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No More Pajama Party?

November 9, 2009

One of the more eye-catching fixtures of urban life in China is the habit some folks have of going out and about in their pajamas.  In the more traditional neighborhoods, local residents will think nothing of running a few errands or chatting with friends on a busy corner — women in patterned cotton jammies with slippers on their feet, men stripped down to their t-shirts and boxers.  I’ve even run into a few at the grocery store, looking like they just awoke from a rather ambitious stretch of sleepwalking.  Where we live in Beijing, the patients at the nearby hospital often enjoy fresh-air strolls in the summer evenings, clad in nothing but their bedclothes — yet the sight here is so common it attracts little or no attention.

31614_7_468If the Shanghai government gets its way, though, all that is about to change.  The city is notoriously fussy about its global image.  The movie Mission Impossible 3 was banned in China for its scenes depicting Tom Cruise racing around streets lined with laundry drying from the windows, which Shanghai officials felt reflected badly on the city — never mind that’s what Shanghai streets actually look like.  Now officials are concerned that, with the World Expo arriving in 2010, foreign visitors might find the city’s pajama-clad locals a cause for derision.

So, according to an article at, the Shanghai government is mounting a vigorous campaign to stop people from wearing pajamas in public:

Shen is the “Alley President” of Shanghai Pudong New Area Changlidong road Qiba residential community. At this stage, his work is divided into two parts, one is managing residential district daily affairs, and the second is “Welcoming the World Expo”. The activity of “Not going outside wearing pajamas, become a World Expo civilized person” is one of the elements in the second part.

Qiba residential district’s “civilized dress persuasion team” has activities twice a week, each is one to two hours. Shen Guofang said that the persuasion team has 10 volunteers, each wearing a red silk belt. They are dressed neatly and stand at the entrance of the residential community. When they see residents going outside wearing pajamas, volunteers approach the residents and dissuade them from going out like that.

“In just over an hour, hundreds of residents already accepted our persuasion, this event was very effective” Qiba’s website recorded the “achievement” of the first day of the activity.

The activity has been carried out for more than two months now, “with good results, the number of people wearing pajamas outside has obviously been reduced.” Shen was satisfied.

The entire article is well worth reading.  In addition to providing plenty of amusing anecdotes, it sheds interesting light on cultural attitudes in China, where wearing pajamas in public has a long association with wealth and leisure, and where choice of dress is an expression of newfound personal freedom.  Shanghai residents are apparently strongly split over the practice, with 42% describing it as “low class” or “uncivil” and 58% considering it “convenient” or “normal.”  At least some of the pro-pajama majority are quite adamant in their resentment of the new policy, which they see as a violation of their civil rights and caving in to foreign attitudes.

If they’re lucky however, the Shanghai government will eventually lose interest and move on to other crusades.  As Shen, the “Alley President” explains, pajamas are no longer his focus of attention: “This is not the main task at hand anymore, every 100 days there is a new initiative, we are following the plan, now we are at the stage of stopping people from running the red light.”  Good luck with that.

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