News / Asia

Q&A with Sean Metzger: Chinese Fashion in the International Eye

FILE - Retired female workers dressed as red army soldiers sing revolutionary songs.
FILE - Retired female workers dressed as red army soldiers sing revolutionary songs.
The ways people in the west have viewed those in China have changed greatly over the past 150 years thanks to the evolution of communication, photography, news and movies. In large part, fashion and traditional forms of dress have helped to shape opinions and thoughts on culture and politics on the other side of the world.
Sean Metzger, Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in the University of California at Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television, told VOA’s Jim Stevenson about his study of Chinese fashion in his new book, Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race.
Q&A with Sean Metzger: Chinese Fashion in the International Eye
Q&A with Sean Metzger: Chinese Fashion in the International Eyei
|| 0:00:00

METZGER:  One of the things that has been interesting to me is what kinds of new fashions are marking China today. That sort of seems to mark one direction of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream.” One of the opening images in my book from 2005, a Newsweek cover, shows actress Zhang Ziyi in a qípáo-like top over blue jeans, and that kind of hybrid image to me, suggests, or anticipates, Xi Jinping’s drive for a new “Chinese Dream” today - something that’s not quite formulated, something that’s between the west and something more traditionally Chinese.
STEVENSON:  Certainly over the past century, the qípáo has really been an iconic dress that many of us can identify with as Chinese and even to this day in traditional weddings it’s used.
METZGER:  Yes, that’s right, the qípáo emerges in the 1920s and 1930s as a kind of equivalent to what men were wearing. So before, that is before the 1920s, men wore - as a traditional costume – a kind of long gown called changpao. That long gown was a contrast to what women were wearing, which was kind of a long tunic and loose pants.
As a kind of way to make women more equal to men, as women started to enter public discourse for the first time in China, they came up with this new dress. The qípáo as time went on became much more form-fitting, the hem became higher and higher and higher, so its original, kind of political connotations, became much more about women’s sexuality, particularly in the Cold War period.
So in the Cold War period, of course, that meant in Hong Kong, because only in the beginning of the Maoist era in China could you wear a qípáo for official functions. After that time, the Maoist government denied women the ability to wear non-Maoist uniform costumes for official events.
That dress was in vogue for the 1950s and 1960s – very, very provocative with associations. And like many fashion trends, it fell out of favor, and then it was only sort of revived in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
STEVENSON:  Many of our stereotypes of the Chinese come from fashion and dress and what we see in movies and film, and let’s talk a little bit about the beginning of your book and the queue.
METZGER:  One of my readers actually had said the queue actually appears in lots of cultural productions that actually depicts the end of the Qing Dynasty. So anything that’s set in, you know, basically from 1644 to 1911 in China is likely to depict queues.
But in the U.S. that was a little different because we don’t really have so many epics about the Taiping fighting the ruling feudal powers or whatever. What I noticed was that the queue kept occurring in very particular contexts, and that context was at first in melodramas that depicted the Western frontier in the U.S., and then that morphed into what we know as the Western, the film that is. So that became the arc of the chapter.
STEVENSON:  The Mao suit is quite an interesting entity of its own.
METZGER:  One of the interesting things that I found out when I was doing my research was that Maoist clothing varied quite a lot. But when the outfits started to register for the U.S. public, and to some extent the European public, people consolidated the variation in clothing in under one term. So whatever people were wearing, they ended up calling it a Mao suit. That could be like boiler suits for people working. There are very famous depictions of Mao with his white shirt and his sleeves rolled up going to work. All of those things ended up getting called “the Maoist uniform,” even when the jacket wasn’t present, which I found interesting. And again, there were variations throughout the communist period. I think it’s interesting that in the West we have tended to say “oh, Maoist uniform is so much about conformity,” but in fact, there was quite a lot of variation among the different outfits that people wore and were wearing during the Cold War in China.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs