China’s New Youth is doused in a social media onslaught of what one apparently is supposed to be buying or doing, at times leaving many of them to “feel a little emo” or to sense a disconnect from social convention or disappointment in their very selves. Temper tells — well, “tries to tell” — a palpable tale of chaos and moodiness. From inner-thoughts to outerwear.
Metersbonwe Group (上海美特斯邦威服饰股份有限公司 in Chinese, ahem), marketed as Meters/bonwe is China’s leading casualwear apparel company. Meters/bonwe opened its first store in Wenzhou on April 22, 1995. Way before the nation entered its new fashion era. Today, the company targets 18- to 25-year-old male and female consumers. Aka China’s New Youth.
Their corporate slogan is “Be Different” (不走寻常路).
The Meters/bonwe spectacle that took to the most recent Shanghai Fashion Week in October was one based on Asian aesthetics, exploring China’s New Youth culture through remarkable silhouettes, oversized fits, tailored pieces, and unique outerwear designs. With a hint-a-mint of what Temper – perhaps mistakenly so – perceived as some punk/ emo/ shamate (杀马特in Chinese) influence: chaos, disorder, moody and edgy.
The Shamate Tribe
Once upon a 21st Century time, China’s rural youngsters favored shamate fashion, a gawky blend of goth, glam and anime. Shamate was a Chinese transliteration of the English word “smart.” The development of the eponymous fashion tribe began in 2008, merging Western visions of punkrock culture, and especially embracing Japanese rock visuals. Online, it also became the name of a lively video chatroom subculture of blue-collared kids who would don exaggerated goth getups and visual kei, a movement among Japanese musicians characterized by the use of varying levels of makeup, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics similar to Western glamrock (think Adam and the Ants).
To each other, they were family, embracing their outsider status. To the rest of China, they were “failed arrivals” to the newborn wealth of the nation’s urban jungle.
Media profiles worldwide painted the shamate tribe mostly as dropouts from schools in the Chinese countryside, moving away from their families to work low-skill jobs at big city factories, street vendors and hair salons. Their rural roots became a cultural segregator; their style a symbol of low quality, chaos and danger. The tribe was almost always considered the counterpart of its urban “overlords,” the well-traveled, educated, privileged youth of the finer palate, and subsequently often became the target of ridicule. They were considered a socially semi-finished product, not only poor in the material sense of the word, but also by cultural definition; an “underclass fashion subculture.”
Most shamates were post-90s and as children of China’s rapid urbanization and digital rise, they were among the earliest adopters of social media and chat apps in the 2000s, sharing photos and expressing their individuality via some intensely emotional posting on early social media sites like Qzone. Around 2010, the government launched a campaign targeting three types of cultural content: the vulgar, the cheap, and the tasteless. This, combined with online cyberbullying directed at shamate youngsters in the years to follow, basically saw the term shamate evaporate from China’s online kingdom. Make no mistake, the word still exists to this day, but mostly as a synonym for “tacky” and “tasteless.”
Yet even though the tribe today has pretty much gone extinct, Temper dares to think a newfangled urban “upperclass” revival – or at the very least a mainstream adoption of particular features as spotted coming down the Metersbonwe runway — could be in the making. If modern aesthetic history has taught us one thing, it’s that fashion trends, from sub to super, always come back. Every 20 years or so. #FYI
Either way, the shamates’ passionate emotional legacy already lives on courtesy of China’s New Youth.
Feeling a Little Emo
China’s New Youth, the post-95s and -00s, in 2021 are saying, “我emo了” aka “I am feeling emo.”
First and foremost, the term “emo” stems from the musical realm, denoting a subgenre of punkrock, indie rock, and alternative rock music defined by its heavy emotional expression. Emo is a shortening of the word “emocore” — a contraction of the words “emotional” and “hardcore,” two terms used to characterize this type of music. Secondly, and fashionably so, the genre’s artists usually come with straight black hair, skinny jeans, heavy leather boots or Doc Martens and Taylor-goes-Cleopatra peepers.
For many Chinese netizens under 30, doused in a never-ending stream of (people sharing their) online bliss, “我emo了” has become an expression of disappointment in oneself and a sense of powerlessness in one’s life.
As one anonymous post-95 told Temper, “Posting ‘I’m emo’ on Weibo [China’s Twitter-esque equivalent] expresses my mood of feeling low and often aims to achieve some type of online catharsis. It can be understood as ‘I’m feeling depressed,’ “I’m feeling stupid,’ or ‘I’m feeling disconnected from the mainstream and all those people who seem to be thriving in life’ – judging by what they post online.” Like a post-00 netizen told us, “Happiness always seems to belong to someone else; all I have, is my ’emo’ state of being.”
To Temper, at least, the contemporary use of “feeling emo” echoes the vibes from the shamates’ original emotional messages. Their embrace of OTT fashion wasn’t simply about attire but demonstrated an attempt to find some sense of belonging in an existence disconnected from mainstream requirements or social convention and protect themselves from the judgment and harassment they encountered in the cities. Where everybody seemed to be part of a new booming and blooming lifestyle, but them.
Never forget, (online) looks can be deceiving.