Shanghai’s Halloween festivities took a creative turn this year, with traditional pumpkins and Jack-o’-Lanterns making way for a more localized celebration of costumes and cosplay. The city’s youthful energy brought a blend of Eastern and Western cultures, reflecting China’s growing cultural confidence and global openness.
The streets of Shanghai became a canvas for self-expression as local youths dressed up in imaginative outfits for Halloween. Rather than sticking to the usual Western-themed costumes, many participants showcased their ingenuity by donning costumes inspired by Chinese opera, popular TV series, and even current social media influencers.
A distinctive feature of this year’s celebration was the homage to characters from “Empresses in the Palace,” a hit TV drama that unfolds the narrative of royal concubines in the Qing Dynasty. These historical figures came to life as Shanghai’s young people intricately replicated their attire and demeanor, reveling in the joy of embodying characters from a bygone era.
One Shanghai local expressed how the festival had evolved into a Chinese-style carnival, saying that dressing as beloved characters from various media was an enjoyable way to unwind and release stress.
Some participants chose a more minimalist approach to their costumes, highlighting societal issues with a hint of humor. For instance, a simple outfit with dark under-eye circles and a sign reading “Party B” perfectly encapsulated the weary modern employee, resonating with many city-dwellers.
With the celebration’s growing popularity, the authorities took measures to ensure public safety. The Shanghai police deployed extra personnel around Jululu Road, a popular spot for Halloween gatherings, to manage the crowds and traffic.
Ai Ai, a 28-year-old resident, described the festivities as pure fun, highlighting the diversity of cosplays ranging from traditional to modern styles. Another local, who prefers to go by Ku and works as a costume designer, reveled in the chance to showcase her creations, embracing the role of a ‘cyberpunk worker.’
Amidst the excitement, however, some costumes stirred controversy. Certain individuals, who dressed as medical workers performing COVID-19 tests, faced criticism for their insensitive portrayal of healthcare professionals.
The varied reactions to the Halloween celebrations opened up a broader discussion on cultural appropriation and the reception of foreign festivals. Ai defended the localized celebration of Halloween, asserting that adapting the festival to include Chinese cultural elements was a valid form of enjoyment and self-expression.
Echoing this sentiment, Ku, representing the Gen-Z demographic, spoke of a strong sense of national pride that coexists with an inclusive attitude toward other cultures. This generational mindset reflects the duality of preserving Chinese traditions while engaging with global customs.
Local media outlets also chimed in on the conversation, with Jiefang Daily lauding the young generation’s innovative spirit in celebrating Halloween. An article from the publication highlighted the festivities as a testament to Shanghai’s cosmopolitan and open character, rather than mere participation in a Western holiday.
This year’s Halloween in Shanghai stands as a vibrant example of cultural fusion, where the city’s youths have artfully blended Western traditions with Chinese cultural motifs, humor, and social commentary. It showcases the city’s capacity for transformation and adaptation, and according to locals like Ku, it signals a future where Shanghai will continue to reimagine and celebrate an array of global festivals with its own unique flair.