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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

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

China Celebs

Social Media Blows up over Chinese Teen Celebrity Roy Wang Smoking in Beijing Restaurant

The star, who recently featured in a ‘social credit’ song, triggered controversy for smoking indoors and breaking the law.

Manya Koetse

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Roy Wang (Wang Yuan 王源), who is considered one of the most influential teens in China, was caught smoking during a ‘520’ banquet in Beijing. May 20 (5.20) is China’s unofficial second Valentine’s Day.

The Sohu Entertainment channel published the exclusive photos of Wang smoking a cigarette. The hashtag ‘Wang Yuan Smoking’ (#王源抽烟#) received a staggering 1,4 billion views on Weibo on Tuesday, making it the number one trending topic of the day.

Wang was having dinner at a Japanese restaurant near Beijing’s Worker’s Stadium together with Chinese actor Jia Nailiang (贾乃亮) and teen idol Yang Chaoyue (杨超越) when the pictures were taken.

Roy Wang, who is now 18 years old, is a member of the super popular boy band TFBoys, but also has a solo career as a singer-songwriter and actor.

Wang often appears in high profile (government) events and media campaigns. With the TFBoys, he performed for the CCTV Spring Gala multiple times. Recently, he also starred in the ‘social credit song‘ that was released by the Communist Youth League.

The fact that Wang’s smoking has blown up on Chinese social media relates to two things. Beijing has banned smoking in all public indoor spaces since 2015, meaning that Wang was breaking the law by lighting up in a restaurant. Then there is also the fact that Wang, as a teen icon, is young and influential, with many people considering it inappropriate for him to smoke at all.

One popular comment on Weibo summarized the issue as follows: “Actually, smoking is quite normal. But 1) as a very influential teen idol you must surely avoid it – the fans are all young and they can easily be influenced. 2) It is not okay for him to smoke in a public place. It is forbidden by regulations, should you break those [regulations] as a celebrity?

The incident led to Sina Headlines introducing the Weibo hashtag “Can You Accept that [Your] Idol Smokes?” (#你能接受偶像吸烟吗#), which received over 21 million views on Tuesday.

“Smoking is not a problem. It is harmful to one’s health, and that’s an individual choice. But smoking in a public place is inappropriate and bothers other people,” some said, with others being less forgiving, writing: “If Wang does it again, he’ll surely lose fans. It’s unacceptable.”

A poll, that 530,000 responded to, asked people if they could accept their idol smoking. A majority of people (50.3%) responded: “No, it’s not setting a good example.” Over 49% of respondents said they could forgive their idol for smoking.

Wang Yuan has now expressed regret on his social media account, after getting a warning from health authorities. He reportedly has been fined for smoking indoors.

Wang has nearly 73 millions fans on his Weibo page.

“I’m so sorry!” he wrote on May 21st: “This issue has made me deeply reflect on my actions, and how they negatively affect society. I feel sorry and ashamed. I apologize for setting the wrong example. I take on all responsibility and will accept punishment. As a public figure, I will now pay more attention to my words and actions. I hope nobody will follow my wrongful actions. I apologize again, and I will take this as a lesson to become a better person.”

His post received over 219,000 shares.

Meanwhile, the restaurant where Wang smoked has received a visit from local inspectors, who found that there were no stipulated “No Smoking” signs on the premises. The restaurant has been ordered to adhere to local regulations as soon as possible, Phoenix News reports.

Update May 22: The first memes relating to Wang’s smoking scandal have now also appeared online:

By Manya Koetse

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Media

Surprise Attack: CCTV6 Unexpectedly Airs Anti-American Movies as China-US Trade War Intensifies

“They have no new anti-American films, so they’re showing us the old ones instead.”

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CCTV 6, the movie channel of China’s main state television broadcaster, has gone trending on Chinese social media today for changing its schedule and playing three anti-American movies for three days in a row.

Some suggest the selection for the movies is no coincidence, and that it’s sending out a clear anti-US message while the trade war is heating up.

The three movies are the Korean war movies Heroic Sons and Daughters (英雄儿女, 1964), Battle on Shangganling Mountain (上甘岭, 1954), and Surprise Attack (奇袭, 1960), airing from May 17-19 during prime time at 20:15.

Ongoing trade tensions between China and the United States heightened when Trump raised an existing 10 percent tax on many Chinese imports to 25 percent earlier this month. Chinese authorities responded by raising taxes on many American imports.

Over the past week, anti-American propaganda has intensified in Chinese state media, with the slogan “Wanna talk? Let’s talk. Wanna fight? Let’s do it. Wanna bully us? Dream on!“* (“谈,可以!打,奉陪!欺,妄想!”) going viral on Chinese social media.

The movies broadcasted by CCTV these days are so-called “Resist America, Help North Korea” movies (“抗美援朝影片”).

The ‘Resist the USA, Help North Korea’ (or: “Resist American Aggression and Aid North Korea”) was a propaganda slogan launched in October 1950 during the Korean War (1950-1953). China came to the assistance of North Korea after the war with the South had broken out in June that year and the UN forces intervened in September.

The government, led by Mao Zedong, sent troops to fight in the war. Mao’s own son, Mao Anying, was killed in action by an air strike a month after the start of this 3-year war against US aggression in support of North Korea. The war ended with the armistice of July 1953.

“That’s not a target, it’s the enemy: American Imperialism.” Political poster from 1950 (http://military.china.com/).

“Resist USA, Aid North Korea” propaganda poster抗美援朝.

All three movies aired on CCTV6 are set during the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.”

Battle on Shangganling Mountain focuses on a group of Chinese People’s Volunteer Army soldiers who are holding Triangle Hill for several days against US forces.

Heroic Sons and Daughters tells the story of a political commissar in China’s volunteer army who finds his missing daughter on the Korean battlefield.

Surprise Attack revolves around the mission of the Chinese army to blow up the strategic Kangping Bridge, cutting off supplies to the American army and allowing the Chinese to engage in a full attack.

On Chinese social media, the unexpected decision of the CCTV to change its original schedule and to air the three historical films has become a much-discussed topic, with many people praising CCTV6 for showing these movies.

The issue was also widely reported on by Chinese media, from Sohu News to Global Times, which called the broadcast programming itself a “Surprise Attack.”

Not all netizens praise the initiative, however, with some commenting: “It seems that there are no new anti-American TV series or movies now, so they’ve come up with these old films to brainwash us.” Others said: “This kind of brainwashing is not useful.”

Many Weibo users, however, just enjoy seeing classic movies, saying “They don’t make movies like this anymore,” and “It’s good for the younger generation to also see these classics.”

If you’re reading this article on Saturday night China Central Time, you’re still in time to watch the airing of Battle on Shangganling Mountain on CCTV6 here.

Update 18th May CST: It seems that a fourth movie has been added to the series now. This might just become the CCTV6 Anti-American movies month! We’ll keep you updated.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

*Translation suggested by @kaiserkuo.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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