Shanghai's quirks are what makes it different

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am

Image is everything, Shanghai's leaders seem to think. With the opening of the World Expo drawing ever-closer, they have stepped up a campaign to stop the predilection of citizens to wear pyjamas in public. The custom is uncouth, uncivilised and unsightly, officials argue. They could not be more wrong.

Freedom of expression is what makes the world so interesting. Shanghainese find pyjamas comfortable. Wandering beyond their front doors to shop in the neighbourhood, visit friends or even go further afield to the mall wearing what others consider only bedroom attire pushes the hustle and bustle of city life into the background. This is custom and tradition; it is one of the reasons the city is different from Beijing, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

Cities everywhere have peculiarities. In Tokyo, young people - especially the unemployed - like to wear school uniforms. The English Garden in Munich is a place to rest and relax as nature intended, by getting naked. In Hong Kong, outdoor summer wear sensibly used to - and for some people, still does - mean a singlet and baggy shorts.

Pyjamas in public are Shanghai style. With the world's eyes about to feast on the city, officials would like to think that it is about chic, fashion and all other predetermined concepts of being international. What they miss with so blinkered a view is that there is no such uniformity. If they believe it to be brand names and business suits, they are ill-informed; in the neighbourhoods of cities the world over, it is what citizens make it to be.

Governments have no business telling people what they should wear. Their business is instead to make cities function properly and be pleasant and enjoyable places in which to live and work. If they truly cared about Shanghai, they wouldn't be telling people not to wear pyjamas outdoors during the expo. Instead, they would be encouraging the custom by holding an Expo pyjama party.