The Null Device
A look at China's emerging youth counter-culture, the wenyi qingnian (文艺青年), or “cultured youth”, a term which is roughly cognate with the English word “hipster”:
Like hipsters, wenqing stridently resist labeling themselves as such. The term “cultured youth” can divide Chinese audiences, alternately attracting admiration or derision. A perfect example recently emerged on Sina Weibo, one of China’s popular microblogging sites, with this post entitled, “Photos of Shanghai ‘cultured youth’ girls aboard a subway reading poetry.”One difference between the wenqing and stereotypical hipsters in the West is their sincere passion for their countercultural pursuits and values outside the mainstream of material status; not having lived through the betrayals and commodifications of subcultures from the hippies to the punks and beyond, they have not developed an armour of ironic detachment and nihilistic apathy. That, however, is the preserve of a different Chinese youth counterculture, the “2B qingnian” (二逼青年), or “dumbass youth”, who appear to be more like Nathan Barley-esque nihilistic pisstakers:
By contrast, China’s wonderfully sincere “cultured youth” lack the irony and apathy integral to hipsterism, characteristics which nonetheless can be found in China’s “2B youth.” These are young men and women who have nothing much going on in their lives (or, in some cases, their heads). As the photo collage suggests, “2B”ers like to engage in pointless and deliberately self-defeating behavior, all, it sometimes seems, for nothing more than the “lulz.”Note the graphic at the bottom of the page, which shows a range of activities performed in the normal, Cultured and Dumbass styles.
Or, in perhaps more appositely Marxist terms, the wenqing repudiate economic capital for cultural capital, whereas the 2Bs reject cultural capital as futile and mock it. Which suggests that, were one to shoehorn Chinese countercultures into American terms, the wenqing are a counterculture with the dynamics of, say, the Beats, though using the technology and symbols of the global late-capitalist hipster, while the 2Bs are (perhaps precociously) grasping at the nihilism of 1990s grunge slackers, anticipating that it will all turn to shit.