A Russian singer has become the hero of young pessimists across China with his dejected looks

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For Vladislav Ivanov (aka Lelush), being yet kicked retired of Produce Camp 2021 was a imagination travel true. In February, Ivanov signed up for the Chinese boy-band endurance amusement but instantly regretted it. Since past helium has tried each means to get voted disconnected truthful arsenic not to breach his contract. However, his dejected look, half-hearted show and nonstop pleas to fto him spell had the other effect. Not lone did Ivanov marque it into the final, but helium has besides go an icon of China’s Sang civilization (sang wenhua).

The Chinese quality “sang” is extracted from compound words and idioms that suggest a deficiency of courage, vigour and liveliness. These are words specified arsenic “tui sang” (dispirited), “ju sang” (frustrated), “hui xin sang qi” (disheartened) and “chui tou sang qi” (dejected).

Such feelings, alongside self-deprecation and pessimism, person successful the past fewer years travel to beryllium unabashedly celebrated successful China successful a chiseled younker subculture known arsenic Sang culture. Thanks to societal media platforms specified arsenic Weibo (the Chinese mentation of Twitter) and WeChat, this subculture is maintained and dispersed done comic memes and cynical sayings that crook the authorities of dejection into a sought-after style.

Many Chinese media scholars hint the emergence of Sang to the viral “Ge You Slouch” meme successful 2016. The meme began arsenic a screenshot of Ge You, a starring movie drama actor, successful his relation arsenic a dishevelled loafer slouching connected a sofa successful a 1990s’ TV sitcom.

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Some connected Weibo reinterpreted Ge You’s mediocre posture arsenic the afloat acceptance of a authorities of dejection, and the catchphrase “I americium a full wreck” was soon added to the image.

Soon after, a fistful of cartoon characters, including the self-loathing cynical alcoholic BoJack and depressed Pepe the Frog, besides reached iconic status, becoming the embodiment of Sang culture. Self-justifying, humorous expressions specified arsenic “life is simply a bid of closing doors” and “lie down level wherever beingness knocks you down” besides became popular.

The alcoholic equine ‘BoJack Horseman’ became a cult sang icon. Netflix

Unrealistic positivity’s antidote

Chinese millennials’ clasp of Sang civilization is simply a quiescent deviation from China’s mainstream governmental ideology, arsenic good arsenic a blatant rejection of the modern inclination for overdosed positivity and productivity.

Since Xi Jinping took bureau successful 2012, the Chinese Communist Party has turned a grassroots catchphrase “positive energy” (zheng nengliang) into a governmental buzzword. In doing truthful it has instrumentalised “promoting affirmative energy” for governmental goals. According to the Chinese studies world Francesca Triggs, the “positive energy” sermon stresses the societal work of idiosyncratic citizens. It is besides utilized to warrant the state’s power implicit the net for the intent of safeguarding the wellness of cyberspace, and to signifier ideological statement and nationalist opinion.

Parallel to the “positive energy” ideology propagated by the enactment is the neoliberal fable of self-making. Chinese bookstores person full sections devoted to personage entrepreneur and their “do-it-yourself occurrence stories”. Such positivity has turned sour for millennials, who carnivore the brunt of China’s accelerated economical growth.

Fierce world competition, soaring lodging prices, the “996” enactment civilization (from 9 americium to 9 p.m. each day, six days a week), and the closing disconnected of upward mobility are immoderate of the harsh realities faced by young people. For them, embracing “Sang”, oregon having a defeatist cognition towards beingness and self, is simply a strategy to header with an uncertain aboriginal and a mode to enslaved with their peers.

The dispersed of Sang civilization successful China has invited commodification. “Achieved-absolutely-nothing achromatic tea”, “Failed-to-lose-weight latte”, and different Sang-themed products person achieved immoderate popularity among millennials.

It is communal for a subculture to suffer its borderline aft being commodified successful this way. But Ivanov’s unfortunate personage successful the lad set world amusement demonstrates that Sang civilization tin exploit commercialized involvement to reenforce itself and consequently person a real-life impact. Ivanov’s half-hearted show connected signifier endeared young Chinese audiences due to the fact that they knew that helium was not performing but “being” himself. They saw this Russian antheral arsenic “one of us”.

Chinese audiences bonded emotionally with Ivanov. They had to enactment him done the ordeal of the full season’s competition, conscionable arsenic they person to toil time successful and time out. This begs the question: had Ivanov known astir Sang civilization and that his dejection would triumph him fans, would helium person decided to effort harder?

Xiaoning Lu is simply a Reader successful Chinese Culture and Language, SOAS astatine the University of London.

This nonfiction archetypal appeared connected The Conversation.

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