National Identity and Culture Is Term Paper

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These examples show how clothing and fashion generate and support the social construction of a particular reality in a certain historical period. The uniform of the Chinese people in the Maoist period was a factor in enforcing ideological perceptions in much the same way as the Japanese aristocracy promoted the idea of social status and class through fashion and appearance. The Maoist uniform was effective as a means of reducing class distinctions as well as other sexual and social differences, in order to enforce their essential role as workers in communist ideology.

Various examples from both Japan and China indicate that national identity was shaped partly by fashion in the progression towards the cultural ideal of the great nation- state. In a study of children's fashion in China, Children's Day: the Fashionable Performance of Modern Citizenship in China, Stephanie Hemelryk Donald states that fashion plays a major role in shaping the concept and reality of citizenship in a country like China, which is essentially authoritarian and collective. However, at the same time, the country in the process of transforming into a culture that is dependent on a world market economy with socialist characteristics. In this context,

Citizenship functions as a normative ideal to provide the individual with formulas of identity, virtue and morality that convey visions of the nation in which the individual is ethically embedded as a just society. These resolve the individual's sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Citizenship also establishes a basis for social control by invoking ideas of duty, obligation and conformity. (Brown 2001)

The ideal of citizenship and expected cultural and national standards is reflected as well in Japan in the uniforms that children wear to school.

Male top graders in Japan wear a dark, almost black, military style jacket in opposition to the kindergarten's bright yellow capes. Brian McVeigh has argued that in Japan 'it seems as if everyone is in uniform'(McVeigh 1997: 191). He goes on to argue that the maintenance of the deep ideology of the Japanese nation state depends in great measure on the adherence of its citizens to normative codes of conduct, exemplified in dress codes (McVeigh 1997: 195). Although there are no state-level rules about uniforms in school, the permeation of the needs and expectations of the state to almost all levels of society ensures that they exist. Conversely, one could argue that social norms have permeated state organization to the point where the modern nation-state in Japan has exceeded global patterns of bureaucratization to rely on ritualized cultural artefacts for its cohesion.

The above quotation is cited at length as it clearly points to fashion as a functional element in the cultural and social construction of various norms and ideals within the society. The difference in Japanese society is that, unlike communist China, there is no "deep ideology" that can make the society cohesive and consistent in terms of the ideological national concerns. The above quotation suggests that this normative control is achieved and relies rather on "... ritualized cultural artefacts for its cohesion," such as fashion and dress,

This aspect also applies to China in terms to the cultural fashion of uniforms. The appearance and function of the uniform as it relates to national identity in modern china is outlined clearly as follows. It should be noted that the style of dress is more closely aligned to doctrinaire and more obvious cultural and national policies.

In China, there are uniforms too, although the differentiations across school ages and levels are subordinated to marks of personal revolutionary achievement. First, all children in the PRC expect to be granted leave to "wear a Young Pioneer (shaoxianduiyuan)red scarf as part of their uniform (and some also wear it out of school). The Young Pioneer scarf 'symbolizes a corner of the national flag, stained red by the blood of revolutionary martyrs' (Donald 1999: 85)

This points to the fact that integration of national ideals and identity are closely integrated with dress and fashion in China. However, in Japan the idea of fashion as a cultural artifact extends beyond the uniform and into the market economy and the international world. The emphasis on brand names reflects the national ideals and Japanese identity in the modern world. "Outside school wear depends not just on style but also on children's experience as consumers, and international brand names spread rapidly across national borders." China also shows a similar tendency in style and clothing to reflect the societies emerging identity in the brand market economy. "Girls' clothes, particularly in the PRC, tend towards extreme frilliness (especially in socks!), and boy's gear has a tendency to the military cargo look... (ibid)


Fashion and the analysis of trends can reveal cultural constructions of social reality in various societies. In the case of Japan and China, the similarities and differences reflect the various cultural goals and ideals in that particular society. At the same time there is a contrary ambiguity in China with regard to fashion, which is contrasted to the more open and experimental dress style in Japan. Revolutionary fervor still determines style in Chinese culture. This is expressed in the following statement that describes the contradiction between modern ideals and more traditional cultural values in fashion. "At a time when everyone in the nation was being urged to focus on the noble goals of self-reliance, thrift, and hard work for the sake of strengthening the country, how could I feel proud of a mother who wore fashionable dresses and high heels? (Chen 1999: 112) "

In the cultural revolutionary period in China "dressing down," in terms of fashion, displayed a positive attitude towards the revolutionary ideal.

Dressing down was a signifier of moral, rebel revolutionary fibre and that was a valuable social asset. Western writers on fashion have also described ideological dressing down, perhaps wearing jeans as a statement of working-class pride, or wannabe working-class chic (Barnard 1996: 1279). "

An analysis of fashion in both countries shows ambiguities in fashion that relate to the struggle between previous cultural norms and modern imperatives. This is particularly the case in China. Older style uniforms in blue and grey are often still worn by the older citizens. However the military style of the 1960's is more open and less restrained. There is also in a similar vein to Japan, a consciousness of national identity and pride in the participation of China in the growing international economic market, which is reflected in fashion and dress.

The children who sport new fashions are participating in the consumption of Western styles, Chinese domination in the mass garment industries, and, crucially, in the production of the individual as a dressed fetish. The same children, or their classmates, are doing something rather different in terms of cultural politics when they change into pale blue straight dresses and shorts, white shirts and red Young Pioneer scarves. They are doing succession and revolutionary continuity (Donald 1999: 85, Chan 1985: 1-9).


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