Shanghai's Crackdown on... Pajamas

pajamasshanghai.JPG As Beijing restricts online dissent and Urumqi clamps down on separatists, Shanghai is cracking down on... (wait for it)... pajama-wearing in public.

The wearing of colorful, boldly-printed pajamas in public has been popular in the city for years, and well-documented on Flickr as well as National Geographic.

But with the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai just three months away, city officials have launched a public etiquette clampdown targeting the unseemly practice.

The South China Morning Post reports that the city's Qiba neigborhood "has mobilized neighborhood committee officials and volunteers since July to talk people out of the habit of wearing pajamas in public."

The article also consults Chinese sociologist Zhang Jiehai, who says pajama-wearing in public began "as a matter of practicality because people lived in cramped conditions with no clear line between public space and private place."

Private pajama parties, anyone?


  1. Just would like to thank Kristie or whoever is responsible for linking to my Flickr photo-stream in this article. It’s generated a lot of additional traffic to the site. I have to say I wasn’t aware of this site until I did a little backtracking to find the source of the extra traffic, but now I am I’ll be a regular reader. Let’s just hope the GFW doesn’t someday block it as it has with the lies of facebook, youtube. twitter etc. Anyway once again thanks again. dbmboise.

  2. Years and years ago, as I recall, it was seemingly de rigeur to describe the Viet Cong as being dressed in “black pajamas”. I always assumed that pajama was a word that English appropriated from the East for our sleepwear, and that it refered to a more everyday garment elsewhere. Was I wrong? Were the VC fighting in the jungle in their sleepwear, presumably for ideological reasons, and would have fought in their dressing gowns, if only they could have afforded them?

    Are these Shanghai-ese (sp?) wearing their sleeping garments, or are they just a very colourful form of daywear that superficially resembles our ‘pajamas’?

    1. I believe the word “pajama” comes from the Hindi “korta pajama,” which is indeed a traditional everyday garment.

      But the Chinese folks who like wearing pajamas aren’t wearing korta pajamas. They’re wearing clothes that were originally designed as sleepwear.

      1. To be finnicky about it, kurta pajama is the whole outfit – the kurta is the shirt, the pajama is the trousers.

    2. Have to say, those are pretty spiffy PJs. And the tops and bottoms match, which is probably more effort than some people put into their regular clothes.

  3. I think the Expo will be pretty good. They should put more effort into cleaning up the pollution though. I’d prefer to have my lungs clean than my fashion sense intact

  4. Now we wait for the pajama definition committee which will provide a list of criteria for what is a pajama.

  5. ince it seems to be the trend, I’ll say it here. This is photoshopped!!! These two men are really wearing business suites. Look at the lighting, the pixels, I can tell someone rotated the hue, and those Chinese characters, placed using multiply, come on, can’t you see it!??

  6. What a shame that they’re trying to stop people from wearing pajamas outdoors. It sounds like a wonderful piece of local culture.

    I guess it’s kind of like the Peter the Great’s beard tax – you’re all going to look like bland conformists, dammit…

  7. I had heard about Beijing’s crackdown on spitting last month. And now this?

    Seems especially silly because when I was in Beijing in November, I was a bit shocked to see many men urinating on the side of major streets in broad daylight.

    Priorities, people.

  8. I’m going to call for a global solidarity movement here, but first I’m going to have to go out and purchase some pajamas.

  9. Private pajama parties, anyone?

    Yes, please!

    *drums fingers, looks at clock*

    Um… that invite will be coming via Facebook, right?

  10. if only americans were more confortable with themselves and their neighbors to walk around in their pajamas before work and after a family dinner…we should only be so lucky. the chinese gov’t should allow these little freedoms

  11. I had no idea China had so many unemployed journalists working as bloggers from home. Seems like the Chinese government is always looking for something new to crack down on. PJs are VERY political.

  12. Will this crackdown extend to Vancouver some day? I see my neighbours doing this all the time, and I think it’s time to report them to somebody.

  13. you pajama wearin’ folk are just a little too uptight for my taste. call me old-fashioned, but bathrobes are where its at, maybe curlers. i think the last these were seen in public were the late 70’s, except for my neighbor, who is out in his bathrobe smoking a cigar on the sidewalk right now. yep, you pajama wearin’ folk are too uptight.

  14. The Vietnamese “Pajamas” aren’t seen much outside Vietnam. I suspect they are some sort of informal ao dai, the traditional Vietamese dress for women. This is totally different, pajamas are just comfortable, modest and Chinese people don’t associate them with schlepping around the house like we do. They probably think that pajamas are western and cool.

  15. Nobody has mentioned a great explanation I saw on the linked Flickr account — that wearing pajamas outside is a matter of face, it shows that one is a Shanghai local and is just popping out from home. Consider the vast amounts of tourists and “outsiders” (both foreigners and from other mainland cities) and this explanation makes a lot of sense.

    I think we should start doing this in Hong Kong — so many mainlanders in their unmatched designer wear…

  16. That is sad that the are cracking down on a local custom, the pajamas are kind of cool, much more conservative then most of what people wear on the streets in Seattle. I would think that this would be something that would add character to the area. Maybe people all over should start doing this as a sign of solidarity.

  17. I’ve lived in Shanghai for about seven years now, and I’ve seen people wearing pajamas nearly every day. In the summer, they are lightweight cotton pj’s (and sometimes of the short-pant variety, but never revealing more than from the knees and elbows out); in the spring and fall, flannel; and in the winter, heavy, quilted jammies. I’ve never heard either the close-living-quarters explanation or the face explanation. The one explanation for the phenomenon I’ve heard is that pj wearing is a status symbol. If a person is wearing pajamas, he is definitely not going to, coming from, or engaging in work at that moment–and not everyone here has the luxury of leisure time, so it’s a kind of look-at-me-I’m-not-working-right-now feeling of superiority at play. As for the person who claimed that the picture was Photoshopped, I don’t know if THIS picture was, but I could send you dozens just like it–in exactly those styles of pajamas–that aren’t.

  18. I’ve been to Shanghai many times and think that the Shanghainese are generally very well dressed. The pajamas are, however, quite unsightly. The Chinese government is doing a good thing in reducing this.

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