Thermal underwear has long been part of Chinese society and medicine. But a growing number of style-conscious youth are shedding this layer and freezing for fashion. Liu Zhihua and Erik Nilsson report.
Peking University graduate Wu Qi's friends told him to bring several pair of qiuku, or thermal underwear, when he was preparing to study in Stockholm in 2009.
That's because many Chinese erroneously believe foreigners don't wear thermals in their homelands. That said, a growing number of youth are shedding qiuku - a longstanding cultural institution - preferring to look cool rather than stay warm.
One reason thermals are so culturally entrenched in China's colder climates is that traditional Chinese medicine claims they offer health benefits.
TCM contends cold causes illness - a belief shared by Western medicine. But TCM specifically recommends keeping the lower limbs warm, which is important to combat such ailments as arthritis.
But that belief is changing - or, at least, the recommendation is increasingly ignored - even as China faces the coldest winter in 28 years.
Beijing resident Song Meifeng says she wouldn't even know where to buy a pair - even though they're found in virtually every department store.
That's not to say the 30-year-old has never worn qiuku. Rather, she purged them from her wardrobe when she moved to Beijing to study in 2002.
Song comes from North China's frigid Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where temperatures have this year plummeted to around -40 C.
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