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Can you distinguish what is “Cultural appropriation” or not?



“Culture” refers to “the cultivation of the soul,” which is derived from the accumulation of knowledge or experience related to life in the course of development of an organism to adapt it in the natural or surrounding environment. It is a group of people living together in the same natural environment and an unconventional outward manifestation formed by the mode of economic production. The modern term of “culture” is inspirited by the word “cultura animi,” and the cultivation of the soul from the book called Tusculanae Disputationes which was written by the Ancient Roman orator Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero). (Cicéron, Marcus Tullius Cicero and Bouhier, Jean, 1812: p.273).

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In the history of Homo sapiens for 250,000 years, the term “culture” has already appeared. In the history of Homo sapiens for 250,000 years, the term “culture” has already appeared. In fact, the cultural ideas can be transferred from one society to another through communication or cultural adaptation. “Stimulation of proliferation” refers to the sharing of ideas, which refers to an element of a culture that leads to the invention or dissemination of another culture. “Direct borrowing” often refers to the technical or physical diffusion from one culture to another. (Olanike F. Deji, 2011: p.165.)

However, in the past, you will find that people would like to exchange different cultures to develop and make their country stronger. For example, Like the most glorious and important era in the history of China – the Tang Dynasty. It is generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. (Lewis, Mark Edward, 2012: p.1.) The Emperor of Tang always keeps contact and exchange different cultures with Silla (Now: Korea), Wa (Now: Japan), Chenla (Cambodia), Persia (Now: Iran)……etc

Especially the famous ancient network – Silk Road which was for the centuries central to cultural interaction originally through regions of Eurasia connecting the East and West and stretching from the Korean peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea. (Elisseeff Vadime, 2001.)

When did this meaningful cultural exchange activity start to become the “cultural appropriation” mentioned frequently in the society now these days?

Sometimes, have you ever think about that can you distinguish that is it “cultural appropriation” really means “cultural appropriation”?



What is the meaning of Cultural appropriation?

“Culture” is the social behaviour of human. Such as religion, ritual, art, music, dance, technologies, cooking and clothing, these all different categories that you can find in all human societies. ( Macionis, John J and Gerber, Linda Marie, 2011: p.53.) According to the definition of Oxford Dictionary, “Culture” means “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”, “A refined understanding or appreciation of culture.” And “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

“Appropriation” means “The action of appropriating something.” in Oxford Dictionary. “Cultural appropriation” means the inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas of someone or some society by members of another people or society. Indeed, according to the literal meaning, the meaning of cultural appropriation has a negative meaning. However, what is the meaning of appropriation? Regarding an accused item, can we really tell if this is appropriation or something else? It is because we can not clearly define the term cultural appropriation or maybe it just a Cross-cultural Communication.

In 2015, the Student Union of the University of Ottawa stopped free yoga classes by the disability student centre because of they thought that it might be related to the cultural appropriation problems. “The point is to get people to have higher physical awareness for their own physical health and enjoyment.” Jennifer Scharf, the yoga teacher of University of Ottawa. For this incident, the public concerned about the issue of cultural appropriation once again. However, it is doubtful that the center of this incident -YOGA. In the 60s, India promoted yoga to the other countries actively such as sending the employees to the United Kingdom and turn the form of tradition into an enterprise, to make it became mutually beneficial. So that, Foreigner got yoga, Indian got the salary. So, why this historic “cultural deal” become a modern “cultural appropriation” right now?



Cultural appropriation and Derivative work


The examples of cultural appropriation, often associated with the derivative work. The derivative work includes such creative modes as imitation, adaptation and quotation, and does not plagiarize other people’s works as their own. Cultural appropriation is also done the similar way to get some references from the different countries, places, people’s culture to be used to create new works. However, there is an interesting situation is some people do not feel resentment about the derivative work but feel that it is part of the artistic creation. The similar point between derivative work and cultural appropriation is also taking some interesting or key elements and then using those elements to make a secondary creation or a brand new meaning works. About the same or very similar treatment between derivative work and cultural appropriation, why people feel dissatisfied and despised with the cultural appropriation but not the derivative work. Is it not people contradicting themselves?

People may have different opinions on derivative work, some people might not support or accept it, especially the authentic author. Therefore, some countries will implement some legal policies to ensure the interests of the original creators. .For example, Intellectual property (“IP”). It is a type of property that includes primarily encompasses copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Also, different types of rights, such as trade secrets, publicity rights, moral rights, and rights against unfair competition; Artistic works such as painting, music and literature, as well as some discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs, can all be protected as intellectual property. ( World Trade Organization, 2016.) This law undoubtedly is a redemption for the authentic creator, ensure the rights’ protection and respect furthest. However, there is one of the international treaties, according the law of “Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works ” from The World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO), the article 2.3, “Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work.”. This ordinance clearly points out that the derivative work should be protected by law just as the original creations, provided that they are not undermining the original creations. Perhaps, first of all, whether there is no violation of the original, but obviously indicate that for these second creative works, the international community also considers it as a kind of freedom of creation and rights, also agree with these so-called “re-creations”. So, the same question as the previous paragraph, why people think about the cultural appropriation is rude and impolite, but not the derivative work. So…this is not a word trick game?



Cultural appropriation and Fashion

The problem of cultural appropriation is often debated on different fashion designs and performances, people think that cultural appropriation and fashion industry are inseparable relations. For example, the VOGUE magazine in March,2017, one part of the fashion photography collection called “Spirited Away”. It was inspired by a famous movie by the Japanese animation studio.

(Fig.1, Mikael Jansson, VOGUE US, 2017.)

This photograph collection, supermodel Karlie Kloss has created a Japanese style woman image which is inspirited by a Japanese animated movie. For the photo theme, shooting background and modelling was too much “Japanese style”, which caused some people’s dissatisfaction and discussion. People thought this is cultural appropriation. They thought the work team and the model Karlie Kloss not really understood the culture of Japan, wantonly let a “White” dressed like a Japanese woman is a disrespect for and desecration of Japanese culture. The object of criticism refers to “Western whites” obviously. This accusation of accusations obviously means that there is a racism. First of all, people do not know of all whether the work team understand or not about the Japanese culture, maybe they did a lot of research and then to create and photograph this series of photos. Secondly, why the “western whites” can not dress as a Japanese woman for their job, hobby or anything else. Is it impossible for “western whites” to wear interracial costumes with their different skin colour? Or maybe because of “Western whites”, they are not allowed to understand the Japanese culture, so they are not eligible to wear Japanese clothing? Because she is “Western whites” and wearing Japanese clothes so it is “Cultural appropriation”? Is this not a racial discrimination?Another example, a Chinese model known in China and abroad who called Sun Fei Fei,she was the first Asian model to grace the cover of VOGUE Italia. At VOGUE Italia in 2013, when she put on those clothes designed by the “foreigners” like Chanel, Dior and Prada, we do not know if she understands these clothing designer’s inspiration, nor do we know whether these sources of inspiration will come from the cultural elements of some countries. But just wantonly let an Asian wear these clothes and shoot these photograph. However, there was no one complained and was dissatisfied with this time. Why? What is the different between Fei Fei (Asian) wearing the Western costumes and Karlie Kloss (Western) wearing the Asian costumes? Why “FEI FEI ” case is not a kind of cultural appropriation?

(Fig.2, Steven Meisel, VOGUE Italia, 2013.)

(Fig.3, Paul Chi, Met Gala, 2015.)

One more another example, the Costume Institute Gala (Met Gala) is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City. In 2015,this year’s theme: “China: Through the Looking Glass”, People needed to wear the Chinese costume to join the night. That night’s red carpet winning dress was Rihanna, she found this costume online which was handmade by a Beijing-based Chinese couturier, Guo Pei. After the night ,Pei told the blog of her designs, “The focus and the attention paid to this dress will make it remembered by the world—what I want is to make them remember. . . . It is my responsibility to let the world know China’s tradition and past, and to give the splendour of China a new expression. I hope that people do know China in this way.” (Paul Chi, 2015.). According to the different news report about the night of this annual party event, there was no one was dissatisfied with wearing all the Chinese clothing that night for all foreigners, and no one thought this party is a cultural appropriation. The same question, I want to ask “Why?”. It is because this is an annual fundraising gala? Or because it held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute? Is it not that fair? Why did Karlie Kloss take photographs of Japanese costumes for magazines is cultural appropriation, while Rihanna could wear Chinese costumes to attend the party? Because the designer of Rihanna’s clothing did not object or complaint, even she thought it was a good way to let the world know China’s tradition and past, and to give the splendour of China a new expression. So that, this is not cultural appropriation, but art design appreciation?

Basic on this reason, bring back to the case of “Karlie Kloss dressing like a Japanese woman” that does anyone know if any Japanese object to the proposal? Does anyone know that there is no opposition from the creators of “Spirited Away”? Is it impossible that they have already consulted with the creator company of “Spirited Away”? If this is the case and it is true, then it would not be the cultural appropriation, it definitely art appreciation, right? First, trace the earliest clothing in the history, according to the testing of mitochondrial DNA which was conducted by a louse living on human clothes in the early 2000s, this organism was isolated from lice parasitized in human hair about 7.2 million years ago. It was inferred that mankind began to wear clothing for a long time about 100,000 years ago.(Ralf Kittler, Manfred Kayser and Mark Stoneking, 2003: pp.1414–1417) The first clothing tool that may have been discovered was a needle that appeared in Russia about 3 million years BC. (Hoffecker, J.and Scott, J. 2002) Now a day, most of the clothes sewn by the needles all around the world. Are these stitching clothes by needles is the cultural appropriation which encroaches the culture of the people in the Russian who first used it to make clothes? There may be a lot of people saw this question, they may be asked: “Do not you think it was too long ago, it is impossible to investigate and discuss it?”. But this is not a matter of time.

Then put off the time to a little, to get some examples in the modern. For example, T-shirt. T-shirts are worn by the modern people, but also very common ordinary clothing. However, how many people know its background? The earliest T-shirt appeared between the 1898 Spanish–American War and the U.S. Navy began issuing those T-shirt as undergarments in 1913. These T-shirt became very popular within a bottom layer workers of various industries, including agriculture. The T-shirt was easily fitted, easily cleaned, and inexpensive, and for those reasons, it became the shirt of choice for young boys. (Alice Harris, 1996.) After1950s, in the famous old movie “A streetcar named desire”, the main male character – Marlon Brando wore one T-shirt in it, the shirts became even more popular. Finally achieving status as fashionable. Every boy wore them shirt while doing anything. Eventually, it became as general-purpose casual clothing. (, 2010.) The place of origin and popularity of T-shirts are all carried out in the United States, there are countless people in the world who are not Americans but wearing this “unidentified source” of clothes. So, these people can also be called cultural appropriator? Or some people would say that T-shirt is a commonplace thing in everyday life and popular all over the world, so that it is absolutely not an example of cultural appropriation. Well, this has already become a problem. Does this mean that some so-called “special” designs cannot be regarded as examples of cultural appropriation if they become commonplace in everyday life? If they become popular around the world?



Cultural appropriation and Globalization

Globalization is the process of international integration brought about by the exchange of worldviews, products, concepts and other cultural elements. Globalization makes the mutual implications of culture and economy. (Albrow, Martin and King, Elizabeth, 1990.) In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified four basic aspects of globalization: trade and transactions, capital and investment movements, migration and movement of people, and the dissemination of knowledge. (International Monetary Fund, 2000.) The academic view is that globalization is divided into three major areas: economic globalization, political globalization and cultural globalization. (Babones, Salvatore, 2008: p.146.) Globalization is a phenomenon that has taken place throughout the world today and has developed rapidly and extensively. The situation brought by globalization is the global economic, cultural and social exchanges, the cultural globalization is one of the important parts of globalization and also is the beginning of the issue of cultural appropriation. The beginning of globalization has enabled many countries and localities to “open their doors” to cooperate with the foreign parties and work together to exchange different ideas. Countries share each other’s differences so that culture can also be exchanged and fused with the development of special subcultures. For example, it is like Japan’s unique Lolita fashion sub-culture, which are based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing with a Rococo influence with the Japanese doll-like make-up, fanciful headgear, frilly skirts, ribbons and lace. It is all because of the globalization, the Japanese came into contact for the first time with the foreign Rococo culture to blend Japanese fashion culture and foreign fashion and created and developed a unique Japanese-style fashion culture. The development of globalization also allows foreigners to came into contact and recognize Lolita fashion, beginning to be interested in Japan and try to understand their history and different Japanese culture. Therefore, in addition to the Japanese, foreigners will wear Lolita clothing too.

(Fig.4, Aja Romano, Lolita 101: This Japanese fashion craze is now for everyone, 2013.)


(Fig.5, Aleks Eror, Does Streetwear Objectify Japanese Culture?, 2016.)

Cited the example from the previous paragraph, T-shirt. The printed T-shirts were in limited use by 1942 when an Air Corps Gunnery School T-shirt appeared on the cover of Life magazine. Until now, the printed T-shirt was still popular with different people. In 2016, NYC-based creative collective, Shock and Awe, has teamed up with Sasa Li, the creative designer of The Kimono Kid to design a T-shirt collection of Kanji. The works launched for this cooperation aim to promote Japanese culture and their gradually abandoned Japanese characters which called Kanji. And also one part of the proceeds will be donated to The Japan Foundation, a non-profit that promotes Japanese language and culture globally. “Culture cannot survive if it is exclusive. People should be to train their own sensitivity and cultural respect. ” Keef (Shock and Awe) said. (Aleks Eror, 2016.) This phrase pointed out that between the different culture should learn and blend from different countries’ culture, in order to long-term development. I think this is correct. Just like a tree, the first important point is to grasp the soil that means you must have a root (The original culture). However, if you want to grow up and thrive, you need the water and minerals from the underground (external cultures), the sun shines from the sky (external cultures), so that the trunk will be sturdy and healthy, stand still thousand years. This is an international cooperation and is a cultural exchange that has taken place under the influence of globalization. The cooperation between the United States organizations and Asian designers, to promote advanced, diversified and international development.
“All aesthetic, no meaning” Keef (Shock and Awe) said loudly. (Aleks Eror, 2016.) It is because of the globalization, people touch and know many different cultures from different countries. There are uncountable cultures around the world, some may even have not to be found yet. We can not understand all the culture indeed. So that, Sometimes the surface’s beauty of the culture is enough to deserve to be appreciated. Propagate and praise the “beauty of surface” of culture also can be one of the ways to respect that culture and that country or place. Also, the way of respect for each person that has their own methods and ideas, cannot determine it indiscriminately.



The integration and development of culture, taking each other good point and element to pursue and develop the better development and progress. Promoting the unique culture of different countries and places, to let more people know and understand it. The communication among different cultures is one of the ways to promote harmony in the world. Therefore, the cultural exchange between each other countries should not be called “appropriation”, it should be called “friendship”. Ensure global integration and achieve peace in the world. Globalization is a long-standing fact and no matter right now or in the future is already an inevitable existence.

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