Asian Girl Problem #100: Irony in China

Happy 100th post! That’s a lot of problems. But a lack of finding more problems ain’t one. My word doc overfloweth with ideas for the future, and I will be posting more often in May! To come: being assertive in relationships, Burning Man, and the pliable definition of “queer.”

On to irony. When our generation was at the height of its hipster power in China, there was more than one occasion when I Googled “hipsters in china” just curious to see what was out there. Answer: not much Now there are all kinds of amazing articles like these:

(all linked to sources)

It was a month of cold and hot tea and dim sum meals, of many seniors being open with us, sharing their outfits and telling us their stories, from the feet up.

I’ve never been aware of irony in China, as a countercultural statement or otherwise. This photo is from the Accidental Chinese Hipsters tumblr, which is quite an oxymoron if you require all “bad” hipster fashion to stem from a conscious smugness. My biggest impression of fashion there is that it’s not as hung up on culture or history–more variety is accepted in people from all walks. I might see someone wear a 90s tracksuit one day and a fur vest with knockoff Uggs the next, making me suspect that fashion isn’t fiercely tied to identity as it is to practicality, availability, and daily mood. Is there even a word for irony in Chinese? If so, it was probably coined after the internet.

This article I read today about Ai Wei Wei pointed me back to irony in true counterculture.

But just as Ai promotes the very real weight of his social causes, he also, tongue in cheek, undermines his own position as an artistic poseur.

If there is a thread holding his works together, it is his mixture of bold confrontation, intellectual playfulness, droll humour, and experimentation of form. Beauty is second to social critique.

My two battered cents is that I like reading and thinking about Ai’s art more than looking at it. But more importantly, the article reminded me of how Ai’s personality is so witty, mischievous, yet grounded. In videos and interviews, I see him deliver withering insults and genius insights with a deadpan style. He reminds me of my dad’s side of the family, and numerous other funny people I’ve met in China. If Irony=Humor x Pain x Weird, maybe Chinese culture is the perfect breeding ground for it, even if there isn’t a specific word for it.

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One thought on “Asian Girl Problem #100: Irony in China

  1. happy 100th post beebe! keep ’em coming 🙂 Ai Wei Wei is interesting (and funny), from what I saw in Never Sorry. There’s this argument in theatre that there can never be “tragedy” outside of the ancient Greek understanding of it… maybe irony is the same way?

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