Phoebe Ba of ‘The Traveling Qipao’ Shares Her Love for China's Dress
August 16, 2023
Phoebe Ba, born and raised in northeastern China, believed she would never return to her homeland when she left for Texas at only 18 years old.
The Dalian city native spent seven years in Texas before moving to California for a job in IT and supply chain management in construction. This job would eventually bring her back to China for work in 2017 and open her eyes wide with promise.
In Texas, Phoebe began creating fashion content on Instagram. Moving to California, she became disillusioned with the superficial nature of the industry. When she arrived in China for work, it was the country’s beauty that enthralled her, navigating the world of travel content.
“I began to change my attitude towards China,” Phoebe told The Beat Asia in an interview in Hong Kong. “I was not proud to admit that I was Chinese. Working in South China predominantly, I became connected with the culture and development of the country.”
On her return home stateside, Phoebe sought to develop her passion for content creation, namely, how she created her niche in travel content in a sea full of travel vloggers in America.
When her peers suggested she embrace her cultural history of being Chinese, such as wearing a red dress everywhere to promote China, Phoebe thought of the qipao as a symbol to promote on her Instagram for a niche and an embrace of her motherland identity.
The qipao is a traditional Chinese dress rooted in the Republican period in China of the 1920s and ‘30s. Elite and upper-class women living in Shanghai typically wore qipaos, representing class and elegance.
As the cultural revolution took hold of China in 1949, Shanghainese women fled to Hong Kong, importing a love and craft for the beloved qipao.
Unfortunately, as Phoebe states, qipaos are seen by many in China, Hong Kong, and Asia as a former relic of a historic Chinese country, not a modern fashion symbol. She wanted to flip the script on this philosophy. “Why can’t I wear a qipao out when creating my travel content?” she said.
During Chinese New Year 2020, on a business trip to China and while taking a holiday around Southeast Asia, Phoebe was featured on American chat show, Good Morning America, to talk about Chinese culture while dressed in qipao. Her interview came during a rise of anti-Asian sentiment worldwide, with the pandemic bubbling up.
“The response I had to my friends [about the interview] was phenomenal. It encouraged me to continue to deepen my path on this, promoting Chinese culture by wearing qipao.”
When the pandemic gripped China in spring 2020, Phoebe became locked in and stuck in Shanghai. A blessing in disguise, she ventured to China’s manifold corners of culture and natural beauty across the country, snapping pictures of herself in ornate qipao dresses. The Traveling Qipao was born.
The qipao dress, “it’s very empowering,” Phoebe said. “Every time someone wears one to attend an event, they always get so many compliments and everyone’s attention. It’s a guarantee.”
“Whenever I wear a qipao, even in China, I feel elegant, classic, and powerful.”
On her Instagram feed, Phoebe is shown to have travelled extensively in China, when leaving the country was difficult in the past three years. Even in three years of travel across every corner and land to pose in beautiful qipaos, she still admits she hasn’t seen enough.
“The qipao is such a significant part of Chinese culture and history, but there's no one doing [what I am doing online].”
Phoebe understands that love for the 100-year-old fashion item is minimal in China. “No one wears [qipaos] daily here. I wanted to be that person and remember [h]istory.” To date, she has more than 200 qipaos in her personal collection.
In the past three years of documenting her love affair with the qipao, she has received global support for her attachment to the dress.
“With my photos and journey in China, I realised that many people my age of older are seeking to find their identity as Chinese or Asians abroad. They’re curious about their roots. Chinese outside the country love China, even more than those inside, and want to connect with the culture.”
“I realised that and wanted to spend more time in countries around Asia to promote qipaos.”
Phoebe cites Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore as places where her three greatest fan bases exist, three cities she lives in, or routinely visits for shoots and travel. Her goal is to promote the qipao across Asians around the globe.
"My plan now is to travel around Southeast Asia and to the places where most of my followers are from, surprisingly Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta and more.
Phoebe began an exporting and e-commerce business for qipaos and Chinese cultural goods in the pandemic, which she wants to build completely to share the love for the traditional dress across the world.
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