Cultural Hegemony, from 1959 Summer, 2016
Not sure where this fits … I have always thought that the comments on the “Chinglish” street signs and hotel menus were tending to the mean-spirited, even if some were funny. No one laughs at my speaking Chinese.
We were at afternoon tea yesterday with one of my students from Chicago and her husband and daughter. They both work for the Hangzhou police department, in jobs that have to do with contact with foreign governments and screening government officials who want to go abroad.
The place for tea was beautiful – a hotel developed by Greentown, one of the biggest Chinese real estate developers, set in the hills of Hanghzou and a bit isolated from everything else. The design of the hotel is meant to evoke 1920s London – smoking rooms and billiard rooms and card rooms and a veranda looking out onto the hills and landscaped gardens – and the super-Olympic sized outdoor pool, surrounded by falling waters cut into the hills. The hotel was all highly modern, and highly high end, otherwise.
There was a (modern) movie on the big tv in the sitting room, some sort of 1920s setting English upper class drama. Think Bertie Worcester, but not his club, the club used by his uncle. Afternoon tea was 1:30 to 4:30. Varieties of teas with cucumber sandwiches (no crusts, of course) and some varieties of breads and macarons (is that right? not macaroni, not macaroons, I don’t think … little round colored cookies, two or three levels, like a little cookie sandwich … sort of like upper class Oreos) and a bunch of other stuff.
Piped in music was 1920s or 1930s big band and jazz - not loud, just terrifyingly smart.
Anyway, this is all superfluous. There was an event at the hotel, The Next Part of the Bargain, designed to teach Chinese ladies how to be elegant. Probably very expensive. This is an all weekend event, with small classes and probably instructions in how to curl your little finger when drinking tea … sort of a weekend group Henry Higgins experience in China. Walk, small talk, nodding appropriately, probably makeup and expensive dresses.
Anyway, about a dozen of the ladies who signed up for the weekend were taking a short course in how to walk elegantly in a qipao, the old traditional Chinese slim dress with the slit up the side. We were seated on the veranda, looking out on the hills and the pool down below, and the qipao ladies were … well, not prancing … not performing … not sashaying … walking elegantly, up and down in front of us, to piped in music for the occasion.
I mean, the qipao has been out of style for modern Chinese women since about the 1930s, so this short course is so retro that it must be in style again for Chinese women so wealthy that they don’t care what the current style calls for. Now, one usually see the qipao only on attendants at formal events, on female flight attendants, or sometimes at the entrance to a fancy restaurant.
But the music they were elegantly walking to is the thing. In addition to some jazz hits, there was also this, and you can't make this stuff up. Those of you who are old enough might remember the Davy Crockett craze around 1959, with the movie and the hit song. The wealthy ladies were walking elegantly to the soothing sounds of a Chinese woman singing, in English, over and over again, a soft, lilting, slow dance version – “Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee ….”