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Public Pajamas Persist in Shanghai

2009. 30 October

Planet Shanghai, Justin Guariglia, Chronicle Books (2008)

by Bai Lin

( Government memo to pajama-wearing Shanghainese, whether shopping, gossiping, playing mahjong or walking dogs in their sleepwear: Get dressed.

Shanghai itself has been getting new coats of paint in the run-up to the 2010 World Expo, but the locals’ deep-seated penchant for wearing pajamas is still a nagging worry for officials eager to present a sophisticated metropolis to millions of Expo visitors.

The Shanghai government in July established a team of 500 volunteers to use persuasion at such venues as bus stops to get residents looking “uncivilized” to change their clothes.

The campaign, under the slogan, “No Pajamas in Public — Be Civilized for the Expo,” is similar to Beijing’s distribution of several million etiquette books ahead of last year’s Olympics.

It is also not the first time the Shanghai government attacks the pajama issue. Previous, fruitless attempts have mostly served to show that pajamas have become a deeply rooted part of nongtang, or old neighborhood, culture in Shanghai.

“Shanghainese have a delicate lifestyle that includes changing to pajamas once they get home. In other cities, they don’t think it is necessary to do that.” says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University. “When cooking and suddenly realizing more spring onions are needed for dinner, they just hurry to the nearby market.”

One Web site conducted a survey in mid-July on the subject, “Shanghainese like to wear night-gown outdoors; what’s your opinion?” Of the 5,794 respondents, 42% thought the practice was “uncivilized,” while 34% called it“convenient”and the remaining 24% said it was “normal.” One pajama proponent argued, “I support the residents’ freedom to wear whatever they like … It is such an absurd requirement. How can the government interfere with my clothes?,” while from the “against” camp, one person wrote, “No pajama in public is basic etiquette for a cosmopolitan city like Shanghai.” (the posts in the forum )

“At the beginning, people in pajamas didn’t understand our meddling with their business.” says Chen Zhuoya, who is in charge of the propaganda team. But she said that after three months of the campaign, “We do see fewer and fewer people going out in pajamas.”

In the eyes of Fudan University’s Mr. Yu, foreign visitors to the Expo will accept the pajama fashion with tolerance and appreciation: “Why not? It is Shanghai!”