China Fashion Downward -The Social Landscape We Wear

Does this five-minute video make you feel dizzy? Maybe sometimes amused, too?  Do the jumpy frames drive you crazy? Are the languages and the tones bewildering? Do the mixed, contrasty sounds feel ridiculously unreasonable, or even surreal?  When the image and the soundtrack do not match, do you wonder what the logic is? Maybe the whole thing feels like a farce?

If your answers are “yes,” congratulations! You get the gist of this oddball video based on images and sounds I started collecting not long after I returned to China in the winter of 2011.

How you feel about the video mirrors how I feel about China, my home country. It is like a high-speed train, carrying a full load of absurdities, dramatic tragedies, nonsense comedies – or incredibly surreal realities, roaring toward a world unknown, where the only certainty is uncertainty.

After almost eight years’ absence, I found myself a stranger in my own country. The day I arrived in my downtown Heyuan, a small Hakka town in south China, cab drivers refused to pull over for me because they said it would waste their time to load and then unload my suitcases. “Time is money. Not even a second should be wasted,” they asserted. Guangzhou, where I had lived before I moved to the USA, had changed radically in some areas and I found myself often lost. When I asked pedestrians for directions, they either looked away or they regarded me suspiciously as if I were a swindler trying to snatch money out of their pockets. When I asked people if I could take their photos, some grunted “crazy!” They all quickened their pace to escape me, as if my camera might steal their souls, or their fortunes.

But one of the most incredible things I experience is the fashion I saw (still see) every day. China’s Fashions blew me away – dazzling colors, bold designs, beyond-imagination patterns, and almost shameless exposure of legs and breasts. If you happen to be behind them when taking an escalator, you may see enough to blush.

And from their buttocks, tigers glare, pandas stare, cats leap, snakes slither, and women smirk. These buttocks also hold American flags – ah, yes, China’s former capitalist enemy’s FLAG, not to mention sailors and soldiers, not to mention Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,”  not to mention flashy checkerboards…

The body languages are just as intriguing. Public places are treated like private homes. People nap on the street. They take off their shoes at the subway to scratch their toes. They even do their stinky businesses in public!

When my American friend Tom visited China, he was also amazed, if not shocked, by the everyday fashion he saw. He remarked, “China finally has the freedom to choose prostitutes’ style!”

I have  to admit that never before had I seen buttocks so colorful, so bold and so “stylish”. One of my colleagues commented, “a big population makes a labyrinth of buttocks.” Can I say that this labyrinth of buttocks is a window into a constantly changing country, one full of risk takers, fortune seekers and proud losers?

And the sounds and voices I hear! They are no less gripping, like a song sung out of tune, ridiculously loud, often high-pitched, cacophonous, arbitrary, rude, bossy and sometimes pitiable. Quarrels are heard at the airports as well as on the streets; A saleswoman challenges her peers conceitedly; A school master scolds his students for not cleaning their dorms in time; Shops blare promotions with low quality speakers; TV news shamelessly lies to the audience; A former opinion leader denies himself justice and confesses in front of the whole world.

Sometimes I do hear lovely sounds: Kids sing Cantonese folk songs and men in northwest China joyfully play drinking games; Suzhou operas are performed, Cantonese operas appreciated, Muslim folk songs, Hua’er, sung in the mountains, and Bach’s cantata heard at dusk.

My eyes and my ears are often overloaded. So much to see and hear! Things are so mixed, so messy,  so contrasty and change so quickly. So hard to process them all at once.

But maybe this is the reality of a country in transition?

Anyhow, this is what I see and what I hear in China. Wherever I go, be it a street corner of metropolitan Guangzhou or a remote mountain village in the northwest, I have this urge to document them. I believe it is a window to reveal some truth about China.

Now, after three years, it is time to wrap it up and move on. So here it is, in the format of a video, a book and an exhibit.

The video is a five-minute composite of faceless bodies and sounds from various parts of China, to show a country constantly changing, in fast paces, out of balance, full of anger and entangled in messes. It is a moving image too complicated and too unpredictable to grasp easily.

In the book, selected images go with articles by writers who know China or have shown great interest in China.

The exhibit will drag the viewers deeper into the messy scene: the photos will be plastered on the four walls, the ceiling and the floor; the video will be played continuously. Books will also be provided for the viewers to thumb through.


Scripts from the video

China Fashion Downward, A Labyrinth of Buttocks

A train roars.

A tiger glares.

A woman utters:


Kids sing Cantonese folk songs:

“On New Year’s Eve, we pick betels,betels bitter…”

TV news goes:

“An old man asked a young man not to smoke but was kicked and punched.”


The Train roars.

The tiger glares.

Middle-aged women dance and blare:

“Wifey’s the head, hubby’s the tail, oh, my sweetheart, my darling…”

A woman yells.

An old man enjoys Buyi songs, dogs barking, quarrels trickling.

CCP announces ballot results:

“The votes collected are all fewer than 80, thus valid.”

A thunder of applauses.

Fish snuggle on the buttocks.

CCTV keeps rolling:

“Opinion leader Xue Manzi was arrested for prostitution.”

Xue Manzi regrets:

“All opinion leaders are liars spreading rumours.”

Quarrels follow.

Anger explode.

CCTV still rolls:

” Journalist Chen Yongzhou has admitted guilt.”

Chen Yongzhou confesses:

“I didn’t write the articles myself.”

More To be condemned:

“How many has committed crimes for fortune and fame!”

A monk prays:

“Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum…”


The train roars.

The tiger glares.

A saleswoman blares:

“You tell me, which one to be? How you convince me!”

A street peddler bellows:

“Good and cheap!”

An eyeglasses shop rumbles:

“Meidu eyeglasses cheap…’

A supermarket echoes:

“Discounts lead…’

Cats, white, black and red, leap


A man sings Hua’er.

A woman hears Bach.

A farmer enjoys a drinking affair.

A Suzhou artist performs “Prince Yang’s Despair.”

A man scratches his toes far from fair.

Pipa and Guzheng,

Su Opera and Cantonese opera,

labor song and pop song,

quarreling and typing,

All entangles.


A woman argues:

“You talk about history and literature, but guess how I think?”

Frogs croak.

Fans yell “Kobe.”

Kids shout “Hello, Kitty!”

Teachers screech:

“Great! Are you ready?”

Kids squeal:

“Ready we are!”

Martial music rising,

Headmaster wishing and whining,

Tom talks about naked officials:

“They take the money and go to America.”

Grandmama entertains:

“A magic, a stunt, a farce!”

A Hakka mayor raves:

“Were it not for the final victory of the election, I would have kicked his ass. Pricey hassles he made, but fiery anger I restrain. ”

Tom remonstrates:

“Jesus, poor kids! Sitting in the hot sun, get harangued for an hour? I would rebel. It sounds like the army, loud speakers, demanding voices, martial music. I don’t’ like it.”

The subway announcer warns “Last Train.”

If we we wear pants with wings,

can we fly?


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