Guangzhou’s “Skinhead” Movement

China Development Brief, no.50 (Summer 2011)

中文 English

Introduction: An Zhu, the youthful founder of an up-and-coming NGO, One Kilogram More, uses a humorous story about taking action to challenge individuals and NGOs to think more deeply about a critically important question in today’s China: How to carry out public action in a meaningful way that will foster social connections and public knowledge?

Two days ago, I shaved my head so that it shined like a light bulb. After I was done, I gave the thumbs up and asked my colleague to take a photo for me.

I did not shave my head because summer had come, but rather to support a group of young people seeking to “light up Guangzhou with an army of skinheads.” After the Asian Games, Guangzhou’s municipal government introduced a lighting project to beautify the city. According to its blueprint, the entire night sky is to be illuminated with colorful spotlights that inspire the people…

It seems beautiful. If I were a tourist, I would perhaps be fascinated by this sort of dazzling display. If I were a citizen of Guangzhou, I would perhaps feel a sense of pride. Unfortunately, however, the project’s plan is a bit disturbing: it will cost 150 million yuan.

After having spent over 100 billion on the Asian Games, why care about a mere 150 million? I think the officials in Guangzhou may have had such thoughts when making their decision. However, several young people in the city have been unwilling to go along. They believe that this is money spent meaninglessly. Guangzhou does not need this kind of project, especially given the fact that energy is currently in short supply. Given this situation, evening lighting does not really make much sense.

But how to take action? If you have been involved in your community for a long time, your initial reaction might be to:

(1) research the problem;
(2) design an advocacy plan and write up a project proposal;
(3) apply for funding; and
(4) ideally execute your plan after three months

The only problem with this tried and true approach is that you miss the here and now. While you take your time following protocol, the time to act slips away.

This group of young people in Guangzhou took a completely different approach, one that is very simple and direct.

They shaved their heads.

The implication is simple: Does the government really need lights? If we shave our heads, can’t we help the government save a little on electricity costs? Not only that, they started a micro-blog with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, launching a movement over the internet to recruit 1000 skinheads to light up Guangzhou.

So there is another implication: We recruited more than enough skinheads; isn’t Guangzhou’s night bright enough? Is there really a need for the government to implement any additional lighting projects? Look how considerate of the government we are…

The first person to shave his head was a young man, and he quickly became known as “Skinhead Man.” His bald head issued a call that quickly caused quite a stir. Before long, people spontaneously joined in online. There was no need for any specialized organization. Netizens merely posted photos of their shaved heads on micro-blogs and sent a copy to Skinhead Man. After that, he gave each photo a number and posted them on the Skinhead Movement’s micro-blog. Soon there were women skinheads, skinhead married couples, and baby skinheads. Not long afterwards, the local media began following the story. The first bald-headed photo appeared online on April 25. On April 27, there was a report on the Yangcheng Evening News.

But if an affair continues to unfold like this, it is a bit too placid and not very Chinese. At the beginning of May, Skinhead Man’s micro-blog was unable to post more photos, for reasons everybody knows. However, the people’s creativity is limitless. At the point Skinhead Man was squeezed to death, “Thumb Girl” gloriously appeared. Indeed at this stage, a beautiful woman entered the scene, giving the thumbs up and encouraging the Guangzhou Municipal Government to publicly announce the lighting project’s budget. She says, “I believe you, I believe you definitely will make your budget public. So I want to commend you.”

Do you know why I wanted to take a photo giving the thumbs up? Normally in this kind of situation, I would give the middle finger. But I have to admit, giving the thumbs up is more likely to promote interaction between officials and the people. You put yourself in a much safer position. At the same time, you enable the media to report on and broadcast the whole story.

Naturally, creative action does not necessarily solve the problem. As I write this at the beginning of June, Skinhead Man is not putting out any more photos, and Thumb Girl is being kicked around like a ball by the various government departments. But no matter what, at least their actions have made more people aware of the problem, and they have put the government’s reaction under the media and internet’s spotlight. Through their perseverance, more and more of the truth will come out.

So, what can learn from these young people’s actions?

First, start with your surroundings. People more readily identify with their personal community, local issues and individual concerns. Why did causes like halting the Xiamen PX project, protesting garbage incineration in Guangdong’s Panyu District, and fighting to preserve the Cantonese language gradually succeed1? They succeeded because they mobilized members of the community. When seventy and eighty year olds are staging a sit-in at City Hall, how can you not succeed?

Second, find a way to express yourself. Personal expression is the safest and most basic course of action. You can use your body to express yourself just as Skinhead Man and Thumb Girl did (just don’t set yourself on fire). Don’t worry about it being too frivolous; personal expression will reveal the truth, spark discussion, and eventually initiate action.

Third, turn your movement into an art form. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. As long as it shows your creativity, it doesn’t matter if it is rough around the edges. The signs used by the so-called “Placard Men” in Guangzhou only had a few handwritten words on them, but they nevertheless expressed dissatisfaction with the money spent on renovating the subway. There is also the case of the woman who protested eating shark fins. The shark she drew was just so-so, but its meaning was clear. In both instances, simplicity did not prevent these people from conveying their message.

Fourth, make full use of the Internet. Only through the internet were these creative movements able to be widely publicized, allowing a wide group of skinheads and thumbs-up followers to link up. It is hard to imagine Skinhead Man and Thumb Girl having such a large influence without the Internet.

But while applauding these actions, we need to recognize that such creative action is merely the first step, and there is still a long way to go before realize the change we hope to achieve. This forces us to consider the question: What is the next step?

This problem raises two questions. The first question is how to continue the movement and deepen participation in it. In other words, how do we stimulate discussion and action to ultimately bring about change? This not only requires awareness, courage, and creativity; it also demands more knowledge, experience, and resources. Today in our country, knowledge of public action is quite lacking. Building a team, even if it is virtual, is especially critical to realizing effective internal dialogue and learning.

The second question is how to duplicate the activist’s experience in other regions. This article has pointed out several examples of activism, almost all of which occurred in Guangzhou. Are these kinds of movements possible in other cities and regions? Obviously that requires organizing and disseminating knowledge about how to promote a movement, as well as finding potential local activists.

Therefore, we must ultimately determine a way to link people and create knowledge. How can we connect people who care about public issues, and how can we build on effective dialogue and experience to create localized activist knowledge? As we face these two questions, we not only need activists to target critical issues and take direct action, we also need individuals to design epistemic tools and basic methods for connecting people.

I am interested in one final question: What role can our friends in NGOs play in all of this?

The answer does not exactly inspire optimism. In reality, urban citizens (and perhaps one day, rural citizens) are closer to the scene and issue and are much better than most NGOs at using the internet to link up and disseminate information. Moreover, there is not much readily available knowledge or many precedents in this area. Simply put, everybody is still in kindergarten on the subject, and nobody has any great knowledge on the subject. Furthermore, for reasons everybody knows, NGO involvement in social movements is greatly constricted. In a country where even a demonstration can only be called a “stroll.”, you can’t afford any risk to your organization.

But this does not mean that NGOs should stay out of things, blithely acting like a goody two-shoes whose hands are tied. In light of their new space and new opportunities, NGOs should position themselves to better interact and collaborate with activists. There is no clear answer; it all depends on us trying harder.

I’ve gone on too long, so I would just like to make one more point: Whether you are an individual or an NGO taking action, the most important thing is not having lots of expertise or lofty principles, but rather being in the here and now.

That is only way not to miss out on this new, modern era.


  1. Editor’s Note: The Xiamen PX project was a chemical factory that was planned for Xiamen until city residents got a hold of the news and, in June of 2007, spilled onto the streets in a “stroll” against the project. The protests succeeded in getting Xiamen authorities to put a hold on the project until another location could be found. Two years later, a decision was made to move the PX project to the neighboring city of Zhangzhou. 

此时此地——广州“光头”运动存照

 

前两天,我把头发剃光了,亮亮的像个灯泡。剃完头之后,我还双手竖起拇指,让同事为我拍了一张照片。

我剃头不是因为夏天来了,而是为了支持广州一帮年轻人的行动:征集光头照亮广州。事情是这样的:亚运后,广州政府为了美化市容,推出了光亮工程。按照市政府的蓝图,整个广州的夜空将会被七彩射灯照亮,全市人民欢欣鼓舞……

看起来很美。如果我是一名游客,我也许会为这样的美景而迷醉。如果我是一名广州市民,也许我会为此而感到自豪。但很可惜,整个计划有一点让人心感不安:它要花掉1.5亿人民币。

过千亿的亚运都花了,还在乎这区区的1.5亿?我想广州的父母官们在做这个决定时也许想都不想就通过了。不过,几个广州的年轻人不干了。他们觉得这钱花得没意义:广州不需要这样的形象工程,更何况现在能源紧张,晚上亮灯实在没有意义。

但如何行动?如果你在贵圈浸淫甚久,你的第一反应可能是:

(1)调研;

(2)设计倡导计划,写项目建议书;

(3)申请资金;

(4)在三个月后执行(而且是非常理想的情况下)。

非常经典且正确的方法,唯一的问题是,你已经错过了现场和当下。当你循着刻度跳下水去找你那把跌落的宝剑时,船早就离开了现场几公里以外。

这群广州的年轻人却采取了截然不同的方法,非常简单且直接。

他们把自己的头剃光了。

潜台词很简单:政府不是要光亮吗?那我们把头剃光,是不是可以帮政府省点电费?

不单如此,他们还把自己剃头前后的照片发上了微博,并在微博上发起了一个活动:征集1 000光头照亮广州。

又是一句潜台词:我们征集到足够多的光头,那广州的夜晚不就足够亮了吗,那就不用再实施什么光亮工程了?看看我们多体贴政府呀……

第 一个剃光头的是位男生,很快他有了一个专属的名字:光头男。他的光头照和倡议一发出,马上引起了轰动,很快就有网友自发加入。不需要专门的组织,网友们就把自己的光头照传到微博上,并抄送给光头男,然后光头男就在那里给光头们编号并转发到征集光头活动的微博上。很快,出现了女光头,光头夫妇,光头 baby……本地媒体也很快跟进,第一张光头照在4月25日流出,第一篇报道就出现在了4月27日的《羊城晚报》上。

不过,如果事情一直这样发展下去就未免太波澜不惊也太没有中国特色了。5月初,出于某种众所周知的原因,光头男的微博不能再发光头照了,不过,人民群众的创 造力是无穷无尽的,就在光头男将要被河蟹的巨爪夹死之际,拇指妹横空出世。没错,这次出场的是位美女,她要竖起她的拇指,鼓励广州市政府有关部门公布光亮工程的预算,她说:我相信你们,我相信你们一定会公开预算的,所以——我要赞你。

知道我为什么要拍一张竖拇指的照片了吧?通常这种场合,我是竖中指的。但不得不承认,竖拇指比竖中指更有可能推动官民的互动:在让自己处在一个更安全的位置的同时,也让媒体可以更安全地报道和传播整个事件。

自 然,有创意的行动未必能实现问题的解决。在我写下这篇文章的六月初,光头男发不出光头照,拇指妹也被各部门当皮球在踢。但不管怎样,他们的行动至少让更多人关注了问题,并且让政府的反应置于媒体和互联网的聚光灯下。而通过他们锲而不舍的行动,越来越多的真相会暴露在我们面前。

从这些年轻人的行动中,我们能学习到什么?

第 一、从身边开始。没有什么比身边的社区、本地的议题和切身的利益更容易让人感同身受。厦门PX,广东番禺垃圾焚烧事件,广州粤语保卫战,这样一些事件为什 么能够取得阶段性的成功?因为它把社区的居民动员起来了,七八十岁的老头老太太就这样静坐在市政府门前,有可能不成功吗?

第二、从表达开始。表达是最安全和最低门槛的行动,你可以像光头男和拇指妹一样用自己的身体表达(但请不要自焚),谁也不能将你怎么样。不必担心表达太轻浮,表达会揭露真相,会引发对话,并最终带来行动。

第三、把行动变成艺术。你不需要会烧陶瓷葵瓜子才能表演行为艺术,只要你有创意,哪怕粗糙点也无所谓。举牌男举的牌子上只是手写的几个字,却表达出了对地铁装修乱花钱的不满,而抗议吃鱼翅的鲨鱼女,她的鲨鱼也画得麻麻地,但这些都无碍于他们表达的力度。

第四、充分利用互联网。正因为有了互联网,有创意的行动才能广泛传播,这许许多多互不相识的光头们、拇指们才能聚集在一起。很难想象,如果没有互联网,光头男、拇指妹所做的事还有没有这么大的影响力。

而另一方面,在为这些行动击节叫好的同时,我们也要看到,有创意的表达仅仅是行动的第一步,它离我们希望达成的改变还有很长的距离。这迫使我们思考:下一步怎么办?

这带来两个问题。第一个问题是:如何持续和更深入地参与?换句话说,如何引发对话和行动,并最终带来改变?这不单需要意识、勇气和创意,也需要更多的知识、 经验和资源。在本土公共行动知识相对缺乏的今天,建立一个团队(哪怕是虚拟的)并实现有效的内部对话和学习便显得尤其重要。

第二个问题是:如何把已有的行动或经验复制到更广泛的区域?文中所举的几个例子,几乎都发生在广州,这些行动经验能不能应用到其他城市或地区?显然,这需要对已有的行动进行知识的整理和传播,也需要在当地找到潜在的行动者。

所以,我们最终要解决的是人的联结和知识的创造:如何将关注共同公共话题的人联结起来,如何通过有效的对话和实践创造本地化的行动知识?面对这两个问题,我们不仅需要行动者去针对议题采取直接行动,也需要设计者去设计基本的联结方法和知识创造工具。

最后一个我认为有趣的问题是:在这场盛宴中,我们亲爱的NGO们能做什么?

这 不是一个让人感到乐观的问题。事实上,城市的公民(也许将来还包括农村的公民)离现场更近,离议题更近,他们比大多数的NGO都更善于利用互联网去联结和 传播。并且,在当前这个领域的知识储备上,没有太多现成可用的知识和案例。说白了,大家都在上幼儿园,谁也不比谁聪明。另一方面,由于众所周知的原因,NGO参与公共行动受到的限制会更多。在一个连游行都只能叫散步的国度,以组织的名义去冲锋陷阵,你伤不起呀伤不起。

但这并不意味着NGO就应置身事外,安心地做一个拾遗补漏的老好人。面对新的空间和新的机会,NGO们该如何定位自己,如何与个人行动者们更好地互动和协作,目前还没有明晰的答案,一切还有赖于我们更积极的尝试。

啰嗦了这么多,我想说的其实只有一句话:不管你是个人还是NGO,在行动中,重要的不是你有多专业,理念有多好,重要的是你要在“此时此地”。

唯有这样,你才不会错过这个波澜起伏的大时代。

[作者系多背一公斤(1KG.org)和爱聚网(iGeey.com)发起人]

The author is the founder of the NGO, One Kilogram More (1KG.org) and iGeey (iGeey.com)

Translated by Philip Rogers

Reviewed by Andrew McDonald

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