The Chinese are proud of the cultural appropriation of the qipao; liberal media criticize cyberbullying of its American wearer

May 3, 2018 • 1:00 pm

Amazingly, pushback in the liberal U.S. media has begun against the social-media nastiness heaped on Utah teenager Keziah Daum for wearing a qipao, a form-fitting Chinese dress, to her senior prom (see here and here). Although of course the New York Times won’t editorialize against cultural appropriation, they did publish this article, reporting the furor in the U.S. But that furor didn’t take place in China, as the Chinese were either baffled by the reaction on American social media or were proud of Daum for appropriating “their” culture. (It’s likely that the qipao was in fact influenced by Western fashion.) Click on the article below to see what the Times said:

An excerpt:

When the furor reached Asia, though, many seemed to be scratching their heads. Far from being critical of Ms. Daum, who is not Chinese, many people in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan proclaimed her choice of the traditional high-necked dress as a victory for Chinese culture.

“I am very proud to have our culture recognized by people in other countries,” said someone called Snail Trail, commenting on a post of the Utah episode by a popular account on WeChat, the messaging and social media platform, that had been read more than 100,000 times.

“It’s ridiculous to criticize this as cultural appropriation,” Zhou Yijun, a Hong Kong-based cultural commentator, said in a telephone interview. “From the perspective of a Chinese person, if a foreign woman wears a qipao and thinks she looks pretty, then why shouldn’t she wear it?”

If anything, the uproar surrounding Ms. Daum’s dress prompted many Chinese to reflect on examples of cultural appropriation in their own country.


h/t: Bill, Greg Mayer

47 thoughts on “The Chinese are proud of the cultural appropriation of the qipao; liberal media criticize cyberbullying of its American wearer

  1. It may be worth noting here that while Chinese-Americans loathe the Charlie Chan detective stories (somewhat understandably), they are hugely popular….in China!
    Indeed, a prominent private detective agency in Taiwan was founded by a fellow who as a teenager adored the Charlie Chan stories.

    1. Local cultural majorities tend (IMO) to be less sensitive about jokes at their own (or perceived own) expense. The Chinese don’t care about Charlie Chang the same way the vast majority of Americans see nothing wrong with a ‘Vikings’ mascot. Are they stereotypes? Sure. Do they pose any threat to social standing or power? Nope.

  2. I’ve been saying for a long time that all it takes is for someone to not give in to the mob, to not grovel and apologize for living. No celebrity or politician has the guts. A 17 year did. Bravo for her.

  3. I don’t think Volokh is a semi-Marxist. He is a Libertarian who has described himself as a (somewhat reluctant) Republican.

  4. “…Eugene Volokh, a semi-Marxist…”

    WHUH? We libertarians have been claiming Volokh as our own since, like, forever. Whence any reference to Marxism in relation to him?

  5. It’s a good thing that Chinese nationals weren’t outraged by this cultural appropriation because that would’ve appropriation of American hipster culture.

  6. “Recreational Outrage” is the best term I’ve ever heard to describe this idiocy. I’m going to have to appropriate that term. Brilliant!

    1. Yang says, “she’s a teenager — one whose interest in other cultures could easily be turned into respect, mutual exchange and positive engagement.”
      What a condescending twit! How the heck does he know that those aren’t the very reasons why she wore the dress?

      1. Oops – I didn’t mean for that comment to be a reply to yours. But I do fully agree… “recreational outrage” is an awesome term!

      2. Or by blasting her with vitriol it could be turned into fear and avoidance, and her world could become a little more drab.

        That’s the lesson outrage culture really teaches: Be less worldly, stay cloistered, keep to yourself and your “kind.”

    2. Yes. It appears it is not matter of how they feel, it is more about how being outraged</i< makes them feel. And it apparently makes them feel good.

  7. I much rather break bread with the unoriginal ‘bro’ dressed in a sombrero and with a big mustache and tequila bottle during Halloween than the whiny little ___ trying to prohibit the costume. (I’m Mexican)

  8. And I went down to the demonstration
    To get my fair share of abuse
    Singin’, ‘We’re gonna vent our frustration
    If we don’t, we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse’.

    From a great Rolling Stones song. I think the RS had this phenomenon figured out years ago.

  9. Without cultural appropriation the world would be a more drab and dreary place.

    We wouldn’t have great works of art like Akira Kurosawa’s film Ran – a combination of legends of Japanese daimyō Mōri Motonari and Shakespeare’s play King Lear.

    We wouldn’t have scotch’s or Irish whiskey’s aged in rum barrels from the Caribbean or bourbon barrels from the U.S.

    Food would be so bland without: black pepper native to India, mustard native to Southern Europe the Middle East and North Africa, rosemary native to the Mediterranean, basil native to central Africa and Southeast Asia, coriander native to southern Europe and North Africa, dill native to the Mediterranean and southern Russia.

    The list of fruits, vegetables, spices, seafood, meats, cheeses, recipes, and sweets from around the world is looooong and delicious.

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    1. I forgot to mention The Magnificent Seven, based on Akira Kurosawa’s film Seven Samurai.

      Both films are are fantastic and when you compare and contrast them, the trivial things are different – the clothes, the weapons, the buildings – but the important things are the same – the people.

      That this story set centuries earlier in one one culture on the other side of the world to another culture and time indicates that we are more alike than we are different.

      1. A Fistfull of Dollars is based on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo too. And, of course, Star Wars draws a lot upon The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro.

        The reason why Kurosawa is more easily adaptable for Western audiences than, say, Ozu or Mizoguchi (equally brilliant film makers) is that Kurosawa drew upon Western sources himself.c

        I know more about Japanese culture than China but they don’t seem to get hung up on cultural appropriation the same way Japanese Americans do. It’s the same way with Irish Americans who idolized the IRA without ever setting foot in Ireland. There’s an element of performativity to their ethnicity; an embrace of cultural stereotypes that looks cartoonish to those who actually live in the countries the cultural puritans claim to be defending.

        1. And in turn Yojimbo is somewhat based on Hammett’s Red Harvest. Kurosawa was explicit about wanting to adapt Western stuff for Japan.

        2. A Fistful of Dollars? The archetypal spaghetti western. (‘Spaghetti’ western? It was shot in Spain. I didn’t know the Spanish were into spaghetti…)

          Now *there’s* cultural appropriation for you!!!


    2. Tomatoes are another new world fruit. There’s essentially no Italian cooking as we know it today without appropriation of native American foods.

      1. There was a great NPR bit a few years ago about the cuisine of Macau (a Chinese province with a very unique culinary history) that I shall try to find the link for.

        1. I bet that Macao cuisine has a strong Portuguese influence.
          A few years ago, a friend of mine in Italy had a visit from a customer who lived in Japan. The customer brought a special cake in a nice wrapping. When we ate it, she said it was a type of cake that the Portuguese brought to Japan years ago (at the time of the Shogun). I looked at the cake and then I realised that it was much the same as Madeira cake which is eaten with the fortified wine.
          Macao was run by the Portuguese from the 16th century until a few years back.

          The Portuguese went everywhere: they even brought the ukulele to Hawaii and Guinea fowl to Turkey.
          Old Portuguese guitar (only surviving example of that period: very small):

          1. The Portuguese are responsible for that great “world food”, curry, too. Took spices from South America and brought them to India, south-east Asia, Japan, etc. And *they* in turn brought back to Europe, etc.

            1. I didn’t know about the curry spices. I seem to remember that, before expanding to the Americas, the Spanish had run up serious debts partly due to excessive importation of spices (from the East?). No fridges in those days so spices helped to keep food edible. The Portuguese may have had the same problem: in any case they had a ready market nextdoor. The Portuguese and Spanish did not always get on too well and Portugal was often allied with Britain (its oldest ally even now). Britain was likely trading tin with the Mediterranean via Portugal (and maybe Phoenecians) right back to the Bronze age.
              The history of spices is very interesting: the Italian word “droga” originally means spice. Plants and spices from South America brought many medicines to Europe too.

  10. I am lately liking the term ‘cultural segregationists‘ as a label for those who attack this sort of harmless borrowing from other cultures. This label makes clear the true nature those nattering nabobs of negativism.

  11. In fairness I think many Chinese-Americans also don’t care about the dress. It’s just the subculture of preening, uber-woke offense-seekers who perpetuate a call-out culture over trivialities.

  12. Hi,

    I wondered if this is an example of cultural appropriation – Italian opera played by Asian musicians for an Asian audience. I think the conductor is Indonesian, the orchestra Taiwanese, but I might be misremembering. My daughter’s youth orchestra played this piece. Were they wrong to do so — most of them were not of Italian ancestry?

    Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, by Pietro Mascagni..

  13. Some years ago, I had some friends in the bustling Milanese Chinese quarter of Paolo Sarpi, many coming from the Republic of China.
    Do you know what? Some of the men would often wear suits. Some of them would even wear ties!

    They also had the habit of “appropriating” an Italian name for convenience.
    One friend was given/had taken the nickname “Michelangelo” because he worked as a wood-carver for Chinese restaurant screen paneling.
    Another, nicknamed Maria, was a seamstress and made me a nice topcoat which looked extremely Chinese and which I still have as a souvenir.

    As the Italians say: “Tutto fa brodo” (It all goes in the soup) meaning “It’s all good”.

  14. Isn’t the whole idea of cultural appropriation rooted in tribalism? Tribalism is often the thing that leads to armed conflict. According to the data presented in Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, cultural exchange, trade and communication have been major influences in decreasing violence in the world over millenia.

  15. Volokh was properly exercised by an article in Salon by Randa Jarrar called “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers” (she also wrote a sequel, “Why I still can’t stand white belly dancers“). You don’t even have to read the Salon pieces to know what they say.

    Lol – this is a good example of where ‘cultural’ lines break down. I am half Arab and grew up around a relatively close Arab community. I went to weddings and haflis where women belly danced. I feel regretful saying this, but I was bored, dragged there by my parents, fully Americanized, but did enjoy dressing up as a belly dancer for Halloween while in college, when literally my only thought on the subject was that it would impress boys who would think it was exotic, and that it reminded me of the Super Thug “What What” video that I thought was cool. I mean is that all good because I’m an Arab? Or is it possible that intentions don’t actually align with race in many cases? I.e., that someone who studies the history of belly dancing and appreciates it as an art was probably more on the high road than I was at 19 when I thought “Free shots!”, regardless of whatever race either of us are/were?

    I feel I should stop here, lest I give into the temptations of ‘recreational outrage’ myself (in an uncertain world, it does feel strangely clarifying and stabilizing to know that however many infinite number of things you *don’t know, you can look at something and know for certain “Yeah, that is some bull.” Seeing as how the media has gone a fairly honorable route with this story after the initial brouhaha, I feel I should just acknowledge and appreciate that, and move on. I was waiting for doubling down and digging in of heels, and I’m pleasantly surprised that this doesn’t seem to be the case. If it’s just silly teens being silly teens well – hey, I was running around in a belly dancer Superthug video Halloween costume at that age, I can’t really talk!

  16. In the days of the LaserDisc, my favourite was Kyoto Four Seasons.

    I suppose it would not now sell in the US because what could be worse cultural appropriation than Vivaldi played on European instruments in Kyoto by a Japanese orchestra and a Japanese conductor, published by Sony.

    Worse still, on the same disc was the Four Seasons played on Japanese instruments.

    Oh the temerity of the Japanese.

  17. Before you know it, white boys will be listening to the coloured radio and singing that rock and roll!

  18. “It was only in the 1920s and ’30s, when Western influence began seeping into China, that the qipao was reinvented to become the seductive, body-hugging dress that many think of today.”

    So, this is actually a case of an American who was culturally appropriating the Chinese who were culturally appropriating American fashion in the first place. I’m confused about who I should be outraged at…

    1. I’m deeply offended by his parents’ cultural appropriation of my name. As PCC(E) probably is by my parents appropriating the name of a Jewish prophet for me. Fortunately, my surname is not cultural appropriation because we found I do have an ancestor who was from Portugal.

  19. Recently on F*cebook my cousin posted an article about a white schoolteacher dragging a young black student from a school bus and concluded it was due to racism. While I was horrified at the event, I asked her how she knew it was a race-motivated act? She said that, “sadly, the statistics tell us when a white teacher uses violence against a black child, it is overwhelmingly likely to be based on race.”

    Like Volokh, I asked her if she knew a word that captured the idea that we could know why someone did something simply by looking at his skin color. But apparently these statistics apply only in certain cases…

  20. The (PRC) Chinese government at least *encourages* adoption of cultural practices from there. That’s what the Confucius Institutes are for, after all! (Modelled, of course, on the Goethe Institut and the Alliance Francaise.)

  21. Really good followup in The Atlantic skewers the who ides of cultural appropriation.

    David Frum says, “If it’s wrong for one culture to borrow from another, then it was wrong to invent the cheongsam in the first place—because not only did the garment’s shape originate outside China, but so, too, did the garment’s purposes. It was precisely because they appreciated that they were importing Western ideas about women that the inventors of the cheongsam adapted a Western shape. They took something foreign and made it something domestic, in a pattern that has repeated itself in endless variations since the Neolithic period.

    The policemen of cultural appropriation do not think that way. They have a morality tale to tell, one of Western victimization of non-Western peoples—a victimization so extreme that it is triggered by a Western girl’s purchase of a Chinese dress designed precisely so that Chinese girls could live more like Western girls.”

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