Local Chinese Officials Ban Halloween Costumes as Threat to ‘Social Stability’

People celebrate Halloween in Hong Kong on October 31, 2016. / AFP / Anthony WALLACE (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

The South China Morning Post on Thursday offered the interesting observation that while Halloween is an enormously popular affair in China, some local officials are denouncing or outright banning masks, costumes, and makeup as a threat to “social stability.”

The SCMP article does not directly mention Hong Kong, but the apprehension of some Chinese officials about masks could stem from the role masks have played in the Hong Kong protest movement. From the earliest days of the current political crisis, protesters have favored masks. The Beijing-dominated Hong Kong government banned masks in early October, but the ban has been vigorously ignored.

Some of the aversion to Halloween in China appears to stem from old Chinese superstitions about courting disaster by imitating spirits. It could be part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) overall effort to make society more austere and focused on the tasks laid out by the Party leadership. It might be the CCP getting nervous that Chinese citizens enjoy a Western tradition so much.

As the SCMP observed, some parts of China are arguably more wild about Halloween than the United States:

For many young Chinese, October is filled with Halloween celebrations such as dress-up parties – even as anti-Western holiday rhetoric crops up every year, with some saying dressing up as ghosts is “inauspicious” and some subway stations banning Halloween make-up.

Many theme parks and bars were decorated in early October.

In Shenzhen, in southern China’s Guangdong province, parks such as Window of the World and Happy Valley are home to parades, shows and haunted mansions from October until early November, with participants encouraged to dress up. Videos uploaded on social media show haunted mansions with spooky lighting, cotton cobwebs and skeletons, with workers dressed up as ghosts who jump out to scare tourists.

Authorities in the city of Guangzhou decided it was time for a little buzzkill, announcing a ban on Wednesday against “wearing scary make-up” and “performance arts” in the city’s subway stations. According to the report:

“As Western holiday ‘Halloween’ nears, some shops and entertainment companies are holding holiday parties,” the notice said. “Passengers in strange costumes and make-up have appeared at subway stations and in subway cars in big cities, including Guangzhou, which caused crowds to gather and even scared some passengers.”

It said that subway staff would prevent such behavior and talk to those in scary costumes or make-up. Those who did not listen and who caused what they termed public disturbances would be dealt with according to the law, it said. Last week, photographs appeared on social media of passengers in Guangzhou being made to wipe off their make-up before being allowed on the subway.

Some Chinese are said to feel that understanding Halloween is an important part of understanding Western culture, especially if one wishes to have a good time while doing so. This has produced a backlash from ardent nationalists who think China’s enthusiasm for Halloween “shows we are not confident about our culture and are blindly obsessed with English or American culture,” as one of them put it on social media.

Ironically, the Hill made the case on Thursday that sales of Halloween products in the U.S. are down for the second year in a row because of consumer apprehension over the trade war with China, although some of the experts thought the decline was trivial and forecasts for the far-more important Christmas holiday season are predicting an increase over last year.

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