The Chinese and Uniforms
The Chinese have a fixation with uniforms. The Chinese have a strict sense of order. You see it in everything from their floral plantings/hedges, buildings, and landscaping. Order is necessary here for 1.3 billion people to function in daily life, get around, and do their work. Uniforms are an important piece of this order. Beyond what we westerners think about when we think of uniforms; like the Army, or fast-food workers, or supermarket chain workers; the Chinese take it to a higher level. Here you see uniforms on guards entering your housing, business, school complex; uniforms on the cleaning ladies, called “ayis,” who work cleaning your apartment building; navy-blue uniformed long-billed-hatted parking attendants who collect parking fees and write out a receipt; green uniforms on people working doing the grounds, flowers, hedges, all over the place here; blaze-orange uniforms on the people who sweep the street.
We have even taken to calling the various uniformed groups by their color, like the “green people” or the “orange people.” Granted that a lot of these uniforms exist in western societies. One big difference here is that the uniforms change from season to season. It may be warmer for winter, lighter for spring, summer, warmer again in fall. It may be the addition of a sash, belt, epaulets, or a braid to a uniform to give it more pizazz. It may be a completely different color for some…not the green or orange people though…they seem to be at the bottom of the uniform totem pole. For example we noticed our building “ayis” changed from blue in fall, to gray in winter, to green in spring, to short-sleeved brown imitation silk for summer.
Even construction workers, of which there are many here, have as their uniform their orange hardhat. They wear it proudly to and from work. We see orange hard-hatted workers bicycling to and from work. This may explain one big difference here, people dress in their uniforms to go to and from work. We often see white-hatted chefs in their white cooking clothes and apron riding their electric bikes to work. So people do not go to work and change up there, such as many western occupations do. We have not noticed the higher professionals like doctors or nurses wearing their uniforms on the way to work. They appear to have graduated from uniform wear to work.
The Chinese do like to work and work long hard hours. The addition of a uniform gives the Chinese some dignity about their work. It gives them purpose and camaraderie, as there seem to be no jobs done alone here. Perhaps this is attributable to Mao, and his gray or khaki union suit that he and party members wore. It made a lasting fashion statement, that has been copied and improved upon!
Wearing a uniform seems to give people more purpose to their work. Plus, in addition to the fact that a uniform is being worn, it also indicates that a job is being done. So, no “slacking” or “slouching,” people are watching, and know what job you should be doing, by your uniform! So, look sharp! For example, at the school where we work, there are many uniformed guards who work outside the building. One of their jobs is to direct the 40+ buses of the school here to where they park and load or unload. Even though the route and loading/unloading point has not changed all year, each day as we arrive, guards are posted at each turn signaling with one arm folded then extended to point the direction for the bus to go, followed by a salute after the bus passes.
Then there are guards who guide the bus to its stopping point, using two-hand signal motions similar to those of an airport attendant guiding in a 747 at an airport! It all would seem rather ridiculous but for the fact they are wearing uniforms, complete with white gloves. We often comment, “Does the bus driver (who is also in uniform) really pay any attention to the guards?” since he knows where to park the bus each day. Maybe he does, out of mutual respect for their uniforms.
Uniforms give a sense of belonging to people here, just as being part of a family does. The Chinese are very big on groups. We think the Chinese find it comforting to be in uniform, like others, or not like others because your uniform is different. We often see whole groups of our uniformed apartment building “ayis” walking hand-in-hand beginning or ending their days work. We see the uniformed guards acting similarly. It makes us think back to our Little League days and the feeling we had when we donned the same uniform as our teammates! It was a good feeling, being part of group dressed the same as we were…maybe the Chinese are on to something!