feel that Shanghai’s pajamas might damage its international image. A foreign student in Shanghai went to him and said his mother saw this report in England and said she was very surprised “People in Shanghai still wear pajamas going outside”. the mother had said and then showed the newspapers to the foreign student in Shanghai.
“Foreigners think that is very big news, and they are very concerned about it.” Yang Xiong said.
As for another negative aspect of pajamas on the streets, Zhang Nian (张念) from Tongji University, the Institute of Cultural Criticism thinks “the rationality of the citizens is to keep caring about other people’s presence while the relative indifference of this care is reflected in the sense of distance. However, pajamas as a signal abolish the public rational sense of distance, which makes strangers feel discomfort.”
In recent years, with the improvement of living standards, the dress issue in the city has gradually evolved into the issue of civility. Shanghai media and all levels of government propaganda have never laid to rest on the issue of pajamas. But the persuasion work driven by World Expo, the intensity was significantly greater than in the past, but the disputes were also much more vigorous.
Although the neighborhood committees are not as strict as the police catching drivers running a red light, in the eyes of the scholars, grassroots persuasion activities organized by the government are still very forceful.
In Yang Xiong’s view, wearing pajamas on the streets is inconsistent with international etiquette and it should be changed. “But it also cannot be said to be a moral issue, not even to be said as an issue with people’s civility in Shanghai. Sometimes we amplify the problems.”
Hu Shoujun (胡守钧) a professor of Sociology at Fudan University said, “Neighborhood committee can advocate not wearing pajamas to go outside, but they have no rights to prohibit or disguise their prohibition activities as persuasion. Although he himself is strongly opposed to wearing pajamas outside, he is also opposed to the mandatory or quasi-mandatory banning of pajamas on the street. “For example, back then the Down to the Countryside Movement was not mandatory. But ‘I advise you to go, go to classes, learn about Chairman Mao’s works….’ After repeated nagging, we agreed to go. I think it is bad If we follow these kind of things.”
Zhang Nian thinks that traditional liberalism defines freedom on two fronts for individual rights: one is that it is voluntary, and second, that it does not constitute harm to others. The “others” here can also be the public. From these two fronts, the danger of wearing pajamas on the street is not significant. “The government agencies should be models of public characters, rather than forcing citizens to shape the public characters.”
“The World Expo will be in a more satisfactory state if on one hand, the efficiency and the level of governance according to the law is improved, and on the other hand the self-awareness of the residents is improved. The government should not control too much, too detailed, too small of issues and try to do everything, or else the autonomous sense of community will disappear. We must utilize the enthusiasm of each resident to be proud to participate in the World Expo.” Hu Shoujun (胡守钧) said.
Approximately one or two hours away from the Expo area, Rixing residence in Hongkou district as early as end of last year’s 500 day countdown to World Expo in Shanghai, already took the initiative to dissuade the wearing of pajamas in public. Today, the neighborhood committee has been reluctant to talk about this matter. “This is not the main task at hand anymore, every 100 days there is a new initiative, we are following the plan, now we are at the sage of stopping people from running the red light.”
The sign “Don’t go outside wearing pajamas, be a World Expo civilized person” is still standing in front of Qiba residential community. The security room staff said: this sign will stay through the winter, it will be taken down only when there are no more pajamas in public.