In Shanghai, Chinese youth recreate Halloween with a distinctive Chinese style
Published: Nov 03, 2023 11:33 AM
A large-scale Halloween parade lights up the nightlife of Shanghai on October 29, 2023, with local residents' costumes becoming a new highlight of the street. Photo: VCG

A large-scale Halloween parade lights up the nightlife of Shanghai on October 29, 2023, with local residents' costumes becoming a new highlight of the street. Photo: VCG

In Shanghai, Halloween this year has fewer pumpkins and Jack-o'-Lanterns, but a little bit more cosplay competitions featuring characters from hit TV dramas and ancient novels and Chinese celebrities. In the eyes of Chinese youths, celebrating this “imported festival” via a unique Chinese demonstrates to the world the Chinese public’s cultural confidence and openness. 

The topic of Halloween in Shanghai has dominated Chinese social media recently. In pictures trickling out on the internet, Shanghai’s youngsters can be seen donning Beijing opera costumes, while others go as topless Batman… others put pictures of top China beauty influencer Li Jiaqi on their faces while wearing T-shirts that say, “Why do you think this is expensive?” to mock Li’s previous controversy in which he said during a livestream that viewers only have themselves to blame for not earning enough, after the chat complained about the price of an eyebrow pencil he was promoting. 

Characters from Empresses in the Palace, a popular TV drama about the intrigue between the emperor's concubines in the imperial palace during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), were top cosplay targets for young people in Shanghai. 

“Halloween has already become a Chinese-style carnival. Dressing as people we like is a good way of venting pressure and relaxing,” a Shanghai resident who dressed as one character in the show told the Global Times.

Some people did not go for complicated outfits – just putting dark circles under their eyes, squinting and carrying a sign that said “Party B” was enough to create a vivid imitation of an exhausted employee. 

The celebrations were organized by the participants themselves, but the scale was so big that Shanghai police added additional manpower on Tuesday night on Jululu Road, where the celebrations were held, and asked citizens to spread the news that the bars along the road were no longer serving customers, and people could only exit the venue instead of entering, media reported.

Shanghai police redirected traffic around Jululu Road on Tuesday, to cope with the large crowds expected to come that night. 

Ai Ai (pseudonym), a 28-year-old Shanghai resident who joined the city’s celebration, told the Global Times on Wednesday that she joined for “pure fun.” “There are few occasions you can see cosplayers wearing all styles. It is so interesting to see young people dress in such creative ways.”

Ku (pseudonym), another Shanghai resident who works as a “costume maker” brought her self-made wheelchair to the celebration. 
“It is an opportunity to bring to everyone the cool things I have made… I feel so happy to be a ‘cyberpunk worker.’”

“I have to say, New York pales in comparison with Shanghai in terms of Halloween celebration this year,” a Shanghai resident who is currently studying in New York said on his WeChat account.

However, there are people who went too far. Some people dressed as medical workers doing COVID-19 tests for residents, which sparked outrage online with many calling the cosplay “low quality and disrespectful of medical workers.” 

As usual, the celebration of Halloween has drawn a torrent of discussion online, as many question whether it is appropriate, some also called the celebration of imported festivals “worship of everything that’s foreign.”

“The festival represents a certain kind of culture. However, there’s no right or wrong in a certain culture, it just depends on whether one likes it or not. Some Chinese people have injected Halloween with Chinese style and use this festival to have fun, what’s wrong about that?” said Ai. 

Ku also believe such a statement is “absolute.” 
“As a Gene-Z youngster, I grew up in the era of China’s rapid development, and I believe we are the generation with the biggest national pride. It is such pride that gives us an inclusive attitude toward other cultures.”

Jiefang Daily, a newspaper affiliated with the Shanghai Committee of the Communist Party of China, defends young people’s celebration of Halloween. It published an article on Tuesday that said the Shanghai streets on Halloween turned young people’s crazy fantasies into reality. 

The article said that it is a celebration of Chinese youths, and there’s no need to be nervous about the little pumpkins and Jack-o'-Lanterns. “The Halloween party, rather than being an opportunity for Chinese to celebrate a Western festival, is a big global party that involves young people from both China and other countries. People from different countries toast each other, forming a lively symbol of Shanghai’s openness and cosmopolitan nature.” 

Ku was amazed by how creative Chinese have “remolded” the Western festival. “I think it is so cool that we can use our own culture, our own jokes to turn this festival into one that has Chinese style. I hope Shanghai can witness more outstanding celebrations of other festivals, so we can have more time to relax, entertain ourselves, as well as let our creative juices fly.”