1. “Is it appropriation for me, someone not connected to or invited into Chinese culture, to wear a qipao/Cheongsam?”
YES. YES. YES.
Is this a question? Why would you wear Chinese traditional garb just for the ~aesthetic~? And why is my culture your aesthetic? (Please don’t tell me you have a Tumblr full of generically “Asian” schoolgirls with straight black hair and dead expressions.)
Furthermore, if you’re Eastern Asian and don’t hold any ties with the qipao – this can get kind of messy and confusing, decide carefully – then don’t wear our traditional clothing, either!
2. “But they’re cheap, and Chinese people sell them to tourists all the time!”
Poor shop owners who make their living off of selling kitschy shit to tourists don’t give a damn about appropriation or global systems of power, yeah?
3. “But what if I, another POC, want to wear one?”
If you’re another person of color, you probably have your own problems with appropriation. Is it uncomfortable when non-xxx race people wear dreads, bindis, “chola” makeup, etc…? If any of that is uncomfortable for you, let me just tell you right now how sad I get when I see someone wearing a qipao. Doubly so if I look down and the caption has Chinese characters taken from google translate.
I trust someone who is more likely to have experiences being on my end of appropriation to see where I’m coming from, so please apply the same way of thinking to my culture. Asians absolutely do benefit from anti-blackness and racism, but we also share some of the struggles that you do.
4. “But if they’re not actively stereotyping Chinese people, it’s alright, isn’t it?”
Well, simply put, no. Chinese fashion is relegated to the category of “ethnic”, and it feeds into orientalism which, of course, actively feeds into fetishism and stereotyping. When someone with no connection to the qipao wears it, they capitalize off our culture and remove asian people from the picture. It’s the age-old phrase, “I can’t display my own culture, but you can.” And it sucks.
Also keep in mind, even for us Chinese people, our history is hard to navigate. The qipao is commonly accepted now, and definitely part of our culture, but we must remember that Han people were once forced to wear the qipao by the Manchurians. Some of us know this, more of us should, but it’s very unlikely that an outsider would. Do not conflate one single Chinese culture to China, because China has customs so incredibly diverse it would make your head spin. Not only do we have the North v. the South, we also have the erasure of Han Chinese.
5. “It’s just fashion, can’t you quit being such a stickler?”
It’s not just fashion. It’s every Chinese New Year when I inevitably stay up all night debating whether or not to wear it, fearing that it’s garish. Fearing that someone will think it’s a costume.
It’s having my mom talk to the dressmaker about what she wants. My sister wants a white and silver one. My mom wants a black and red one. It’s middle school, when I’m praying in the backseat to not be Asian anymore, and I certainly don’t want one.
6. “Well, are there ever situations where I CAN wear one?”
I don’t feel comfortable defining “the line.” But I can give you a little rule of thumb, I guess. If someone who is Chinese invites you to wear one, do it. If someone who is Chinese gifts you one, be selective about when/where you wear it.
Don’t wear it to something generically “Asian,” though, because you’re conflating all Asian culture as the same culture. The qipao is a dress marked by its Chinese-ness, and you should be careful not to rob it of that.
7. “Since I can’t make one in real life, is it alright to make fan art of anime characters wearing qipao?”
Ah, just one of my many pet peeves. Don’t even begin to poke your head down the sorry history between Japan and Chinese. Just turn away from this now before you get drawn into the fray. Whenever I see Japanese anime characters drawn in qipao, all I can think of is my grandpa asking me, “Do you have any Japanese classmates? You should never be friends with Japanese people.”
I also silently question if traditional Japanese garb, like kimono, isn’t enough for you. Don’t you realize that it’s super harmful to conflate all Eastern cultures to each other? Like, did you have to specifically draw this character in a qipao with a high leg slit and (in other cases) a little cut out area for the breast? Is it because the qipao has a longer history of sexualization? I literally don’t even want to follow your train of thought.
8. “What if I’m cosplaying/dressing up as a Chinese character?”
Well that sounds pretty sketch already, but I guess if you’re dressing up as a specific character I can be lenient. I would advise against dressing up as a character defined by being Chinese, but use discretion I suppose. Under all circumstances, do not dress up just to be “Asian/Chinese.”
First of all, DO NOT DO YOUR MAKEUP ALL “CHINESE-Y.” Unless it’s your character’s trademark or something, don’t do those straight across, Madame Butterfly eyebrows and stark white foundation! Make sure, if they wear traditional garb, you don’t end up looking like you’re wearing some weird mash-up of China, Japan, and Korea.
Basically, this is the opposite of what you should do:
9. “Look at this super unique qipa-”
Those are ao dai. Please look at this handy infographic while I smile politely.
In short, stop fetishizing my qipao. Stop exaggerating the leg slits, drawing straight eyebrows, and wearing one to your white friend’s wedding. Use your own brain for once, and do some research.
If your “#chinesedress #ulzzang #asian” makes you a purveyor of Chinese culture, then I guess it’s about time I tag all my photos the same way.
(Hint: I never will.)