Anyone who’s come across any Asians taking photos will notice something: they often hold up the peace (or victory sign) while posing. In fact, you might even be Asian yourself and don’t know why you do it. So what’s the story behind all this?
Before we get into the trend itself, lets go back to where the “V” sign started being used. During WWII, Victor de Laveleye, a former Belgian Minister of Justice, proposed the sign in a BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread all over Europe and world leaders like Winston Churchill used it. However, the sign meant “victory,” not “peace”.
When President Richard Nixon used it to declare Victory in the Vietnam War, protestors who were against the war changed the meaning to “peace” as a subtle way to protest the war. But how did the gesture get so big in Asia?
The trend seems to be most popular in China, Japan, and Taiwan and it’s earliest origins date back to the late 1960s, according to Time. However, it didn’t become a trend until the late 1980s.
One theory suggests that it started with Janet Lynn, an American figure skater favored to win the gold medal in the 1972 Olympics in Japan. However, her dreams were crushed when the then 18-year-old fell during her performance. Instead of looking sad, she simply smiled, which shocked the crowd because it went against the Japanese norm of “saving face”.
“They could not understand how I could smile knowing that I could not win anything,”Lynn told Time. “I couldn’t go anywhere the next day without mobs of people. It was like I was a rock star, people giving me things, trying to shake my hands.”
Lynn become an overnight celebrity all over Japan and began media tours around the country. During that time, she’d often flash the peace sign during photo ops. The gesture also appeared on the 1968 baseball manga Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants), where the main character gets a much needed approval from his father when he throws up the “V” sign during a critical part of the story.
No matter its origins, advertising probably had the most impact on it’s popularity. During that time, Japanese celebrity Jun Inoue allegedly flashed the sign during her commercials for Konica cameras. This, along with the mass production of cameras and the trend of looking kawaii (cute) amongst the Japanese female youth created the “V-sign” trend. This is no different in the popularity of the “duck face” when taking selfies in the more modern era.
While there are prominent meanings behind the gesture, it’s become a habit in popular culture where many can’t seem to find a clear reason of why they do it. Imma Liu, a child from Hong Kong, told Time that she didn’t know why she likes making the gesture, but simply feels “happy” when she does it.
Kuangwei Huang, a Quora user who grew up on Taiwan, says the trend has been around for over 40 years and it’s not interpreted as a peace sign, but as the “Y” in “Yeah!”.
“Taiwan was a Japanese colony for an extended time so a lot of Japanese culture were brought to Taiwan and they still follow it to this day.” he writes.
“Many Taiwanese girls (and boys) do the ‘peace sign’ when they pose for pictures too, and when they do so, they really mean ‘Yeah!’, not the peace sign that Americans are accustomed to. So since that’s how Taiwanese interprets, I believe its safe to assume Japanese girls (and boys) interpret it the same way.”