Connect with us

China Arts & Entertainment

Beijing Close-Up: Photographer Tom Selmon Crosses the Borders of Gender in China

Tom Selmon, Beijing-based photographer from London, likes to capture a lesser-known side of China’s capital. Going off the beaten path, Selmon does backstage, fashion and street photography. His photos show a new Chinese generation that celebrates gender-nonconformity.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

No Tiananmen Square or Summer Palace – Tom Selmon, Beijing-based photographer from London, likes to capture a lesser-known side of China’s capital. Going off the beaten path, Selmon does backstage, fashion and street photography. His photos show a new Chinese generation that celebrates gender-nonconformity.

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

LOVING THE CAMERA

“My work is a display of everything I love in the world.”

tomselmonbw

“I’ve always known I wanted to be behind the lens. I studied Film Studies in London and initially thought I would be a filmmaker. But I soon discovered I was not looking for long storyboards, I just wanted to shoot. So I started doing photography, and my teachers liked my work. I took a course in Fashion Photography and then decided that was what I was going to do. I love fashion, I love photography: I’d be a fashion photographer.”

“My work is a display of everything I love in the world. That includes people, faces, naked men, and drag. I’ve been interested in drag since I was 16. I probably was into it earlier than I realized: I already wore girl’s clothes at the age of two.”

“Besides my editorial work, I also shot the drag scene in London. I was photographing, doing another job on the side, and experimenting with shooting different things. I am gay and the [tooltip text=”Stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.”]LGBT[/tooltip] scene is something I relate to. In my work, I hope to get across that I am doing it not to make a point – because actually it shouldn’t be a point. In many other photographer’s work, I feel drags or transgenders are often made to be look ugly. I just like unique faces and the shapes of bodies, and want to bring out the beauty in people.”

 

NEW TERRITORIES

“I wanted to go some place that would open my eyes.”

tomselmoncopyright5

“When I was in London, I felt like I needed to push myself further and decided something needed to change. Someone I knew was living in Beijing, and I decided to take the jump and come here. I initially had no specific interest in China, I just wanted to go somewhere that was very different from London, some place that would open my eyes. I can say that now, looking back, because at the time I had no clue. I actually came for none of the reasons I thought I was coming for.”

“It was not easy in the beginning. I felt like Beijing was like a dream, and I was zoned out. The language barrier was a problem too: if I got into a taxi, all I could do was point at my address on a piece of paper. One of my first nights here my taxi driver ended up at taking me to the airport instead of my own home due to a miscommunication.”

“After some time I came into the right flow of meeting new people, finding a teaching job for steady income, and going out into the streets. It was only then that I really started to appreciate the city.”

 

SHOOTING BEIJING LIFE

“People here just stand around and have no idea how great they look.”

tomselmoncopyright2

“There is this ‘flow’ in Beijing that I love. Once you’re in the flow of the city, it becomes easy to meet new people, to open doors and to start new projects.”

“I naturally got into Beijing street photography, because I just find so much life here. There is always something going on, from the early morning till late at night. I find it easier now to step up to people and ask if I can take their photo. It often turns into something really lovely. There is so much expression in people’s faces, and also some sort of honesty. Many people here just stand around and seem to have no idea how great they look. Beijing’s fashion is sometimes ridiculed, but many outfits are actually amazing, and people put a lot of energy into them. Those shots of the people combined with the urban environment give a very cool composition.”

tomselmoncopyright4

“I am not very interested in shooting the cigarette seller down the street. I want to capture what is going on right now with the new generation. It’s iconic because it represents what is going on in 2016. I need to be in China longer to understand it, but there is some sort of new sexual revolution going on. Issues of gender and sexuality seem to be really playing a big role for this generation.”

tomselmonyouth

 

CROSSING THE BORDERS OF GENDER IN CHINA

“I get a sense of pride and vulnerability in someone’s face here that I won’t get in London.”

tomselmoncopyright3

“Continuing here what I did in London, I wanted to dive into the Beijing LGBT and drag scene. The ‘umbrella’ is LGBT, but I am also interested in shooting ballet dancers or other performers. I love those worlds that involve fluid gender identities, where people are giving beauty, elegance and movement.”

“I went to a rooftop screening of [tooltip text=”Fan Popo is a Beijing gay film maker, writer and activist.”]Fan Popo[/tooltip]’s documentary about the mothers of gay children in China in late Summer (2015), and that was my first entry into Beijing’s LGBT scene. I’m slowly getting to know it now, and I found that there is quite a tight community consisting of Chinese and foreign people. They organize many activities, and in that sense, it is different from London. People from the LGBT scene everywhere, also in London, still have to fight for equality. It is not like people in Beijing are fighting for something different, but they just have to fight harder.”

“The gays here have a different view on what it is to be gay. It also has to do with how people identify with being gay. Here, many homosexuals find it important to identify themselves as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. It sometimes makes me think of what London used to be like ten years ago. There is a strong sense of gay pride.”

“There is this first generation here of both heterosexuals and gays now who are more open about sex. For me as a photographer, this new generation gives a myriad of people and scenes to shoot. I get a sense of pride and vulnerability in someone’s face here that I won’t get in London. There is a delicateness and femininity, which I find beautiful.”

tomselmoncopyrightwow

tomselmoncopyright7

“It has not been hard to find people willing to be photographed here. I always manage to get what I want from people. I just ask, and they say yes all the time. I also find that they are a bit more open to getting naked for a photo here. My recent work includes a photo series shot in a gay spa in downtown Beijing, individual portraits of people I have met on the streets, backstage series at contemporary dance shows and Chinese opera, and a project on the nouveau riche in one of Beijing’s super clubs. Maybe people are so willing to say yes because they are being shot in a way they have never been shot before.”

 

PHOTOS TO COME

”I’ve never understood why nudity is more censored than violence.”

partytomselmon

“I am not sure what I am anymore. Am I a street photographer? A fashion photographer? An LGBT photographer? A nude photographer? Maybe I’m a bit of everything. My work is not about gays or transgenders, it is about people. My photos are not political; they are esthetical. I just love people and their bodies. It is all about faces, and how light reflects on the naked skin. Nudity makes people different. It is beautiful – I’ve never understood why nudity is more censored than violence.”

“I do hope to make an impact with my photos. In the end, I just want people to see my work. I do it because I really enjoy it.”

“I am not done yet in China, and I know that new opportunities will open up for me. I still have a lot to learn and to be exposed to here. I find it all very exciting. In London I always knew what was happening, and here I just never knew what is going to happen next. I don’t know where I’ll be one year from now. I am going to stay in China for another year, as I feel I have only just started to skim the surface.”

tomselmon8

tomselfPhoto on Tom Selmon’s Instagram. Tom Selmon on the left. 

Tom Selmon’s website: www.tomselmon.com
Tom Selmon’s Instagram: follow

By Manya Koetse

All images by Tom Selmon, do not reproduce without photographer’s permission.

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie ‘Home Coming’ Becomes National Day Box Office Hit

China’s latest patriotic blockbuster ‘Home Coming’ focuses on Chinese diplomats as the saviours of overseas Chinese in times of trouble.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

China has got another patriotic box office hit this National Day holiday. ‘Home Coming’ (万里归途) is inspired by China’s overseas citizens protection response during the 2011 Libya crisis, and is sparking waves of nationalistic sentiments.

On October 1st, China’s National Day, the Chinese movie Home Coming (万里归途) became a trending topic on Chinese social media after its cinema debut on September 30. On Saturday, the movie’s box office sales hit 200 million yuan ($28 million) (#万里归途票房破2亿#).

The National Day holiday, which started on Saturday, is a common time for Chinese domestic movies – often patriotic ones – to hit the theaters. It is one of the most profitable times of the year for Chinese cinemas and also the time when the biggest domestically-produced films are boosted while Hollywood movies are limited.

The 2022 Home Coming war drama was directed by Rao Xiaozhi (饶晓志) and features major Chinese actors such as Zhang Yi (张译), Wang Junkai (王俊凯) and Yin Tao (殷桃).

The film tells the story of Chinese diplomats Zong Dawei (大伟与) and Cheng Lang (成朗), who are ordered to assist in the evacuation of overseas Chinese when war breaks out in North Africa in 2011. Just when they think they’ve successfully completed their mission, they learn they have to return to save a group of 125 compatriots who are still left behind.

The movie is said to be based on real events but it is set in the fictional Numia Republic (努米亚共和国). According to Chinese state media outlet China.org, Home Coming is inspired by an evacuation event in Libya in 2011, when the Chinese embassy reportedly evacuated more than 30,000 Chinese nationals in a time frame of 12 days.

At the time, Chinese official media called it “the largest such operation China had mounted abroad since the Nationalists fled in 1949” and Chinese nationals were evacuated from the war-torn Libya via land, sea, and air (Zerba 2015, 107).

On Weibo, there are many reviewers giving Home Coming a five-star rating, with some saying the movie moved them to tears. “I needed four tissues,” one movie-goer said, while another person complained that they forgot to bring any tissues to dry their tears. In light of the movie’s premiere, photos of people crying while watching the film also circulated online.

Although there were also a lot of fans who especially loved the role played by the super popular Wang Junkai, many movie-goers expressed pride in China after watching the movie, which revolves around the idea of finding one’s way back home – back to China.

Although Home Coming is said to be the first film about a Chinese foreign evacuation from a diplomat’s perspective, there have been multiple domestic movies over the past decade focusing on Chinese civilians needing to be rescued from chaos erupting abroad.

In Operation Red Sea (红海行动, 2018), which also stars Zhang Yi, a Chinese special task force sets out on a risky mission to evacuate civilians amid civil war in the fictional ‘Republic of Ihwea’ – loosely based on the evacuation of Chinese citizens from Yemen in 2015.

At the end of the Home Coming movie, a text showed up on the screen to remind Chinese viewers to always get in touch with the Foreign Ministry hotline for assistance if they find themselves in an emergency situation while abroad.

Chinese movie star Wu Jing (吴京) also makes a cameo appearance in this film. Wu is most famous for his role in Wolf Warrior 2, in which he plays a special forces soldier who battles foreign mercenaries and helps Chinese and African citizens during a local war in Africa.

“My love for my country reached a new height after seeing this film,” one person wrote, with others applauding the efforts of Chinese diplomats and saying they were so happy be a Chinese national.

While Home Coming was trending on Chinese social media, last year’s patriotic hit film also went trending at the same time (#长津湖首播收视率第一#): Battle at Lake Changjin was aired on TV for the first time by CCTV-6 on the evening of October 1st. To read more about why that movie became such a major success, check out our article here.

By Manya Koetse 

References

Zerba, Shaio H. 2015. “China’s Libya Evacuation Operation: a new diplomatic imperative – overseas citizen protection.” In Suisheng Zhao (ed), China in Africa: Strategic Motives and Economic Interests, p 100-120.

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly 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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly 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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Facebook

Contribute

Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at info@whatsonweibo.com.
Advertisement

Become a member

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

Support What’s on Weibo

What's on Weibo is 100% independent. Will you support us? Your support means we can remain independent and keep reporting on the latest China trends. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our website. Support us from as little as $1 here.

Popular Reads