Halloween may not most Chinese people’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean Westerners in the Middle Kingdom shouldn’t celebrate. After all, unlike some of our more divisive mainstream holidays—Christmas, Hanukkah, Flag Day—Halloween has something for everyone. Candy! Scary movies! And most importantly, costumes.
The key to a successful costume that will impress both Chinese and Western friends is 1) sweet cultural references and 2) expert execution. Here, then, are seven suggestions for Halloween costumes, Chinese-style.
1. Blockbuster Characters: One of the easiest ways to be topical in a way that is both non-controversial and accessible is to go dressed as a movie character. Combine your cinema savvy with old-timey clothes and dress up as a character from one of 2011’s Chinese blockbusters like “The Great Revival” (《建党伟业》), “Let the Bullets Fly” (《让子弹飞》), “A Chinese Fairytale” (《新倩女幽魂》) and, of course, “Kungfu Panda 2” (《功夫熊猫2》).
2. Mythological Monsters: According to my very reliable source, monsters aren’t that popular in Chinese culture; you’re more likely to see Chinese Halloweeners dressed up as green-skinned witches and draculas than some mythological monster. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! You can go classic with weird-looking ancient monsters like the longma (龙马, dragon horse) or the kui (夔, a one-legged mountain demon).
3. Pop Culture Monsters: Of course, if you want people to actually get your costume, you’re better off culling your characters from more updated sources. Nerdy girls can hunt down an ivory wig and go as the “White Haired Devil Lady” (白发魔女), from the popular Hong Kong film “The Bride With White Hair” while we recommend that guys just dress up as hopping zombies. You can’t lose!
4. National Heroes: Every Chinese kid learns the adage “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” (向雷锋同志学习) when they’re in school. Lei Feng was a military hero who died in 1962 (strangely enough, after being struck by a telephone pole), and later became an icon of altruism and selflessness. Dressing up as Comrade Lei is easy: just hunt down an army shirt and a fur hat with earflaps, then stand around looking noble and opening doors for people. For the ladies, we recommend Liu Hulan (刘胡兰) the Communist spy who was martyred at the age of 13 when she refused to yield to the Guomindang. To dress up as Liu, simply don a plain, Mandarin-collared shirt and loose trousers, then part your hair on the side and pin it back. Ideally, you should be looking determined and be facing into the wind.
5. Literary Characters: There’s nothing better than asserting your cultural superiority by dressing up as a character from some classical novel that other people haven’t read, but nevertheless know of thanks to crappy TV version. We recommend Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from “Journey to the West”—though, really, any of the characters will do.
6. Zodiac Animals: It’s the Year of the Rabbit—so hunt down some bunny ears, and you’re good to go! Alternatively, you can go as your astrological sign, and use it as the intro for a sweet pickup line.
7. A Eunuch: We’ll let you guys figure this one out…