Changing times as residents aspire to a well-off society

Yang Yang Yang Wenjie
The changes taking place through China becoming a well-off society are part of our history. Two Jiading residents share their insights into the passing of time.
Yang Yang Yang Wenjie

The idea of a well-off society may be a grand topic, but step by step it is steadily making its way into people’s lives till it comes to be something solid to experience and see. The changes taking place are part of living history. 

Jiading residents Xiao Jueliang, Party secretary of Jiading Cinema, and Shanghai writer Lou Yaofu illustrate this to us with their vivid amounts of time and cultural transition. 

Clothes for all seasons as fashion becomes on trend

(Narrator: Lou Yaofu)

Dress and personal adornments, a weather vane for changing times and aesthetics, also tell the story of each individual’s endeavor to be well-off.

For decades, Chinese people have been wearing clothes from simply covering their bodies and keeping warm to leading trends and expressing individuality. The clothes, from being dyed a ubiquitous black, blue or white in the past, to the varied colors of today, saw their textures change from dacron, rayon fabric, dacron khaki to ramie, mulberry silk or silk satin.

Rather than mending their tattered clothes for another three years’ endurance several decades ago, people in China can now have a wardrobe of different items for each season.

Changing times as residents aspire to a well-off society
Ti Gong

A young craftswoman uses blue-and-white cloth to make a purse in the workshop, while piles of similar items products are shown on the table. 

Making garments ourselves

In the 1950s and 1960s, we rarely bought ready-made clothes. To save money we would rather buy a piece of cloth and make garments ourselves. In an age of scarce supplies and a planned economy, we had to show our cloth coupons before we bought the cloth. And a saying summed up our dressing habits: “Wear new clothes for three years, for another three years when they get old, and another three while constantly mending and sewing the tatters.”

To buy a piece of cloth, we first calculated how much cloth we needed. Then we visited the store, grasping our coupons. A shop assistant unfolded a roll of cloth, measured it with a ruler, cut a small incision and ripped a piece of cloth evenly off the roll.

Women had options including plaids and cotton prints, whereas men had fewer choices with only black, white, blue and gray cloth to choose from. As for textures, cottons ranked first in terms of popularity, followed by rural handwoven cloth.

Born into a large family, I wore new clothes only during the Spring Festival. A saying at that time was: “The eldest brother wears the new clothes, the second wears the old clothes. The eldest wore out and the youngest brother wears tattered cloth twice worn-out.”

Even as the eldest brother of the family, I wore clothes my parents or grandparents passed down to me. My mother would alter the clothes for me by hand. And I had a memory of her sewing clothes in dim light.

Later she bought a sewing machine and efficiently alter clothes for each member of the household.

Symbol of being trendy

Later, the varieties of cloth included fabrics such as dacron we wore in summer and dacron khaki or polyester for spring or autumn. When dacron became popular, we no longer used coupons. We liked its smooth texture and long endurance, though the price was high.

Due to its price we even created an idiom — treat a dacron shirt as a rag — to describe wasting talent on a petty job.

Nowadays I find fault with a dacron shirt, blaming its airtight texture for causing discomfort. But back in the 1970s dacron was a symbol of being trendy. When my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Hangzhou in east China’s Zhejiang Province, I wore a dacron shirt and a Mao suit.

In addition to cotton and chemical fiber fabric, wealthy people also used wool serge or woollen fabric to make clothes, which ordinary people normally couldn’t afford. The navy blue wool serge Mao suit which I wore at my wedding ceremony cost me over 40 yuan (US$6), whereas my monthly salary at that time was 36 yuan.

Kalindoe, or an economic collar, was a common adornment for Shanghai citizens. A kalindoe was made up of a collar, without the body part or even the sleeves. People in Shanghai liked to wear it inside a coat or a sweater, looking as if they were wearing a new shirt.

Garment styles were few, nothing more than Mao suits, schoolwear and regular uniforms, and the colors were dull. Skinny pants and bell-bottom trousers would be regarded as outlandish. During the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976), people’s trouser legs would be cut in front of other people in streets if they wore “bizarre” clothes such as skinny pants. Sounds incredible now.

Afterward, garment styles varied to add dual coats, jackets and jeans.

Changing times as residents aspire to a well-off society
Ti Gong

Lou Yaofu, wearing a dacron shirt and a Mao suit, is pictured with his wife, Yin Huifen, in front of the Liuhe Pagoda in Hangzhou in neighboring Zhejiang Province during their honeymoon trip in the 1970s. 

Arrival of color

As China opened itself to the outside world in 1978, the Chinese people’s love of beautiful clothes has been somehow satisfied. Colorful garments of various styles were being introduced to the country. People started to wear skirts, bat’s-wing-sleeved coats, bell-bottom trousers, pencil skirts, suits, windbreaks and the traditional Chinese one-piece qipao dress. In the 1990s, daring young people even wore bare midriffs, vests, mini-skirts and ripped jeans.

As a writer, I often wore suits and it was trendy to wear suits at that time. I had more than a dozen pure wool suits. Some were single-row buttoned, some double-row buttoned, some were slit up on both sides and some slit in the center. On important occasions I wore suits to have an impressive look.

Later, people started to care about brands, and foreign brands, including Pierre Cardin, Lacoste, Nike, Adidas and Playboy, entered the Chinese market. All kinds of boutiques appeared in Shanghai and Jiading, bridging the gap between Shanghai people and world brand clothes. I used to have shirts, T-shirts, shoes and socks of Pierre Cardin, Lacoste and Playboy.

Expressing individuality

In the 21st century, commercial complexes housing all kinds of boutiques offer people one-stop shopping, and e-commerce platforms also gave people another alternative to buy clothes.

We no longer blindly follow trends to buy clothes. Instead, we try to exert individuality through the clothes we wear. My wife and I now prefer cotton cloth or even homespun cloth.

Differing from the cotton cloth and homespun cloth we wore in the 1950s and 1960s to keep warm, my wife and I wear them now to exert our individuality. They are comfortable, low profile, of Han nationality characteristics and with an Oriental charm.

In recent years, we researched a variety of homespun cloth, blue print cloth and folk embroidery. The homespun cloth we collected includes stripes, plaids, cloth with wintersweet, begonia and rice patterns, and cloth that’s red, green, blue, white. I even wrote a book on the different homespun clothes.

Blue print cloth, or drug anatkina cloth, is an important representative of the Jiangnan culture (regions in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River). The original place of the cloth is said to be in Jiading’s Anting Town.

My wife and I will wear our homespun cloth or blue print cloth garments when we take international tours or receive foreign writers at home, and especially when we are holding lectures nationwide for our readers. We feel confident wearing the ethnic clothing.

The ups and downs of a ‘cultural living room’

(Narrator: Xiao Jueliang)

Jiading Cinema has been entertaining audiences since it opened in the 1980s. Despite the ups and downs it has gone through over the past 30 years, it survived and is still trying to improve its services.

I began working at the cinema in 1980, when I was fresh out of high school. At the time, the cinema was still taking shape and officially began to receive viewers a year later.

The site was originally a military hall, which was torn down to build the cinema as the district — which was a town then — planned to set up a facility that was capable of holding large meetings and important assemblies as well as different cultural performances and films.

Different sectors were involved in design and construction.

Changing times as residents aspire to a well-off society
Ti Gong

Jiading Cinema opened to the public on January 13, 1981. Since then, it has been a popular destination for Jiading residents seeking to be entertained. 

I recall clearly the tide of people flocking into our cinema when we started off. Films were a new thing, but they were also an increasing trend. It was what people kept going to and talking about.

Films were flooding in to be shown on the screen, including quality productions from the past and the latest made at home and abroad. For a long time it was quite hard to buy a ticket to watch films.

“The Shaolin Temple” was the most influential one. It was scheduled to play for four days from June 10 in 1982, but I learned that this film was especially popular when I was asking about it. The tickets were sold out in advance, and there were not enough to satisfy eager viewers.

The previous screening ended at 9pm on June 9, and we decided to add one more session the same night. When word spread, people said they would definitely welcome it no matter how late it would be, just as long as they got to see it.

The night when the films finally arrived at our cinema at around 11pm, everyone applauded. The seats were filled, and our staff were so excited and into the work that they forgot their tiredness. The film continued to be screened for several hours later, and after a few hours’ rest, lives went back to normal at 6:30am.

The film was screened for 35 times over the five-day period and had an audience of over 63,000.

The number of viewers continued to climb. In August 1983, the martial art movie “Wudang” had about 72,000 visitors in five days, a record high for the theater.

Apart from films, performances were also a major attraction. A variety of folk shows from local troupes as well as those from neighboring provinces were staged, winning a reputation for the facility at the same time.

Overcome the sticky moments

The turning point came around the middle of the 1990s. People visiting the theater began to decline as video players made it possible to watch films at home.

It was hard for us to open more sessions, except for the really popular films. There were few visitors especially on a summer afternoon. There were usually less than 10 people in the hall, so the air-conditioner was not fully on — as a result, even fewer people were willing to come. It was a vicious circle.

Our operation became a dilemma, and we needed to figure out how to get through it.

To increase income, we rented out our venues for other businesses like video rooms, karaoke and dancing. In 1996 we signed with Lianhua Supermarket and provided 300 square meters for them with our cinema hall smaller.

We also made the lobby into a two-story space for games and dancing. At the most difficult times, we even rented out part of the dressing room to survive.

With the government support, we were finally able to do a major makeover in 2007. General renovation aside, the playing equipment was also updated. Digital film replaced the traditional film strip, and we restructured the one large room into a large one and two small ones.

We joined a theater chain and introduced an automatic office management system, which optimized our work processes and brought back guests. The first year after the renovation, we earned a box office of 3 million yuan (US$450,000). The rising trend lasted for several years and in 2015, our annual income had gone beyond 10 million yuan.

More challenges followed as various cinemas started to flourish in the district from 2017. The competition in the market was fierce, and again we saw a decline in our box office. It was the time we made some changes.

Last year, we gave the theater another facelift with a brand-new hall like a cafe to make the waiting viewers more comfortable and an upgraded Dolby Atmos audio equipment for a better viewing experience.

Changing times as residents aspire to a well-off society
Ti Gong

Comfortable chairs, delicious snacks and Dolby Atmos technology are some of the features since Jiading Cinema was renovated last year to offer a better watching environment for audience.

When the major business of film playing is guaranteed, we also plan to spur diversified development to build the theater into an ideal site for family events, educational and training sessions, exhibitions and performances.

Since then we have held activities such as non-profit fairs and experience events including bookmark making.

We have also joined a dozen qualified training institutions in the district and will launch different non-profit art lessons in the future.

A voluntary team has been formed delivering quality films so that more people can see them. In 2019, we have shown over 100 sessions of films in schools, communities and parks.

As people embrace a better life and more choices, it is undeniable that our theater will no longer be as crowded as it used to be. Today, there are more than 20 cinemas in Jiading, scattered everywhere with a wide coverage.

Online ticket buying and seat selecting are so convenient, and viewers demand not only quality films, but also a quality environment to sit in as they watch the films.

Yet we are pleased to see our “cultural living room” prosper. To have a general idea of the ongoing cultural events, the online platform of Culture Jiading Cloud will show schedules of libraries, museums and galleries in the district and offer reservation services.

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