A Prelude to Shitfuturism (2010-2020)

Wangba persists, in the countryside.

Before leaving his county, Jin Lin used to work at an unnamed factory in Shenzhen, assembling motherboards during day shifts. The pay was meagre, but he could survive by staying at the cheap dorm and eating subpar set dinners at the canteen. The factory, and its adjacent complex of massive living quarters-or urban villages in the local colloquial term-are located at the peripheral of the migrant city. He mostly resisted temptation of visiting the city centre on Sundays and buying anything substantial, not even a non-shanzhai smartphone. While other workmates bought branded smartphones, browsed unaffordable goods in shopping centres, allured by prostitutes at massage parlors, his sole entertainment was baoye at a familiar wangba. Baoye means paying for the whole night, usually for 10yuan instead of paying an hourly rate, to stay at the wangba from midnight until early morning. While wallowing in permeating smoke and the scent of cheap cigarettes, he enjoyed browsing Tieba and pixelated images of Shamate girls in exaggerated hairstyles, taking selfies in front of the webcam, uploading them to QQzone, and talking to others in his Shamate clan on QQ. He wrote in QQzone blog with the Martian language input at 3am,


[I am suddenly a bit sad, suddenly a bit hollow, suddenly a bit miss you.]

He was intrigued by melancholy as it seemed fashionable to melancholic. He heard of the “suicide waves” but he was relatively fortunate as his family did not rely on his remittances and he was not in debt. In other words, he was not alienated in the sense that he was rarely bored nor overworked. Simple rituals like baoye kept him withdrawn and away from the whirlpools of urban seductions and mental repercussions of capitalist exploitation.

Five years later Jin Lin found himself back at the county, his birthplace but erringly unfamiliar. He largely evaded the daunting urban growth by staying at the contact zone of the “connecting region between the city and countryside” but he had to confront this very nausea back home. His county town is now upgraded to a city, a fifth-tier city that is. While his cousins boasted their ventures in Shanghai and the older generation of ex-migrant workers complained about re-adapting to a quasi-rural life in the county (the improperly urbanised now) during family dinners, Jin Lin was unbearably bored, perhaps for the first time as he remembered. He never felt nostalgic towards the ordinary urban attractions—high rises, malls and luxuries were irrelevant to him. He is admittedly still attracted to wangba, which are no longer the centre of internet, for which it is the smartphone. Most of the members in his Shamate clans have left the cities and started families and worked in “proper” professions, not manufacturing nor hospitality but real estate. The greatest migration in human history seems to be imploding as migrants flow back. Jin Lin was indifferent as he knew he had zero chance in getting a wife.

The county is littered with heiwangba or “black (illegal) internet bars”, equipped with outdated and dusty hardware, occupied by underage teens playing online games, loitering while skipping school, flirting (both online and offline), smoking, and doing nothing. Just not long ago, a grandma rushed into the wangba with a machete looking for her grandson who had been missing for several days. At another wangba across the county, a primary school kid stabbed another schoolmate because he was told he sucked at League of Legends. Not to mention an unemployed twenty something guy died at another wangba the moment he stood up after sitting in the sofa for 36 hours reading a rather long but banal fantasy novel about a hopeless young guy just like him finding a new life (a fulfilling one at that) after time-travelling to Ming Dynasty. The owner of the wangba vanished after that incident and another owner reopened it under another name. Now the ceiling is leaking water from the rain, Jin Lin is rather annoyed but the guy sitting opposite is undisturbed and continues his killing spree in League of Legends while holding an umbrella with his neck and shoulder.

Jin Lin’s case is a weird mimicry based on a tunnel vision of urbanity and oblivious creation of a New aesthetics, which sometimes appears at the frontline of Chinese contemporary fashion/art/music, but sanitized of course. The excess of incivility and aesthetics of vulgarity engenders a specific production of the rural wangba space—the juxtaposition between an exoticized rustic life (for its supposed simpleness and uncultivated naivety) and the unrelenting and sometimes inexplicably weird adolescent boredom haunting rural life (which is hidden under the surface and much pathologized when exposed).

Diaries of Abstinence

This is the first post of a series of (un)translations of confessions, diaries, anecdotes I collected over the years from an anonymous discussion board. They are not correctly translated in entirety without omission but rather re-stylised, rewritten, fictionalised into this form (or lack of form) of colloquial internet writing. The original posts no longer exist so I cannot claim any integrity of the translator but my own experiments with these intimate tales of prohibition, guilt, and transgression.

People born in A island think having girlfriend is illness
(correction) “People live in A island think being in a relationship is a kind of illness

Rhythm and Masturbation (R>M); Reinvented Classic Positions; ASS♂Drum (Wrong Position, Oops).

-I would like to clarify I don’t like this girl, I swear I don’t, but she looks like a bit like someone I was secretly in love with, or she simply fits into some traits I like, I really really don’t have any lewd thoughts about her. But damn I cannot control myself when I see her, my face turns red and my palm sweats and I act unnatural. I just want to be normal.


-yo please fap and calm the fuck down

Entry#2 5-22-2014 I practiced magic five times yesterday! I felt terrible!
Entry#3 5-24-2014 I practiced magic three times yesterday, I can feel the pulsing pain! But Lotus books are irresistible.
Entry#4 5-26-2014 I practiced again last night, I woke up in the middle of night from a nightmare.
Entry#5 5-27-2014 I failed to practice last night. Sigh~~
Entry #6 6-1-2014 Scattered rains turning Windy.
I fapped today. I planned to quit it after getting a job. I felt terrible every time after I fapped, I despised myself, I need to work tomorrow.
I have accumulated so many dirty socks, I planned to buy new shoes and clothes today, I just got paid salary, but I failed to wake up because of the night shift, then I thought buying clothes is useless anyway, I only stay in the dorm and the factory, new clothes can only be stored in wardrobe. I fell asleep as I thought about these. Another idle and unfulfilling day, I will work hard tomorrow.
Entry #1 11-10-2014 Everyday I tell myself fapping twice a week is healthy. But I feel the impulse to watch porn at some point of the day every single day, then I just fapped, then I felt remorseful, I told myself abstinence, my little brother needs to rest as well.
Entry #2 11-10-2014 10pm, I should go to bed. I just saw a good doujin so I could not resist. Anyway, a fap is a fap. I really should not do it again tomorrow. Gonna shower and sleep.
Entry #3 11-11-2014 I could not sleep last night, so I tried to hypnotize myself by reading boring online fiction, fuck it, those kinds of stallion(alpha) males (genre). Fuck it, a fap is a fap. I need to stop today.
Entry #4 11-11-2014 I was supposed to write a diary of abstinence but anons kept posting names of these doujins in diaries…After I finished lunch, I read two doujins, one is Kusatsu Terunyo’s Pet Life. A black foreign student banging his classmate’s mum, that BBC was irresistible, fuck so slutty, I fapped again. I became this fapping fat loser under the bad influence of anons.
Entry#4 11-11-2014 I just saw a screenshot of my diary on Weibo. I feel like I is on television. I wanted to repost but no courage. If my diary of abstinence got recognised out by any acquaintance, they will laugh at me.

Endure it, resist the temptation.

Entry #5 11-12-2014 I did not practice magic today. It was a good day.
Entry #6 11-13-2014 I don’t even know how many times I did it. The materials were totally random from some nude models online and another doujin. Am I too high in androgen, my sexual desires are insatiable, my beard grows really fast, body hair as well.
Entry #7 11-16 I did some exercises today. Some pull-ups, the row machine.

I went to see Interstellar…I bought two tickets with such confidence and invited a girl I like.
But really, it felt really good to have a seat to put my bag while watching the movie.

-I am almost crying [at this sad tale]
-You can pull up the armrest in the middle and occupy both seats. No one will blame a fat ass like you.

-Anons, I want to experience being pissed on by a traveller/woman.
-Police uncle, this is the unidentifiable object
-no worries, you will feel the same if I piss on you.
-bullshit, traveller’s piss is in milk color.
-I wish to service her after her piss.
-truly perverted
-disgusting pervert, pervert, there is no dignity in you.
-so simple, just ask your mum to piss on your face.
-you only want to be a toilet
-how can you claim you love her if you cannot even drink her piss.
-piss is poisonous.

Entry #1 11-16-2014 First day of abstinence. Daka (punch the card), I deleted everything.
Entry #2 11-16-2014 I probably gonna regret it tonight.
Entry #3 11-17-2014 Second day is a success. I did not some indoor exercise.
Entry #4 11-18-2014 Third day is a success. I started jogging. I want to quit fapping and lose weight.
Entry #5 11-18-2014 Actually, once or twice a week is ok. Must live a positive life, do more exercise, don’t always browse this anon board.
Entry #6 11-19-2014 I am trying to catch up with exercise, but I have decided no more lewd fantasies before finding a girlfriend. Fourth day is a success, muscle training today, sleep la.
Entry #7 Fifth day is a success. I watched interstellar again. Still good.

-Working is so boring
-Schooling is so boring
-your two lines of diaries have summarised ten years of my life.
-Life is so boring.

>be me
>went out for a dinner this evening.
>saw a cutie hot chick having a coffee and a hotdog
>went to ask her cell number
>she slapped me


-I thought I was on 4chan.
-Shut up and stop shit posting.
-gay gun

I have discovered the eternal return of this anon board:

  • having a KFC bucket alone.
  • Shit
  • Fap

We also have mimicry (crossdressing)

Eavesdropping: Blind Masseurs on the Question of Technology


(Picture is from an article entitled “Haptic Dreams of the Blind Masseurs“)

Blind Massage Parlour is an interesting place. It is probably one of few places in China where blindness can be blatantly and especially socially visible. Often all Chinese pedestrians’ lane have tracks for the visually impaired but they don’t seem to be regularly maintained or even properly built. In general, disability is purged from the main streets and of course result in poor chances in the job market. Blind Massage Parlour is, stereotypically, where (predominantly male) blind people work as masseurs. The urban myth is that blind people, since they cannot see, have enhanced haptic senses and strong hands. All that comes from training rather than natural talents of course but myth still persists to make blind people remain in their place.

I have a chronic neck problem but I cannot afford regularly doing massage in Australia. Blind massage parlour is very appealing to me because it is cheap and it does help with my neck pain. The following is a abridged conversation between three masseurs while they were massaging me and my two friends.


Masseur A: What phone are you using?

Masseur B: Just a Xiaomi. Why?

Masseur A: Xiaomi is pretty good these days. Xiaomi Mi Mix even has the full glass bezel-free display, super high resolution and good screen estate. It’s great to watch videos on it. [more detailed discussion on the features of the Xiaomi phone omitted] and most importantly, it is a good bargain given its specs.

Masseur B: What about Huawei?

Masseur A: Huawei phone P2 has amazing camera. Huawei is doing great. The best Chinese brand now. We have a lot of good brands, Vivo, Oppo, and Cuizi etc. [more detailed discussion on the features of each brands omitted]

Masseur B: What about Samsung? Don’t they always have like better specs.

Masseur A: Well it just phased out in China after the incidents of explosion. I think Huawei would not have a chance against Samsung if they didn’t have that disaster. Well, I guess they also did produce good phones. And no, these days almost all smartphones come with similar processors, the only difference is probably the camera and RAM.

Masseur B: What about iPhones? I think iPhone’s quality is shit. I bought my wife a secondhand iPhone recently. It broke down after a few weeks. So I had to go fix it somewhere. Don’t iPhone have like the best cameras?

Masseur A: Did you buy secondhand, without a proper warranty? Of course they are going to scam you. iPhones are usually of good quality but they run of good ideas now. After Jobs died, they failed to innovate and lead the market.

Masseur B: Alright. I will look into it.


Masseur C: Did you hear in the news? US now prohibits their companies from selling their chips to us. What about our phones? They don’t care about the Chinese market no more?

Masseur A: of course, eventually they won’t touch the consumer products. Who does not want to make our cash?


My friend finally could not suppress his urge to question their discussion on smartphones since we were told by the reception that “they are almost blind” and the whole discussion never touches on how any of these brands provides technical assistance to people with disabilities, and asked,

“why are you guys (awkwardly pauses) talking about these again?”

Masseur A: (after a hardly noticeable groan) Why are we talking about these things (specification of phones)? I just spent a lot of time reading and hearing about these information. It’s true that I can hardly see anything. The screen size does not really matter a whole lot to me. Yeah, why am I talking about these? It does not really matter.

I looked into my masseur in the eye after he finished. I felt immensely guilty, not just for doubting his blindness but more importantly how I have been oblivious to their views on technology.




Where is the end of low end population?

Previously I have written a micro-history of ruination and renewal of internet cafes, the recent forced removal of ‘low end population’ in Beijing prompts me to revisit the spatial politics of urban demolition and renewal. Part of this short essay comes directly from the old paper.

Perhaps the truly dangerous classes are not so much the uncivilised ones thought to undermine society from below, but rather the migrants who move at the borders between classes, individuals and groups who develop capabilities within themselves which are useless for the improvement of their material lives and which in fact are liable to make them despise material concerns.

– Proletarian Nights, Jacques Ranciere.

1. ‘Low end population’ is the official abbreviation of ‘population with occupations in the low level industries’. LOW sounds very derogatory, especially in the contested dualism of di duan or low end, gao duan or high end. And of course, nobody wants to be labelled ‘low end population’. Previously the usual designation was low suzhi (quality) population, which was equally stigmatised. Quality is apparently too ambiguous of a term so more economically specific term can probably replace it. And with proliferation of the ‘new’ economy – the complex web of speculative economies of real estate, eCommerce (with its concomitant express delivery industry), and short-lived start-up bubbles (such as the share bikes) – gao duan and di guan become common, if not ubiquitous, adjectives to describe aspects of economic models, occupations, consumption habits, taste, and eventually, people. One of the best examples of this stratification is perhaps lifestyle. Marathons, jogging, regularly going to gyms with exorbitant membership fees, have become symbols of the leisure class or middle class, whose criteria of distinction gradually moves to taste rather than wealth in a vulgar sense.

2. What about low end population, since so many people are fixating on the term? The term itself seems to resist a definition – every time a definition is thrown at it, it bounces it right back. The dualism of urban and rural Hukou is relatively obsolete now and if not completely, it is receding. So low end population can no longer be explicitly associated with hukou. Do you stratify people by occupation? As one story goes, an editor (perhaps also an self-identified intellectual) often goes to an old ragpicker near home and tries to talk to him. In a rather patronising fashion, the editor assumed the ragpicker, who was living in one of those ‘to-be-demolished’ dilapidated site shed with no toilet, was simply making ends met and offered his gesture of ‘kindness’ to this member of the supposedly bottom of the society. Until one day, the editor discovered that the ragpicker went overseas for holiday by talking to the ragpicker’s relative who was replacing him. This got the editor curious since it immediately crushed his entrenched views on the working poor. He was utterly dismayed when he discovered that the ragpicker earned more than half a million yuan per year and his own salary was only 6000 per month. The editor felt ashamed. The point of this story is not to say the working poor are secretly rich. It is how the patronizing (often officially encouraged) attitude towards the urban poor or migrant workers in certain disdained occupations (such as rubbish picking) preemptively shut down any possibility of actual dialogues. The migrant worker is supposed to look like a migrant, talk like an incoherent illiterate, read books like Rich Dad Poor Dad or cheap fantasy novels on their OPPO phones, be only occupied with bread and milk and above all, be poor. So they are deemed silent; if they speak, only the intellectuals speak on their behalf, in solidarity or whatever. And when they are not how they are imagined, the system of discourse just chooses to ignore them.

3. Do you stratify people by taste or lifestyle? The common perception is that the working poor only works to make ends met and therefore they do not have time and energy to enjoy any leisure activities. What about the middle class who celebrates its own elevation by building more exclusive leisure spaces? They are probably bored to death, wandering in the malls, hiding behind the wheels and cruising on the highway, sipping flat white in high-end barista Starbucks, working out in the gym with their personal trainers, snoring in the cinema and theatre and so forth. Habitual insecurity + Controlled thrill + Unrelenting Boredom = Hallmark of the Middle Class. The vulgar class are, instead, full of surprises. Look no further than Kuaishou, Douyu and a plethora of minor video sites/apps. The subaltern performs/speaks by drinking pesticide on livestream, mixologic experiment with beer and worms, ploughing a hill for no purpose other than entertaining the viewership, swallowing a light bulb, and consuming a rat while it’s alive. The intellectuals refuse to see it or are terrified by the destructive plebeian desires. So the di duan or low end can remain ‘low’ from their perspective. The poor must be sanitized, not just in forced removals, but also in its meaning.

4. There is a disparity between the image and reality, theory and practice. This is common sense in China. But there is still a deep-rooted expectation that the ‘people’ shall be ‘served’ by the party state, not necessarily in the vanguard sense but in the sense of hospitality. In this instance, the propaganda machine probably had a brief moment of Freudian slip, that ‘low end population’ appeared, quite glaringly,  in yellow characters on those red banners at the demolition site. PR disaster was imminent. The following events are standard procedure – 1. censorship; 2. attempt to remedy the situation by criticising or denying the whole theory of stratified population or defending the ‘low end population’ by listing their contribution to society; 3. blame the residents for illegally occupying the area and causing security risks (especially fire hazards) 4. wait for the rage to recede. 5. demolish the area 6. redevelop 7. gentrify.

5. The fire broke out. It was a man-made disaster. Blame the density. Blame the poor construction. Blame the tangled wires of electricity. Blame the unscrupulous landlords who don’t care about anything except for collecting rents. Blame the stubborn tenants. This is all very familiar. And if you want to go further back, there is Haussmann’s project of slum clearance, which also aimed at moving ‘eyesores and health hazards of poverty out of central Paris and into the suburbs’. But I shall refer to the case of internet cafe and how spatial regulations were enforced after a fire.

A change in management policy is said to have been initiated in the wake of an accidental fire in a Beijing Internet café in 2002 and subsequently in 2003, the central government ordered the local authorities to stop issuing licenses to independent Internet cafés.

– Leisure and power in urban China, Unn Målfrid H. Rolandsen.

Fire is a prelude to the following harsher, more likely enforced regulations upon poorly built houses that used to be the only affordable shelter for the poor. Disaster, especially fire, is desired in this sense, as it razes the undesired and outmoded buildings and renders them ruins. The gentrification of ‘urban villages’, which were known as the residential areas of the rural migrants, represented an overall strategy of sanitizing the urban centre by both cleansing the trash, which includes the architectures and people, and erecting new urban spectacles.

6. It’s predictable that ‘low end population’ will become the new meme just like diaosi (in fact you can already buy the ‘low end population’ t-shirt on taobao); that the middle class is going to claim that, with their kitsch irony, we are also members of the low end population; that more op-eds will be run endlessly debating on the topic until all the rage dissipate into the ocean of shitposts.