Souvenir of nationalism 2008


Souvenir of Beijing 2008

In 1991 T-shirts printed with cynical messages such as “I’m fed up! Leave me alone!” and “Getting rich is all there is” began to appear in Beijing and soon became popular with young people. They were known as ‘cultural shirts’ (文化衫).

As a 1991 New York Times article put it , the slogans were “not openly critical of the Government, but they convey a sense of being withdrawn, rebellious and hopeless — instead of the gung-ho enthusiasm for Communism that young people are supposed to feel.”

The T-shirts were soon banned. The Times article cited above also quoted the China Youth Daily about the shirts:

“Cultural shirts are not a Chinese invention, they are only a foreign trick borrowed from the West, where they have existed for decades. If we make a little study, we find that Westerners wear such shirts as an expression of decadent feelings.”

Remembering those T-shirts, blogger and journalist Wang Xiaofeng decided to buy an anti-CNN T-shirt, although it does not sound like he is planning to wear it. Below is a translation of his post about the T-shirts.


by Wang Xiaofeng

Every year at this time, I buy T-shirts. Last year was annoying because I did not like any of the popular T-shirts. They either had logos printed on them or shiny plastic decorations, all stupid. I don’t know what the people who designed those shirts were thinking; so last year I did not buy T-shirts.

Today I planned to buy a wok. I ended up buying a pile of records. The pirate CDs are getting better and better, but the music on them is terrible. I strolled around for a while and found a clothing shop selling T-shirts. I had a look and saw an anti-CNN T-shirt. Chinese people react really quickly: over there they are busy cursing CNN, over here they have already released a line of products. This proves that in certain situations, politics quickly becomes fashion.

At first I had no intention of buying a shirt like this because even if I wanted to, I can’t get CNN. Anyway, let them say whatever they want, you can’t demand that they say China’s situation is excellent all day long. Reconsidering my decision, I thought that this T-shirt has great value as a souvenir. After several years, taking out this T-shirt and looking at it will be a lot of fun, like looking at [1996 nationalist bestselling book] China Can Say No or [1998 Hong Kong soft porn film] Sex and Zen right now. Even better would be if someone would print ‘Boycott Carrefour’ T-shirts. Collecting a lot of these T-shirts is like recording history.

Right now my biggest regret is that I bought a T-shirt printed with “I’m fed up! Leave me alone!”, such a classic, but I later threw it away.

So I decided to buy a ‘Don’t be like CNN’ T-shirt although to make the shirt perfect, there should be an additional sentence: ‘Just like CCTV’.

Finally, I did manage to buy a wok.

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