‘Shamate’: China had hipsters before they were cool

This is the first post in our new ‘Reading thread‘ series. Reading thread bring together pieces on a similar topic from the Marco Polo Project catalogue, inviting you on a guided journey through Chinese writing, and offering an insider’s, original view of contemporary China. You might also be interested in our weekly Digest, presenting the latest pieces published and translated on Marco Polo Project.

in the arcade

China’s urbanisation is creating an unexpected by-product: aspirational hipsters. Yet these emerging trendy youths, the Shamate, look very different to their skinny-jeaned western counterparts.

The Shamate work at Foxconn, the world’s largest electronic parts manufacturer. Western hipsters work in coffee shops.

The Shamate blow-dry their hair in reaction to migrating across a country the size of Europe. Western hipsters buy a fixie bike because finding a job is hard.

We’ve found some fantastic articles on how China is dealing with these non-mainstream migratory youths. Leave your comments at the bottom: if you listen to music we-won’t-have-heard-of-yet or love Instagram, tell us why.


“杀马特”:文化贫困产物 – “ShaMaTe”, a product of cultural poverty

by Zhang Tianpan, 11th March 2013


Who are the Shamate, and where do they come from?

In this piece, Zhang Tianpan discusses the snobbish way in which Shamate are talked about in society and compares them against another intriguing sub-culture, the ‘fresh young things’.

Perhaps this is China’s version of mods and rockers; goths and punks; trendies and indies?


你们能指责80后吗? – Can you accuse the post-eighties generation?

by Xi Mu, 11th October 2012.


Some people describe the post-eighties young people as China’s ‘beat generation’. They enjoy a reformed country but don’t care about politics. Lifestyle and consumption matters more to them than democracy.

These youths are seen as ignorant, but is that really fair? Why do you think the Shamate spend their time blow-drying their hair yet aren’t so politically involved?

The Shamate are possibly part of a stream of migrants who cannot think of politics, their priority is assimilating into their new urban homes.


中国式大迁徙:何处安放我们的故乡– Great migration China-style: where is our hometown?  

by Zhang Tianpan, 17th February 2014


In this sad piece, Zhang Tianpan takes a completely different tone. Not only are the Shamate stuck between the cities and countryside, but the very idea of a hometown is equally strained.

This article highlights how China’s incessant skyscraper building puts the country’s rural areas on the spot. China’s traditions are really being tested.

Migrants are blurring the lines between urban and rural. Are Chinese cities experiencing an identity crisis? Zhang Tianpan provides food for thought.


有一种空虚叫做农村 – There is a void called the countryside

by Zhang Zejia, 18th December 2012


Where are these Shamate coming from, I hear you ask? Look no further, as Zhang Zejia describes his impressions on a visit home.

Living in towns populated by children and grandparents as parents search for work in faraway cities, it’s no wonder why these youths want to leave home.

What stands out for me in this article is how impoverished these rural people are. Surrounded by huge skyscrapers, branded stores and restaurants, I feel I didn’t fully experience this poverty whilst living in Beijing.



In the following articles, Wang Xiaoping and Duyuan Jushi both react to the Shamate text posted by Zhang Tianpan above. The translations are unfinished, why don’t you keep this discussion going and translate the articles yourselves?


山河破碎风飘絮,身世浮沉雨打萍 – Reflecting on the “ShaMaTe” aesthetics

by Wang Xiaoping, 13th March 2013 

一个“杀马特”的独白 – A monologue on “ShaMaTe”

by Duyuan Jushi, 14th March 2013


This post was written by Francis Beechinor, from London University School of Asian and African Studies. 

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