CHN Youth

A snaphot view of Crowd DNA's explorations into Chinese subculture and self-expression


Youth culture, subculture, creative culture – regardless of the description, it is now a driving force in China like never before. But what does it mean to be young in a country that is changing so fast? In a place that’s experiencing intense globalization; increased exposure to different cultures while also a fast growing confidence in its own culture? How are they expressing their freedom? What does it look like, sound like, feel like?

Through KIN, our network of creators, makers and influential voices, here we explore these themes across the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. 

KIN Explained

Our KIN network comprises more than 1,000 talented and inspirational creators and influencers, spanning key global cities.

Representation in China is impressive, including artists, visual designers, DJs, musicians, streetwear experts, photographers, documentary makers, music promoters, writers, bloggers, food innovators and tech creators.

How we work with KIN:

– Reporting on culture: contributing to industry and trend reports, events and content, from angles both wide and specific

– Connecting culture: helping clients to understand culture through myriad methods – from workshops to interviews – and also how to leverage it effectively

– Creating culture: partnering members of KIN with clients to create and facilitate cultural content such as brand journalism


We checked in with four of our Chinese KIN collaborators

Trajan, Jia Chuan

Artist and illustrator whose multimedia work records gradually disappearing public and residential spaces and the stories they contain

Nini Sum

Artist and co-founder of Idle Beats, a screen printing studio that has shaped subculture and street art in Shanghai for 10 years

Adrian Lai

Entrepreneur, DJ, founder - a WeChat-based social commerce platform. He works with brands wanting to enter the China market

Reggie Ba-Pe III

Creative director of 88Rising, composer, entrepreneur, cultural creator. Brings music artists to China and has launched several venues instrumental to shaping subculture in Shanghai

Let's start with some scene setting...

Chinese born after 1990 have been referred to as the Strawberry Generation (草莓族) – a reference to the lack of the group’s need to “eat bitterness” (吃苦) or endure the hardships faced by those born during the tumultuous years before the country’s rise prominence.

Looking more specifically at those born post-2000, we can view them as the benefactors of the efforts of previous generations:

– Gen X: led China to its economic breakthrough

– Gen Y: happily embraced consumerism

– Gen Z: defining what it means to be happy; questioning what is around them

Self-actualised, with the luxury of being about to push back and to question, they are challenging social expectations – marriage, success, career, materialism – norms – gender, sexuality – and life’s greater meanings.

They are asking for more…

Images from Crowd DNA photojournalism work in China
Images from Crowd DNA photojournalism work in China

CHN Themes & Perspectives

Informed outlooks on what’s driving China’s creative future…

Defining The New Chinese Dream

“Jack Ma created the reality of the Chinese dream and in doing so forever transformed the world. The entrepreneurial dream is the new Chinese dream and though its about success, it’s not just about financial success.

“Underneath it, we find independence as a core driver for young Chinese today. Redefining what success means lies at the centre of this generation’s motivation. Independence rises above wealth. Autonomy trumps income. Freedom of expression is reshaping traditional values. Above all, the post 1990s generation is driven by the wish to be their own boss.” 

Adrian Lai


“Gen Z has led a life of privilege compared to the previous generations. They’re just riding on the back of decade long accumulated wealth.

“If they were born into a good middle class, urban family, they don’t even have to work. Housing is provided for by parents and costs of living are usually covered by cashing in on a second apartment’s rental income.”

Nini Sum

Hyper Global, Super Local

Gen Z livestreamer

“Gen Z is the most versatile and multi-talented generation to date. They aren’t restricted to the segmented lives of the past, as the internet has broken down many barriers. Their brains are simultaneously wired for hyper global influences and aspirations, and ultra internalised, local lives.

“Career paths once for the few have become mass-accessible in the age of entrepreneurship and identity creation. This generation is about familiarity and frankness.” 

Reggie Ba-Pe III

Freedom Is Relative

This generation are adept at ‘living in the grey’. Yes, there’s restriction – and actually, it’s only increasing; nationalistic teachings in universities; greater censorship; restriction on foreign music artists touring in China; tightening of internet freedoms and a new surveillance state.

But young people are pragmatic.  They see the downsides, but they are also experiencing a growing good life, the tangibles are a decent payoff and proof that communism isn’t all bad

They travel, many get educated overseas, they get access to the things they need and they maximise every experience available to them.

Identities That Resist Definition

Chacha - vocalist, producer, DJ

“Chinese kids are hopeful and confident – there is such a strong creator mindset, showing this strong need to express themselves through music and fashion, and without boundaries.

“It”s something past generations, the old versions of youth, weren’t able to do. Every generation defines its own purpose and vision and this one is all about multi-faceted, fluid identities that point to self-branding.”

Reggie Ba-Pe III

The Influence Of ALL Club

Han Han & Wu Shanmin - music makers, ALL regulars

“You have this entire generation of club culture that formed around the old Shelter club and now it’s growing into new territories and has found a home at ALL (Xiangyang Bei Lu). They have a huge influence, as they spearhead China’s leading tribes and music and fashion subcultures

“These are people taking inspiration from all over the world, but then creating very local expressions of all of that stimulus material.”

Adrian Lai

Mainstream Vs Underground

Mainstream youth culture extends China-wide. It’s The Rap Of China (influential TV show) – western brands, selfie culture and mimicking what they see elsewhere.

But underground youth culture is developed, nurtured and created by everyone from music venues, to WeChat and Taobao sellers and indie designers. It builds a very distinct feel in each of the geographies, commenting on what’s happening locally (gentrification and destruction; censorship and restriction…) and the heritage of the place. In the ongoing battle to be cooler than everything else around them, each creator is hoping to get to something unique.

Visuals For The Moment

Basement 6 - a collective of experimental artists and events organisers

In European or US markets, there’s often 30+ years of associated meaning underpinning different music genres or style tribes.  You look a certain way to belong, and that visual identity is a shortcut to articulating your stance on the world.

But in China it might not go beyond sheer visual identity; a kid could just be experimenting.  They likely don’t know about the associated meaning or history.  They probably just want to be different and tomorrow they might want to be different again.  It’s not a ‘tribe’ – it’s a look for today, a statement of difference.

An Aesthetic Beyond Description

Crowd DNA streetcasting in China

“Fashion, visuals, design and music are all thrown in to the blender and the end product is something unique… you’ll see punk, rave, goth and cosplay influences all in one look.

“A new undefinable aesthetic, one that is impossible at first to describe, eventually catalyses into a culture that is theirs.”

Nini Sum



Creating Scenes From Energy And Passion (Not Know-How)

Die! Chiwawa Die!

“When I first saw Die! Chiwawa Die!, I thought, ‘Oh, these guys are nice. Thank you for hosting a tour for us.’ And then the more I saw them play and the more I listened to them, I realised it was… I don’t know, it was fucked up punk; it’s screaming, weird keyboard sounds on top of whatever kind of hardcore influences that they were taking from.

“I think a band like that in North America would be seen as something like, ‘Oh my god, what are their influences?’. But here in China, they’re like, ‘We just play what we want,’ and I love that about them.”

Struggle Session – Beijing band made up of Westerners

Asian Culture Heads West

Migos - 'Stir Fry'

“Searching for more diverse material, artists all over the world, but especially from the US, are looking to Asia. Migos shot a video in Hong Kong; Nicki Minaj just released a track called ‘Chun Li’; TikTok’s becoming massive in the West, particularly the US.

“The last couple of years have marked the acceptance of Asian culture and its influence on a global audience through politics, creativity and brands. We have China, which is stirring conversations around Asian hip-hop, but we also see K-Pop’s influence on the world and Japan is a massive global cultural reference point when it comes to the arts”

Reggie Ba-Pe III

Growing Confidence - DGAF!

Higher Brothers – 'Made In China'

“Where before there was frustration, now the general sentiment is of hope and confidence. Asian cultures are gaining prominence on the world stage. Especially for Chinese audiences, national pride and global recognition is so important – but they are hyper aware of the cultural divide that underlies this rise to prominence.

“It’s something that perhaps is best encapsulated in Higher Brothers’ track ‘Made In China’ – a deliberate play on Chinese stereotypes, western prejudice and how they just DGAF. This attitude of confidence and ‘doing it local’ is at the very centre of their massive success at home and abroad.”

Reggie Ba-Pe III

This is designed as a snapshot intro to Crowd DNA’s understanding of, and capabilities within, Chinese subculture.

We’d love to discuss these themes of self-expression further. Thanks for reading!