Shanghai Halloween party a rare chance for Chinese to let off steam in style | ET REALITY


There were evil magicians, television celebrities and undead beings, yes.

But there were also walking memes, rare public expressions of queer life, wry commentary on the state of China, and at least one bipedal cucumber: a colorful explosion of pent-up energy and excitement at Shanghai’s first major Halloween celebration in years.

In Shanghai, revelers have embraced Halloween, turning what began as a Western tradition into something distinctly Chinese. For four days, they celebrated many of the things that Chinese censors typically suppress: elements of LGBT life, political and social critiques, or simply appearances that mainstream Chinese society might consider too outlandish or strange.

This year’s celebration was also the first since China lifted its sweeping pandemic restrictions, adding to the exuberant tone of the thousands in attendance, who laughed, socialized and reveled in each other’s costumes. Attendees said it was the largest gathering they had seen in years.

“It was a sea of ​​joy from Huaihai Road to Nanjing Road,” said Eric Ding, a 23-year-old technology worker. “Voices from all corners of the world gathered here.”

For some in Shanghai, Halloween is a time for safe LGBT expression. one of the few left in a country where discrimination based on sexual orientation is common. Lucas Fu, a nonprofit worker in his 30s, said the atmosphere at this year’s Halloween reminded him of the Pride events he saw when he first moved to Shanghai in 2017, when LGBT advocacy groups were more tolerated and organized annual public celebrations.

“Here in this country,” he said, “we are only allowed one carnival where you can dance like crazy for a fleeting moment.”

Still, some of the parade attendees made only subtle references with their costumes. Delos Wu, a 23-year-old who works in advertising, dressed up as a character from the Taiwanese film “Marry My Dead Body,” a queer comedy about the Chinese custom of ghost marriages.

Wakkii Zheng, who came to Shanghai just for the party, dressed as a royal concubine from a popular TV show, “Empress in the Palace.” Calling Halloween her own “Met Gala,” she said she started planning her outfit in early October and decided, at the last minute, not to wear a version of Mariah Carey’s iconic Christmas outfit.

“As part of the LBGTQ community, I have wondered if I can wear a dress to a party,” she said. “But except Halloween, it’s hard to find another occasion where I can feel so relaxed.”

A recurring Halloween theme this year was the collapse of the Chinese economy: revelers turned the difficulty of finding work or making money into costumes.

One woman held a sign that said “liberal arts graduate.” and carried a metal bowl and a QR code for donations. Another woman dressed as a hungry medical student, also with a begging bowl.

Two men in e-commerce uniforms held signs advising others not to enter the industry, which was once one of the fastest-growing sectors in China but has seen falling sales and many business closures in the years. last months.

Some bold people wore costumes that touched on topics almost untouchable in public discourse, such as China’s recent “Zero Covid” policy or the state of relations between the United States and China.

One woman taped blank sheets of paper all over her shirt, a reference to protests that broke out last year against China’s pandemic restrictions. White is a funeral color in China, and many of those protesters held sheets of white paper over their heads or faces.

Almost a year ago, at an intersection a few kilometers from this year’s Halloween celebrations, hundreds of people chanted slogans calling for an end to Covid restrictions and faced police repression.

Ding, the tech worker, said he had attended the protest in Shanghai last year and that being in a large crowd of police officers gave him a strange déjà vu, with an important difference this year.

“I wasn’t afraid because no one else was afraid,” he said.

Olivia Zhou and Lily Li, two artists from Shanghai, dressed as Donald J. Trump and President Biden, holding a sign modifying Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan. Ms. Zhou said they chose this message because it was sarcastic but open to interpretation, and that a security officer told them to get rid of it. When they refused, she took the sign and tore it up.

“There was no dialogue, he just used his absolute power to suppress us,” Ms. Li said.

Like any other place with a television and an Internet connection, Halloween inspired many pop culture costumes. Max Ma, a 26-year-old software engineer, wore a hazmat suit meant to replicate the criminal meth makers from her favorite show, “Breaking Bad.”

“Eight out of ten people had costumes,” said Mrs. Ma. “It seemed like a real carnival for everyone.”

Other costumes were inspired by Chinese Internet memes, such as members of a fake McDonald’s religion. Even ChatGPT made an appearance.

Among the many provocative costumes, there were many police officers to direct the crowd. But they did not interfere with any of the festivities, Ma said.

“He was especially cheerful, especially tolerant,” she said. “Everyone had a happy attitude.”

But still, at least some online publications Sharing photos of the Shanghai costume was censored on Chinese social media.

“The Chinese people have been oppressed by power for too long,” Ding said. “Seeking pure joy in a holiday we choose ourselves is a difficult step to take, and I sincerely hope this city can remain young forever.”

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