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 (updated)

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…

LineStickersSample1

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:

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

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).

***

Update 24 Apr 2014: Through conversations within our group, we’ve noticed that WeChat offers different sets of stickers on their store depending on where (they think) you live. So the stickers cited in my article may disproportionately represent Hong Kong because WeChat knows I’m based here. Right now, this geographic targeting seems minor as the majority of the stickers seem to be offered to both people living in Hong Kong and the US (our two test cases).

Update 26 June 2014: Line is testing the waters with their first animated sticker pack featuring their core characters. Launched June 12.


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.

*

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.


Documenting the Toishan-US migration

From Kickstarter:

I need your support to return to Toishan, China, and complete my photographic and historical documentary project tying together my family history and the larger story of the Chinese-American diaspora and emigration abroad.

Over the next several years, I will spend six to twelve months in China, photographing and interviewing Toishanese families, many with similar stories to my own.

3 days left! More information here.


Phone maker Xiaomi’s incredibly charismatic (and trilingual) Twitter account

Much has been stated about Xiaomi as the rising star in China that’s making premium-but-affordable phones with its own UI for Android. But it seems like they’re also a formidable force on social media.

The tweets below come from their official account:

 

xiaomitweet1

 

xiaomitweet2

 

Not only is @XiaomiChina joking with other people on Twitter, it also speaks three languages:

 

xiaomitweet3

 

And it’s not just public announcements – it responds and retweets in Spanish, Chinese and English.

To keep all of this in context though, remember that:

This makes Xiaomi’s Twitter account an international PR space for its potential early adopters and the international press. Compared to Baidu, who’s only Twitter account seems to be broadcasting weekly Top 10 lists, I’d say Xiaomi is doing quite well.

Follow @XiaomiChina here.

Thanks for our very own Graham Webster for bringing this to our attention.


Hong Kong’s First Online Petitions Platform

SupportHK

Full disclosure: I worked on the design for this project.

Online petition platforms have taken off in the English speaking world, but what about a Chinese petition platform? In the US and UK, the government both run official petition platforms (remember the Death Star petition to the White House?) and there are a whole host of free-for-all services like change.org, Causes and Avaaz. But in the Chinese-speaking world, they’re still in their infancy. The Mainland Chinese government’s own petition platform crashed during its debut, and even now requires real name registration before you can even access its contents.

In Hong Kong, multinational organizations like WWF have their own online solutions, while smaller local players have to choose between a Google Form embed or one of the free-for-all English-language platforms. SupportHK is (to my knowledge) the first, homegrown open petition platform in Hong Kong, but there is a catch. It’s only available for environment-related petitions; this editorial decision is either a lost opportunity (if you’re gunning for large-scale political change) or a clever tactic (if you realize that environmental issues are being buried by other, more contentious issues).

The bet with SupportHK is that a local community of engaged citizens will emerge around the platform. For starters, that would be useful for government-related petitions, for which only signatures from local residents or citizens count. (Hong Kong petitions on international platforms are often filled with support from foreigners, which do not always make the best case when petitioning a very Hong Kong-centric entity.) And signing petitions is also an interesting activity for Hong Kong itself, as it finds its feet as a democratic city-state that just happens to be a part of China.

Visit SupportHK.