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From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Photographer Jimmy on the Run

His past in China, his present in Amsterdam and his future in photography – Jimmy is always on the run.

Manya Koetse

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Fashion & Street Photographer Huang Jianmin a.k.a. Jimmy is the focus of the recently released short doc Jimmy on the Run by filmmaker Wytse Koetse. The short film [7 min] shows Jimmy’s passion for the lens, his dynamic lifestyle, and his struggle with family expectations. What’s on Weibo spoke to Jimmy about his past in China, his present in Amsterdam and his future in photography.

 

ANOTHER LIFE

“I had never even seen a city until I was 12 years old.”

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I meet Jimmy in his home in the city center of Amsterdam. It is the first time we meet, but I feel like I know him quite well – it is because I have seen the short doc Jimmy on the Run that gets up close and personal with this photographer and his work. On Jimmy’s comfortable couch, we talk about his life in China, his love for the streets of Amsterdam and the journey he’s made to get where he is today.

“I was born and raised in a village in China’s Guangdong province,” Jimmy, whose Chinese name is Huang Jianmin (黄健敏), begins: “Taishan is my hometown, Taishanese [台山话] is my native language. We lived in a rural area on the outskirts, which was like a small village. There was nothing there when I was young. I had never even seen a city until I was 12 years old. It has now changed enormously; there’s even a train going there. It was a good place for me to grow up. I could play outside with my friends all day. We would catch fish, go up the mountain and pluck fruit from the trees.”

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“My dad started working in Amsterdam when I was seven years old, so I mostly grew up alone with my mum. Many people from Taishan leave for America or Europe. Already since the 1900s people from [tooltip text=”Taishan is known as the No 1 Home of Overseas Chinese.”]Taishan[/tooltip] left in great numbers to the ‘Old Gold Mountain’ [旧金山, San Fransisco].”

“I was sixteen when my mum and I also moved to Amsterdam. I was afraid to leave China, and actually did not want to go. But gradually, I started to see that life in the Netherlands might bring me new opportunities. Some of my friends in Taishan are jobless now. If I would’ve stayed, I probably would’ve been married and have my own family now. I’d be in the village, and would go to the big city once a year. But my life turned out differently.”

 

COMING TO AMSTERDAM

“I was lucky to discover my love for photography – it saved me.”

WhatsonWeibo JimmyAmsterdam

“I soon discovered I really liked Amsterdam. It’s easier to get what I want here. It’s colorful and people are very approachable. I have been to big cities like Hong Kong, New York and Paris, but never got that same feeling there. People are down to earth here. Amsterdam might not be a fashion city like Paris, but Amsterdam sure is a people’s city.”

“I started out doing different jobs after I arrived in Amsterdam. I never graduated from any school, because of the language barrier and the different educational systems in China and the Netherlands. I would work in Chinatown supermarkets, help out in restaurant kitchens here and there, sort out the luggage at Schiphol Airport. I was also a mailman for some time, and worked as a cleaner in houses. I once found a dead guy while cleaning. After that, I was no longer afraid to get my hands dirty.”

“I am prone to addiction, and this started becoming somewhat of a problem after I came to Amsterdam. I developed an addiction for gaming. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t gamble – but I couldn’t stop gaming.”

“Some years after I’d moved to Amsterdam, I had a girlfriend and it was through her that I first got interested in photography; she had a brother who was into it. He would take pictures at parties. I thought it was pretty cool. I would play around with my father’s camera, but then bought my own first camera in 2008 – I was just smitten with it. I started going out into the streets with it. I would search for something to shoot, and would always find it. I was lucky to discover my love for photography – it saved me from gaming. It became my new addiction.”

 

JIMMY ON THE RUN

“I am used to running after things – I’ve done so all my life.”

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“Taking self-portraits became a way to express myself. I did not take these pictures to represent myself to others, but to record a moment in time and try to capture the feelings I had. It was something personal.”

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“One time when I was out taking photos, I saw a girl on the streets. She probably was around 16 years old, and was very slender with long legs. Blue jeans jacket, boots and a cigarette dangling from her mouth. When I saw her, I knew I had to take her picture. I am used to running after things – I’ve done so all my life. But this was the first time I ran after someone to take a picture, and it turned out perfect. She was the start of me taking pictures of people. I started blogging and getting active on social media. I then became Jimmy on the Run.”

gingerboy jimmyonthrerun

“I can’t really explain how I work in doing street photography. It’s a feeling. I met a 17-year-old ginger boy today, and I thought: I need to talk to you, I need to photograph you. There will always be people saying no when I ask if I can take their picture, but you still need to ask. It has made me more confident.”

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“Faces, fashion, people moving – my photographs are about the moment someone gives me. I like unique faces, they don’t have to be pretty. I like anything that’s timeless. Portraits, classic looks. I don’t feel like I need to capture the era we live in, I want to capture the moment we live in. My photos should still look good on your wall fifty years from now.”

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“Filmmaker Wytse Koetse liked my pictures, and started following me on social media. I also liked his work, especially the short documentary Cola Chicken. It was real, simple and pure. I loved the scene where Chen Chen [the main subject] talks about how he loves dogs, but also eats dog meat, and then says sorry to the dog. That guy is real, that’s the real shit.”

“I did not just agree to him filming me because I liked his work, but also because I felt a little lost at the time and it helped me. I had just started as a freelance photographer. It was the right timing. Wytse started coming over and followed me as I worked. We spent so much time together that we became much closer throughout the process of filming. The documentary initially was supposed to be just about my work, but in the end, it also became more about myself. We talked a lot, and I’m quite a sensitive person. My father is the man I respect most, but he’s not proud of me. When I start talking about him, I often have to cry. It’s good to face yourself. Things are much better now. If I’m gonna show my dad the documentary? I’m not sure yet. Maybe later.”

 

BETWEEN CHINA AND AMSTERDAM

“I grew up with Deng Xiaoping, but we learned that Mao was the sun. He was like a God to us.”

WhatsonWeibo Jimmy Little

“Amsterdam has helped me open my eyes to new things. In China, I always felt restricted. In school, I had to wear a uniform and the teachers were very strict. I grew up with Deng Xiaoping, but we learned that Mao was the sun. He was like a God to us. We had one cinema and the only movies we saw were those about Mao fighting against the Japanese. Of course, my parents had it much worse than me and my life was good, but I did not feel free. Amsterdam has changed me. I look differently at life now. I never really saw things over there. I now see fashion, and see different scenes. Like the gay scene – I had never seen something like that before.”

“In China there is a great divide between the rich and the poor. In Amsterdam, there is this overall vibe of people being people – it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or a celebrity. It’s one of the reasons I love Amsterdam so much; there’s a sense of equality.”

“For me, Holland means freedom. I can dress how I want and say what I want here. In China, I cannot. I was once hit when I tried to take a picture in Hong Kong. I am not sure I want to try to do photography in China anymore. I am more scared to do it there.  I feel safer here. People here are very straightforward, and I like that: yes is yes, no is no. Shit gets done this way.”

“I don’t miss my life in China, but I do miss the food. I used to go back a lot, but now not so much. I sometimes feel a bit caught between China and Amsterdam. I’m a mix of both now. Many of the second generation Chinese who were born in the Netherlands don’t understand me. I was not born here, and our backgrounds are very different. I don’t consider them Chinese like me. But at the same time I can no longer move back to China, because I might be too Dutch now. Although I must admit, I am not as open-minded as Dutch people are. My parents will never be my ‘friends’, like it is for many Dutch here. Anyway, there is no way I could indefinitely move back to China, maybe only for a year or so. I can’t handle the smog. My friends in Shenzhen have started to look old. Besides, there is no life there for me now.”

 

CHOOSING A NEW PATH

“There’s no sweet without sweat – you have to work hard to achieve your dreams. ”

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“Am I a street photographer or a fashion photographer? I am both. Street photography is in my heart. I want to mix street and fashion. My style is raw, I like to keep things as authentic as possible. I’m rather nostalgic and have a soft spot for the 1950s and 1960s. Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon. I love doing everything analog, not digital. I hate social media. I need it because it helps me, but I hate it. I used Chinese microblogs before, now I use WeChat and have Tumblr, Facebook, my blog and my website. I sometimes post very personal stuff and people don’t even see it. Every time you post something on social media you give away a little bit of yourself.”

“The relationship with my parents is now good, but they are more traditional than I am. My mum is somewhat more western than my dad is. My dad is the one I respect most in this world. I love him. But I cannot let go of the fact that I don’t make my father proud. He envisioned another life for me than the one I chose. They’d hoped that I would’ve been married by now, with kids.”

“My dream for the future? I am a one-child-policy kid, and I’ve always been jealous of people with brothers or sisters. I hope to have at least two children one day. And I would really love to have a daughter. I would take her to Disneyland. She can dress up as Batman, I’ll be Robin.”

“I also want to publish a book with my photos. It will be called the Faces of Amsterdam. I hope I can work for high-end magazines. For now, I’ll just keep on working hard. I live by ‘xian ku hou tian’ [先苦后甜, Chinese expression]: ‘there’s no sweet without sweat’. You have to work hard to achieve your dreams. That’s what happiness is, right?”

This interview was conducted and condensed by Manya Koetse in Amsterdam.

To watch the short film about ‘Jimmy on the Run’, see the featured video on top of this article, or go view it at Filming Freedom. For more of Jimmy’s work, see www.jimmyontherun.com.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Oh, the Drama! Chinese Opera Performance Turns into Stage Fight as Drunken Man Attacks Actors

This local traditional opera performance unexpectedly turned into a stage fight.

Manya Koetse

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On October 9 in Zhejiang’s Lishui city (Laozhu Town), a theatrical performance unexpectedly turned very dramatic when a drunken man stormed on stage to fight with the performers.

A video showing the Chinese opera performance being disturbed by the drunkard, turning it into a chaotic stage scene, is gaining major attention on Chinese social media.

The incident occurred Friday night around 9 pm, when the Laozhu Theatrical Troupe was performing.

Videos of the incident that are circulating online show how one man comes on stage, attacking one of the actors. The scene escalates into a big fight when others try to intervene. The police were quick to arrive at the scene.

Various news reports suggest the man started to act out after getting into an argument with one of the ‘Huadan’ (花旦) performers of the troupe. In traditional Chinese opera, the Huadan characters are young female roles, often seductive in appearance and quick with their words.

Local police posted on Weibo that the chaos was caused by a 33-year-old local who started to become aggressive after he had too much to drink. The man is charged with disorderly conduct and is currently detained.

The case received even more attention on social media when it turned out that the 33-year old troublemaker is the son of the head of a neighboring village.

Many Chinese netizens feel that the man is spared by Chinese news media outlets, which only report about a “drunken man” who was “causing trouble.” They insist that the real story should be properly reported.

“The son of the village chief took liberties with a huadan actress who rejected him, and then he kicked her, causing her to lose consciousness. He then beat up other actors,” some commenters explain.

“He is not just a ‘drunkard’, he’s the son of the village secretary.”

“What an explosive performance it was!” one Weibo blogger writes.

By Manya Koetse

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Rotten Girls: China’s Thriving Online Boys’ Love Culture

It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

Manya Koetse

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They are mocked, hated, and misunderstood, yet China’s so-called ‘Rotten Girls’ are at the core of an online subculture that has been thriving for years.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

China’s ever-buzzing social media sphere sees trends, topics, and movements pop up every single day and then fade away quickly when their novelty is gone. But there are some trends that turn into something bigger, bringing forth communities and online subcultures that keep on thriving for years, with the participants building their own spaces in the online environment.

One such space belongs to those who, with some self-mockery, define as “Rotten Girls” (fǔnǚ 腐女), derived from the Japanese fujoshi. In the Chinese context, ‘Rotten Girls’ are young women with a passion for fictional stories, drama series, and manga (comic books) featuring gay male erotica and romantic relationships called ‘yaoi.’

‘Rotten girls’ do not just consume these stories, primarily written by and for women, they also create and share them with others to discuss.

In Chinese, the gay erotica known as yaoi is also called ‘danmei’ (耽美) or ‘BL’ (for ‘Boys’ Love’) – all umbrella terms for contents of male-male homoerotic fiction. The genre plays a major role in various corners of the Chinese internet. It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

Media and technology both play a big part in the sharing of fǔnǚ fantasies. These fantasies can range from boys holding hands to more pornographic ones, but the main point of the imaginary is love and intimacy (Galbraith 2011, 213).

 

Always Another BL Trend

 

There is always something different trending in the world of Rotten Girls. This summer, for example, the release of the Japanese 18+ games ‘Lkyt’ by BL game brand Parade received a lot of attention. A previous game by Parade, ‘Room No. 9,’ is also still popular among BL fans in China. The game revolves around two young men, long-time friends, who get locked inside a room where they are subjected to a behavioral analysis experiment. The two have to make some taunting decisions, including possibly being forced into sexual activity with each other, in order to make it out alive.

Another major topic that went trending within the Rotten Girls community some years ago, even attracting the attention of western news media, was the British crime drama Sherlock. Many Chinese viewers in the BL scenes were convinced that detective Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his sidekick Watson (Martin Freeman) were not just professional partners, but a romantic couple. This practice of imagining a relationship between two characters is also known as ‘CP,’ an abbreviation for “coupling” or “character pairing.”

The ambiguous relationship between Holmes and Watson – and the very fact that they are not explicitly homosexual – suits the fantasies harbored by China’s fǔnǚ. There are countless examples of how BL fans photoshopped Sherlock images into homoerotic scenes, making up their own stories and endlessly discussing the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

Fanart: Holmes and Watson share a passionate kiss

BL fans are active in various online spaces. There are Rotten Girls communities on Chinese literature websites, discussion boards, and on ACG-focused platforms such as Bilibili (ACG is a popular abbreviation of “Anime, Comic and Games”). Boys’ Love is practically everywhere: short stories, web novels, manga, anime, games, and series are all actively created, consumed, and shared within the BL fandom.

The Chinese Jinjiang Literature City site (1998) is one of the earliest and most influential websites for the danmei genre, where some top channels receive millions of clicks. The Chinese web novel author ‘Priest’ is among one of the most successful authors (some translations in English can be found here).

But besides the special BL fiction forums, there are also many fǔnǚ accounts on the more mainstream social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. Under Weibo hashtags such as “Fǔnǚ Daily” (#腐女日常#), “BL Webtoons” (#bl条漫#), “BL Manga” (#bl漫画#), “Original Danmei” (#原创耽美#), and many more, Rotten Girls discuss their favorite danmei works and the latest news on a daily basis.

Although the Rotten Girls have been increasing their sphere of influence, it hasn’t been without controversy. Not only are they often looked down upon for their love for male homoeroticism, some LGBT people also criticize them for silencing the voices of actual gay men or erasing real-life gay experiences.

 

From Japanese Toy Boys to Chinese Danmei

 

Where did this all begin? China’s BL subculture finds it roots in Japan. The popularity of danmei came up with the growing influence of Japanese popular culture in China.

In the early 1990s, Japanese manga and anime titles started flooding the Chinese market, often as unauthorized (pirated) copies. With this wave of Japanese entertainment products hitting the Chinese market, there were also those belonging to the genre of BL.

In Japanese fiction and manga, the theme of male-male romance intended for a female audience emerged as early as the 1970s but did not really rise to popularity until the early 1990s, when Japanese mainstream media saw a ‘gay boom’ and representations of male homosexuality became in vogue.

The year 1993 truly was a ‘gay year’ in the Japanese media and entertainment industry. In “Producing Gayness” (1997), Sho Ogawa describes how one Japanese magazine even offered readers a “Gay Toybox”: full color paper gay dolls to cut out, including matching clothes from jackets to sports uniforms and even leather bondage gear. Instructions that came with the paper dolls encouraged readers to play with them, “give them a lovely name” and “imagine a campus love affair” between them.

It was also in this same year of 1993 that many Chinese young women first discovered the genre of Japanese Boys’ Love, mainly through the dissemination of pirate manga, novels, and magazines in Chinese bookstores.

Throughout the years, the Chinese genre of danmei has become much more than just an imported entertainment genre from Japan, and it is also somewhat different from the subgenre of ‘slash fiction’ in the West.

Danmei literally means “to indulge in beauty,” and it has developed its own characteristics, taking a predominantly literary form while also strongly resonating with Japanese visual culture (Madill et al 2018, 5). Since the first Chinese BL-focused monthly magazine appeared in 1999, the genre has mixed with various local and other foreign media and celebrity cultures (e.g. that of South Korean and Thailand), and has become a truly Chinese fan culture phenomenon (Chen 2017, 7; Yang & Xu 2017, 3).

 

Safe, Subversive, and Pure Love

 

Those outside the danmei subculture often wonder what makes ‘Boys’ Love’ so appealing to so many young women. There are various explanations and interpretations of why female fans enjoy writing and reading about male homoeroticism.

Chen Xin, who studied the topic of Boys’ Love at the University of British Columbia, offers “safety” as one explanation for the popularity of danmei, as it gives its readers, mostly straight women, the freedom to fantasize in a way that is removed from their own romantic lives. This is also reiterated by other scholars, who argue that BL provides a safe fantasy where female fans can avoid the objectification of women while exploring the boundaries of their own sexuality.

The concept of ‘pure love’ is one of the funü’s greatest attraction to BL. According to them, it is the most romantic type of love because it transcends the boundaries of gender. The male protagonists in these stories do not identify as gay, but fall in love with other men nevertheless. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, I just love you” and “It’s not that I am gay, I just love a man” are classic sentences within Rotten Girls’ fiction (Dai 2013, 34).

Zhang Chunyu (2016) also highlights the genre as an outlet for female writers and readers to explore sexuality and pleasure in a “subversive” way. Rotten girls position males as the objects of female desire, and in doing so, they challenge traditional gender stereotypes and appreciate gender fluidity.

China’s Rotten Girls subculture is also ‘subversive’ in another way. Because of its focus on homosexuality and eroticism, danmei fandom is subject to online censorship. According to China’s cyberspace regulations, online content should adhere to the “correct political direction” and “strive to disseminate contemporary Chinese values.” Over the past few years, there have been various moments when displays of homosexuality were targeted by censors.

An anti-pornography campaign of 2014 resulted in the shutdown of hundreds of websites and social media accounts. Throughout the years, dozens of danmei authors have been arrested and many sites were closed or deleted for creating and distributing homoerotic content (Chen 2017, 9; Madill et al 2018, 6; Zhang 2016, 250).

Despite the strict internet control, fǔnǚ and BL content are still going strong. In order to circumvent censorship, the words and images used are often coded or nuanced enough not to get deleted – but BL fans will still understand and enjoy the subtext.

Over the past years, China’s Rotten Girls have grown from a niche community to a force to reckon with on the Chinese internet. They have become a phenomenon that is often discussed in the media and is even researched by many academics.

“We’ve become professionals now,” one ‘Rotten Girl’ joked on Weibo recently.

Another commenter replied that the rise and possible fall of the danmei community is, eventually, intrinsically linked to how much room is given by China’s internet regulators. Although the past decade has demonstrated that Rotten Girls are not easily scared away by censorship and shutdowns, their future eventually does depend on the online accessibility to BL media and forums.

“If there is no relaxed online environment, it doesn’t matter how professional we are,” one commenter writes: “We might come to a standstill.”

What the future will hold for China’s Rotten Girls remains to be seen. Whether met with controversy or censorship, for now it seems impossible to put the Rotten Girls back into the closet they came from.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 
This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
 

References

Chen, Xin. 2017. “Boys’ Love (Danmei) Fiction On The Chinese Internet: Wasabi Kun, The Bl Forum Young Nobleman Changpei, And The Development Of An Online Literary Phenomenon.” MA Thesis, University of British Colombia https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Boys%27-Love-(Danmei)-fiction-on-the-Chinese-internet-Chen/63e7b494653bc1d849461b7a8f3d57aad05be452 [Aug 30, 2020].

Cohane (阿扣-绝赞爬墙中). 2020. “第二章 中国内地BL文化发展历史整理 [Part Two: A History of Development of Mainland China BL Culture Development]” (In Chinese). Weibo Article, Aug 8, https://weibo.com/ttarticle/p/show?id=2309404536531036799045 [Aug 26 2020].

Dai, Fei 戴非. 2013. “腐女心理 [Funu Psychology]” (In Chinese). 大众心里学 Popular Psychology (12): 34-35.

Galbraith, Patrick W. 2011. “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan.” Signs 37 (1): 211-232.

Larigakis, Sophia. 2017. “Boys’ Love: The Gay Erotica Taking China by Storm.” Sophialarigakis.com, Nov 6 https://www.sophialarigakis.com/writing/boys-love-china [Aug 29, 2020].

Madill, A., Zhao, Y. and Fan, L. 2018. “Male-male marriage in Sinophone and Anglophone Harry Potter Danmei and Slash.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 9 (5): 418-434.

Ogawa, Sho. 2017. “Producing Gayness: The 1990s “Gay Boom” in Japanese Media.” PhD Dissertation, University of Kansas.

Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xi. 2016. “Danmei, Xianqing, and the making of a queer online public sphere in China.” Communication and the Public 1 (2): 251-256.

Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xu. 2017. “Chinese Danmei Fandom and Cultural Globalization from Below.” In: Lavin, Maud, Ling Yang, and Jing Jamie Zhao (eds). 2017. Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols – Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, page 3-20.

Zhang, Chunyu. 2016. “Loving Boys Twice as Much: Chinese Women’s Paradoxical Fandom of “Boys’ Love” Fiction.” Women’s Studies In Communication 39 (3): 249–267.

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