Fashioning China: Precarious Creativity of Women Designers in Shanzhai Culture

by Sara Liao

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This study examines a copycat culture called Shanzhai, particularly looking into fashion imitations made and circulated by a group of women designers through digital media. It investigates the cultural transformation of labor taking place in China through the critical lens of precarious creativity. Women designers perform digital labor to de-fetishize the labor process of global fashion brands, which mythicizes class and commodity. These women’s fashion work lacks official recognition as meaningful labor, while their ability to make a case for the legitimacy of their work is further diminished when the state co-opts Shanzhai for its nation-building narratives. These women’s experiences of precarity and their very act of copying reveal the simultaneous possibility and impossibility of the Chinese Dream.


About the author:

Sara Liao is a media scholar whose research interests lie in the intersection of digital media, gender and labor studies, globalization, and popular cultures, with a specific focus on Asian societies. She will join the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in fall 2017.

Revised version published as “Fashioning China: Precarious Creativity of Women Designers in Shanzhai Culture,” Communication, Culture, & Critique. Advance online publication. View here.

Project & Publications Type: Rapoport Center Working Paper Series