In Utah, a teenage girl named Keziah chose to wear a red prom dress that looked like a traditional Chinese Qipao. She posted her prom pictures on Twitter. A young Chinese American man by the name on Jeremiah Lam commented on her post, saying that she was wrong to wear that dress because “My culture is not your prom dress.”
To further justify his remark, Lam went on to give inaccurate explanations of Qipao and Chinese histories. He claimed that female factory workers in China wore”this dress,” and that it was part of women’s liberation in Asia. He went on to say that when a white girl wears such a dress, the style is subjected to American consumerism and the tastes of a white audience. So, a white person wearing a traditional Asian-style dress is tantamount to colonialism and racism.
Lam’s explanation of history and why white women should not wear traditional Asian styles is wrought with ignorance. It sounds like he is just full of a lot of uneducated, opinionated hot air.
The Qipao is the traditional dress of Manchu women. The Manchu live in Northeast China and make up an ethnic minority. Most of China has always been about 91% Han, though the Manchu conquered the Han-founded Ming Empire. From 1644 to 1912, the Manchu ruled the rest of the population with the Qing Empire that they had founded. There were many ethnic conflicts between the Manchu and the Han, and in 1912 the Qing Dynasty gave way to the Republic of China after an armed revolution.
As the Manchu ruled over China, Han women adopted their style of dress, which included Qipaos. The traditional Qipaos consisted of several layers and were bulky and loose—not very good for practical purposes. However, as Western views about gender equality permeated through into Asia, the Qipao was modified to be more comfortable and practical. Nowadays, Chinese people mostly wear Western clothing, except for special events and beauty pageants.
The Qipao, to an extent, was not a symbol of empowerment because it became a way for women to show their wealth. Wealthier women could afford more expensive fabrics and trims.