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Why The V-Sign / Peace Sign Is So Popular In Asia

A photo essay of the widespread use of the V-sign across Asia.

Koreans

Throughout Asia, people flash the V sign when being photographed. I’ve read that the Asian version of this hand gesture started in Japan back in the seventies or eighties and then spread southward.

Thai soldiers giving the V-signAbove is a group of young Thai soldiers taking a break in Rot Fai Park in Bangkok. Along with the V sign, there are also three soldiers displaying the thumbs-up hand gesture. The guy in the center of the photo is showing an extended thumb-and-pinkie “hang ten” hand sign, common among surfer dudes.

Thai kidsA group of Thai kids who had been playing soccer on an open patch of cement in front of a downtown Bangkok sports complex. They’re showing several kinds of hand gestures, but the thumbs-up seems to be the common choice, along with a couple raised index finger number-one signs. The two boys at the far right, however, are each showing a unique sign (for this group). The boy on the left is displaying the upside-down extended thumb, index, and middle finger sign. The boy to his right, at the end of the group, is using the extended index-and-pinkie hand sign (with thumb holding down the two middle fingers). It was first popularized by the heavy metal singer James Ronnie Dio, who says he picked it from his Italian-American grandmother as a hand gesture to ward off the evil eye.

Vietnam classroomIn Saigon, I was standing at the front counter of a Lotteria fast-foot restaurant when I turned and saw this large group of students. I got their attention and then raised my camera. The hand gestures vary, but several students are flashing the V sign.

Saigon girlsThis photograph was also taken in Saigon. Instead of the V sign, one of the women offers a thumbs-up gesture. Those smiles, of course, are just lovely.

Asian girls photoThis photo was taken in Hongdae, a neighborhood in Seoul. The V sign is strong in South Korea.

KoreansTwo students from Hongik University, just up in the hill in Hongdae. One uses the V sign with palm facing outwards while the other uses the sign with the palm facing inwards.

Double V sign from two students at Ewha University in Seoul.

Chinese girls v signAnd finally, let’s swing to China. Here are two students at Jinhua Polytechnic College in Jinhua, Zhejiang province.

Chinese on ebikeThis was snapped in downtown Jinhua—in 2016, four years before face masks became prized around the world in 2020.

Chinese girlsOn the left is my friend Tina, a student at Ai Qing High School in Jinhua, where I taught third-year (gaosan) students who were headed to universities in the United States, Australia, Canada, and England.

In my travels on other continents, I don’t recall seeing the V-Sign as popular as in Asia. But I could be wrong. Maybe I wasn’t looking for them. As you’ve seen above, there are other hand signs besides the V-sign. Could the future see dominance of the V-sign in Asia challenged and even unseated?

Filed under: Asia, Culture and Society

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7 comments… add one

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  • Trevor Warman September 11, 2020, 7:36 am

    Yeah i picked up the V Sign habit. Saying things like KimChi too.

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    • Jeffrey September 11, 2020, 10:14 am

      Trevor,

      Ah, so you’re a Vagabonder and a V Signer.

      Maybe we can attach “cheese” to “kimchi” to make an international hybrid: Say KimCheese!

      Hey, did you see anyone using hand signs for photos in Africa?

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      • Trevor Warman September 11, 2020, 12:26 pm

        Hi Jeffrey… i had to check my photos, as i do know they like posing when you know them. Most are with the scissor motion, elbow up, arm horizontal… first two fingers extended… palm facing the poser…. so in a horizontal UP YOURS style as opposed to a Victory sign.. 😉

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        • Jeffrey September 12, 2020, 11:00 am

          Trevor,

          That’s an odd variation. I’m not sure if I’ve seen that.

          Oh, the V sign with palm facing the signer, outside Asia, means something quite different. It’s also used with the left hand chopping down at the elbow. Is that still being used in the UK? There’s no “peace” in that gesture, of course.

          Up Yours is not the Same as Peace Brother or Let Cuteness Reign.

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    • VBJ September 13, 2020, 11:29 am

      You’re assimilating haha.

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  • Georgiy Romanov September 11, 2020, 1:19 pm

    ha-ha. Yes! This V culture is strong in Japan. I’ve got tons of photos with beautiful girls posing with V sign 🙂

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    • Jeffrey September 12, 2020, 10:54 am

      Georgiy,

      From my research, Japan is definitely the origin of the Asian variation on this hand gesture for photographs. Exactly how it started there is still debated. One very intriguing story is that during the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, an American ice skater named Janet Lynn tumbled on the ice and remained sitting there, smiling out at the audience. The Japanese were puzzled by her expression. How could she be smiling?

      Anyway, they were intrigued. At that time, Janet Lynn often flashed the V sign hand gesture as a “peace sign.” And thus the that hand gesture was picked up by the Japanese. Another story links the hand gesture to its use by Konica in an advertisement.

      Here’s a question. Is the V sign being challenged by any other hand gestures for photos in Japan? As you can see in the photos above, there’s in fact quite a variety of other hand gestures being used in Asia right now. Is that the same in Japan?

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