Posted by Jeremy Goldkorn on Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 11:39 AM
Souvenir of Beijing 2008
In 1991 T-shirts printed with cynical messages such as "I'm fed up! Leave me alone!" and "Getting rich is all there is" began to appear in Beijing and soon became popular with young people. They were known as 'cultural shirts' (文化衫).
As a 1991 New York Times article put it , the slogans were "not openly critical of the Government, but they convey a sense of being withdrawn, rebellious and hopeless -- instead of the gung-ho enthusiasm for Communism that young people are supposed to feel."
The T-shirts were soon banned. The Times article cited above also quoted the China Youth Daily about the shirts:
Remembering those T-shirts, blogger and journalist Wang Xiaofeng decided to buy an anti-CNN T-shirt, although it does not sound like he is planning to wear it. Below is a translation of his post about the T-shirts.
Too CNNby Wang Xiaofeng
Every year at this time, I buy T-shirts. Last year was annoying because I did not like any of the popular T-shirts. They either had logos printed on them or shiny plastic decorations, all stupid. I don't know what the people who designed those shirts were thinking; so last year I did not buy T-shirts.
Today I planned to buy a wok. I ended up buying a pile of records. The pirate CDs are getting better and better, but the music on them is terrible. I strolled around for a while and found a clothing shop selling T-shirts. I had a look and saw an anti-CNN T-shirt. Chinese people react really quickly: over there they are busy cursing CNN, over here they have already released a line of products. This proves that in certain situations, politics quickly becomes fashion.
At first I had no intention of buying a shirt like this because even if I wanted to, I can't get CNN. Anyway, let them say whatever they want, you can't demand that they say China's situation is excellent all day long. Reconsidering my decision, I thought that this T-shirt has great value as a souvenir. After several years, taking out this T-shirt and looking at it will be a lot of fun, like looking at [1996 nationalist bestselling book] China Can Say No or [1998 Hong Kong soft porn film] Sex and Zen right now. Even better would be if someone would print 'Boycott Carrefour' T-shirts. Collecting a lot of these T-shirts is like recording history.
Right now my biggest regret is that I bought a T-shirt printed with "I'm fed up! Leave me alone!", such a classic, but I later threw it away.
So I decided to buy a 'Don’t be like CNN' T-shirt although to make the shirt perfect, there should be an additional sentence: 'Just like CCTV'.
Finally, I did manage to buy a wok.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.