The Chengdu BFCD Punk Fest’s Poster Controversy
Once in a while, a controversy emerges on Weibo, sometimes manufactured by the Youth League – as in 2018 with the PG One scandal that led to the short-lived “hip-hop ban” – sometimes in a more organic manner, when Chinese netizens express their opinions concerning a shocking piece of news. In the past few days, a controversy stirred the Chinese internet, after the poster of the Chengdu Punk Fest (成都朋克音乐祭) was shared by the Chengdu Midi Center (成都迷笛中心) Weibo account on June 22 – the Sichuan antenna of the famous Midi School of Music. The Chengdu Punk Fest, also known as BFCD (Big Fight Chengdu), is an annual punk fest organized in Sichuan capital, Chengdu, for several years. This year, the BFCD is supposed to take place on 6 and 7 August, in a space provided by the Chengdu Midi Center – who sponsors the event. The poster in question shows a hyper-sexualized cartoon girl, with a microphone tucked between her oversized breasts and an unknown white liquid on her face. Yang Zixu from Rock’n’Roll Heaven 搖滾天堂 highlights that the punk festival is, in Chinese, named “朋克音乐祭” instead of “音乐节” – why the organizers used the character 祭 instead of 节? It is not something common in China, but comes from the Japanese, which literally means “sacrifice” and is used in Japanese to say “music festival”, originating from Japanese temple fairs. For Yang Zixu, its shows the influence of the ACG (Animation, Comics and Games – 二次元文化) subculture very popular in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan – Japanese inspired anime games, focusing on heterosexual dating and sexual encounters similar to bishōjo games.
In light of the reaction of Weibo users, the Chengdu Midi Center decided to take down, the same day, its post on the punk fest and the poster altogether. They released an apology on their Weibo account, regretting the upload of the poster, saying that they should enforce “positive energy”, and declaring that they will suspend the employees of the media department of Chengdu Midi Center who announced the event.
The same night, the Chinese newspaper The Paper wrote an article on the vulgarity of the poster, quoting netizens comments on the Midi’s Weibo page: “does the punks really have to be vulgar / in connection with pornography?”. According to The Paper interview, the controversial poster was designed by the event organizer, but the Chengdu Midi Center asked them to modify it, and they sent the original version by mistake. The Paper’s article helped the controversy take form, Chinese news agency wrote articles about the poster, including in English by our friends at the Global Times.
People on Weibo called on the Midi Chengdu Center to reveal the name of the graphic designer and to punish him. Others also sent the poster to the Chengdu police. Many comments talk about the “vulgarity” (低俗) of the posters – this term is not neutral, it is linked to the Chinese authorities efforts to eradicate “vulgarity” on the internet since 2008 (and if you’re a SMZB fan, you must know that one of Wu Wei latest song, “Lover’s Prattle for Donghu” is a call to engage in the “three vulgarities” 三俗). But what’s more interesting is that the poster sparked a debate on the representation of women and vulgarity in punk and rock posters. Netizens asked why rock circles needed to show over-sexualized female bodies on their posters, saying that this drawing stigmatized women. A much needed discussion in the Chinese punk-rock scene, which too often sexualize the female body for the pleasure of the male gaze – as in this 2015 very explicit poster, which did not spark any controversy at the time.
Why did this poster spark such a controversy, while punk posters are usually ignored by mainstream media? While the BFCD has only 500 followers, the Chengdu Midi Center has close to 8000 followers on Weibo, while the Midi itself has more than 820 000 followers. Posting a sexist poster on a Weibo account affiliated to the famous Midi School of Music will most certainly stir up a debate, since rock and roll has been on the rise with the success of iQiyi reality TV show “The Big Band” (乐队的夏天). A side effect is that punk is also more visible – for Yang Zixu this visibilization of punk-rock also means more people will try to enter this relatively closed subculture, and bring with them their own values and references, as ACG fans for instance, which will lead to controversies like this one. The BFCD has not responded to the comments on its Weibo, and weirdly enough, they have never shared the sexist poster on their social media. However, the poster designer responded to criticism on Weibo, saying “it is the punk attitude, we have no culture”, something which was subsequently criticized by punk enthusiasts as Yang Zixu, saying the designer did not understand the “true” meaning of punk.
Let’s hope this controversy will spark a debate in the Chinese punk scene (and everywhere else) about the representation and the inclusion of women. Of course, since its emergence in the West, one of punk’s favorite tactic is to shock and to be vulgar, to create moral panic in order to disturb the statu quo. But is the sexualization of the female body the best way to speaking truth to power? I think Yang Zixu is again right when he says that “this poster obviously misinterpreted the meaning of punk. Punk can be low-level, direct, defiant, anti-commercial, and anti-hypocritical. The pornographic meaning conveyed by this poster is not part of the punk spirit”. Another major problem conveyed by this poster is that “gives the impression that girls who go to punk shows are easy and licentious”, it puts women in danger when going to punk and rock performances. I will finish this by sharing last year’s BFCD poster, way better that this year’s controversial visual (and not sponsored by the Midi Center):