HomeOppression and Human RightsChina's Obsession: Clothing Must Be Controlled

China’s Obsession: Clothing Must Be Controlled

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Back in the 1980s, a Chinese citizen could be penalized by the government for simply choosing to wear flared pants or donning blue jeans. Government buildings even restricted entrance to men with long hair and women with makeup or jewelry. In an act that seems unimaginable to many, patrols organized by factories and schools took scissors to people’s flared pants and chopped off long hair on the spot.

It was during China’s reformative years, when the Communist Party was gradually relaxing its suffocating grip on society. Despite the slight easing, personal choices about fashion became a representation of the larger struggle for self-expression and individual rights.

Fast forward to today, and the past seems to be echoing. The Chinese government has put forward amendments that might allow them to detain or fine anyone “wearing clothing or bearing symbols in public that are detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of Chinese people.” The vagueness of what constitutes an “offense” is what makes this proposal alarming.

People have not been silent on this. Zhang Sanfeng, in a now-censored post on WeChat, wrote, “In Chinese history, the times when clothing and hairstyles were given significant attention often corresponded to ‘bad moments in history.’ The introduction of the amendments… is a response to some strange sentiments emerging in our society.”

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the government’s obsession with control has intensified. This isn’t just about politics; it’s about every aspect of life. As per reports, even displays of tattoos and men wearing earrings on TV and phone screens have been banned. It appears that the ever-watchful eye of the government now intends to dictate the clothing choices of its citizens.

A few incidents highlight this disturbing trend. An older man berated a young woman for her Japanese-style costume as she was heading to a cosplay event. A man dressed like a samurai was refused entry to a shopping mall. A woman was detained for wearing a kimono. Such incidents indicate an alarming rise in the government-encouraged anti-Japanese sentiment. But, the situation isn’t limited to anti-Japanese feelings.

Zhao Hong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, pensively wrote, “If officials can arbitrarily expand interpretations and applications of the law based on personal preferences and ideological beliefs, we may not be far from the concept of ‘if you want to accuse someone, you can always find a pretext.'”

It’s essential to understand the deep-rooted history of clothing in China’s political narrative. Post-Cultural Revolution, the stark contrast between the Western fashion showcased by the French designer Pierre Cardin and the dark-colored Mao suits worn by most Chinese represented not just a difference in attire, but a rift between two worlds.

Guo Hui, a lawyer, gave voice to a rising concern, writing on Weibo, “The morality police is on the verge of coming out. Do you think you can still make fun of Iran and Afghanistan?”

Lao Dongyan, a criminal law professor from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, noted that this potential legislation could seriously infringe upon citizens’ rights. “State power directly interferes in the field of individual citizens’ daily clothing, which is obviously an overreaching intervention,” she commented.

The resurgence of traditional Chinese attire, like the Hanfu, has been seen as a reflection of a growing nationalist sentiment among the youth. Yet, as a Weibo user asked, “The law should at least spell out the exact symbols that will be banned and what will be allowed,” demonstrating the inherent problem with such a vague mandate.

China’s journey from ration coupons for clothes to becoming the world’s leading fashion manufacturer is remarkable. But as Hu Xijin, former editor of The Global Times, wrote, “China’s development and prosperity require an inclusive and relaxing social environment.” This proposed law threatens the very fabric of this social environment, stitching together fear and compliance in place of creativity and freedom.

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