In 2018, the rapper Nicki Minaj released a song called “Chun-Li,” which she performed on Saturday Night Live while wearing a cheongsam-inspired outfit and chopsticks in her hair. Her cheongsam, which was black and gold and featured a dragon snaking down her crotch, followed the modern form-fitting design. Like Minaj’s song’s namesake, instead of her cheongsam being one piece of cloth, it was short with a rectangular covering that was further sexualized through the use of latex rather than traditional silk.
In 2019, the British girl group Little Mix modeled a collection for PrettyLittleThing that was marketed as “oriental,” and included revealing tops, skirts, and dresses that resembled the cheongsam. None of the models were of Asian descent, yet the association of Asia with appropriations of the cheongsam forwarded the stereotype of sexualized Asian women. Further, fast fashion companies such as SHEIN and Fashion Nova have modified the cheongsam into items such as the “Mandarin Collar Crop Top” and the “Midnight Chinatown Satin Skirt,” reverting to simplifying an entire culture into a stereotype. Therefore, the problematic aspects of the West’s appropriation of the cheongsam include the hyper-sexualization of the cheongsam, the insufficient acknowledgment of its historical significance, and the lack of models of Asian descent.
In 2015, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibited, China: Through the Looking Glass, which displayed fashion pieces from several Chinese dynasties on the same level as outfits produced by Western designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano, both who had previously produced collections with Asian inspirations. Even though the exhibit was curated for a Western audience, the mystification of China through a Western lens fails to recognize that Chinese culture exists outside of a eurocentric perspective.
Further back in history, in a 1978 interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Yves Saint-Laurent, who admittedly visited China after designing a collection that was inspired by it, said that keeping a distance from China allowed him to roam free in his imagination and recreate the image of the country through his fashion. YSL’s Fall 1977 collection, Les Chinoises, includes several pieces that were featured in the 2017 Yves Saint Laurent: Dreams of the Orient exhibit at Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and contains robes similar to the cheongsam. This YSL collection represents an exotic understanding of Chinese culture that pulls from its most distilled parts such as auspicious colors, icons, and fabrics and reimagines them for a Western audience. Additionally, in Tom Ford’s final collection for Yves Saint Laurent in Fall 2004, he presented ornate versions of the cheongsam—using silks that had high slits and vibrant colors—that were modeled by all white models.
Although the cheongsam has been embraced by iconic women such as Grace Kelly and Kate Moss, the lack of Asian models profiting from Asian-inspired outfits contributes to America’s history of exploiting minority cultures. Concern over this appropriation is expressed in Jenny Zhang’s 2016 article for Racked, entitled “Blonde Girls in Cheongsams.” In this article, Zhang details the fascination she had growing up in America and watching white models wear her culture’s clothing.
Currently, the cheongsam is being reclaimed by TikTok creators participating in a trend called “What Asian Are You?” Using an audio loop created by “Yoleendadong,” users with Chinese heritage have started to reeducate others by dressing in cheongsams and filming videos where they explain its cultural significance. Although this doesn’t erase its distortion through westernization, it is a step against the sexualization of the cheongsam.
 Samantha Schmidt, “’It’s Just a Dress’: Teen’s Chinese Prom Attire Stirs Cultural Appropriation Debate,” The Washington Post (WP Company), April 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/05/01/its-just-a-dress-teens-chinese-prom-attire-stirs-cultural-appropriation-debate/.
 Adrienne Cox, “The QiPao: Defining Modern Women in the first Half of the 20th Century,” (Undergraduate honors thesis, Kansas University, 2019).
 “Chinese American Heroine: Nancy Kwan,” AsianWeek (San Francisco) May 4, 2009, archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
 Pete Martin, “Backstage with Nancy Kwan,” The Saturday Evening Post, February 10, 1962.
 Christobel Hastings, “The Kickass Legacy of Chun-Li, the First Playable Woman in ‘Street Fighter,” Vice Media, May 29, 2018, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/435aew/chun-li-street-fighter-history-video-games.
 Obi Anyanwu, “25 Video Game Characters That Deserve a Spinoff,” Complex, January 02, 2013, https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/01/25-video-game-characters-that-deserve-a-spinoff/chun-li.
 Nicki Minaj, “Nicki Minaj – Chun-Li (Live on SNL / 2018),” Youtube, May 20, 2018,video, 3:28, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2in8XqiElwc.
 Vivienne Chow, “Yves Saint Laurent’s China Fantasies Gave the Fashion World Its Most Daring Designs,” Quartz, December 12, 2018, https://qz.com/quartzy/1403323/yves-saint-laurents-china-fantasies-gave-the-fashion-world-its-most-daring-designs/.
 Jenny Zhang, “Blonde Girls in Cheongsams,” Racked, March 17, 2016, https://www.racked.com/2016/3/17/11246698/shoplifting-malls-nineties-cultural-appropriation.
 Nanababbbyyy, “Untitled,” TikTok, 0:20. April 19, 2020. https://www.tiktok.com/@nanababbbyyy/video/6817555814669110533?lang=en