Tuesday, May 08, 2018

About a qipao

I did consider writing about the case of Keziah Daum, who wore a qipao/cheongsam to her high school prom and kicked off all manner of brouhaha about cultural appropriation and that juicy stuff, prompting everyone to adopt their instinctive battle formations in the culture wars. But, for once, I was inhibited about opining, what with me being a non-Asian, non-female, non-qipao-wearer (at least while sober) and all that. Fortunately, the excellent Anna Chen, in The Guardian, made far more sense about the whole thing than I could ever have done, pointing out that the garment itself has woven into it a whole load of other problems about gender and class before we get to whether some random gweilo is allowed to wear it and, essentially, that Asians living under the shadow of Trump have rather more pressing concerns than this.

But something still niggles. In the past I’ve made the smartarse observation that the end point of the whole cultural appropriation concept is that only Belgians will be allowed to play saxophones; only to be told that this is all about power, and it’s perfectly OK to appropriate from above. Thus, it’s wrong for Keziah to wear a qipao but it’s acceptable for her Asian classmates to wear jeans, because American culture dominates everyone and everything.

Fair enough for the here and now; but let’s think ahead a bit. This is the Asian century; forecasting history with absolute confidence is a fool’s errand but it’s a pretty good bet that by, say, 2050, China will be a hugely dominant global power, in terms of economic, military and cultural power, maybe even challenging the American hegemony. And if that’s how it turns out, will it be acceptable for Keziah’s daughter or granddaughter to wear a qipao to her prom; but not for the President of China to wear a business suit?

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