Reinventing Rebellion: Alternative Youth Subcultures in Post-Tiananmen China

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Prior to the 1980s, the People’s Republic of China lacked any visible manifestations of Western-influenced youth subcultures and instead mandated social and cultural conformity among young people. Dogmatic rigidity in educational institutions and unquestioned subservience to the official values of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were the norm, with little toleration for Western fashion and so-called “bourgeois” popular culture. The advent of visible Chinese youth subcultures, a phenomenon denounced yet conditionally tolerated by the regime, coincided with the birth of Chinese rock and roll (yaogun) in the mid-1980s. Such youthful rebellion was stifled for a time after the crackdown of the student-led “democracy movement” at Tiananmen Square in 1989. But since Tiananmen, new hybridized subcultural identities have emerged among young people that subtly challenge the cultural hegemony of the CCP. Adherents of such subcultures have gradually reinvented rebellion by slyly violating various social norms and folkways. Most such subcultures effectively combine Asian characteristics with Western punk rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, and other musical genres and styles. This paper examines such hybridized subcultures and related Chinese-language identifications embraced by youth including linglei (“alternative”), panni (“rebel”), and xing xing renlei (“new new human beings”). The paper is largely based on an ethnographic study of Chinese teenagers and young adults (ages 15 to 28) interviewed by the author in 2000 and 2005.


Keywords: China, Alternative, Youth Subcultures, Yaogun, Linglei, Panni, Xing Xing Renlei, Tiananmen Square, Rebel, Rebellion, Rock and Roll, Punk Rock, Headbangers, Heavy Metal, Hip-Hop, Ravers, Subcultural Revolution, Hybridism, Chinese Communist Party, Economic Reform, Collective Identities, Globalization
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Reinventing Rebellion


Prof. David Drissel

Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Iowa Central Community College
Fort Dodge, IA, USA

David Drissel is a professor of social sciences at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa. His undergraduate work included a double-major in political science and sociology and his graduate studies focused on comparative politics, international relations, and social change and development. Research interests include the global politics of Internet governance, transnational social movements, post-communist/post-socialist countries in transition, computer-mediated communication and society, youth subcultures and social deviance, and the utilization of interactive media and popular culture in mobilizing social networks. Professor Drissel is a two-time Fulbright Scholar who has studied extensively in China and the Czech/Slovak Republics, among many other countries. He is an alumnus of the Oxford (University) Roundtable in Great Britain, where he presented a paper on Internet governance. A frequent speaker and conference participant, he has had several papers published in various academic journals and compilations.

Ref: I08P0487