Recently, there was a big controversy about a young, white woman in Utah wearing a Qipao to her prom. A Twitter personality by the name of Jeremiah Lam accused the young woman of cultural appropriation, saying that, as a white woman, she should not have worn such a dress.
Cultural appropriation is when a dominating culture takes something of meaning from a minority culture and uses it in such a way that is perceived as being meaningless. People are split on whether this concept has validity to it.
Lam was basically saying that the young woman stole the dress from Chinese culture and used it in such a way that only represented American consumerism—something perceived as being meaningless.
Honestly, if we are going to talk about cultural theft, China is an even bigger suspect than America and white people. First off, the Chinese are no longer living their own untouched, traditional lifestyles—many of them are living lives with Western ideas and technology. Those ideas and technologies have come from the West—not from China. Every time the Chinese wear Western fashions they are appropriating Western culture. Every time they hop into a car, they are hopping into a Western invention. Some social justice warriors might try to explain this by saying, “Oh, well they are using our technologies and ideas, but in the world hierarchy of privilege, they are still not on top. White people and white countries are on top, so it is not wrong for Asians to steal Western ways.” A social justice warrior could also say, “Well, when Asians are in the most powerful nations, they find themselves to be underprivileged, discriminated against and not on the highest rungs of society.” However, Chinese people and culture are the majority in China. When you are in China and in Chinese communities, Chinese people are the prevailing and privileged majority.
Secondly, China engages in so much cultural theft that there is now a huge, homegrown industry of counterfeit, fake and imitation products that mimic those invented and produced by western companies. In 2009, 20% of all smartphones in China were fake iPhones. In 2012, it was found that about 99% of the music downloads in China were pirated. Of course, it stands to reason that a lot of these downloads were of Western songs.
Thirdly, the design of the Qipao has been heavily influenced by Western styles. So, to the uneducated, social-justice-warrior eye of a Twitter personality like Jeremiah Lam, the young woman’s prom dress was purely ethnic and unadulterated by the West. However, in all truth, the style, itself, is actually somewhat Western.