Art Basel Hong Kong: What I Saw

Art Basel Hong Kong ran from May 15-18. Here’s an absolutely subjective take on what I saw when I visited. Apologies for those works I’m unable to credit; it was a hectic Sunday and I didn’t have the time to note down the artist and gallery for every piece that I photographed.

First, the fun stuff.


I spotted a kids tour group where the adults had leashed the kids together in case they got lost.


There were several open areas for large works, often ones that had an element of public engagement. This circular table tennis setup was one of them.

Then, of course, there was a selection of world famous, blue chip art.


Above: Takashi Murakami.


Above: Keith Haring.

Hong Kong artists also made quite a showing, though I have to admit they’re more familiar to me because I’ve seen their works around town.


Above: Adrian Wong. (Wandering baby not part of installation.)


Above: Wilson Shieh.

Even more abundant was art from China.


Above: Liu Wei. It’s hard to see it from the photo but this painting is wall-sized and seems to be hand (not machine) made.


Above: Some sort of calligraphic revival piece from the Hanart TZ booth.


Above: Featuring Shenzhen’s Window of the World theme park. Artist unknown.

Last but not least, a couple of works that caught my eye but I don’t know who or where it’s from.




Coming of age in a culture of information paternalism in China

Editor’s note: this is a summary of some of the ideas that are presented in Tricia’s recent talk the Berkman Center, Talking to Strangers: Chinese Youth and Social Media. The video of the full talk is now online, and we highly recommend watching it in its entirety.

Tricia’s research discusses how Chinese youth are experiencing their coming of age in a culture of information paternalism. That she does not call it censorship is an important distinction, because in China today, the dominant narrative around control is “father knows what’s best for you.” Here, “father” can refer to an actual teen’s parents, relatives, teachers or the Chinese government.

This dense sphere of paternalistic control (on top of the historical-cultural forces at work) drives Chinese teens to seek alternate channels of expression and socialization online:


To effectively escape, Chinese teens experiment with their identity and grow up online by cloaking themselves under pseudonyms and login handles. This type of experimentation, the polar opposite of on and offline real-name social networks, allows youth to develop what Tricia calls an “elastic self.”

One great finding was that Chinese youth had developed an entire chain of rituals to convert an anonymous social interaction into a real life close connection. Interactions begin by finding people on social networks with similar interests or horoscopes. This then turns into casual conversation and e-cards for birthdays. That in turn leads to people sending little physical gifts to each other to verify a physical address. And then people will share their phone number, followed by a photo and then, lastly, a 30-second video conference to ensure the veracity of the photo.

In the same way Chinese youth are finding each other online, they are also discovering more parts of themselves. Tricia structures the phases of the elastic self as 1) exploratory, 2) trusting, and 3) participatory. Only in the last phase do teens become politically active, and not everyone makes it to third phase.

But Tricia is careful to highlight that most people in China are not going online to vent about the government. They are, for the most part, there to hang out and enjoy themselves [which is, frankly, what we all do on the internet around the world].


The talk ends on a high note: the elastic self allows this new, online generation of Chinese youth to become more socially complex, coordinated and independent. And that can only be a good thing for this world.

A sneak peek from China’s new animation-house upstart

From its Youtube page:

“Little Yeyos” is the first short film from Light Chaser Animation, a startup animation studio based in Beijing. Light Chaser was founded in 2013 by Gary Wang, the founder and ex-CEO of, China’s leading video sharing website. Its goal is to produce top quality animated films.

Via @c10n.

Maker City: Hong Kong

Reposted from my personal blog.


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!


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

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…


GIFs from RCA student Inkee Wang


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…


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!).



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.



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:



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.


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


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.