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Maker City: Hong Kong

Reposted from my personal blog.

JasonLiAtMakerCitiesShenzhenMeetup

Last Sunday, I was invited by the Institute for the Future as part of its Maker Cities program to speak about how makers are working to improve the future of Hong Kong. I was joined by other representatives from all over (New York, Kathmandu, Tel Aviv, Shanghai…)

I’ve included the slides to my presentation below.

Back the new edition of the Kowloon Walled City book!

We posted some of photographer Greg Girard’s photos a while ago, and it looks like they’re ready to jet set a new edition of their book along with previously-unseen photographs and research.

Back out their Kickstarter now.

Join us at Maker Faire Shenzhen in April!

mommyhacker

Join us at the upcoming April 6th Maker Faire in Shenzhen!

For starters, Lyn will be speaking there alongside an international cast of researchers, hackers and entrepreneurs. And there are also a series of great workshops, including a course by a “mommy hacker” (pictured above) for kids interested in electronics.

More information at shenzhenmakerfaire.com.

P.S. Maker Faire Shenzhen is once again co-organized by our friends over at Seeed Studio.

A new blog on “moving images & digital creativity in and around China”

Helmed by our friend Sam Culp, the POV by P.I.G. blog gives us a fascinating look at the worlds of film, digital advertising, and (for lack of a better term) art in China. Below are some highlights from their recent posts.

An interview with Shanghai-based designer Francis Lam, who made an iOS app that lets you make these…

Instagram from @bbfish

Instagram from @bbfish

Vintage soap packaging from the 80s from Douban…

tumblr_me4qdpMuEV1rea8b9o1_500

GIFs from RCA student Inkee Wang

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Read more at POV by P.I.G.

A new form of sociality among Chinese youth: the Elastic Self

Editor’s note: our very own Tricia Wang will be giving a livestream presentation of her dissertation research this coming Tuesday. Here’s what it’s about.

The sudden availability of social media and open-market capitalism is creating new spaces in China that are shifting norms and behaviors in unexpected ways. This research investigates and explains the phenomena of semi-anonymous interactions among Chinese youth in online communities by introducing a sociological framework called the Elastic Self, which is characterized by the feeling that one’s identity is malleable and involves the trying on of different identities that are beyond the realm of what would be considered normal displays of one’s prescribed self. In informal online spaces, Chinese youth have achieved greater freedom to express heterodox identities without shame or anxiety by forging social bonds with strangers and maintaining distance from people they know, who might seek to enforce conformity to a single identity prescribed by traditional social and political norms.

Through these informal interactions online, Chinese youth are laying the groundwork for a public sphere with social ties based more on friendship than on blood ties or guanxi; on trust, rather than fear; and on self-expression, rather than self-restraint. These changes have potentially transformative power for Chinese society as a whole by altering the way that people perceive and engage with each other on personal and social levels.

Catch her talk at the Berkman Center (live! online!) at February 18, 2014 at 12:30pm ET here.

If you miss that, you can read the abstract and dissertation in full here.

The Sticker Wars: WeChat’s creatives go up against Line

ICYMI, the background for this story:

  • “Line” is a chat app for iOS/Android.
  • It’s from Japan.
  • It sells different sets of stickers, well-illustrated emoticons.
  • Line is probably the first chat app to find a booming revenue model. (See TNW.)
  • Other chat apps (WeChat, KakaoTalk, Kik) have caught on and have quickly implemented their own version of stickers.

In this feature on 88 Bar, we analyze Line’s sticker success and look at how China’s WeChat has caught up.

 

The incumbent: Line

Line’s core line of stickers is quite something. Cute characters, stark expressions, and plenty of comical situations that are just vague enough to apply to whatever situation might come up in a conversation. (It really works; I’ve bought nine sticker sets to date myself on top of a dozen or so free ones.)

They are also distinctly Japanese – the art style is very clean; people and creatures have large heads; the expressions are based on Japanese manga conventions…

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But most importantly, the most popular stickers, which involves the love story between a bear and and a bunny, mirror stereotypical (East Asian) male-female relationship dynamics:

linestickers2

Note the stoic male character versus the shopaholic and emotionally effusive female character.

Not only has Line created a great set of their own stickers, but they’ve managed to rope in some of Japan’s most popular cartoon characters – Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Dragonball – as well as some from America – Spongebob SquarePants, Donald Duck, Snoopy. Line also runs many time-limited promotions; their “Pray for the Philippines” stickers,  following the recent devastating typhoon was pure genius (it even donated the proceeds to a charity!).

 

WeChat

At first, it seemed that WeChat’s sole innovation with its stickers system was that they were animated. My favorite example is that when they launched, they had already licensed the now Turner-owned Tuzki line of emoticons that were all the rage on the Chinese internet (albeit 5-10 years ago).

Editor’s note: Please note all animations below have been reproduced by hand as GIFs. The actual stickers contain smoother animations than what we’ve depicted below.

Tuzki

Tuzki

But aside from Tuzki, their initial sticker packs felt somewhat weaker. Some resembled Line’s Japanese creations but without the punch:

Nervous Boy by Caerux

Nervous Boy by Caerux

While others had a flat, commercial personality:

DADA by 2SPOT

DADA by 2SPOT

More importantly, these sticker sets did not capture the nuanced emotions and complex backstories that are the hallmark of a Line sticker and that make it a great conversational lubricant.

But recently WeChat’s stickers have started to develop a style of its own. The recent sticker packs are great not because they try to mimic the polished, “Hello Kitty” style from Line; they succeed because they’re whacky, weird and funny in their own way. There’s a very Chinese flavor to them; the grainy lines, absurd sense of humor and adult style all remind me of the kind of illustration and design coming out of China today.

Frog and Horse by XiaoYaoJi

Frog and Horse by XiaoYaoJi

What’s interesting is that the stickers themselves aren’t always created in Mainland China; many are from Hong Kong (Old Girl, Fatina, AH FEI@GAL), Taiwan (Sinkcomic) and even their Japanese acquisitions aren’t as clean and cute as the Line products.

WeChatAHFEIGAL

AH FEI@GAL by Graphic Airlines

It’s still too early to tell whether WeChat’s sticker system will continue to evolve. But as it stands, it’s already catching up to Line, and jumping ahead of its competitors (Kik and KakaoTalk both had relatively immature sticker systems, with only a handful of sticker sets or with no free stickers respectively).

Book Review: My First Trip to China: Scholars, Diplomants and Journalists Reflect on their First Encounters with China

FirstTripToChina

My First Trip to China houses a collection of accounts from early, foreign visitors to China about their first impressions of the country as it was slowly opening up in the 70s and 80s. Each account is separate from one another, though the writers are predominantly North American and academic in some shape or fashion.

Because each account is short, My First Trip to China is an insightful and accessible book to pick up and read for small bursts of time. The collection works because you start noticing nuance after the second or third travelogue of, say, visiting China in the 70s. For example, the authors almost all obsess over who the highest-ranking official they saw on their trip was, and how successful were they in having a conversation with a “common” person.

A fun read. Recommended.

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Get it from Amazon, HKUPress, Book Depository.

Father-child reality TV show also a hit in China

Where Are We Going, Dad? (爸爸去哪儿) is a reality TV show starring celebrity fathers and their kids, the latest Korean import that’s a huge hit in China. In it, father-child duos compete with one another on tasks assigned by show organizers. We get to watch as awkward fathers try their hand at parenting, a practice that, in China and in South Korea, typically belongs in the feminine sphere.

It’s a cheese fest starring bumbling, doting (but famous) fathers and their cute children, and it’s incredibly entertaining: fathers trying to cook; kids getting lost without their dads; and fathers trying to placate their children after losing a competition.

Below, we’ve translated an excerpt of the show put together by mangguolao:

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babaqunar-mangguolao2 babaqunar-mangguolao3

babaqunar-mangguolao4 babaqunar-mangguolao5 babaqunar-mangguolao6

Read more about its hit theme song on chinaSMACK or about its implications on fatherhood in China at the New York Times.

Behind the Scene at the Toy Factories of China

I stumbled across this imgur the other day that featuring photographer Michael Wolf’s work on Chinese Factory Workers & the Toys They Make:

Cheat Sheet for Hardware Startup Accelerators

Here’s the link to the original Google spreadsheet. Please feel free edit! :)

* * *

What’s interesting about the data above is that there are two programs that criss cross China, and a bunch that don’t:

  • HAXL8R starts in Shenzhen and does their final demo day in San Francisco; it’s all about an immersion in China for them.
  • Highway1 is mostly based in San Francisco, but includes a field trip to Shenzhen; there’s a more clear focus on the US market using Chinese manufacturing for them.
  • Berlin Hardware Accelerator and Startupbootcamp (HighTechLX) seem to be about European manufacturing; the subtext is we can do it here in Europe too.
  • Am I missing any Chinese language programs?

P.S. Our friends over at PCH/Highway1 are touring Hong Kong and China this week – see here for more details.