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Home  /  Inside China  /  Linglei – The Possibility to Oppose the Mainstream
Linglei – The Possibility to Oppose the Mainstream print version
The lìnglèi youth can be classified as 'alternative' to the mainstream Chinese culture and even 'rebellious', but their self expression is perhaps an opposition to the conditions in pre-1980 China and a celebration of new opportunities in present days, more than truly resisting a modern Chinese culture.

It is not such a new trend, though the lìnglèi youth is a phenomenon that still catches attention throughout China. How many of China's youngsters can actually allow themselves (or wish) to become linglei is doubtable, but motifs of the linglei trend are present in many Chinese urban locations.

Lìnglèi 另类 is basically ‘another type'. It is comprised of elements such as being ‘alternative', ‘funky', ‘provocative', etc. However, unlike many alternative youth movements which exist elsewhere, the linglei in China seldom have any political agenda. Although it can be assumed that the limited freedom of speech in China prevents such agendas, when looking carefully at the linglei phenomenon and its roots, it is evident the most linglei only want two thing: To express themselves out in the open and to resist the ‘mainstream'. It is not a movement that happens to be a minority and hence an ‘alternative', but rather a movement which is produced as a counter response to the Chinese mainstream.

Who is considered a linglei? Not many youngsters can allow themselves to take it to an extreme and having a pierced eye-brow and funky hair style can be enough to be tagged as a ‘rebel'. Still, urban middle class linglei can sometimes take things several steps forward by deciding to drop out of school and express themselves through music, literature, etc, in addition to choosing their desired lifestyle by themselves. While some linglei are spoiled kids who know their parent's safety net is always underneath them, some might also be extremely creative and talented souls. The cases in which dropouts who resists the education system, yet have proved to be fine computer programmers, clothes designers, musicians, etc are not rare.

Although the linglei wish to rebel, they are aware that their rebellion is short-lived and that the numerous lines of clothes and TV commercials which are directed at the linglei youth are perhaps not ‘mainstream' but neither do they make China's cultural ground shake. Linglei elements appear in many corners of the mainstream culture, and even the most cheesy pop stars often adopt a ‘linglei appearance'.

Thus, perhaps it is incorrect to regard the linglei as a rebellious phenomenon. Though anger and criticism towards conformism are present throughout the linglei's expression manners, such expression can also be seen as a celebration of a new age, in which individuality is promoted and one can find new channels to be ‘him(or her)self'. linglei are youngsters born in the 80's (80后 bālíng hòu) or 90's (90后 jiǔlíng hòu), and are aware of the more monolithic culture that existed up to the 70's, when self expression was clearly not the top priority of the Chinese residents. Shouting, dressing differently and even pinching the system with moderate criticism are conducts, which were unthinkable in the past (and the linglei are well aware that), therefore enjoying these new possibilities, without getting too out of line, is in some way an appreciation of modern China.

Thus the linglei phenomenon is treated with ambiguity throughout China. On the one hand, public criticism towards young dropouts, who resist basic cultural manners and think they deserve complete freedom (as well as related habits such as youngsters participating in car races 飚车 biāochē), clearly exist. However, there are also claims that the creativity, baldness and skill which some linglei express are qualities which can be well used by growing Chinese companies in many fields. One way or another, linglei and ‘mainstream members', while mocking each other are also dancing cheek to cheek.


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