People in China Get Hot About Women's Hemlines

20/07/2012 10:12 BST | Updated 17/09/2012 10:12 BST

The length of a woman's skirt has become a battleground in China of late, with people slinging opinions on both sides of the knee.

Last month Shanghai Metro asked women to don more clothes when taking the subway. In a post on Sina Weibo, China's biggest microblogging site, Shanghai Metro said they need to avoid revealing garments if they want to lessen their chances of being sexually harassed.

This month it is Guilin's turn to enter the ring. At Guilin Merryland Theme Park in China's Guanxi Province female visitors have been offered discounted tickets if they wear less. Nicknamed "Love Miniskirt," the two-month campaign allows female visitors to a half-price park admission if they are in skirts shorter than 38 centimetres.

The two incidents have attracted a lot of talk, and in some instances action. In Shanghai, women stormed onto the subway, armed with signs vocalizing their discontent. Over at the theme park, plenty of scantily-clad women entered its grounds, leaving others tut-tuting from the outside.

Opinion has been divided over the incidences.

"It's a humiliation. You can see how Chinese society is consuming women's appearances and sexuality," commented Mandy Guo, who works at a media company in Beijing.

Her colleague, Wong Shutong, was equally incensed, if unsurprised. "I've heard of some bars that launched a similar campaign, saying girls wearing bikinis could enter for free. It is just a joke for men, who will obviously love it."


But Xiang Xiangping, a student at the Communication University of China, adopted a different, more light-hearted approach. "If women can get a discount without losing much dignity, why not wear a miniskirt?"


Debating women's attire is nothing new to China, where the worlds of politics and fashion have frequently converged. As the old Imperial order crumbled, so did the century's old fetish for foot-binding. Then, decades later Mao championed a form of androgynous clothing for women in the hope it would help them "hold up half the sky." By the end of the century a new fashion had emerged, or rather new fashions. Deng Xiaoping's phrase "to get rich is glorious" manifested in city high streets that could rival those of New York and London.

The pace of change has been dizzying and in it people have definitely become confused.  

"Before women were restrained by traditional values, but now there is no idea what the mainstream is in terms of clothes," said Xiang.


"Some women want to dress in a sexy way, like Gan Lulu, who uses her naked body to make herself the focus of the media, but I like to be conservative" added Guo, who avoids wearing skirts on public transport that are above the knees upon hearing of a man who sexually harassed women on a Beijing bus route.

Commenting on Shanghai Metro's clothing warning in a recent editorial in Global Times, Xue Xinran, who wrote The Good Women of China, said that Chinese women have struggled to grasp feminism properly as a result of such recent and fast change. "China only opened up to the world 30 years ago. Most Chinese women then had no time to embrace the concept of feminism because they were working hard to guarantee basic living conditions and discover the joys of life," Xue said. 

This might explain why the SlutWalk movement, which spread throughout most major cities of the world last year and got as far as Hong Kong, failed to cross the sea, despite similar issues being present on the Chinese mainland.


But it looks like times are changing. To get rich might be glorious; certain aspects like the battle over hemlines, less so. All of the girls interviewed were divided about how they should dress and the implications of clothing, yet all united on a common principle: women should be free to wear what they choose without being either awarded or harassed.

It will be interesting to see where the battle will go from here, shorter, longer or simply up to the individual to decide.