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The Rise of China’s Electronic Dance Music Scene: From Underground Culture to Online Communities

China’s electronic dance music: it’s status-quo, future, and why social media is key.

Luka de Boni

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Image via www.jammyfm.com

While most people would perhaps not expect to find a lively electronic dance music scene in the PRC, the popularity of the club culture is on the rise in China today. Social media plays a major role in its rapid expansion. What’s on Weibo talks to Rainbow Gao, an authority in the Chinese dance music world, and looks at the past, present and future of this scene in China.

Perhaps few foreigners would see China as a go-to destination for its electronic dance music scene. Surely, most Chinese also do not see their own country that way. But China’s club culture is on the rise.

Although most of the ‘dance music capitals’ are located in Europe and the US, the online music broadcasting platform Boiler Room – which is focused on electronic music – now lists two Chinese cities among its 100 locations, Beijing and Shanghai.

Created by producers and performed by DJs, ‘Electronic dance music’ is an umbrella term for percussion-based electronic music made for nightclubs, raves, and festivals. In Europe, electronic dance music is often simply called ‘Dance Music,’ with subgenres including techno, house, trance, etc. 1

In 2016, DJMag, one of the biggest electronic dance music magazines worldwide, listed a total of four Chinese clubs in its top-20-clubs ranking. And if one would walk around Shanghai or Beijing today, one would find a similar quantity and quality of good nightclubs there as in any major European city – although it might require some more effort to find the right ones.

Club Lantern in Beijing, photo by author.

Nevertheless, electronic dance music is generally still misunderstood, and, more importantly, under-commercialized, in China today.

The 54-year-old Rainbow Gao 2, an important face of Chinese electronic music and founder of the ‘The Mansionnightclub/hostel/concept, tells What’s on Weibo that the overarching obstacle to the spread and development of dance music in China is a lack of infrastructure and general awareness.

 

BACKGROUND: THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE IN CHINA

In the 1990s, dance clubs mainly focused on the music itself – they weren’t interested in making money.”

 

Since virtually no dance scene existed before Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening-up in 1978, a Western ‘party culture’ only started emerging in China during the 1980s. But at that time, parties were mostly concentrated around Western hotel bars in Beijing, and there were few dancing bars run by locals.

During the early 1990s, proper nightclubs started opening up in the big Chinese cities, mostly located in big hotels or in renovated cinemas. “During this period,” Rainbow Gao tells What’s on Weibo, “clubs and clubbers mainly focused on the music itself – they weren’t so interested in making money.”

Rainbow Gao, founder of ‘The Mansion’ Shanghai

The development of Chinese dance music continued throughout the 1990s. Through the efforts of Chinese pioneer DJs such as Ben Huang, a real underground scene started to emerge.

The first ‘Berlin-Basement-style’ clubs were opened 3, and the scene started gathering more attention. Later, DJs such as Weng Weng or Mickey Zhang started throwing their own parties and setting-up their own labels, showing that the spread of electronic dance music was well under way.

DJ Wen Weng (Organizer INTRO festival), image via The Beijinger.

Finding an audience was hard at first – according to an interview in the Beijinger with famous Chinese DJ Weng Weng, the first electronic dance music parties were actually organized and attended mainly by foreign exchange students.

But, as more and more young Chinese started appreciating the music, the culture, mixing, and promoting, the local scene slowly started to grow.

INTRO festival

In the 2000s, the underground scene experienced a slight setback. A series of money-focused nightclubs started to open, solely driven by commercial motives.

“For these clubs, the music itself is really the last thing they think about. Sales come first; how to sell tables to people, how to make the club look ‘busy’ by having foreigners drinking for free, hiring actors to attend,” Rainbow Gao says: “There is also this show-off culture, so if they buy a bottle of champagne, it is not unusual to light fireworks to make a spectacle out of it. It’s really about showing off and making money.”

Today, Chinese nightlife is a combination of these big money-focused clubs and smaller music-focused ones. But even in the shadow of these big money-making machines, China’s underground dance scene is still thriving.

Most large Chinese cities now have at least one big electronic-music nightclub. Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Kunming, Guangzhou and Hangzhou are all popular destinations for Chinese DJs.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese, young and old, go out every weekend to listen to dianzi wuqu (电子舞曲 ‘electronic dance music’), haoshi yinyue (浩室音乐 ‘House music’), tie ke nuo (铁克诺音乐, ‘techno’) or chushe yinyue (出神音乐 ‘trance music’).

 

THE CHALLENGES OF CHINA’S ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE

Only passionate people invest money in these clubs, and they’ll do so from their own pocket.

 

The rise of the electronic music scene in China has not been without hurdles, and more challenges are lying ahead.

One of these hurdles lies in the fact that China can be a bureaucratic maze for those wanting to open a nightclub or organize a festival or concert. Rents are high, licenses expensive and clubs can be subject to police crackdowns.

The Dutch organizers of the international trance music-focused Transmission festival, which took place in Shanghai last week, apparently were relieved and satisfied about their event – which was an administrative nightmare to prepare. After having been through the whole procedure of organizing a festival in China, Rainbow Gao explains, they will now probably be able to organize a festival anywhere in the world.

Transmission Festival Shanghai (image 票虫网).

“If someone wants to open a club for the love of music, the first obstacle they face is very high rent. Then, as a club, you have to arrange many licenses, from the fire department, for security, police approval, approval from the cultural department – and this process is really difficult. Sometimes there can even be corruption – and sometimes the local leader in charge will not give his approval for fear of causing trouble,” Gao says.

Because of the high costs and small commercial appeal, music-focused nightclubs can also find it hard to find finance, unlike their money-focused counterparts.

“Investors won’t invest in those clubs: only passionate people invest money, and they do so from their own pocket,” states Rainbow, who never got her own initial investment back after founding The Mansion.

Another pressing challenge has to do with the Chinese general public’s lack of awareness or understanding of dance music’s cultural and commercial potential.

One example is that Chinese parents will rarely regard the jobs of ‘DJ’ or ‘producer’ as ‘real’ jobs, and will thus not always support their children in their artistic ventures. It is an issue not specific to electronic dance; many children growing up in Chinese families will be told that “if you want to be homeless, go get an art degree.”

Local governments can also be short-sighted, Rainbow complains: “The thing in China is there is not only the economic problem, i.e. people thinking about money over culture, but the problem is also the government. For example, I have been asking local governments to support ideas like the YinYang festival on the Great Wall, or the China Pavilion all over the world for years, but when I talk about it with them, they say they can only put money in ancient Chinese culture. But I think that it won’t really have an audience, while we already have one.”

 

WHY SOCIAL MEDIA IS KEY

The use of social media is crucial to developing the scene.”

 

Electronic music is alive and kicking on the internet in Europe and North America, where there are thriving online music-sharing platforms such as Soundcloud or Mixcloud, websites for buying music like Beatport or Juno, and, of course, a multitude of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat for DJs and clubs to promote their brands.

China also has domestic equivalents to these online platforms. But, according to online music magazine Factmag, it is key for the Chinese dance music scene to use its local social media more effectively in order to develop a unified presence online, in the same way that Western countries have.

At time of writing, the most popular music sharing websites in China are Xiami 虾米, an online music service providing recommendations and downloads services and belonging to the Alibaba group, and Douban 豆瓣, an independent social-networking platform focusing on the sharing of cinema, literature and music.

Xiami is, by far, the more used resource of the two; DJs such as Mickey Zhang have tens of thousands of listeners on Xiami, but only several thousands on Douban.

DJ Mickey Zhang (image via thebeijinger.com)

Xiami Music has a large music library with more than 3 million tracks, 330 kinds of music styles, tens of thousands of music radios, and over 500 thousand hits packages created entirely by users and self-developed algorithms, which can recommend good music to users. It also boasts a much broader user-base, unlike Douban, which fosters smaller, niche communities.

According to Chinese social media marketing company Chozan, most of the 60 million registered Douban users come from a well-educated, urban, middle-class background.

The platform is more niche-focused than other Chinese social media platforms and fits the needs of Douban users, who use it to view and share specific topics they are interested in; it is an online community based on user-generated content, predominantly focused on books, movies, and other (popular) culture related topics.

Of course, virtually all Chinese DJs and nightclubs also have Weibo accounts, where they often gather more followers than on Douban. But the problem with Weibo is that the range of topics covered is overwhelmingly broad – it can then be very hard to create communities centered around a specific genre of music. “On Weibo, people talk too much about everything, so it can be a little bit of a waste of time..”, Rainbow says.

Most music discussion groups (some of which we will list below) on Weibo do not focus on techno, house, or trance but rather on ‘underground’ music in general, or on all kinds of electronic dance music put together.

This is why, according to Rainbow, the online potential of dance music lies more with the development of Xiami and Douban: “I think that there is a great potential with new technologies for the spread of culture and music. For example, when I use Xiami today, I am so happy to see many young people writing and uploading music.”

Photo posted by Arkham on Weibo.

In this way, social media could provide the infrastructure necessary for the development of a thriving China-based electronic-music scene. Fostering creative online communities and online sharing can give opportunities to new generations of artists to get together, organize events, and share music and knowledge.

Social media could also help in increasing the general public’s awareness of different genres of music. According to Rainbow, the problem is not that Chinese people do not like dance music, but rather that many have never been exposed to it.

“The thing is – I have also seen a lot of poor countryside people who listen to music, but not electronic music, simply because they don’t know it yet. When we did the YinYang festival on the Great Wall, the first year (out of five) we had some promotional CDs and t-shirts which we gave to villagers who live there. The second year, they came to us asking for more CDs because they all loved it. Within a year, it [electronic music] became extremely popular among them. It’s just that they were not aware.”

Despite its relatively late beginnings, and the series of obstacles it faces, the electronic dance music scene in China has enormous cultural and commercial potential. And perhaps, social media could be the key to unlock it.

“People don’t really have a way to reach out. The use of social media is crucial to developing the scene,” Rainbow Gao concludes.

By Luka de Boni

 

EXTRA: WHO TO FOLLOW IN THE SCENE

 

What’s on Weibo has compiled a list of DJs, Nightclubs, labels and discussion groups to follow on Chinese social media. Not all artists/nightclubs/labels have pages on all platforms. Because Douban and Xiami don’t function on a follower-followee basis, but rather by the number of page visits or music streamings, the number of followers on these platforms have not been listed:

DJs to follow:

Mickey Zhang: Weibo – 2,800 followers. Xiami. Douban.

Weng Weng: Weibo – 4,800 followers. Douban.

Diva Li: Weibo – 13,000 followers. Xiami.

Yang Bing: Xiami.

 

Nightclubs to follow:

Arkham, Shanghai: Weibo – 19,000 followers. Douban.

Mansion, Shanghai: Weibo – 2,000 followers. Xiami.

Lantern, Beijing: Weibo – 9,000 followers. Douban.

TAG, Chengdu: Weibo – 6,600 followers. Douban.

 

Labels to follow:

Genome6.66MBP: Weibo – 2,000 followers. Xiami.

Asian Dope boys: Weibo – 5,400 followers.

 

Discussion groups/pages to follow:

Shanghai Nightclub Guide (上海夜店蹦迪指南): Weibo – 23,600 followers.

No Solution Music Network (无解音乐网): Weibo – 37,000 followers.

Mixmag China: Weibo – 12,000 followers.

Native Instruments China: Weibo – 10,000 followers.

Electronic music live performance equipment application and discussion (电子音乐现场演出设备应用及讨论): Douban – 4000 members.

National electric music musicians contact (全国电子音乐人联系): Douban – 3000 members.

 

Enjoyed this article? You might also enjoy our interview on The Early Days of Rock in China.

By Luka de Boni

1 In this article, electronic dance music refers to the styles of music which emerged in the 80s in Detroit and in Chicago, such as techno or house. The main components of these genres are 4/4 beats, with the repetitive rhythm of the music more important than the song itself. Note that Electronic Dance Music should not be confused with EDM, which is its own musical genre. EDM is a term given by American journalists in 2010 to commercial electronic music in order to boost the genres commercial appeal. EDM music is more melodic, non-repetitive and focuses on the ‘drop’, a fast, noisy accumulation of cymbals and hi-hats to give the song a feeling of climax. EDM DJs are world famous – Martin Gaarix, Aviici or David Guetta are well-known representatives. Electronic dance music DJs on the other hand are famous only within their community – names such as Maceo Plex, Pan-pot ir Richie Hawtin will probably not ring a bell.

2A DJ, model and entrepreneur, Rainbow Gao (高天虹) has been engaged in entrepreneurial ventures since the early 1990s. After a modeling career that spanned through the 1980s, she opened one of China’s first KTV rooms in 1992, hosted a podcast radio-show in Tianjin, and founded her first establishment ‘Sun Garden Bar’ in Beijing in 1995. Around this time, she became acquainted with electronic dance music while partying in Beijing. During the 2000s, she founded and managed a modelling agency. Since 2010, Rainbow has been heavily invested in the musical and cultural scenes, mostly through The Mansion, a nightclub and event-place which she owns and manages. The concept of The Mansion is simple: work, and you can sleep and eat there for free. Rainbow Gao explains: “Mansion as a club venue is creative in many ways . It’s not just about the music, it’s also about the community, the freedom, and not about the money … There is a free DJ school, and even a free bar-tending school.”

3The typical Berlin techno/house nightclub is set in a basement, or ‘bunker’. The concrete walls improve the sound-quality inside, and reduce the noise heard outside.

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

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Luka de Boni is an MA student in Chinese Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen with a degree in (Chinese&Indian) History from the University of SOAS. De Boni has a strong interest in Chinese political culture and the role of Confucianism in modern-day China.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Denis Doeland

    August 28, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Great read! The music industry has been fundamentally transformed by the digital revolution. The production, distribution, marketing, promotion and consumption of music, and electronic dance music (EDM) in particular, have been digitized. Music professionals and festival organizers face new challenges and are able exploit new opportunities. Especially in China. Herewith some of the learnings I experienced with the dj’s and festivals I assist https://www.edmandthedigitalworld.com/2015/09/22/why-djs-and-festivals-should-change/

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China Arts & Entertainment

An Overview of Chinese Nominations at Busan Film Festival (Part II)

Three Chinese blockbusters & two films touching upon gender issues; these Chinese films at Busan are definitely worth watching.

Gabi Verberg

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Image from 'Ash is the Purest White'

From Chinese dissident filmmakers to government-funded films, you can find it all at Busan, Asia’s biggest film festival. In the weeks leading up to the event, What’s on Weibo’s Gabi Verberg provides an overview of the Chinese nominees. This week: Part II (See Part I here).

On the 4th of October, the 23th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea will roll out its red carpet to open this year’s film festival season in Asia. With the screening of 323 films from 79 countries, it is one of Asia’s biggest international film festivals, with China as one of the main suppliers of films.

This week, we will introduce to you to the second batch of the Chinese nominees.

 

1. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (Yèwèn Wàizhuàn: Zhāngtiānzhì 叶问外传:张天志)

Mainland China/Hong Kong
Genre: Action
Selected in the category: Opening Night Film
Director: Woo-ping Yuen (袁和平)
Weibo Hashtag: #张天志# (19.600.000+ views)
Premiere: October 2018, Busan International Film Festival

Starring: Max Zhang (张晋), Dave Bautista (戴夫·巴蒂斯塔), Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼), Tony Jaa (托尼·贾), Chrissie Chaw (周秀娜)

About the Director:

Woo-ping Yuen was born in 1945, making him the oldest nominated Chinese director at this years’ Busan Film Festival. In 1978, Woo-ping Yuen was recognized by the film industry for the first time for his works Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (Shé xíng diāo shǒu 蛇形刁手) and Drunken Master (Zuì quán 醉拳).

With Jackie Chan starring as the male protagonist in Drunken Master, the film was nominated for the Golden Horse awards at the Taiwan International Film Festival. In the 40 years that followed, Woo-ping Yuan’s films received numerous nominations and awards at film festivals all over the world.

His most famous contributions to film are as the action director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill: vol.2, and as a Kung-fu choreographer for the film The Matrix.

Storyline:

This spinoff focuses on Cheung Tin Chi (a pivotal character from Ip Man 3, played by Zhang), who has been defated by Ip Man and had his house burned down to the ground. He decides to seek shelter on Bar Street, where he quickly finds solace from his neighbors. But when Tin Chi discovers a gang is peddling drugs on Bar street, he takes it upon himself to intervene and gets into a fight with a powerful foreign villain.

Check out the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The main actors are internationally renowned. Michelle Yeoh showed off her beautiful martial arts skills in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Max Zhang’s showed his mastery of wushu in films such as The Grandmaster and Ip Man 3.

On their website, the organization of the Busan International Film Festival calls the film “dazzling, gripping, and an astonishingly action-driven film that will satisfy the audiences who are looking for great action scenes especially on a big screen.” They also call it one of the “most essential martial art films” that Hong Kong has ever seen.

 

2. The Island (Yīchū Hǎoxì 一出好戏)

China Mainland
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Selected in the category: : A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Bo Huang (黄渤)
Premiere: 10th August 2018

Starring: Bo Huang (黄渤), Qi Shu (舒淇),Baoqiang Wang (王宝强),Yixing Zhang (张艺兴), Hewei Yu (于和伟), Xun Wang (王迅), Qinqin Li (李勤勤), You-lin Li (李又麟 ), Hao Ning (宁浩), Hu Guan (管虎), Jing Liang (梁静), Zheng Xu (徐峥), Teddy Chan (陈德森), Lei Zhang (张磊)

About the Director:

Bo Huang is one of China’s most famous comic actors. Except for acting, he is also a singer, tv host, choreographer, and now a film director. Over the last decade, he received nominations for his acting at almost every big Asian Film Festival, such as the Hong Kong Film Festival or the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. As an actor, Bo Huang starred in, among others, Journey to the West (Xīyóu Jiàngmópiān 西游降魔篇), No Man’s Land (Wúrénqū 无人区), and My Dearest.. The Island is Huang Bo’s first work as a director.

Storyline:

News of a meteorite coming towards the earth doesn’t seem to affect Ma Jin’s everyday life, as he goes about his days; going to work, obsessing over his pretty colleague, and even winning a grand prize lottery during his company’s team-building cruise. But Ma Jin’s life is about to drastically change, bringing him and his collegues to a deserted island, where they have to remake the world as they know it. This story is a surprisingly funny but critical fable of modern society.

See the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The film is already worth watching for its beautiful locations and its spectacular special effects. But another reason to watch the film is for the interaction between Bo Huang and his cast. For the production of The Island, Bo Huang’s budget seemed to be endless, allowing him to freely select his cast. As a consequence, almost all of his cast members are former colleagues. For the film Mr. Six (Lǎopào’er 老炮儿), Bo Huang worked with Hu Guan, Jing Liang, Hewei Ju, Hao Ning, and Yi Zhang, who are now all also featuring in The Island.

The Island is the 29th highest-grossing film in China of all time, with a total gross of 1.343 billion yuan ($195+ million).

 

3. Ash is the Purest White (Jiānghú érnǚ 江湖儿女)

China Mainland/France
Genre: Romance, Crime
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Zhangke Jia (贾樟柯)
Premiere: 11th May 2018, Cannes Film Festival
Weibo Hashtag: #江湖儿女# (44.860.000+ views)

Starring: Tao Zhao (赵涛), Fan Liao (廖凡), Zheng Lu (徐峥), Casper Liang (梁嘉艳), Xiaogang Fan (冯小刚), Yi’nan Diao (刁亦男), Yibai Zhang (张一白), Jiali Ding (丁嘉丽), Yi Zhang (张译), Zijian Dong (董子健), Jiamei Feng (冯家妹), Xuan Li (李宣)

Note:According to some news sources, Xiaogang Fan has been edited out of the movie. The film showed at the Toronto Film Festival was five minutes shorter than the film showed at the Cannes Film Festival in May earlier this year. Xiaogang Fan is alleged of tax evasion and having close ties with actress Fan Bingbing, who hasn’t been seen in public since July first after also being accused of tax evasion.

About the Director:

The award-winning Zhangke Jia is one of China’s most famous film directors. His debut feature film, The Pickpocket (Xiǎowǔ 小武), won the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998. Ever since, Zhangke Jia is one of the few Asian directors to be a regular at the big international film festivals such as Venice Film Festival, where he won three prices and was nominated five times, or Cannes, where Jia won one award and was nominated five times. Among Zhangke Jia’s significant works are movies such as The World (Shìjiè 世界), I Wish I Knew (Hǎishàng chuánqí 海上传奇), A Touch of Sin (Tiān zhùdìng 天注定) or Mountains May Depart
(Shānhé Gùrén 山河故人).

Last year, the very first edition of the ‘Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival’ (平遥国际电影展), an initiative by Zhangke Jia, was held successfully. The film festival celebrates the latest achievements in international cinema and promotes the work of young Chinese directors. The second edition of this festival will be held in October of this year.

Storyline:

This movie, set in China’s underworld, tells the story of love and betrayal between gangster Bin and dancer Qiao. The two lovers have a very strong emotional connection, but their love is severely tested when Qiao winds up going to prison after a violent altercation in which she tried to protect her gangster boyfriend.

See the trailer with Chinese subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The Guardian awarded the film four out of five stars calling it an “glorious drama” which feels like a “gripping parable for the vanity of human wishes, and another impassioned portrait of national malaise.” Variety called the film a “gangster epic.”

Another reason to watch the film is its outstanding cast. The two protagonists are played by award-winning actress and director’s muse Tao Zhao (赵涛) and Fan Liao (廖凡). The latter won the Berlin Golden Bear Award, which is the highest prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival; The Golden Horse Award at the Taipei International Film Festival for best actor, and the award for best actor at the Singapore International Film Festival.

 

4. My Dear Friend (Hǎoyǒu 好友)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Pingdao Yang (杨平道)
Reads on Weibo: 35.000 (#抵达之谜#)
Premiere: 2016

Starring: Starring: Gabby So (蘇子情), Robert Loh

About the Director:

Pingdao Yang is a relatively unknown independent director and screenwriter. His works have appeared at dozens of domestic and international film festivals, and he has won several independent film awards.

Other works from Pingdao Yang are Spring of Yangchun (Yángchūn zhī Chūn 阳春之春), One Day As Usual (Guānyú Zhāng Kēzhǎng de Rìcháng 关于张科长的日常), My Family Tree (Jiāpǔ 家谱); and feature films E Huang Mountain (Éhuángzhàng Yìshì 鹅凰嶂逸事) and The River of Life (Shēngmìng de Héliú 生命的河流).

Storyline:

In a remote village of southern China where spring mist lays, A city woman travels to a remote village in southern China to look for her missing boyfriend. Instead of fining him, she discovers a 60-year-long secret friendship between two elderly men.

This film comes twelve years after the debut of the short film Spring of Yangchun , that came out in 2006. That film also tells about the love between two men; after one of the men’s girlfriends unexpectedly passes away, he reunites with his old-time friend who just got back from the army – the two still have issues to resolve.

Spring of Yangchun

(The 2006 short film is available online with Chinese subtitles here.)

Why you should watch it:

Despite the fact that the film was released almost two years ago, Busan Film Festival still wants it to be part of the category A Window on Asian Cinema; a noteworthy fact that says much about the film’s quality. It is also the only Chinese film in Busan of which the topic is related to homosexuality.

 

5. The Rib (Yàdāng de Zhùgǔ 亚当的助骨)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Wei Zhang (张唯)
Weibo Reads: 340.000 (#撞死了一只羊#)
Premiere: 4th September 2018, Venice International Film Festival

Starring: Jingyi Huang (黄精一), Wejie Yuan (源唯杰), Hao Meng (孟浩)

About the Director:

Wei Zhang is an independent filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives of people living in the margins of society. For that reason, among others, his work is closely followed by western film media and film festivals.

Zhang’s previous films include Factory Boss (Dǎgōng lǎobǎn 打工老板), a story about an entrepreneur who desperately takes on low margin jobs to save his business; Destiny (Xǐhé 喜禾)a tale of an autistic boy and his struggling mother; and The Sound of Dream (Tiānlài mèngxiǎng 天籁梦想), a film about four visually impaired Tibetan children whose dream it is to appear on a TV talent show.

Wei Zhang’s films received multiple nominations and won a number of awards, including Best Original Script at the Iranian Fajr International Film Festival, and Most Innovative Film Award at the Asia-Pacific art unit of the Venice Film Festival in Shanghai.

Storyline:

The Rib is based on a collection of true stories, and depicts a Chinese transgender teenager who grows up in a devout Christian family. One day, he tells his parents he wants to undergo surgery to become a woman, and he asks for his parents’ consent. It is the start of a tumultuous story that shows a new side of Chinese society.

Why you should watch it:

According to Variety, this “bold drama” is likely to become “a groundbreaking production for China.”

In choosing a topic such as this, Wei Zhang has indeed made a bold move, especially considering that previous years have seen an online ban on video content relating to homosexuality. According to ScreenDaily, the filmmaker was very grateful to have obtained permission from the Chinese government to shoot the film, and hopes that his work will have a positive influence on society.

Stayed tuned for more! Meanwhile, also check out part 1 of Chinese films at Busan, and our must-see Chinese film list of 2017 here.

By Gabi Verberg

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

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Music

China’s ‘Masculinity Crisis’: The Internet Slang That Stereotypes Chinese Men

How a Chinese boyband triggered social media discussions on what it means to be ‘masculine’.

Gabi Verberg

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The F4 boy band via https://gnn.gamer.com.tw/3/165263.html

This month, a well-known Chinese educational program for children that featured a ‘feminine-looking’ boyband ignited discussions on masculinity in China. What’s on Weibo provides an overview of Chinese media’s stance on the recent discussion, and an introduction to five popular social media slang terms stereotyping Chinese men.
 
At the beginning of this month, a discussion about the meaning of ‘masculinity’ sparked discussions on Chinese social media. Discussions started when Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired Back to School: The First Class (开学第一课).

The programme is an annual educational television program by CCTV and the Ministry of Education, dedicated to the celebration of the new school year. The show, that had one of the highest viewers ratings since years, opened with a performance of the boy band New F4 (新F4).

The boy band New F4 consists of Guan Hong (官鸿), Dylan (王鹤棣), Wu Xize (吴希泽), and Liang Jingkang (梁靖康). In China, the four young men are known to be ‘feminine-looking’ or so-called ‘sissies’ (娘炮男), meaning they pay much attention to their clothing, hair, and make-up.

Guan Hong (官鸿), one of the New F4 members (via Weibo).

Since the airing of the ‘Back to School’ programme, many parents questioned the suitability of the performance of New F4, calling for some more ‘masculinity’ (“阳刚之气”) on social media. They criticized the program for being “too entertaining” and having “not enough educational value.”

 

SISSY BOYS? CHINESE MEDIA RESPOND

 

A few days after the controversial show broadcasted, state media outlet Xinhua News published a commentary calling the New F4 ‘sissies’ (娘炮). Xinhua stated:

(..) “these sissies promote an unhealthy and unnatural culture which has a not-to-underestimate negative impact on the youth. The sissy culture, driven by consumption, challenges the public order and worships a decadent lifestyle.

Within a few hours after Xinhua News published the article, a column published on the platform of Party newspaper People’s Daily (author @百家号) responded with an article titled ‘People’s Daily Review: What Should Today’s ‘Masculine Traits’ be?’ (人民日报评论:什么是今天该有的“男性气质”) questioning the definition and purpose of masculinity in modern society.

People’s Daily Review column’s author stated that:

” (..) modern society broadened the perception of aesthetics, and in a mature society, people should be tolerant towards other people and no longer [should] evaluate a person based on its gender characteristics only.”

Later in the article, the author proposes a new construction of masculinity; one that has not much to do with one’s appearance but more with one’s inner qualities. It also criticizes the use of derogatory terms such as ‘sissy’ for failing to “respect individual choices.”

This is not the first time that a voice featured on a People’s Daily platform supports so-called feminine-looking men. On the 13th of August this year, the People’s Daily Overseas Edition also published an editorial article, calling for tolerance towards this new lifestyle.

 

DISCUSSIONS ON WEIBO

 

On Chinese social media, there are also many netizens who see no threat in the rising popularity of the androgyne looking men. A typical comment said:

“What is a good man? A good man’s most essential qualities are to have an idea and be responsible, be brave and kind. These are the things that are important. Only looking at somebody’s appearance is too simplistic.”

Other Weibo users responded: “Determining whether a man is effeminate or not has nothing to do with his appearance. It can be found his sense of responsibility.”

Also, the hashtag “I’ve deleted the names of people who call feminine-looking men names” (#骂娘炮的人已经被我拉黑了#), initiated by the Chinese edition of News China, has since gone viral on Chinese social media.

But the supposed ‘disappearance of masculinity’ also led many to worry about an alleged ‘masculinity crisis.’

One Weibo user wrote a typical comment saying: “Men should stand up and be more masculine!”, with many more praising Xinhua for sending out a strong and clear message, warning society for the rise of ‘sissy-culture’.

 

5 TERMS STEROTYPING CHINESE MEN

 

This is not the first time that there is talk of a supposed ‘crisis of masculinity’. Throughout the years, various terms have popped up on Chinese social media defining certain types of men and their traits. These are five popular examples:

 

1. Sissy boy (娘炮男, pinyin: niángpàonán)

 

One of China’s most popular singer and actor Kris (吴亦凡), source: http://www.iqiyi.com/paopao/u/1456302336/

Derogatory term for androgyne men whose personality and appearance is quite feminine. They often like to put much care into their appearance, including wearing makeup, and a love for shopping. On social media, many claim the reason for this alleged ‘soft behavior’ is said to be nurtured by the overprotection of children and the lack of gender awareness in upbringing.

 

2. The Chauvinist(男子汉,pinyin: nánzǐhàn; or ‘Straight Man Cancer’ 直男癌 zhínán’ái)

 

Source:http://www.sohu.com/a/21281898_117436

Refers to men who live in their own world, with their own values and who tend to reveal their dissatisfaction towards other people. The general view is that these ‘Chauvinist men’ are self-righteous and indifferent to women’s values. Their way of getting acquainted with a woman is often through buying her gifts and spending a lot of money.

 

3. Phoenix man (凤凰男,pinyin: fènghuángnán)

 

Source: https://jingyan.baidu.com/article/9c69d48f93291d13c9024e3f.html?st=5&os=1&bd_page_type=1&net_type=1

‘Phoenix male’ refers to those men who came from poor rural areas and who have been admitted to college after hard work and dwelling in the city to work after graduation. Although they have left the countryside, they still hold on to many rural and traditional concepts and ideas.

 

4. Wretched or Vulgar Man (猥琐男,pinyin: wěisuǒnán), also often referred to as loser (男屌丝,pinyin: nándiǎosī)

 

Source:http://bbs.tianya.cn/picall-funinfo-7299549.shtml#p=262732538

The terms ‘vulgar man’, ‘loser’ or ‘pervert’ are given to a person making other people feel uneasy and uncomfortable. These men are said to be shameless and show an abnormal and inferior behavior caused by long-term sexual repression.

 

5. Mommy’s Boy (妈宝男,pinyin: mābǎonán)

 

Source: http://m.sohu.com/n/411935946/

The ‘mommy’s boy’ label refers to men who listen to everything their mother says. Whatever it is that their mother says, they regard it as the truth, and they live by the decisions their mother takes – including what job to take on, who to marry, and where to live.

 

For now, discussions on what a ‘real man’ is seem to be continuing on Chinese social media. In the meanwhile, the Weibo page of the ‘feminine-looking boyband’ New F4 already received 110 million views- a number that just keeps on growing.

Link to the New F4 performance on the CCTV program Back to School: The first class (开学第一课): here.

By Gabi Verberg

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

©2018 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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