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China Fashion & Beauty

Made-in-China Olympic Design: The Helmets of China’s Cycling Track Team

China’s Olympic track design helmets attracted the attention of sports lovers today.

Manya Koetse

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China’s Olympic track cyclists did not just make headlines today for their sporting performances, but also for rocking some very original and eye-catching helmets. The helmets fulfilled multiple functions – serving as safety gear, lucky charms, and as a promotion of China’s design and cultural heritage.

During the women’s team sprint at the Rio Olympics on August 12, Chinese female cyclists Gong Jinjie (宫金杰) and Zhong Tianshi (钟天使) of China’ track cycling team did not just display their sporting talent by winning gold, they also showed off some original style by wearing the sprint’s most eye-catching helmets, which portrayed Chinese female masks. Male colleague Xu Chao (徐超) rocked a similar helmet depicting a male mask. The helmets soon became a much talked about topic on Chinese social media.

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Besides serving as safety gear, the helmets promoted China by portraying typically Chinese Peking Opera masks that, according to state media, conveyed China’s “national essence” and, in this way, could “show the world” this image of China – as China Daily wrote.

The female cycling helmets portrayed the Peking Opera facial masks of Hua Mulan (花木兰) and Mu Guiying (穆桂英), two legendary Chinese war heroines. Male cyclist Xu Chao wore a helmet depicting the comic Peking Opera mask of Zhang Fei (张飞). All masks were as bright as the flag of China. Red is also considered the most prosperous color in China.

Peking Opera is ingrained in Chinese culture, its stories draw from Chinese history and legends. China has a long tradition of woman warrior literature, of which the saga of Hua Mulan and Mu Guiying are amongst the most famous. Hua Mulan is a legendary woman warrior that has become famous in the West through Disney’s ‘Mulan’ animation, that tells the story of a courageous girl who takes her aged father’s place in the army. Mu Guiying is perhaps less well-known outside of China, but she is an equally famous woman general of the Song dynasty.

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Zhang Fei is a famous Peking Opera character, a warrior general who lived during the late second and early third century whose legend is described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Besides promoting China’s “national essence”, the masks also show the creative side of ‘made-in-China’ design. The helmets were created by a Guangzhou-based studio named ‘Incolor’. Designers and studio founder Zhang Dongliang (张栋良) reportedly is a cycling lover who studied industrial design, and who has been painting and rebuilding bicycles for a long time. The helmet design was supposed to “fully embody Chinese elements”, as it was meant for the Chinese team, created by a Chinese studio.

Design studio Incolor also features their three Olympic masks on their Weibo account.

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Weibo netizens applauded the design, saying it “shows off the distinctive character of China’s heroes” and praising its originality.

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There were also netizens who pointed out that the helmets were already being imitated and sold online (also on Taobao), showing screenshots of someone selling a copy for 288 RMB (±43 US$). “They have no respect for original design,” one angry netizen says.

PicMonkey Collage

The female warrior helmets seem to have worked as a lucky charm the female team, as they won China’s first ever Olympic track cycling gold. Xu Chao’s helmet brought him less luck – he ranked 13th for the qualifications of the men’s sprint.

-By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Comic & Games

Chinese Woman Taken Away by Suzhou Police for Wearing Japanese Kimono

The Chinese cosplayer was taken away by police for dressing up as a Japanese manga character: “You are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are Chinese!”

Manya Koetse

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A Chinese female cosplayer who was dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking pictures in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area was taken away by local police for ‘provoking trouble.’ The incident has sparked concerns on Chinese social media.

A Chinese woman who was making street pictures of herself while dressed in a kimono was taken away by local Suzhou police for “picking quarrels” and “provoking trouble.”

A video that circulated on Chinese social media this week showed the local policeman talking to the young woman and screaming at her for wearing the Japanese kimono, suggesting she is not allowed to do so as a Chinese person.

“If you would be wearing Hanfu [Chinese traditional clothing], I would never have said this,” the policeman can be heard saying: “But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are Chinese!” The video stops when the girl is taken away.

The incident happened on August 10 at Huaihai Street in Suzhou New District. Huaihai Street is also called “Little Tokyo” because the area is home to many Japanese businesses and restaurants.

The girl, who was previously active on Weibo under the nickname ‘Shadow not Self’ (是影子不是本人) is known to be a cosplayer, someone who likes to dress up a as a character from anime, TV show, or other works of fiction.

On the evening of August 10, she dressed up as the character Ushio Kofune from the Japanese manga series Summer Time Rendering, wearing a cotton summer kimono, better known as yukata. After she took some pictures to reenact a scene from the fictional work, she waited for her order at a local takoyaki place when the local officers approached her and eventually took her away.

According to a social media post by ‘Shadow not Self,’ she was released from the police station five hours later after she received some ‘education’ and police investigated the contents of her phone.

The scene from Summer Time Rendering that ‘Shadow not Self’ wanted to reenact while doing cosplay in Suzhou’s Huaihai street.

The incident first started surfaced on Chinese social media on the night of August 14 and then went viral on August 15, which marked the 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

“Has even cosplay become dangerous now?” some commenters on Weibo wondered, with others calling the actions by the police “scary.”

“It’s just cosplay!” “How did she break the law?” many wondered, with some people calling the officer “incompetent.”

The kimono worn by ‘Shadow not Person’ is sold on Taobao for 158 yuan ($23).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also weighed in on the issue via his social media channel (#胡锡进谈女孩穿和服被带走#). Although emphasizing the legal right Chinese citizens have to wear a kimono in public, Hu also mentioned that at a time of tense Sino-Japanese relations – noting Japan’s cooperation with the U.S. “to contain China” – there is a growing antipathy towards Japan, resulting in different perceptions of what it means to wear a kimono.

Nevertheless, Hu wrote, “a kimono is not a Japanese military uniform, and there is no legal reason why it should be banned.”

Hu also warned: “But when someone wants to wear a kimono, I would advise them to pay attention to their surroundings to prevent causing displeasure to those around them and, more importantly, to try to avoid becoming the center of unnecessary controversy themselves. There’s nothing wrong with respecting the feelings of the majority.”

Later on Monday night, CCTV uncoincidentally promoted a topic (#穿汉服就是回到古代吗#) related to wearing Hanfu or traditional Chinese clothing, writing: “As Chinese national traditional clothing, Hanfu can be fully integrated into modern daily life. (..) Change into Hanfu, let the beautiful culture move forward in a new era!”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Xianyu Wang

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Mamianqun Gate: Dior Accused of Cultural Appropriation for Copying Design of Traditional Chinese Skirt

This is not just a matter of plagiarism, according to some, it’s about Dior taking a traditional Chinese design and claiming it’s theirs.

Manya Koetse

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This article was first published by What’s on Weibo on

French luxury fashion house Dior has come under fire on Chinese social media today for the design of one of the skirts in its 2022 Fall collection, which resembles a Chinese traditional skirt known as mǎmiànqún (马面裙).

On the Chinese version of the Dior official website, the French fashion brand describes it as a “mid-length skirt” that is an “all-new elegant and stylish piece based on the iconic Dior silhouette.”

But many Chinese netizens do not agree, and say that the pleated skirt in question is actually a mǎmiànqún (马面裙): a wrapped, apron-like traditional Chinese skirt that was worn in China as early as the Song (960–1279) and Liao dynasties (916–1125) and became popular during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The skirt by Dior.

The literal translation of the word mǎmiànqún is ‘horse face skirt.’ The skirt is composed of two overlapping fabrics wrapped around the lower body: the two sides of the skirt are pleated, and there is a smooth section in the middle. The skirt is also known as mǎmiànzhěqún (马面褶裙), ‘horse face pleated skirt.’

“It’s just exactly the same,” some commenters wrote. “They’re copying China and then selling it to Chinese consumers, I don’t know what to say.” On the Chinese official Dior site, the skirt is priced at 29,000 yuan (US$4292).

The Dior skirt on the left, Chinese mamian skirt on the right, image from Weibo.

“They’re vilifying China and at the same time, they’re stealing from Chinese culture. They’re shameless,” one Weibo user (@改改hj) wrote.

“Can’t the propaganda department set up an organization to defend our legal rights?” other commenters write.

The influential history blogging account @Qinyimo (@秦祎墨, over 7 million fans) wrote: “I’m not even kidding. I hope that a lawyer specialized in copyright law and an expert in cultural preservation will jointly evaluate this matter, and pay attention to how nasty this is.”

Some people are especially offended that Dior suggests the skirt’s design is inspired by their own original Christian Dior skirt, without any reference to China at all. Others foresee greater problems for Chinese traditional dress if Dior is actually claiming this design is theirs.

Side by side comparison of Dior’s skirt and mamianqun.

The blogging account Qinyimo raised attention to this potential problem.

“This is not simply a matter of plagiarism,” they write: “As traditional Chinese apparel, the mamianqun has historical origins in the Chinese traditional dress system which has continued to the present-day and has never been discontinued. If Dior has patented the version of their mamianqun design, this would mean that when the Chinese fashion industry uses this traditional technique, they could end up in an international legal dispute for doing so.”

“What is ours is ours, I am confident about that. But if their patent is approved, it would mean our way out is blocked (..) This is not a joke, this requires serious attention.”

Mamianqun examples shared on Weibo.

Chinese traditional dress is increasingly popular among Chinese young people, especially due to the rise of the Hanfu Movement, which can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing (read more here).

“Dior, this is blatant cultural appropriation [文化挪用],” one Weibo user writes, receiving nearly 12,000 likes on their comment.

At the same time, not everyone agrees that Dior is guilty of plagiarism: “It’s not plagiarism, don’t be mistaken, the mamian skirt is not protected by copyright law so you can’t really plagiarize it. It is, however, 100% cultural appropriation.”

“They are misappropriating our traditional apparel,” other commenters write.

It is not the first time for a Western luxury fashion brand to ignite controversy in China. In 2018, Italian fashion house D&G faced consumer outrage and backlash on Chinese social media for a marketing campaign featuring a Chinese-looking model clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes (read more here). Various other brands, including Versace and Givenchy, also came under fire in 2019 for for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as a separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

However, it is rare for online controversies to come out in China accusing foreign brands of ‘cultural appropriation.’ In the past, China has been accused of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to Korean traditions. Earlier this year, a performer at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics drew condemnation in South Korea for wearing a traditional Korean dress known as hanbok.

Although ‘cultural appropriation’ is at the center of today’s discussions, it is arguably a bit more nuanced than previous mainstream discussions regarding the issue of cultural appropriation outside of China. More than feeling offended about Dior using Chinese mamianqun design, it is about Dior claiming the design as being based on their own original classic. As one netizen writes: “Let’s not be misunderstood, it’s useless to talk about ‘cultural appropriation’ [文化挪用], we need to let people know that in the future if they’ll wear a mamianqun, they could be told by foreigners that ‘Chinese people just love to wear big fashion brands rip offs .’ When our own international clothing brands use our own mamian skirt elements, it is likely they’ll be sued by Dior for doing so.”

At time of writing, the official Dior Weibo account has not responded to the controversy. They have, however, turned off the comment sections of their latest posts.

By Manya Koetse

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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