Friday, June 25, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #13: T-shirts

Yesterday a thought came to my mind:  "I should buy a Chinese T-shirt." I haven't bought any clothes the entire time I've been here, and I don't necessarily need any new clothes. But I have always thought that a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it is a novel thing to have in the U.S. You don't see them very often.

Then a second thought came to my mind: "I don't recall ever seeing a Chinese person wearing a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it."

So, on my way to and back from lunch I paid attention to the T-shirts everyone was wearing. I took statistics in my head.

I counted 77 T-shirts with writing of some form or another on them. Of these, 72 were only in English, and 5 had Chinese writing on them. Of these 5 with Chinese writing on them, 2 only had the university logo on them (which is just one Chinese character); 2 others had both Chinese and English; and only 1 consisted of more than one Chinese character and no English.

After living here for a few months, this doesn't come as a surprise. Most Chinese students I've talked to here greatly envy Americans. Very, very few would turn down the opportunity to live in the U.S. At times it is frustrating talking to some of them because of the idol-like status some of them have of Americans. I would even go so far as to say that there is an obsession with America among many people here -- especially the younger generations.

One of my friends said when she was growing up she would always complain to her mom that she wasn't white. She didn't like being Chinese. 

There has been a massive infusion of American culture into this society. For example, Chinese people (or at least university students) mostly watch American movies and listen to American music. In fact, most of the people I've asked don't even like Chinese movies.

From my perspective, over half of the advertisements on billboards and posters around the city have Americans (or at least white people) on them. "America" is trendy.

And fashion is no exception. It's trendy to wear clothing with English on it. Much of the time there is some mention of "America" on it (or places in the U.S. like New York, California, etc.). Sometimes the English doesn't make sense at all, but no one knows -- or no one cares.

So, I probably won't be coming home with a Chinese T-shirt. I have yet to see people selling them. I did, however, see a T-shirt of President Obama dressed in a Chinese communist outfit. I'm not sure what they are trying to communicate through that one. I have a feeling it largely depends on whether you wear it here or in the U.S.


  1. In my Psychology of Mass Communications class and Gender In Media class, we talked about how people on billboards are usually lighter skinned if not full out American models because it is aesthetically pleasing to look at. Even African-American models and actors/actresses are lighter skinned.

    Before you left, Oprah did a report with Lisa Ling about little girls in China liking Barbie dolls because she is white, over dolls that Chinese.

  2. That's interesting. I remember hearing about South American women bleaching their skin to look more white. Girls here are amazed when I tell them that many women in the U.S. tan in order to look darker.