Disclosure: there are pictures of me as a child in the hanbok, the traditional Korean gown. My aunt is Korean and took pictures of my sister and me in her family’s traditional formal attire. We looked beautiful. I also own a shirt designed after the cheongsam. I love it. All of this influenced what’s written below.
While the perpetually aggrieved in the United States light up social media accounts of anyone they randomly catch out of the corner of their eye “appropriating culture,” the rest of the world — amen and hallelujah — doesn’t seem as easily offended.
Take the story of 18-year-old Keziah Daum, a Utah teen who found an absolutely stunning cheongsam (a traditional Chinese dress) in a second-hand store and decided to wear it to prom. She posted photos of it with her friends on social media and viola! She was a hateful cultural appropriator who insensitively looked fabulous in her prom dress. You can read all about it here.
But thankfully (and I can’t stress that thankfully enough) the actual Chinese have come out in support of Ms. Daum, recognizing her innocence in donning the garment and applauding her for wearing it beautifully.
[T]hose commenting in mainland China were less opposed to Daum’s dress.
“Very elegant and beautiful! Really don’t understand the people who are against her, they are wrong!” one person commented on an article by Wenxue City News. “I suggest the Chinese government, state television or fashion company invite her to China to display her cheongsam!”
“It is not cultural theft,” another wrote. “It is cultural appreciation and cultural respect.”
Weibo users added that Daum looked beautiful and criticised those who have accused her.
“Culture has no borders,” one wrote. “There is no problem, as long as there is no malice or deliberate maligning. Chinese cultural treasures are worth spreading all over the world.”
The dress, which is reported to have been once in its history a silent protest against gender inequality at the beginning of the republican period in the early 1900s, would be considered by any sane person exactly the sort of dress a young woman on the cusp of adulthood might want to wear to prom.
And even without knowledge of the history of the garment, Daum clearly thought the dress beautiful and was proud to wear it, which is nothing but a compliment to Chinese culture. The Chinese see it that way. It’s a mystery why Americans feel they need to be offended on their behalf.