‘Sang Culture' barometer for mood of young Chinese

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/17 18:58:39

‘Sang Culture’ reveals mood of young Chinese


These Chinese people do the "Ge You Lie." Photo: Li Hao/ GT

 A cup of Sung Tea Photo: Wei Xi/ GT


"'Failure is not scary.' Actually, what's scary is that you think that's true." 

"When you start thinking you are ugly and poor, do not fall into despair… this at least shows that your judgement is right on the nose."

Mottoes full of negative connotations are fast becoming very popular among China's Post-1980 and Post-1990 generations. 

While older Chinese generations may be used to looking for the silver lining in every cloud, an increasing amount of today's young people tend to "enjoy" wallowing in the blues. Many young Chinese refer to this as "Sang Culture" (mourning culture), a type of black humor which revolves around phrases and pictures that convey dark messages.

Inescapable sadness

The beginnings of Sang Culture can be traced back to a picture that started to go viral in mid-2016. The picture is of a screenshot from the well-loved 1993 comedy drama I Love My Family in which veteran actor Ge You, who plays the unsuccessful inventor Ji Chunsheng, can be seen lying against a couch staring off into space. The picture and that particular sitting positioin soon became a meme known as the "Ge You Lie," representing someone who has fallen into apathy.

Around the same time, a new phrase "xiao que sang" (Lit: small certain sadness) came about as a play on words of the phrase "xiao que xing" (Lit: small certain happiness). While the latter is used to encourage people to find happiness in life's small surprises, such as discovering some forgotten money in one's pocket or an unexpected phone call from someone you missed, xiao que sang is meant to remind people of those unavoidable and depressing events, such as the beginning of the work week.

Certain emojis and pictures have also become icons of Sang Culture. Popular figures include Pepe the Frog spin-off Sad Frog, the self-hating BoJack Horseman from the US cartoon of the same name and a fish with two legs.

More enterprising Chinese have even started capitalizing on this Sang Culture.

Early this year, a franchise of tea shops called sangcha (mourning tea), or Sung Tea in English, began opening up in major Chinese cities. The shops are decorated in black and white and each of drink has its own unique and depressing name. For instance, the black tea is called "no accomplishments black tea" and if you want to order milk tea, you must ask for the "I am the fattest milk tea."

The confidence to face the world

"It's a reaction to cut-throat competition for good jobs in an economy that isn't as robust as it was a few years ago and when home-ownership - long seen as a near-requirement for marriage in China - is increasingly unattainable in major cities as apartment prices have soared," Reuters wrote in an early September report attributing the popularity of Sang Culture to the increasingly large divide between young people's dreams and their reality.

While rising rental costs and difficult jobs with low pay may have contributed a rise in negative attitudes, some young Chinese, however, does not think that Sang Culture equals depression.

Twenty-five-year-old Yan Shushu told the Global Times that she is a regular customer at Sung Tea not because she feels down but because she finds the humor on display interesting. 

"We like to call ourselves losers and show the gloomy side of our lives. I think this is just a way to poke fun at ourselves," the young woman who came to Beijing a little over a year ago said.

"I don't think these depressed messages that my friends and I send each other are impacting me. On the contrary, I find it fun."

Admitting that he is under pressure both at home and at work, 29-year-old Tang Zhi said that he thinks young Chinese are more willing to present a negative face to the world because they are actually more confident about their lives and their willingness to work to achieve more.

"Who doesn't have gloomy thoughts? The thing is, the only people willing to express these thoughts are those who are optimistic about life," he said.

In an opinion article published in the Chinese edition of the Global Times, cultural critic Liu Yang wrote that while it is natural for younger people to feel a certain amount of sadness when heading out on their own and dealing with harsh realities, Sang Culture is really just a form of release. 

"This so-called 'Sang Culture' are just jokes of the type that young people make from time to time. It is humor, nothing more," he wrote. 


Newspaper headline: Laughing at depression


blog comments powered by Disqus