In China and Southeast Asia, these accessories have long been a part of life. The masked image of an Asian resident has become a definite symbol of the problems that people face in the last 40 years of dizzying progress – from air pollution to periodic outbreaks of infectious diseases. Yet despite this, the authorities also regularly have to convince people to wear masks.
In Shanghai at the beginning of the 20th century, face masks began to be advertised as fashion accessories to persuade a wider circle of people to wear them regularly. In response to the meningitis outbreak, renowned journalist Yang Duche talked about the importance of wearing masks in a 1929 column for the Xinwen Bao newspaper entitled “Spring’s Most Fashionable Accessory: Black Face Mask.” He also recommended that the government attract famous celebrities and public figures to wear masks at fashion shows to increase the popularity of accessories among the population. Magazines began to publish more often photographs of masked women, transforming the products into a status symbol that speaks of membership in a privileged society.
If in Europe they are just beginning to get used to masks, then for many Asian countries, they have become the most familiar attribute of life at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2002, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, now better known as SARS, began in Southeast Asia. It is often compared with the COVID-19. However, then the statistics were strikingly different: 8098 cases were registered, of which 774 were fatal. Although the infection area was much smaller, and this virus did not cause a pandemic, the epidemic affected the region of distribution quite seriously, and masks have become a familiar way of protection. In parallel with this, masks have become an integral attribute of life in regions with a difficult ecological situation and a means of protecting against smog. And, of course, the fashion of that time also reacted instantly, so the inhabitants of Southeast Asia began to wear colored fabric masks, which were often matched to the outfit.