Young Nostalgia in China: The Future is the Past


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In the face of an increasingly unstable future, Chinese youth are grounding their identities in nostalgic pasts.

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Young Nostalgia in China: The Future is the Past

  1. 1. Young Nostalgia<br />Chinese youth finding themselves in the past<br />
  2. 2. Saturday September 18, at the<br />Intel Creator’s Project party at798,<br />Peng Lei, lead singer of NewPants,<br />surprised the audience bysmashing <br />an Apple computeronstage.<br />Photo from Creator’s Project Weibo<br />
  3. 3. His message was simple:The Internet sucks.<br />
  4. 4. Comments from Weibo:<br />@creatorsproject:Entering the new era, rockers are smashing new things. Ha!<br />@creatorsproject:Is the sponsor [Intel] behind this?<br />@creatorsproject:That’s such an old Mac; why not smash an iPad?<br />@creatorsproject: Impressed and moved by the scene: with New Pants saying 'www is the saddest innovation of the 21st century', I am a big fan of theirs.<br />* In order to protect the identities of the posters, we won’t disclose the source threads, however these comments stem from the Weibo’sof several trendy affluent youth that were at the event and posted about it.<br />
  5. 5. Why cry out against the Internet?<br />Isn’t digital culture enabling Chinese youth to grow?<br />PengLei’s Apple smash reflects a widespread tension at the root of some important trends.<br />That tension is young nostalgia.<br />
  6. 6. Nostalgia is the pain caused by a longing for the past.<br />
  7. 7. People feel nostalgia when the world changes, and new conditions challenge their identity and conceptions of the world.<br />“… sadly, if people continue to download music, the future for bands like ours is uncertain.”<br />-Peng Lei, SHMag, November 2008<br />
  8. 8. Nostalgia protects our sense of self by finding continuity with an idealized vision of the past.<br />‘When the present is confusing, I can refer back to my happiest memories.’ <br />Photo from Neng Mao website<br />
  9. 9. Nostalgia doesn’t occur just for old people, or whenever there is great change: the cause is present anxieties which threaten our identity.<br />In the 1980’s, China’s ‘Red Guard’ generation rejected the Cultural Revolution decade of their youth, embracing new urban ways of life.<br />But in the 1990’s, faced with the confusion of Chinese modernity, the ‘Red Guard’ generation became nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution decade.<br />Citation from Yang Guobing’s‘China’s Zhiqing Generation’<br />
  10. 10. “Nostalgia connects individuals to their past, compels them to articulate their generational experience in narratives, and contrasts a past viewed as containing beauty, meaning, and purpose with [the] present…”- GUOBIN YANG, ‘China’s Zhiqing Generation’<br />
  11. 11. In China today, post 80’s youth are confused about who they are and how they fit in the world, and are feeling the effects of nostalgia. <br />
  12. 12. Losing the Past: Speed of Change<br />Chinese youth literally see the past slipping away <br />as rapid development erases the tangible traces of history.<br /><ul><li> Destruction of heritage sites
  13. 13. Absence of ritual and sacred spaces
  14. 14. Unstable systems of inhabitance</li></li></ul><li>Losing the Future: Threats to Stability<br />Chinese youth are scared of an increasingly bleak future<br /><ul><li> Anxiety about the competitive job and housing markets
  15. 15. - Disgust with adult society
  16. 16. Worries over environmental destruction</li></ul>The movie‘2012’ has been highly influential to Chinese youth<br />
  17. 17. Losing Themselves: Fractured Identity<br />Chinese youth (like other post- modern youth) are not sure<br />What is the basis for individual and social identity <br /><ul><li> Overwhelming transformative possibilities of the Internet
  18. 18. Unpredictable and rapid economic change
  19. 19. Splintering of generational culture into smaller tribes </li></li></ul><li>Chinese youth are looking to the past<br />When things were simpler<br />Photo from Neng Mao website<br />
  20. 20. Who is feeling nostalgic?<br />Post 80’s youth: Post 90’s youth have grown up in the digital age, and are more comfortable here than Peng Lei.<br />Top tier youth: youth from smaller cities are more optimistic about development, and their generational bonds are still pretty much intact.<br />But anxiety over uncertain futures and confusion about developing identities<br />stem from macro changes that will become increasingly relevant across tiers.<br />
  21. 21. Traditional Nostalgia<br />Chinese youth reaffirm their identity by looking to their childhood<br />for reassurance. <br />
  22. 22. Metersbonwe’s MTEE T- shirt series featuring 80’s cartoons likeMr. Black was a hit.<br />
  23. 23. Shanghai indie brand NengMao makes clothing inspired by 80’s childhood days, and puts stories and images of childhood toys on the tags.<br />
  24. 24. In Beijing, new youth- oriented restaurants are using elements like traditional furniture and crockery for a comforting ‘home’feel.<br />Photo from ‘印巷小馆’Dianping page<br />
  25. 25. Post- Modern Nostalgia<br />Chinese youth reaffirm their identities with histories they have no direct experience of. <br />
  26. 26. “For me the [frontier]Americanstyle is about freedom, independence, and self- reliance.”<br />- Liu Ke, owner, Mega Mega Vintage<br />Mega Mega Vintage on GulouDongdajie<br />
  27. 27. In the post- modern world, Chinese youth can connect to past cultures through movies, music, TV, the Internet, and consumption.Chinese youth might not have direct experience of these cultures, but post- modern pasts have the benefit of coming prepackaged with the consistent, simplified dynamics that nostalgia craves.<br />
  28. 28. The most visible post- modern nostalgia trend is vintage fashion…But vintage styles have been a global trend for years now.Chinese vintage consumers are probably connecting to global cool more than surrogate histories.Still, trend leaders in China are deep into the stories behind the looks. <br />
  29. 29. What does it all mean?<br />
  30. 30. Chinese heritage brands like Warrior shoes and Forever bicycles have seen a resurgence.<br />
  31. 31. old = good?<br />
  32. 32. 1. Brand Histories: Stories > AuthenticityChinese youth want product stories that connect their values to comforting pasts. Authenticity is less important: tell the story, create the context!2. Brand Enablers: Support > ChoicePrevailing wisdom is that individualized youth want many new choices.But Chinese youth already have plenty: what they need is the added support of history for the identities they have chosen.3. Brand Values: Sympathetic > AncientTraditional nostalgic youth seek to recapture the purity and clarity of youth.Post- modern nostalgic youth seek the freedom and style of bygone eras.In choosing past iconographies to employ, don’t forget the emotional need is for pasts that are reassuring and match values, not just recognizable.<br />
  33. 33. Thanks!<br />