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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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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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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jane Churchland

    July 16, 2022 at 2:12 am

    I may be missing something, but the photos and description look nearly exactly the same as the winter school uniform kilt I (and thousands upon thousands of others of Australian school girls) wore decades ago? Different fabric, but same design? A pleated wrap with a smooth front panel?

    I agree that Dior claiming it’s something special is weird, but saying it’s culturally appropriated from a Chinese garment doesn’t add up to me.

  2. Avatar

    Beefnoodles

    July 16, 2022 at 2:46 am

    It is not about the “Pleats”, which seems a familiar element of style in school uniform. However, the Chinese traditional skirt (mamianqun) have two layers of cloth overlapping each other, which is different from the skirt we wear nowadays. Why is it called a mamianqun (horse face skirt), it is because the shape of the skirt resembles the one side of the rampart in ancient city of China, which is called “the side of a horse face”. Why is it designed this way? Because, in ancient times, we don’t have zippers, elastic cords or Velcro to avoid exposure of private parts; Therefore, Chinese people have to wear a lot, so the multi-layered design makes the skirt breathable, and the pleats it utilized makes the skirt more comfortable when the skirt is swinging back and forth. China is, admittedly, a civilization with a discontinued history. Its culture has to be acknowledged. What Dior has done is offensive and disrespectful.

  3. Avatar

    K

    July 16, 2022 at 2:50 am

    It’s the cultural appropriation; the article explained the structure of the apron-like traditional Chinese skirt, and this new Dior dress uses the almost same… They are not only similar in outlook

  4. Avatar

    Beefnoodles

    July 16, 2022 at 2:50 am

    Chine is a civilization with continued history.

  5. Avatar

    noodles

    July 16, 2022 at 3:07 am

    It is not about the “Pleats”, Which seems a familiar element of style in school uniform.
    However, the Chinese traditional skirt (mamiangun) have two layers of cloth
    overlapping each other, which is different from the skirt we wear nowadays. Why is it
    called a mamiangun (horse face skirt), it is because the shape of the skirt resembles
    the one side of the rampart in ancient city of China, which is called “the side of a horse
    face”. Why is it designed this way? Because, in ancient times, we don’t have zippers,
    elastic cords or Velcro to avoid exposure of private parts; Therefore, Chinese people
    have to wear a lot, so the multi-layered design makes the skirt breathable, and the
    pleats it utilized makes the skirt more comfortable when the skirt is swinging back and
    forth. China is, admittedly, a civilization with a long, continued history. Its culture has to
    be acknowledged. What Dior has done is offensive and disrespectful.
    Even Princess Diana has wore a red mamianqun in 1981.

  6. Avatar

    Yiran Sun

    July 16, 2022 at 4:14 am

    You are missing something. The the Dior skirt is open on both sides, and when untied it’s one piece of fabric, the specific construction is exactly, uniquely like mamianqun, even down to the specific placement of the pleats.

    All tradition Chinese skirts are actually one piece of fabric tied together with ribbons on both sides, because you are expected to wear pants underneath it. Mamianqun was developed to open on both sides so women can more easily ride horses. Are horses the primary form of transportation for Australian school girls these days?

  7. Avatar

    Kim_YS

    July 16, 2022 at 10:09 am

    This isn’t Chinese origin, this is Korean origin according to Chinese’s own written records. There’s Goguryeo mural painting showing this outskirt.

  8. Avatar

    Keesty

    July 18, 2022 at 11:30 pm

    Mamian is from China. It’s the main dress for our female Han people in the Song and Ming dynasties (nearly 700 years of history). Why do Korean people always try to steal other people’s culture? If you know your history. You will find out the Korean peninsula is independent only after , in 1895. You used to belong to the Chinese dynasty. I don’t think any Chinese people will want to wear any clothes from your region rather than our clothes. I can show respect to Korean, but only as you show respect to the real history.

  9. Avatar

    Zeus

    July 19, 2022 at 3:15 am

    Check this video: “Dior and Its Cultural Appropriation of Chinese Ma Mian Skirt [CC]” (https://youtu.be/Chyma67-PMY), which explained clearly the unique design of the Ma Mian Qun (Horse face skirt). As mentioned above, this is not about “pleats”. The design of Ma Mian Qun made it easier for ancient Chinese women to ride horses, unlike that of the Western women, who did side saddle riding. What Dior does is blatant cultural appropriation.

  10. Avatar

    Jane Churchland

    July 19, 2022 at 9:07 am

    OK, I’ve now seen a closer look video on the actual skirt, and you are all right and I was so extremely wrong. My apologies.

  11. Avatar

    Guy

    July 20, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Chinese copy everything. And they have the nerve to complain?

  12. Avatar

    Walao

    July 21, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    Without fail, a korean will always show up to claim some heritage that’s obviously not theirs.

  13. Avatar

    Whatdli

    July 24, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    Dont understand why is okeay to people copy original work from Chinese even there is people who copy other people. But if you didnt know all world have plagiarize problem, not only China. But China get promote for most about this. Not saying its fine, but this cultural appropriation is just wrong thing as well as those people from China who make fake things. There are original designers and traditional culture, which we should support. They should all be respected, otherwise everyone is no different from someone who can only plagiarized.

  14. Avatar

    Whatif

    July 24, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    If people thing its fine because there are Chinese who copy and say they cant complain when they get this. Would you prefer that in the future copying be increased in China and maybe they also think that it is the only way to act when the original work or culture cannot be protected or complain that it has been copied.

  15. Avatar

    Its fin

    July 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Can Korean people just stop whe know ypu can not read Chinese character, ypu can even not make difference between horsetail and horseface. And no there is not a tomb info about it, because you people broke mural painting when try to steal it.

  16. Avatar

    Sisi

    July 30, 2022 at 3:40 am

    China’s history definitely been interrupted when they were forced to wear that long braid.

  17. Avatar

    Sisi

    July 30, 2022 at 3:44 am

    Dior only mentioned their classic silhouette, took no credit for the pleats and cut. Can people have an idea of silhouette before accusing others?

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China Comic & Games

KFC China’s Psyduck Toy is a Viral Hit

As Psyduck goes viral, KFC Children’s Day toys are deemed “too childish for children but just perfect for us adults.”

Manya Koetse

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American fast-food chain KFC recently introduced three new Pokémon toys to go with its kids’ meals in various regions across China, with one of the toys, in particular, becoming a viral hit: Psyduck (可达鸭).

The new Pokémon toys were introduced on May 21st to celebrate Children’s Day (June 1). As reported by Shanghai Daily, the toys are randomly distributed in Children’s Day meals and will be released in different regions at different times.

Psyduck is a yellow duck-like Pokémon that is known to be confused because it’s bothered by headaches. One of the reasons why the Psyduck toy might be more popular than its fellow (Pikachu) toys, is because it dances, with its arms going up and down, and because of the catchy tune that starts once it starts moving. Psyduck is also a bit more dopey and ‘uncool’ than Pikachu, which makes him all the cooler (remember the Peppa Pig craze?)

Since its release, many people have been going crazy over the KFC toy. Psyduck fans have been hunting for the KFC treasure, and some have even turned it into a side business: they offer their services in getting as many KFC meals as necessary before grabbing the Psyduck toy – you’ll have to pay for their meal – and they’ll send the toy to their ‘customers’ later on.

The #Psyduck hashtag saw the first spike on Weibo on May 21st, the day of its release, when it received nearly 135 million views.

Although the toys were released for Children’s Day, most of these Psyduck fans are not kids at all. In one interview moment that went viral, an older man was asked about the Psyduck while he was standing in line at KFC. “I’m only here because my son wants it,” the man says. When he is asked how old his boy is, he answers: “He’s over thirty years old.”

A popular comment about the craze over the kids’ meal toys said: “This toy is perhaps too childish for children, but it’s just perfect for us adults.” The comment received nearly 20,000 likes.

If you buy a set meal including the toy, you will spend in between 59-109 yuan ($9-$16), but the reselling price of Psyduck has reportedly been as high as US$200 for just the Pokémon figure alone. KFC China has stated that it does not support this kind of reselling.

Illustration about the Psyduck crazy by New Weekly (@新周刊).

Especially among students, it has become popular to stick messages to the arms of the dancing Psyduck with motivational or humorous messages. Some students say the Psyduck keeps them company while they are studying.

Since short funny videos featuring Psyduck are going viral on Weibo and Douyin, a lot of Psyduck’s appeal relates to its social media success and joining in on the hype. People post videos of themselves unboxing their Psyduck, introducing it to their cat, imitating it, or they use the Psyduck in various creative ways.

This is not the first time for KFC toys to become a national craze. Earlier this year, KFC came out with limited edition blind boxes in a collaboration with Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. To get one of the dolls, customers needed to buy a 99 yuan (US$15.5) family set meal.

But the blind box sales also sparked criticism from China’s Consumer Association for promoting over-purchasing of its food and causing food waste. In order to get all of the six collectible dolls, including the rarest ones, customers would start buying many meals just for the dolls. As reported by SCMP at the time, one customer went as far as to spend US$1,650 on a total of 106 meals to collect all six dolls.

KFC is the most popular fast-food chain in China. People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland.

As explained in the book written about KFC China’s popularity (“Secret Recipe for Success“), its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Some reasons that contributed to KFC’s success in China are the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste, and its successful marketing campaigns.

Now, Psyduck can be added as one of the ingredients in KFC China’s perhaps not-so-secret recipe for success.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via @Baaaaaaaaal, Weibo.com

Image via Weibo

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

Manya Koetse

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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