2020-08-13 09:22:50

A city in southwestern China’s Yunnan province has introduced a new dress code for its government employees: They should wear ethnic costumes at least two workdays a week.

In a notice Sunday, the local government of Jinghong City in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture mandated that “all staff members at public and party-affiliated institutions should wear ethnic costumes at least two days (per week) in principle.” Government officials are also required to don such attire while “attending city-level meetings, celebrating festivals, receiving important guests, and participating in important activities.”

Xishuangbanna is home to 13 officially recognized ethnic groups and is often dubbed “the land of minorities.” According to China’s most recent census in 2010, ethnic minorities accounted for some 70% of the prefecture’s population.

The regulation on the new dress code has sparked heated debate on microblogging platform Weibo. While some users have lauded the rule as a means of preserving traditional culture and promoting ethnic pride, others have questioned whether the government should interfere with the workers’ personal choice in clothing.

“Wearing ethnic costumes at work could be inconvenient,” read one comment under a related post. “Sometimes it’s complicated just putting them on.”

On Thursday, a press officer from Jinghong’s city administration office told Sixth Tone that they are “combing through” the reason behind the regulation. He added that no disciplinary measures would be taken against people who violate the dress code.

Earlier this week, an official at Jinghong’s religious affairs administration told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper that the new regulation was introduced to promote the region’s ethnic minorities. The official said the policy could help revive local tourism, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as potentially “attract tourists from all over the world.”

Ethnic culture is one of Xishuangbanna’s main selling points as a tourist destination. Last year, the region welcomed an estimated 100,000 tourists during the Labor Day holiday, but that number dipped by about 70% this year due to the pandemic.

Since the 1990s, the Yunnan government has designated many minority villages as tourist spots where visitors are welcomed with local foods, crafts, dances, songs, and even wedding events. Tourists can watch or participate in staged cultural performances and stay overnight in bamboo dwellings.

Jenny Chio, an associate professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Southern California, said the dress code policy reinforces the idea that tourism is, first and foremost, a visual experience.

“The (local) government is now envisioning all of Jinghong as enmeshed in the tourist experience,” Chio told Sixth Tone. “Having government officials wear ethnic clothing on a semi-regular basis would therefore be intended to make all of Jinghong more visibly ethnic.”

While China’s local economies benefit from ethnic group-focused tourism, there are concerns that those in charge might not fully grasp the cultures and traditions, their impressions instead skewed toward tourism revenue.

“The images of the ‘exotic other’ through the vehicle of tourism are loaded in favor of collective middlemen’s needs,” Li Yang, an associate professor of geography at Western Michigan University, wrote in a 2016 paper.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A man and woman in the traditional clothing of the Dai ethnic minority group feed peacocks at a park in Jinghong, Yunnan province, Feb. 4, 2016. People Visual)