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“Made in China” Fashion – Forever Doomed?

‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion expert Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so. Is “Made in China” Fashion doomed?

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‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion writer Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so.

It was a wild week in the world of China fashion news. First, popstar Katy Perry draped herself in a   Taiwanese flag at a Taipei concert. Then Su Mang, one of China’s most influential fashion figures, spoke at the 2015 Harvard China Forum about the future of Chinese fashion. Most controversially, the famous A-list ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called on celebrities to dress for the theme of Chinese influences on western fashion at the beginning of May. The ball became trending on Sina Weibo and dominated Weixin discussions. Many Chinese netizens ridiculed the outfits of America’s celebrities, like Sarah Jessica Parker, who ‘looked like a Beijing Olympics mascotte’, or Rihanna, whose dress resembled ‘a Chinese omelette’ according to Weibo’s netizens.

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and China fashion writer. She is based in Beijing since 2010, and works in the fashion industry. She gives her view on this week’s happenings for What’s on Weibo:

 

Chinoiserie: Friend or Foe?

 

b8ac6f27b00016b3a4b801Rihanna’s dress, mocked by Chinese netizens for ‘resembling a Chinese omelette’.

Monday May 4 stood out in many a fashion-aficionado/a’s calendar as the annual outlandish couture fest (or frenzy, perhaps) that is the Met Gala rolled out the red carpet once again, sporting the theme “Chinoiserie” (one that many avant-gardists related to China fashion had awaited with baited breath — not this one though, I’m slightly skeptical when it comes to Queen Bey and the likes showing us their take on the wardrobe pick-of-the-season, no offense Your Madgesty).

Now, in hindsight, let me make an attempt to be politically correct in summarizing the A-list peacock feathers du jour: opinions were definitely divided. I’m the first one to agree that Fashion is the Land of Freedom and any take on a specific theme should be completely and utterly personal; but as I stood peering through the looking glass, I had a hard time spotting the ‘Chinois’ in the whole thing. And when the China flash did appear, it gave off somewhat of the “very average design school graduation project idea”, as Beijing designer Iris Wang put it: more tragic than transcendent.

 

Will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed?

 

Then, lo and behold, what are the chances…Coincidence or not (probably the latter, I do get that), a few days prior to the photo-opp of the year, on May 1, the Harvard China Forum hosted a talk on China fashion, and more specifically asked itself: Is China still able to fulfill and live its dream of becoming the reigning Queen Bee of the International Fashion Hive? Or will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed to burn in Vogue purgatory? E-commerce in China, i.e. purchasing your Monday outfit on ultra-popular sites such as Taobao and Alibaba, is thriving; yet that ain’t got that real Alexander McQueen feel to it, now does it?

 

160045_1306606.jpg.800x533_q95_crop-smart_upscaleSu Mang speaking at the Harvard Forum.

Both entrepreneurship and fashion remain relatively new concepts in China anno 2015. One-woman-powerhouse Su Mang, President and CEO of Trends Media Group, has been working in the industry for almost two decades now, and impeccably dressed, she had her say at the forum. In the early 2000s, with China fashion in its newborn stages one might say, Su took on her first job as editor-in-chief and founded “Bazaar in China, and embarked upon a period to which she refers as being one of “trial and error”. Heading a crew of no more than 30 at the publication, she started weaving the little silk she had been given and over the next decade “saw China fashion growing into an increasingly powerful tool able to influence artists, musicians, dresses to the stars and thus the clothing trends of hundreds of thousands across the nation”. Again, that all happened within the span of merely ten years. Not too shabby.

 

“China will grow into its own style.”

 

Putting the final hemlines on her discourse, Su pointed out how her fiercely fiery dreams regarding China’s fashionable development are by no means slowing down, let alone been diminished to cinders, on the contrary: the Fashion Dragon roars (I’m slightly paraphrasing here; thought it sounded more passionate, anyhoo). “After all, who is to say what fashion really is? Is it merely couture; or does it cover a wider range of clothing[racks]? China will grow into its own style mode; let’s just see what that will be. But in no way does it end here.” Amen to that, Su.

Maybe the MET should have another “China-do” in another decade then. Let’s wait and see.”

_82774782_82767298British model Cara Delevingne was covered in fake floral tattoos as she arrived for the gala. As reported by BBC’s Saira Asher and Heather Chen, the Weibo verdict: “Those fake flower tattoos – Frightening!“, and: “Aren’t cherry blossoms Japanese?

 

By Elsbeth van Paridon
Follow What’s on Weibo on Twitter

 

Images:

http://www.thecrimson.com/image/2015/4/27/sumangchinaforum/
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32586993

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and fashion writer. Since 2010, she has been living in Beijing, where she has become an expert on all the ins and outs of the world of China fashion. She has her own blog on China fashion: Chasing the Fashion Dragon.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Jia Ling Returns to the Limelight with New “YOLO” Movie and 110-Pound Weight Loss Announcement

After a year away from the spotlight, Chinese actress and director Jia Ling is back, announcing both a new film and slimmer figure.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲) has been trending on Weibo thanks to her upcoming film YOLO (热辣滚烫) and her remarkable weight loss transformation.

Jia Ling is a famous Chinese comedian actress, known for her annual Spring Festival Gala performances. She has been especially successful in the previous years as she made her directorial debut in 2021 with the award-winning box office hit Hi, Mom (Chinese title Hi, Li Huanying 你好,李焕英), in which she also stars as the female protagonist. That same year, audiences saw her as Wu Ge in Embrace Again (穿过寒冬拥抱你).

It has been a while since we’ve heard from Jia Ling, but on January 11, she resurfaced with a Weibo post in which she explained her absence from the limelight.

In her post, Jia wrote that she has spent the entire year working on the YOLO (热辣滚烫) movie, for which she lost a staggering 100 jin (斤) (110 lbs/50 kg). Just as with Hi, Mum, Jia is both the director of YOLO and the lead actress.

According to Jia, it was a tiring and “hungry” year, during which she ended up “looking like a boxer.” She added that the movie, set to premiere during the Spring Festival, is not necessarily about weight loss at all, but about learning to love yourself.

Within a single day, Jia Ling’s post received nearly 60,000 replies and over 855,000 likes.

Jia Ling’s post on Weibo.

The topic became top trending due to various reasons. It is because fans are excited to see Jia Ling back in the limelight and are anticipating the upcoming movie, but also because they are eager to see Jia Ling’s transformation.

From fans on Weibo: Jia Ling fanart and a meme from one of her well-known Spring Festival performances.

A short scene from the movie showed Jia Ling’s slimmer appearance, and a screenshot of it went viral, with Weibo users saying they hardly recognized Jia anymore.

One hashtag related to Jia Ling’s weight loss, about expert views on losing so much weight in such a relatively short time, received over 450 million on Weibo on Thursday (#医生谈贾玲整容式暴瘦#).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, medical experts quoted by Chinese media outlets caution against rapid weight loss methods, recommending a more gradual approach instead.

Nevertheless, there is great interest in the extreme diets of Chinese celebrities. As discussed in an earlier article about China’s celebrity weight craze, the weight loss journey of Chines actors or influencers often capture widespread attention as people are keen to adopt diet plans promoted by celebrities.

YOLO (热辣滚烫), which will hit Chinese theaters on February 10, tells the story of Le Ying (乐莹), who has withdrawn from social life and isolated herself at home ever since graduation. Trying to get her life back on track, Le Ying meets a boxing coach. The meeting proves to be just the beginning of a new journey in life filled with unforeseen challenges.

The Spring Festival holiday typically sees peak box office numbers in China, making this movie highly anticipated, particularly after the success of Hi, Mum three years ago. On Weibo, many view Jia Ling’s weight loss as a testament to her dedication and are eager to see the results of her year-long efforts in the cinema next month.

By Manya Koetse

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China Digital

Too Sexy for Weibo? Online Discussions on the Concept of ‘Cābiān’

Delving into the ongoing discussion on ‘cābiān’ and its influence on women’s expression in China’s digital realm.

Ruixin Zhang

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Chinese social media is seeing more discussions recenty on the blurred boundaries of Cābiān. This seemingly never-ending discussion raises questions – not just about sexually suggestive content, but also about the evolving perceptions of women’s bodies and freedom in the digital age.

In the fast-moving world of China’s internet, a new term has emerged: Cābiān (擦边). Originally a sports term describing a ball grazing the edge of a table (擦边球), it now primarily refers to the delicate balance in content that may be seen as sexually suggestive, teetering on the line between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexually explicit’ in the context of China’s internet culture.

The term mainly refers to women’s behavior, style, language, and actions that are considered inappropriate or that are pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Cābiān can be understood as borderline sexual content that basically navigates the boundaries of platform rules without actually breaking them. Nevertheless, is generally seen as ‘not in line’ with what is expected of Chinese women in today’s society.

This term has sparked controversy recently, prompting fervent debates surrounding its implications for women’s self-expression.

 
Too Sexy for Weibo? Jingchuan Liyu’s Divisive Pictures
 

Social media plays a central role in the “cābiān” debate. A recent example involves a Weibo post by Jingchuan Liyu (井川里予, @悲伤荷包蛋), a prominent Chinese influencer active on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.

Jingchuan Liyu is known for embodying both innocence and sensuality in her online persona. Mainly by male netizens, she has been labeled as a symbol of “chúnyù” (纯欲). This term signifies a blend of childlike innocence (纯洁, chúnjié) and allure (欲望, yùwàng).

Jingchuan Liyu became a focal point in the cābiān debate when she posted a series of photos during the summer of this year. While these photos didn’t violate any official guidelines, they departed from her typical “innocent yet sexy” style. In these pictures, she was seen wearing thongs and other undergarments, which apparently made some social media users uneasy.

The controversy surrounding the photos intensified when Jingchuan Liyu responded to these criticisms on her Weibo page. While her supporters defended her freedom to dress as she pleases, others viewed her photos as being more about provocative sexual suggestion than about freedom of fashion.

 
Dog-Headed Lolita: Judged, Harassed, and Labeled Cābiān
 

Beyond online debates, the condemnation of “cābiān” is also having real-world consequences. One recent example is the case of the Chinese influencer known as Dog-Head Lolita (狗头萝莉 @我是狗头萝莉).

Despite having a problematic childhood, ‘Dog-Head Lolita’ managed to turn her life around and became a successful streamer. But her reputation suffered a severe blow when explicit videos of her, recorded by her ex-boyfriend, were made public.

This incident and its aftermath damaged her career and, partly due to getting cheated by her manager, was left with a staggering debt of 6 million RMB ($836K). Trying to start an alternative career, Dog-Head Lolita took up selling Chinese pancakes (jiānbǐng 煎饼) at a street stall as a means to make a living and work towards repaying her debts.

In addition to her physical labor, she also posted short videos of herself selling pancakes online and continued to livestream and engage with her followers to generate more income.

While her efforts garnered sympathy and admiration from some netizens, she also faced accusations of using her pancake-selling business as a form of cābiān.

Her choice of attire, which emphasized her figure, became a central topic of discussion. Some netizens raised questions about whether her videos, showcasing her interactions with fans while selling pancakes, carried a sexual undertone. Moreover, there were arguments suggesting that her true business wasn’t selling pancakes but rather producing sexually suggestive content.

Some critics of Dog-Head Lolita went further and turned online criticism into harassment. Some filed reports regarding the hygiene conditions of her business, while others intentionally vandalized her pancake cart and left insulting messages on it.

Facing this harassment linked to accusations of being cābiān, Dog-Head Lolita voiced her frustration on her Weibo page.

She emphasized that her physique was something beyond her control and that selling pancakes shouldn’t be judged in the same way as her previous online presence. She complained that her livelihood was being scrutinized, even in the most ordinary and innocuous settings.

 
Challenging the Concept of Cābiān
 

Defining the precise boundaries of what is and is not cābiān is not easy, as it has become a catch-all term for anything remotely sexually suggestive, erotic, or resembling “soft pornography.”

While the distinction between suggestive and non-suggestive content remains hazy, new voices have emerged to challenge the very idea of “cābiān.”

Some believe that cābiān is a societal construct imposed on women, rather than an intrinsic concept. They argue that before the term “cābiān” gained popularity, suggestive pelvic dances were widespread in China due to the prevalence of K-pop boy groups, and male celebrities could appear shirtless and flirtatious on TV without anyone accusing them of “cābiān.”

But when it comes to women, the standards of cābiān can be unclear and are often unforgiving. This term is used not only to regulate their clothing choices but also their behavior or even facial expressions—essentially, anything a woman might do.

Once a female online influencer is seen as attractive and desireable, she seemingly becomes more prone to be labeled a “cābiān nǚ” (擦边女) – a woman who is seen as flaunting her sensuality within the context of social media and online platforms.

If this trend of labeling people as sexually suggestive continues, “cābiān” might turn into an unclear social rule, resulting in ongoing moral judgments of women, especially female online influencers.

On the other hand, some netizens see the increasing acceptance of women displaying their bodies in a sensual manner as a form of female empowerment.

One notable Weibo by ‘Wang’ede’ (@王饿德) post that gained a lot of attention suggested that there is a distinction between how others interpret women’s bodies and how women themselves perceive it. The post asserts that revealing skin and wearing “sexy” clothing can be a proactive expression of women’s own desires and confidence rather than solely meaning to please a male audience.

This active pursuit is seen as a form of ‘decolonization’ of the traditional patriarchal gaze— it’s described as “a reevaluation of women’s bodies by women themselves that allows us to reclaim ownership of our bodies,” as stated by the author of the post.

 
Neverending Discussions
 

As the debates continue, Weibo users are noticing a deadlock in these online discussions. Conversations about the who, what, and why of cābiān are recurring and appear to be never-ending.

In 2019, a significant debate arose concerning the attire worn by actress Rayzha Alimjan. In 2022, controversies revolved around busty women. There was also a cyberbullying incident involving a mother who had recently lost her son in a car accident and faced criticism for wearing elegant clothing and makeup (read). Most recently, there has been a series of new discussions, ranging from criticizing the latest TV drama starring singer/actress Lai Meiyun and onwards.

Contemplating this phenomenon, some internet users are thinking about the evolution of Jingchuan Liyu’s style. A decade or two ago, her aesthetic might have been categorized as ’emo,’ ‘alternative,’ or just seen as a form of decadent beauty. However, nowadays, it is quickly subjected to examination to determine whether or not it falls into the category of cābiān.

In the eyes of many Chinese netizens, this trend is seen as a discouraging step backward. Influential bloggers repost their previous cābiān-related Weibo posts from years or even just months ago, highlighting the seemingly futile nature of these discussions.

Who will be the next woman to be branded as cābiān? Will she face online insults and offline harassment? On Weibo, some express their exhaustion at being stuck in this repetitive loop, engaging in similar debates time and time again.

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the term “cābiān” and engage in more meaningful discussions about women’s bodies and their freedom in China. As one netizen put it on Weibo: “Maybe we should redirect this energy toward discussions that genuinely promote progress instead of endlessly revisiting these cyclic debates.”

By Ruixin Zhang

edited for clarity by Zilan Qian & Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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