Apparently the Shenzhen school uniform is the talk of the national under 18 virtual community.
All Shenzhen public students wear the same uniform, regardless of the school they attend. On buses and in the subway, students either wear the elementary uniform or the high school uniform so one doesn’t know what school they attend, only that they attend. In fact, the Shenzhen school uniform is so recognizable that in the press and online it stands for the city’s youth. Thus, for example, the scandal of the youthful parents and their baby photo (from a tv series that admits high school students are having sex) as well as the explicit sexualization of Shenzhen little sisters in their school uniforms and a website for student couples to upload pictures of Shenzhen school uniform lovers.
Elsewhere in China commonality is marked by joining Party youth organizations because schools have their own recognizable uniforms. Cui Jian famously used the Young Pioneer red handkerchief to blindfold himself and in doing so evoked the trauma of a generation. In Shenzhen, the ubiquitous school uniform has taken on a similar generalizing function to the red handkerchief. However, instead of evoking a national identity, the school uniform symbolizes an explicitly Shenzhen childhood and teenhood.
I first heard about the national significance of the Shenzhen school uniform at a biennale forum. We old folks onstage were discussing if there was a common Shenzhen culture or civic identity. A student in the audience said there was. He mentioned that young people in Shenzhen have ideas and dreams that are shared, and also that these dreams and ambitions are different from the rest of the country. He then underscored his point by citing the omnipresence of the Shenzhen uniform both online and at Chinese universities. It seems that Shenzhen students continue to wear the dark blue sweatpants even after they get to college. Part of the charm, it seems, is that the uniform really is so ugly one grows to love it.
Back in the day, there was active debate both within and outside Shenzhen over how a civic identity might be created. Fortunately for us moldy oldies, the young people of the city have done it despite us. A selection of Shenzhen school uniform pictures, including a link to the highly popular digital comic book, Days When I Wore A Shenzhen School Uniform.