Sang subculture in post-reform China

K. Cohen Tan, Shuxin Cheng

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines Sang (丧) subculture within the context of positive energy (正能量) in post-reform China, and how as an emergent subculture it is characterised by feelings of defeatism and loss. Chinese youths share Sang memes via social media as a form of affective identification to communicate their sense of disenchantment with the ‘main melody’ of official discourse in post-reform China, and in this sense it is similar to other Internet cultures such as e’gao and diaosi. However, unlike subcultures in the West, Sang subculture does not constitute a form of political resistance, but expresses instead an inchoate feeling of loss among Chinese youths. This article asks two research questions: how does Sang subculture parody normative subject positions of youth constructed by official state discourse, and what does it reveal about the subjectivity of its participants? This article employs Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘structures of feeling’ within a semiotic framework to analyse three sets of Sang memes to understand the processes of subjectivity formation and the affective significance to its participants. Through semiotic analysis of Sang memes and semi-structured interviews with 20 participants aged between 18 and 26, we find that Sang subculture is a current of thought-feeling due to a perceived incapacity by Chinese youths to live up to the ideological re-positioning within official consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-99
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Media and China
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Affect
  • Internet memes
  • Sang subculture
  • e’gao
  • positive energy
  • structures of feeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication


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