Wear Your Ambivalence

…or your indifference, or your befuddlement, or your joy of pushing people’s buttons. Wear one of these shirts:

Sinoamerica: the t-shirt

The simple design in the t-shirts above is based on one I did in 2002 and called “Sinoamerica.” I like it largely because its meaning is so ambiguous. It’s unity, it’s harmony, it’s neutrality, it’s loss of identity. The colors stay blithely out of nationalism’s grasp.

For a long time I’ve liked the idea of designing t-shirts. Last year I did a tiny experiment in the form of a “Please speak Mandarin” t-shirt. I wanted to know if anyone would buy a t-shirt I put up. I figured if anyone went for something that simple, then it might be worth putting a little more effort into it. Well, some people did buy that design, and now that the weather is warm again, this is my second baby step in the t-shirt direction.

Anyway, I appreciate the support. I’ll be putting out a new t-shirt every Sunday this summer. Here are the links to buy this design: purple, green, brown, gray, the Sinosplice Store. Thanks!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. chinotex Says: July 9, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Any meaning behind the 9 stripes?

  2. Are you going to have any designs w/ a pocket? Maybe you could have something peeking (or Peiking) out of the pocket.

  3. Sorry but at first sight many people will confuse this flag with the Malaysian flag.
    On the Malaysian flag there’s the moon and the sun.
    On your flag there’s a star (sun like) and four little stars (moon like on the wrong direction).

    Malaysian people will think you made a joke with their flag…

  4. …by “wrong direction” I meant increscent moon.
    It’s a decrescent moon on the Malaysian flag.

  5. Great design. Clean and nicely ambiguous, but does convey the merging of America and China in some friendly way. I’m not American, but I might go and buy one of the “please speak mandarin” shirts now instead. 🙂

  6. chinotex,

    No, I just thought 9 stripes looked better.


    Hmmm… The Malaysian flag has 14 stripes rather than 9, a moon, and a totally different kind of star (in a different place). I doubt it’s going to cause too much confusion.

  7. palanka Says: July 9, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I think it’s a great idea but I wouldn’t wear one of these in either China or the US. Even with the ambiguity, there are too many nationalist nutjobs in both countries right now.

  8. @John: nice work. I’ve been considering dabbling in the shirt design biz myself.

    @palanka: livin’ the life of fear. Maybe I come from the wrong side of the border in North America, but I certainly wouldn’t fear wearing the shirt in China.

  9. John,
    I’ve carried somes checks and in Malaysia it will be consider as the flag of a chinese-separatist-movement (pro-China and pro-Singapore) from the south and south-west of Malaysia.
    It was also seen as the flag of a futur incorporated territories of the USA.

  10. It’s a cool idea but i can’t look at it without thinking Malaysia.

  11. “there are too many nationalist nutjobs in both countries right now” so poetic…in the words of Homer Simpson “It’s funny because it’s true.”

  12. Palanka Says: July 9, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    From Time magazine (“Who Owns the Flag?”):

    A Long Island housewife last year found herself in court for protesting the war by flying her flag upside down (the international signal of distress) … . last month Michael Sauter, 20, was arrested in Topeka for displaying on his car a flag decal with an overlaid peace symbol. .. when an Indianapolis art student hung the flag upside down in his apartment window, he was arrested and taken before a judge who declared: “It looks to me like we have before us one of those young men who want to destroy our society.”

    In Illinois, the state legislature recently increased the penalty for defacing or showing contempt for the flag from a one-to a five-year jail term or a fine of $1,000 to $5,000. Peter Stowe, an economics professor at Southern Illinois University, was haled into court under the law. In their car’s rear window, his wife had stuck a flag decal with a peace sign where the stars should have been.

  13. Richard Says: July 9, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Personally, I’d like to see the 13 stripes with the white sun of the ROC. . . .

  14. Richard Says: July 9, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    (If you make that t-shirt, I’d buy it).

  15. In this world, it’s quite often dangerous to twist or mock nationalist and religious symbols.
    This flag is won’t be a big issue … until you meet a moron.

  16. Richard Says: July 10, 2007 at 7:43 am

    Maybe you should have the “blue sky, white sun” on the quarter of the five-color flag!

  17. . . . . . Or maybe the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag with the coiled rattlesnake at the corner of the five-color flag! The possibilities are endless!

  18. “I like it largely because its meaning is so ambiguous”
    Given the conversation that followed the post….I’d say it does the trick!
    I like it.

  19. Out of interest, how well did your “Please Speak Mandarin” shirts sell?

    I got one for my birthday this year. 🙂

  20. gringoreturns Says: July 11, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    woah! impressive! where can i get those sinoamerica shirts?! alternatively, if u really wanted ppl to speak mandarin?! aint u supposed to type plz speak mandarin both in CHINESE & English? lol

  21. gringoreturns Says: July 11, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    one thing i 4got 2 say: dont u think the combined flag looks like the national flag of Greece?!:]

  22. Although I identify with the thoughts and sentiment that inspired this design, my American self is oddly a bit offended by the image. Maybe it stirs up my personal struggle to keep my American identity after living in China for a few years……However, I love the “please speak mandarin” shirt.

  23. julienne~~~ Says: July 14, 2007 at 7:43 am

    Can you make the “please speak Mandarin” t-shirt in another color besides white. I mean i only need to drop one slippery jiaozi in the dipping sauce, splash myself, and that beautiful piece of propaganda’s history. How bout white characters on a black background?

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