Symposium: Transcultural Research and Curatorial Practice in China’s Contemporary Art- 17th May

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This Friday The Whitworth is hosting a Symposium on Transcultural Research and Curatorial Practice in China’s Contemporary Art organised by CFCCA.

Tickets for the event are still available on CFCCA’s website here

Organised by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester & Inside-Out Art Museum (IOAM), Beijing

Curated by Marianna Tsionki (Research Curator, CFCCA) & Su Wei (Senior Curator, IOAM)

Supported by Asia Research Network for Arts and Media*

We invite you to join us for ‘Transcultural Research and Curatorial Practice in China’s Contemporary Art’. This symposium, co-organized by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester, and Inside-Out Art Museum (IOAM), Beijing seeks to emphasize the close relationship between research and curatorial practice both in China and internationally, and discuss the rich dimensions and potential of theoretical and artistic research through the creative application of curatorial language. Through the dialogue between curators and scholars we want to re-consider the political power of curatorial praxis and its role in knowledge production. By exploring China’s complex global exchanges in the field of cultural production we aim to unpick the particularities of transcultural curatorial practice and its role in interrogating Western narratives of modernity.

Speakers

Marianne Brouwer, art historian, curator & writer

Qu Chang, associate curator, Para Site, Hong Kong

Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Para Site, Hong Kong

Marko Daniels, director Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona

Liu Ding, independent curator, artist, Beijing

Marcella Lista, chief curator of the New Media Collection at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou, Paris

*The Asia Research Network for Arts and Media (ARNAM) is an interdisciplinary network formed in 2016 by Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Salford and the University of Manchester.  

Corridor8 review

A review by Beth Dawson which appeared here in Corridor8

Chinternet Ugly

Installation image of Ye Funa ‘Beauty Plus Save the Real World’ (2018). Image courtesy CFCCA, photography by Michael Pollard.

In Western portrayals China’s relationship with the internet is often depicted as one of surveillance and control epitomised in the image of the ‘Great Firewall of China’, in opposition to digital creativity and freedom enjoyed by those in the West. In fact, just a day after the opening night of the group show Chinternet Ugly at CFCCA, The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that ‘the global internet is splitting in two’ where in China ‘the government is absolute, and it is watching’ and ‘on the other side…the internet is open to all.’

Chinternet Ugly doesn’t deny government-controlled aspects of China’s internet, but presents more complex engagements with it, moving past the dichotomy of Chinese constraint vs global (particularly Western) freedom. It encourages audiences to peer over ‘The Great Firewall’ and see examples of digital creativity arising from a culture of over 802 million internet users. The exhibition features pieces that not only speak to the unique digital culture in China, termed ‘Chinternet’, but also to global issues and ugliness.

One theme that speaks both to the Chinese digital landscape and global internet experiences is the glossy, pastel pink selfie wonderland of Ye Funa’s ‘Beauty Plus Save the World’ (2018). Funa’s piece invites viewers to take their own selfies in filter-inspired sets resembling the interfaces and results produced by popular appearance altering app Meitu, which has over 6 billion photos uploaded to it every month. The facades, dominated by millennial pink and populated by sheet mask motifs – a beauty staple associated with Eastern beauty regimes – are distorting, fun and enticing to interact with, reflecting the allure of these reality distorting apps. Although the focus is on Meitu, the themes present in Funa’s piece could easily apply to global variants such as Instagram and Snapchat filters, or Facetune which have sparked conversations of self-perception, representation and mediation of the self.

Turn away from the pastel section of the gallery however and you’ll find international connections of a different kind.

To produce ‘Can You Tear For Me?’ (2015), Liu Xin engaged with the often-unseen community of online freelancers through Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), an online task marketplace, asking them to cry for $0.20 and take strikingly personal photographs of the result. Here, a global community are united in emotion, but also the human labour that produced it. There is an uneasy relationship between the intimate portraits created and the detached online labour market that they’re derived from. With AMT boasting that job posters can access a ‘global, on-demand, 24×7 workforce’, Xin’s piece encourages the audience to consider the growth in digital work and commodification of arenas including emotional labour. This is not only prevalent in the rise of platforms such as AMT, TaskRabbit and many more, but also the monetisation of private lives through influencer advertising with personal moments providing opportunity for profit in the global digital landscape.

Viewing this artwork in context of an exhibition about Chinese experiences also prompts consideration of the changes in the Chinese labour market, at a time when China’s government is shifting focus from manufacturing often associated with the country, to innovation with initiatives such as a Roadmap for China to lead globally in AI.

A further piece illustrating the unity of Chinternet culture and the wider world in a literal and thematic sense is ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ (2019) by Miao Ying. In this short film, Ying transports the act of using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to evade censorship and firewalls to the streets of Paris. After teaching herself lock-picking techniques, Ying covertly releases love-locks from bridges and films her efforts. These objects themselves stem from a love-lock tradition originating in China which has become popular throughout the world. By making them the focus of her work Ying places the crossing of cultural boundaries front and centre of her work.

Through the physical action of releasing locks, Ying opposes the restriction and stasis of the object, paralleling the freeing of information from a highly controlled and censored state in utilising a VPN. This metaphor is reiterated through the sculptural piece accompanying the film where love-locks taken from Paris are secured to a very literal representation of the Great Firewall. Ying’s piece equally captures a sense of rebellion that is nevertheless visible through covertly picking locks in areas that are also public and in a busy tourist destination. It’s a contradiction particularly salient in VPN usage: a method of accessing censored information that is not accepted by the Chinese government, yet is a popular method for accessing the wider internet realm, particularly among young people.

These points of friction and fusion between the specific Chinternet culture and global networks, control and creativity, the real world and altered representations are embedded throughout the works in Chinternet Ugly, which each provide a unique perspective on the rapidly evolving digital domain. Moreover, the exhibition does so in a way that avoids simplified dichotomies of Western creative freedom and Chinese adherence to restriction with pieces that are rebellious, thoughtful and playful.

Chinternet Ugly, CFCCA, Manchester.

8 February – 12 May 2019.

Beth Dawson is a writer and marketer based in Manchester.

Chinternet Ugly: A roundup of reviews

In this post I’d like to share some of the reviews and interviews that that have been written since the opening of Chinternet Ugly, the exhibition I co-curated with Marianna Tsionki at CFCCA in Manchester. The exhibition features the work of Miao Ying, Ye Funa, Lu Yang, aaajiao, Lin Ke and Liu Xin and runs until 12th May, 2019.

First off, an interview with myself and Marianna Tsionki by Charlotte Robson from the Fourdrinier Magazine.

Lu+Yang,+Electromagnetic+Brainology,+screenshot+courtesy+of+the+artist.jpg‘Chinternet Ugly’, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA)’s new landmark exhibition of contemporary Chinese net art, promises to decode the messy vitality of online art-making within the country’s fiercely protected e-borders. Here, writer Charlotte Robson discusses internet creativity with co-curators Dr Ros Holmes (Presidential Academic Fellow in Art History at University of Manchester) and Marianna Tsionki (Research Curator, CFCCA and University of Salford) – and asks how an exhibition dedicated to new media art will translate into a physical gallery setting. Featuring screens, interactive installations, video pieces, wallpaper, photography and more, ‘Chinternet Ugly’ opens to the public on 8 February with new and recent works by artists aaajiao, Miao Ying, Lin Ke, Liu Xin, Lu Yang and Ye Funa.

At 802 million, China is home to the largest number of internet users – or ‘netizens’ – in the world and 788 million smartphone users (Forbes, August 2018).

Charlotte Robson: We live in such an (ostensibly) ‘free’, globalised society in the West. But the situation is quite different in China, especially online. Could you explain what the ‘Chinternet’ is and what makes it unique? 

Ros Holmes: The neologism ‘Chinternet’ is a portmanteau of ‘China’ and ‘internet’, reflecting the idea of a so-called internet with Chinese ‘characteristics’. These characteristics encompass the unique cultural and linguistic features of websites like Taobao (the world’s biggest e-commerce website), but also extend to more pernicious aspects like strict online censorship, internet surveillance and the contingencies of political control.

Such issues are certainly not confined to the Chinese internet, however. I think the idea that we operate within a ‘free’ online environment has been thoroughly debunked, while the heady optimism which accompanied the advent of the internet has long been replaced with a growing sense of unease.

Marianna Tsionki: Indeed, the widespread assumption that the internet in non-authoritarian Western democratic states is a free space of information sharing and ideas has been proven to be flawed even in the United Kingdom by recent web scandals like Cambridge Analytica’s data harvesting.

But the situation in China is nonetheless distinct: various systems and technologies filter, monitor and otherwise obstruct or manipulate the online sphere to defend against potential legal, economic, social, and security related threats. Chinese internet specific enterprises, such as Baidu (akin to Google) and Alibaba (similar to Amazon), have developed as a result – benefiting from the lack of market competition. Internet usage within the country is therefore rather mediated by local tech companies, while any interactions with the global online sphere beyond ‘the Great Firewall of China’ – as it’s known – can only be achieved via a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Saying that, the Chinternet also has a rich and vibrant culture of satirical memes and online subcultures, just like anywhere else, and a plethora of subversive artistic responses have increasingly begun to dominate the space over recent years. Through ‘Chinternet Ugly’, we are interested in exploring these responses alongside the ways in which artists are operating within such conditions and potentially influencing them. The six artists included in the show all certainly address a complex range of political and cultural issues with humour, irreverence and wit.

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CR: Taking this further, then, how does the Great Firewall paradoxically manage to catalyse such creativity among its netizens? And why do you describe this creativity as manifesting in an ugly aesthetic?  (I read your article, ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the Rise of Chinternet Ugly’, Ros.)   

 RH: Many of the works that we’ve selected for ‘Chinternet Ugly’ illustrate how the forces of censorship (like the Great Firewall) can actually stimulate a necessary kind of creativity as much as they curtail it. Infinite ingenuity is required of netizens wanting to evade state strictures as they navigate between China’s online and offline spaces, for example. By emphasising the heterogeneity of responses to censorship, which are frequently neither entirely countercultural nor unashamedly pro-system, the exhibition aims to present an inversion of the ostensibly unidirectional flow of online imagery from the West to ‘the rest’.

The title of the show relates to the phrase ‘Internet Ugly’, first coined by the academic Nick Douglas in his article ‘It’s Supposed to Look Like Shit: The Internet Ugly Aesthetic’ (2014), published in the Journal of Visual Culture. Here, we’ve looked at how it can be applied to the Chinese internet specifically.

The ‘ugliness’ relates to the artistic merit and value of mainstream user-generated content, visual manifestations of which frequently range from the banal to the kitsch to the ugly. By rejecting the homogenising tools of ‘advanced’ web design in favour of a lo-fi, 1996 Dirt Style aesthetic, and embracing the eclectic repurposing of the copy-and-paste imagery that proliferates throughout the creative recesses of the Chinternet, the artists in this exhibition emphasise a distinct anti-aesthetic. One that valorises amateur production, eschews technical mastery and celebrates humorous inaccuracies in reproduction, translation and dissemination as a means of satirising a society relentlessly concerned with image and ideal citizenship.

MT:  Censorship has always been one of the primary means of controlling societies and still continues in many forms and at different levels across the globe. Artistic production has historically addressed these issues, usually with artistic movements forming either a type of resistance or just reflecting on everyday life interactions.

One of our primary curatorial concerns was to present the various voices and aesthetics that are currently creating a space for discussion around the Chinese internet’s special characteristics. Some of the artists we’ve worked with for the exhibition highlight issues of censorship, while others are preoccupied with the effects of technology and the internet on contemporary subjectivity. As such, the notion of ugliness is rather a reflection of this interaction: a grotesque visual manifestation of current societal digital trends in a Chinese context.

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CR: Miao Ying’s net art project, Chinternet Plus (2016), appears to have been especially influential in terms of how you both approached the show. What is it about her work, in particular, which most encapsulates the ‘Chinternet Ugly’ phenomenon?

RH: Throughout her practice, Miao offers an unapologetic reappraisal of the counterfeit and the contrived as a means of probing deeper socio-political and economic concerns, including: the consequences of neoliberal outsourcing, the psychological effects of censorship, and the politics of representation, class and nation. As such, she manages to counter much of the stigma and the many preconceptions surrounding China’s online realm by reassessing the value of the vernacular creativity emerging from the world’s largest online community.

MT: That being said, Chinternet Plus is actually quite an old work. For this exhibition, we have teamed up with the University of Salford Art Collection to co-commission two new works by Miao: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2019) and Love’s Little Wall (2019). Love’s Labour’s Lost takes its name from William Shakespeare’s early comedy and the film documents the artist’s recent experience in Paris, the ‘City of Love’, where she secretively unlatched love-locks as an allegory of employing a VPN server to ‘unlock’ the ‘free’ internet. Miao then attached these ‘love-locks’ to an idyllic image of the Great Wall of China (the country’s national symbol) positioned at the back of her sculpture Love’s Little Wall – the Great Wall serving as a metaphor for the Great Firewall to highlight issues of censorship and surveillance.

The Stockholm syndrome that the artist has (in her own words) developed in relation to her country forms the core of her recent work.[i] As a member of the first generation of citizens growing up with the internet in China, she reflects on the technological trends of our time with humour.

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CR: How will visitors encounter contemporary internet art (art intended for and dependent on the digital domain) within the gallery space? Tell us a little bit about ‘Chinternet Ugly’s’ new commissions and site-specific installations. Will paper feature at all?  

RH: ‘Chinternet Ugly’ will include a broad range of works, from interactive installations to video pieces and photography. Not only did we want to showcase the diversity of these different artists’ practices, but also to highlight how they’re using online and offline formats to engage with digital culture and explore its wider impact on aesthetics, culture and society.

It’s notable, for instance, that many of the artists have chosen to explore how the most ‘immaterial’ of forms – digital information – has paradoxically led to a proliferation of material states. Liu Xin’s work, Can you tear for me? (2015), consists of a selection of 30 photographs submitted by ‘online workers’ in response to a HIT (Human Intelligence Task) that the artist posted on the Amazon Mechanical Turk (a crowdsourcing internet marketplace) on 19 March 2015, titled ‘can you ‘tear’ for me?’. Converting the digital images into physical prints displayed on the gallery wall plays an important role in the humanising aspect of the work, which taps into the sense of community that the internet can offer. Lu Yang’s two artist films Electromagnetic Brainology (2017) and God of the Brain (2017), meanwhile, both live on the internet and reference online music videos, computer graphics and gaming culture, yet will form part of a physical immersive installation featuring the artist’s own specially designed ‘wallpaper’ that replicates the imagery from both works.

MT: What’s most interesting with net art is the utilisation of the digital realm as an operating platform, its inherent opposition to the rules and models of the art market, and its engagement with the ongoing development of different subcultures. Net artists have always argued for process over object, while the structures, tools and ideologies of coding and programming overrule those of traditional museum and gallery spaces. Of the works included in ‘Chinternet Ugly’, however, many attempt a kind of materialisation of digital art in the physical exhibition space. While one could argue that this compromises the very nature of net art, we feel that it is an interesting way to present and discuss these ideas beyond the Great Firewall in a global contemporary context.

RH: As for the site-specific commissions, we don’t want to give too much away but I would encourage everyone to visit the exhibition for themselves. There will be plenty to delight, stimulate and provoke debate!

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CR: You have exclusively selected works by artists from mainland China. Are there any stereotypes or presumptions about mainland China and its ‘Chinternet’ that you are keen to debunk through the show?

MT: We’ve only selected work by mainland Chinese artists as internet access in special administrative regions like Hong Kong, for example, follows the rules of Western countries.

RH: By re-contextualising visual elements usually upheld as emblematic signifiers of the Chinternet’s parochialism, insularity and state strictures, the artists presented in the show all refuse to reduce the history of China’s online culture to a simple story of resistance versus control or state versus society. As such, they directly challenge dichotomous and reductive ways of thinking about online culture within the country.

CR: What should we, as viewers, be looking out for as digital art continues to expand, both within China and in the global contemporary art sphere more broadly?

RH: The exhibition acknowledges the potential of the Chinternet to challenge and complicate over-determined readings of artistic production, both within China and beyond its borders. In the future, we can look forward to an ever-expanding range of works that engage with these issues of cross-cultural intelligibility and translatability, and it will be interesting to see how they eventually play out in the online public sphere of the global contemporary art world.

MT: I agree with Ros. Instead of creating dichotomies between ‘free’ and censored digital worlds, what would be interesting to see going forwards is an artistic dialogue that problematises our interaction with the internet in a global context.

‘Chinternet Ugly’ will show at CFCCA, Manchester, from 8 February to 12 May 2019

[i] In her article ‘Meanwhile in China…Miao Ying and the rise of “Chinternet Ugly”’, ARTMargins, Vol. 7, No. 1, (2018), Holmes writes: “Miao satirizes the bounded-ness of Internet searches in China, exploring the psychology of limitation in what she has referred to as her Stockholm syndrome approach to the Chinese Internet: “Censorship is like a bad lover you can’t get rid of, or a chronic case of Stockholm syndrome, in that you become dependent on the trauma. This type of love, which occurs in an isolated environment, sees the kidnapper, the person who makes the rules, become so powerful that the hostage gradually falls in love with them.” Miao’s work attests that a significant psychological price is paid for being constantly aware of the variety of ways in which your activity can be monitored and tracked. In a choice between paranoid vigilance and easy participation, few choose paranoia, a moral compromise that ensures that the state, constantly wary of any potential threats to its stability, secures many netizens’ continued complacency.”

Chinternet Ugly: Exhibition Opens 8th February at CFCCA (Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art) Manchester

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I’m proud to announce that Chinternet Ugly, a new group exhibition which navigates the messy vitality of China’s online realm, will shortly be opening at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester. The exhibition features work by Miao Ying, Ye Funa, Lu Yang, Lin Ke, Liu Xin and aaajiao and was co-curated by myself and Marianna Tsionki (Research curator at CFCCA). The exhibition will run from 8th February to 12th May – for anyone interested in learning more about how contemporary art in China intersects with the internet please do pay CFCCA a visit!

 

About this exhibition

‘Chinternet Ugly’ navigates the messy vitality of China’s online realm, a space where artists can engage, play and debate.

This exhibition features works by six leading new media artists and includes new work by Miao Ying, co-commissioned by CFCCA and University of Salford Art Collection. 

China is home to 802 million Internet users, 431 million micro-bloggers, 788 million Internet mobile phone users, and four of the top ten Internet companies in the world. This vast user base combined with a handful of ubiquitous online platforms and e-commerce giants including WeChat, Tencent and Alibaba results in cultural currents that flow at a blinding pace – spreading and evolving far more rapidly than on the ‘global’ web and creating a distinct internet culture – the ‘Chinternet’. Utilising this space as a site for cultural and political negotiation, critique and play, the artists presented in ‘Chinternet Ugly’ probe how
 the sheer volume of Internet users in China ensure that the country 
is effectively becoming its own online centre of gravity, one with the power to create its own sphere of influence over network norms.

Focusing on a younger generation of artists – the first to have grown up with mass digital technology – ‘Chinternet Ugly’ invites the viewer to explore the complex and contradictory nature of China’s hyper-regulated digital sphere from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists. From Xu Wenkai (aaajiao) and Lin Ke’s manipulations of found digital materials and standard software programs; to the augmented reality of Lu Yang; the celebratory pop aesthetics of Ye Funa to the dark side of internet freedom in the works of Liu Xin, and the veneration of the ugly and artless evident in the works of Miao Ying.

To mark this exhibition CFCCA are delighted to announce a co-commission in partnership with the University of Salford Art Collection of a new work by Miao Ying: Love’s Labour’s Lost. This video installation explores Miao’s own relationship with China’s hyperregulated online realm, which she views as a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, a traumatic bonding. In this work Miao uses love locks left by lovers on the bridges of Paris as metaphor for the complex and conflicted relationship between China’s internet users and Chinese internet technology, security and access.

As an artist from the first generation to grow up with China’s open policy and the internet, Miao explores in a humorous way the visual language of the Chinese internet and its users. As with the other five artists featured in ‘Chinternet Ugly’ she works online, often using GIFs, screenshots and lo-fi visual elements alongside physical installations.

Paying tribute to the messy humanity found between the cracks in a digital world of smooth transitions, polished selfies, blemish correcting software and autocorrect, ‘Chinternet Ugly’ celebrates lo-fi aesthetics and highlights the Chinternet’s potential to subvert cultural stereotypes, reject societal norms and generate a vibrant vernacular of satirical memes and online subcultures.

‘Chinternet Ugly’ has been co-curated in partnership with Dr Ros Holmes, Presidential Academic Fellow in Art History at the University of Manchester, who specialises in modern and contemporary Chinese art and online visual culture.

December 20th, 2018

‘Men Are All Pig’s Feet’ — And Other Chinese Memes Of 2018 That Reflect Our Times

By: Frankie Huang  Source: SUP China.  Date: 19/12/2018

A year in which online users saw through the BS and women said “Enough.”

 

Memes have become a way to appreciate and participate in popular culture, a way to find solidarity, construct identity, and communicate with precision.

Memes like Distracted Boyfriend and BBQ Becky are products of their times, and when people look back on them, they’ll be seen as more than just clever tools of satire: they are snapshots of what captured the public consciousness at the moment of their inception.

Distracted Boyfriend

BBQ Becky

This is no different in China. Here are five popular memes from 2018 that offer a snapshot of this year’s collective Chinese digital consciousness.

 

1. #米兔 (mǐ tù) — Rice Bunny

MeToo Rice Bunny

The #MeToo movement was meme-ified in China out of necessity, a way to evade censors who use algorithms to filter out “sensitive words.” In April, Chinese feminist activist Qiqi gave #Metoo its Chinese form: #米兔, which literally translates to “rice bunny.”

By taking advantage of the bountiful availability of homophones — words that sound the same but look different — in the Chinese language, #MeToo could have been rendered 3,928 different ways in Chinese, with unique combinations of characters for “mi” and “tu.”

#MeToo’s “rice bunny” incarnation is particularly fitting for the movement because of the meanings embedded in the characters. Rice is sustenance, while the rabbit is a symbol linked to femininity. Put together, one possible interpretation for “rice bunny” is “a basic entity required by all female individuals to survive” — a powerful sentiment that Chinese women could rally around.

 

2. 陶渊明 (Táo Yuānmíng)

Tao Yuanming with chrysanthemums

Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 was a Chinese poet born in AD 365, well known to this day for his great love for the chrysanthemum flower, a symbol of defiance and the anti-establishment spirit.

His name was co-opted in 2018 by fans of Wang Ju 王菊, a defiant popstar-in-training who flouted mainstream beauty standards of “pale, thin, and sweet” as she battled for a spot in a new K-pop-style girls supergroup.

Wang Ju

Wang’s name, Ju 菊 (jú), means “chrysanthemum,” so naturally, her fans began calling themselves “Tao Yuanming.”

Chinese memes access wordplay and nuances that reach back thousands of years along an unbroken linguistic and cultural line. In generating memes, the Chinese often draw on older cultural assets. In the West, fans of popular culture give themselves names like “Cumberbitches” and “Potterheads,” but this sort of wordplay seems comparatively shallow when put up against a fourth-century landscape poet.

The fact that Wang Ju fans are able to select a name for themselves that also speaks of what they love most about their idol is a fine example of Chinese memes as an extension of high culture.

 

3. 转锦鲤 (zhuǎn jǐnlǐ) — Sharing the koi

Sharing the koi

The koi is an auspicious symbol of good fortune to come, for each fish has the potential to become a dragon if it leaps through the Dragon Gate. As an internet meme, it plays on the word 转 (zhuǎn), which means to “share online,” but also to “reverse,” as in “reversing bad luck to good.” Images of koi spread across the Chinese internet in a fashion similar to chain emails, promising good luck to those who share. Others share koi images in social media as a way to pray for good outcomes.

In the same fashion, images of reality show winner Yang Chaoyue 杨超越 and second-generation rich (fu’erdai) Wang Sicong 王思聪 are also shared in place of koi, a sarcastic commentary on the futility of hard work in ultra-competitive China when there are those who are born rich or imbued with sheer dumb luck. (Yang Chaoyue is a talentless crybaby who beat out far more talented contestants to become the second runner-up on the reality show Produce 101, which assembled a K-pop all-girls supergroup; Wang Sicong is the only son of Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin 王健林 and is known for his over-the-top rich-boy antics.)

Wang Sicong

Yang Chaoyue

 

4. 确认过眼神 (quèrènguò yǎnshén) — I saw it in your eyes

I saw it in your eyes

This was originally a line in a 2008 song by Singaporean pop star JJ Lin 林俊杰 (Lín Jùnjié). Ten years after the song — Tale of the Red Cliff (醉赤壁 zuì chìbì) — was released, it has been made popular again by internet users who have come up with a creative second rhyme that describes a very specific kind of person who is everything from a “chronic insomniac” to “not even human”:

“确认过眼神,你就是那个天天失眠的人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, nǐ jiùshì nàgè tiāntiān shīmián de rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you really are that chronic insomniac.”

“确认过眼神, 根本不是人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, gēnběn bùshì rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you’re not even human.”

In these uncertain times, when Chinese people frequently cite their disgust for society’s moral decay and people’s untrustworthiness, this meme is a way for people to show their wit and cynicism, but more importantly, their ability to see the truth of things — not unlike the “Condescending Wonka” meme in the West, in which the same bemused face of Gene Wilder remains forever unimpressed.

Condescending Wonka Gene Wilder

 

5. 男人都是大猪蹄子 (nánrén dōu shì dà zhū tízi) — Men are all pig’s feet

This meme emerged from The Story of Yanxi Palace, the hottest show of the year and most Googled show in the world in 2018. The Chinese word for male protagonist is 男主角 (nán zhǔjiǎo), which is a homophone for 男猪脚 (nán zhūjiǎo), meaning “male pig’s feet.” 大猪蹄子 (dà zhū tízi) is an even more vulgar way to say “pig’s feet,” emphasizing its oafish and disgusting quality.

At first, this phrase appeared in the form of “bullet screen” (弹幕 dànmù), which is a feature that allows streaming viewers to send comments that travel across the screen in real-time. These “bullets” — “men are all pig’s feet” — were hurled by viewers thoroughly disgusted at the male characters’ self-centered and duplicitous behavior.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before this went beyond commentary on the show and was applied to men at large, joining the ranks of 直男癌 (zhínán ái) — straight-man cancer — as the latest phrase used to call out male chauvinist behavior. The popularity of this meme is no accident, as the patriarchal order in China is increasingly challenged by women who will no longer put up with boorish men.

Continue reading

November 14th, 2018

China’s Grand Internet Vision Is Starting to Ring Hollow

Source: Bloomberg   Date: 8/11/2018

Ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the opening of the first World Internet Conference in 2014, it was meant to usher in a new era of digital openness and project China as a champion of global cyber-governance.

The forum’s mastermind — then-cyberspace czar Lu Wei — began aggressively courting U.S. technology giants, leading delegations of the Chinese industry’s brightest around Silicon Valley. In 2017, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google CEO Sundar Pichai headlined the event in the town of Wuzhen.

Those promises are now starting to lie fallow. China’s internet is more censored than ever, Silicon Valley’s attempts to break into the Chinese market remain stymied, and Lu languishes in prison, awaiting trial over allegations of corruption. Continue reading

26th October, 2018

All I Know Is What’s On The Internet is a new exhibition from The Photographers’ Gallery that presents the work of 11 contemporary artists and groups seeking to map, visualise and question the cultural dynamics of 21st Century image culture.  Importantly, it investigates the systems through which today’s photographic images multiply online and asks what new forms of value, knowledge, meaning and labour arise from this endless (re)circulation of content.

Traditionally, photography has played a central role in documenting the world and helping us understand our place within it.  However, in a social media age, the problem of understanding an individual photograph is being overwhelmed by the industrial challenge of processing millions of images within a frantically accelerated timeframe.   Visual knowledge and authenticity are now inextricably linked to a ‘like’ economy, subject to the (largely invisible) actions of bots, crowd-sourced workers, Western tech companies and ‘intelligent’ machines.

View the Slideshow

Stop the Algorithm © Stephanie Kneissl and Max Lackner, 2017

The exhibition considers the changing status of photography, as well as the agency of the photographer and the role of the viewer within this new landscape.  The artists involved draw attention to the neglected corners of image production, making visible the vast infrastructure of digital platforms and human labour required to support the endless churn of selfies, cat pics and memes.  Certain works draw specifically on the experiences of content moderators, clickworkers and Google Street View photographers, and invite visitors to consider their own position in the image flow.

All I Know Is What’s On The Internet presents a radical exploration of photography when the boundaries between truth and fiction, machine and human are being increasingly called into question.

Participating Artists: Mari Bastashevski, Constant Dullaart, IOCOSE, Stephanie Kneissl & Max Lackner, Eva & Franco Mattes, Silvio Lorusso & Sebastian Schmieg, Winnie Soon, Emilio Vavarella, Stéphane Degoutin & Gwenola Wagon, Andrew Norman Wilson, Miao Ying

‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’, Tate Modern 6–7th December 2018.

 

Tate invites scholars and curators to apply for funding to attend the symposium ‘Asia as Method: Transnational Research in the Museum’ at Tate Modern on 6–7 December 2018.

Deadline for applications:
26 October 2018, 5pm GMT

Nalini Malani, Gamepieces 2003/2009 © Nalini Malani
Nalini Malani
Gamepieces 2003/2009
© Nalini Malani

This international symposium, hosted by Tate Research Centre: Asia, represents the culmination of a six-year research project at Tate. Established in 2012 following a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tate Research Centre: Asia has sought to deepen awareness of Tate’s growing international collection by developing access, public understanding and critical interpretation of Asian art. This symposium will provide the opportunity to hear from the centre’s researchers, who have worked on varied projects that have been committed to furthering the documentation, acquisition and display of modern and contemporary Asian art at Tate.

This funding will allow early career scholars and curators to hear from specialists in the field of Asian art and to meet with a broad network of researchers, scholars and curators.

Participants in the travel grant programme will receive funds sufficient to cover their travel costs and three nights’ accommodation in London within a set criteria.

To apply, please send a CV and cover letter (400 words) in PDF format indicating how attending this symposium will benefit your work and send it via email to trc.asia@tate.org.uk by 26 October 2018, 5pm GMT.

The selected candidates will be notified by 9 November 2018.

Winner of the BACS Early Career Researcher Prize

Ros-Holmes-BACS-ECR-Prize-2018-768x447

Left to right: 2016 winner Pamela Hunt, Ros Holmes and JBACS editor, Sarah Dauncey

 

I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded the British Association of Chinese Studies (BACS) Early Career Researcher Prize. The prize was awarded at the BACS annual conference which was held this year at Kings College, London.

I was awarded the prize for my essay ‘Bad Citizens and Symbolic Subjects: Wang Jin, Zhou Tiehai and the Art of (In)Civility’ which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the British Association of Chinese Studies.  The essay is an excerpt from my current book project, The Art of (In)civility: Rudeness and Representation in Postsocialist China.

The British Association for Chinese Studies Early Career Researcher Prize, was established in 2016 to:

  • stimulate new research in arts, humanities and social sciences on traditional and modern China;
  • recognise excellence in the field of Chinese Studies;
  • promote early career researchers in the field.

I’m really honoured to receive this award and would like to thank the BACS committee for providing this wonderful platform for early career researchers such as myself to share their work with the wider China studies community.

 

 

August 23rd, 2018

How WeChat became China’s everyday mobile app

By: Iris Deng, Celia Chen       Source: SCMP       Date: 16/8/2018

Untitled copy

 

Many people outside China either still haven’t heard of WeChat or they think it’s the country’s equivalent of popular messaging service WhatsApp or social media giant Facebook. For many people in China, WeChat is much more – it is not an overstatement to say it’s an indispensable part of their everyday lives.

WeChat, or Weixin as it’s known in China, began life in a southern corner of the country at the Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project centre in October 2010. Since then, it has grown into the most popular mobile app in the country with over 1 billion monthly active users who chat, play games, shop, read news, pay for meals and post their thoughts and pictures. Today, you can even book a doctor’s appointment or arrange a time slot to file for a divorce at the civil affairs authority.

 

The seven-year-old app has also laid the foundations for stellar growth at Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, the tech giant behind WeChat, turning it into one of the most influential companies in China and grabbing the attention of global investors. Since the official launch of WeChat in January 2011, Tencent’s market capitalisation has risen over tenfold.

Yet, the company has hit a speed bump. Tencent has lost 29 per cent since a peak of HK$476.6 a share in January this year to trade at HK$336, erasing US$170 billion from its market value as of Wednesday’s close. Even before this sharp fall, some commentators had been asking whether Tencent has “lost its dream”, by focusing on growth through investment rather than the type of organic innovation that led to the creation of WeChat.

After the market close on Wednesday, Tencent reported a 2 per cent drop in second-quarter profit on lower gaming revenue and investment-related gains. Net income fell to 17.9 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) in the quarter ended June 30, compared with the 19.3 billion yuan average of 12 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales were 73.7 billion yuan, missing analyst estimates.

Tencent’s overseas counterpart Facebook, with 1.47 billion daily active users (DAU) and 2.23 billion monthly active users (MAU), experienced a stock price loss of over 20 per cent after announcing its slowest quarterly user growth since 2011 in its second quarter earnings report in July.

Cautious to avoid flooding user timelines with ads, WeChat currently allows a maximum of two ads a day to appear on its social platform Moments, which is “extremely conservative compared to our global peers” said Tencent’s Chief Strategy Officer James Gordon Mitchell in a May conference call with analysts.

“With improving targeting capability, opening up of inventory and roll-out of ad formats, we expect increasing dollar shift to social performance-based advertising, of which Tencent … should be the key beneficiary,” Jefferies analyst Karen Chan wrote in a research note in July.

Other analysts are also optimistic on WeChat’s prospects.

“[WeChat’s user numbers] haven’t hit the ceiling yet but I think they will at some point,” said Matthew Brennan, managing director of independent WeChat consultancy China Channel. “But they still have a lot of room to grow in advertising, and now with mini programs.”

Mini programs refer to applications typically smaller than 10 megabytes that can run instantly on the main app’s interface. They offer speed of access to users because a program does not have to be downloaded from an app store, they can run from within the app. This innovation allows platforms to host multiple services, turning them into super-apps, delivering greater convenience to consumers in the world’s largest smartphone market.

Mini programs are aimed at keeping users within the WeChat ecosystem, at a time when short video apps are on the rise. In June, the percentage of time spent on messaging apps among mobile users declined from 36 to 30.2 per cent compared to the same time last year, while time spent on short video apps rose from 2 to 8.8 per cent, according to figures provided by internet data services provider QuestMobile in July.

However, mini programs are just the latest in a long line of innovations at Tencent’s WeChat.

When Tencent’s flagship messaging service QQ was the dominant player in social media in China, Tencent founder, chairman and CEO Ma Huateng [know as Pony Ma] did not rest on his laurels. He spotted the inevitable shift in traffic from PCs to mobile internet in 2010, as smartphones led by Apple’s iPhone, gained in popularity. Ma knew that a mobile instant messenger would be the key to the future.

Allen Zhang, the head of QQ Mail Mobile in 2010, led a team with less than 10 members to develop the first version of WeChat in less than 70 days, beating out two other internal teams working on the same project. Zhang joined Tencent in 2005 when his Foxmail business was bought by Tencent and became the head of QQ Mail Mobile.

“WeChat is a strategically important platform for Tencent because it will help to sustain and evolve our social leadership from PC to newer mobile devices,” Martin Lau, president of Tencent, said in a conference call in 2011.

Tencent provided information about WeChat’s latest developments but did not make executives, including Allen Zhang, available for interviews for this article. The South China Morning Post reviewed conference call transcripts, filings, public speeches and local reports dating back to 2010 in researching the development of WeChat for this story.

The first version of WeChat only allowed users to send text messages and photos. The launch received little response from the market, at a time when instant messengers such as Feixin, an SMS app by China Mobile, and MiTalk Messenger by Xiaomi, were already on the scene.

“It cannot send a short message to someone’s phone number (like Feixin). It does not have the functionality of QQ. What’s the meaning of having this app,” one user wrote in the comments section on WeChat’s iOS app store page seven years ago, rating WeChat one star.

The inflection point for the WeChat team arrived in May 2011 when it was updated with voice messaging, enabling a user’s phone to work like a walkie-talkie. Daily user growth spurted from 10,000 to up to 60,000.

“The voice message [function] turned senior businesspeople who weren’t used to typing on smartphones into our WeChat users,” Ma recalled in a speech in Tsinghua in 2016.

WeChat evolved quickly, including new functions such as ‘Shake’, which connected users who were randomly shaking their phone at the same time, and ‘Message in a Bottle’, which enabled messages to be sent to random users.

In July 2011, it added location-based service ‘People Nearby’ that allowed users to connect with strangers close to them. In Zhang’s words, this was a “game changer” and pushed daily user growth to 100,000.

“Shake and Message in a Bottle as well as People Nearby were born at the right time, offering access to different people,” said Lu Shushen, a former WeChat employee in an article on his WeChat account, referring to social networking among strangers.

By March 2012, WeChat had exceeded 100 million registered user accounts – just 433 days after launch.

WeChat users grew in tandem with smartphone growth in China. In 2010, when WeChat was still a research project, there were only 36.1 million smartphone unit sales in China. That number increased to 90.6 million in 2011 when WeChat was officially launched and had rocketed to 214.2 million by 2012.

But WeChat was growing even faster than this and was gradually leaving its competitors further behind. Feixin, for example, was reluctant to open up its messaging service to non-China Mobile users and MiTalk struggled to provide a stable user experience.

WhatsApp, WeChat’s biggest overseas rival today, was available to the Chinese market at that time [it was later banned by China in 2017 ahead of a major Communist Party congress] but missed its opportunity without any localisation or promotion in the market, China Channel’s Brennan recalls.

WeChat was also evolving into a hybrid social network, with the introduction of its sharing service Moments, the blog-like Official Accounts to help brands and content producers market themselves, and a games publishing platform.

WeChat added payments to the platform in 2013, and for a while this was limited to paying for games, virtual items and services such as mobile subscriptions. But when ‘Official Accounts’ were added to WeChat in 2013, Tencent’s management were hoping that this would transform WeChat into a full service platform.

Any WeChat user can set up an Official Account to broadcast messages and articles to their followers like a blog, but brands and service providers can also use these accounts to service customers. Today users can buy products, order meals or make a doctor’s appointment – among many other things through this channel.

However, while WeChat Pay got off to a relatively slow start, the game was about to change in a major way.

Before the Lunar New Year of 2014, Tencent co-founder Tony Zhang assigned a WeChat team member to improve the way Tencent traditionally handed out hongbao – red envelopes with money inside as a gift for Lunar New Year – to staff. As a result, the WeChat Red Packet was developed as a way to send “virtual” money to friends.

WeChat’s Red Packet became an overnight sensation during the 2014 holiday period with over 8 million Chinese receiving over 40 million hongbaos during the period, leading Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma to dub it the “attack on Pearl Harbour”. Users started to tie their bank accounts to their WeChat mobile wallet and it started to compete with Alipay – an already established mobile payments service from Alibaba Group Holding, parent of the South China Morning Post.

In 2018, 688 million people used WeChat’s hongbao service on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Which brings the story back to WeChat’s mini programs. By enabling greater functionality within the WeChat ecosystem without the need to download an external app, mini programs are aimed at driving customer loyalty, or stickiness, within the WeChat app.

“We view mini programs as an enhancement of our Official Accounts system, designed to connect offline service providers with users online,” Tencent’s Lau said in 2017.

The concept of mini programs did not fully take off until January 2018 though when Tiao Yi Tiao, a jumping mini game, recorded 100 million daily active users after being launched in late December.

“We have had our ups and downs this year, but in general, I think we have met our initial expectations,” said Tony Zhang in a January interview in the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece.

By the second quarter of 2018, the number of WeChat mini programs reached one million and mini program users surpassed 600 million in June this year.

“The mini program initiative is opening many doors for Tencent,” said China Channel’s Brennan. “Monetisation due to adverts and payments … and by allowing [Tencent] to incubate and accelerate a variety of businesses within the ecosystem – e-commerce in particular.”