- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

SHANGHAI Officials in Shanghai have declared war on pajama-wearers who, they say, damage the city's modernization drive by strolling in public in their nightwear.

Official newspapers are running a campaign denouncing the practice as a hangover from the era when China was a poor nation.

"People, especially housewives, in their sleeping suits go shopping in supermarkets, go to hospitals and even take buses," the state-run New People's Evening News said recently. "This does not conform to the task of civilization."

Officials fear that the nightwear diehards could damage Shanghai's image as it bids to stage the 2010 World Exposition trade fair. Moscow is a serious rival in the run-up to the vote later this year.

Thousands of middle-aged and older residents of the old inner city, however, are refusing to take the criticism lying down, and continue to walk the streets in their pajamas. The Evening News claimed last week to be winning the war, citing a survey showing that only a minority of people were wearing nightclothes in public but conceding that die-hards remained common.

The charge has angered many women, who take great pride in wearing only their best pajamas outdoors. "People don't just wear any pajamas when they go out," said Li Yan, a local magazine's fashion editor. "They wear a nicer pair."

The pajama trend was a product of overcrowding after the 1949 revolution when Communist officials allocated each family one room in the villas and back-to-back mews built by the prewar capitalists. In the summer, many residents spent all night outside to escape the stifling heat, sleeping on pavements on grass-matting beds.

"In the old days, many people didn't have much money, so when they sat out on the streets at night or went to sleep, they wore tattered clothes," said He Zhili, a historian. "Wearing pajamas showed that you had money."

It became a city tradition and one upheld today by Pan Shifu, 54, a textile dyer, who was standing in his pajamas near his crowded terrace house last week.

"After work, after supper and after a bath, I want to wear casual clothes to take in the night air," he said. "Pajamas are perfect because they are made from cotton. Anything heavier would ruin the relaxed feeling after a bath."

Xu Dongying, 53, who lives with her husband and son one of three families in a single terrace house agrees. "It's already impossible to go into the main shopping districts in our pajamas because officials will lecture us on our clothing," Mrs. Xu said.

"Now they don't want us to wear pajamas in our neighborhoods. It's an issue of freedom. We should be able to choose what to wear."

The campaign against public pajama-wearing follows an attempt to stop men in Beijing going around topless in the summer.

Rebellious long-term residents swap notes on the latest fashion trends in pajamas. One says that women favor floral patterns while men normally plump for stripes. Shops even sell padded pajamas to cater for wearers during the city's damp winters.

"It seems that the internationalization of our city is getting too far away from the lifestyle of ordinary [Shanghai residents] like me," Mrs. Xu said

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