The view is a strange one for most foreign visitors to Chinese residential areas. An array of colorful fabric is draped from building to building in all directions. A local resident can often be seen reaching out of a high window to hook a cloth on the end of a long wooden stick. What is this strange ritual that appears unlike anything experienced in many Western cultures?

Believe it or not, the unique display described above is a deeply ingrained tradition of Chinese culture that has become controversial in recent years. Despite adopting technologies ranging from automobiles to household electronics, one staple of Western society that has not caught on in Chinese culture is the clothes dryer.

Almost two centuries after the invention of this household appliance in England and France, Chinese citizens often insist upon hanging laundry from wires, ropes, and sticks to allow the wind and sun to dry garments. This is seen as a cleaner and cheaper alternative to the Western approach of electric drying.

The aesthetic appearance of roads and courtyards adorned with jeans, underwear and shirts has been a point of embarrassment for officials of the Chinese government when welcoming international guests to major cities. During the Shanghai World Expo, edicts banned outdoor drying as an “uncivilized” act. Despite attempts to deter the practice, residents quickly returned to their old habits rather than entering the market for a new household appliance.

While some Chinese retailers have given up on dryer sales altogether, others insist that citizens returning from overseas may still bring this part of Western culture into popularity. If the government were to put their foot down and enforce the prohibitions on outdoor drying, many consumers may be left with no other choice.

Could this be the turning point for the long ignored clothes drying industry in China? Or will this be one instance where Chinese consumers refuse to sacrifice their traditions for a modern trend from the Western world?

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