The Shamate: China’s Misunderstood Sub-Culture

The Shamate: China’s Misunderstood Sub-Culture
Jan 29, 2014 By Trey Archer ,

Maybe you’ve seen them? Maybe you haven’t? But if you did, you’d most certainly know that something was different, very VERY different. The shamate are growing in popularity, and they’re building quite a name (and reputation) for themselves, both because of their look and their distaste for society’s current status quo. If you didn’t know about them before, you should, so without further ado, please allow us to introduce to you the shamate: China’s misunderstood sub-culture

 The shamate: China’s misunderstood sub-culture
The shamate: a group who can’t and don’t want to associate with the mainstream

Who are they?

The ‘Shamate’ are a sub culture within China’s youth and are most recognizable by their hair – think spiky blow outs with buckets of wax and hair dye thrown on top. They are often migrants from China’s countryside who end up in cities, but remain alienated from the great urbanization push, or as an article by Kevin Tang for Buzzfeed put it: they are mostly “dropouts from schools in the countryside, moving away from their families to work low-skill jobs at big city factories, street-side vendors and hair salons. They take elaborate selfies of their vampire makeup, live in cramped basements, speak in farmland accents, and listen to bad dance music.” As opposed to people who have found their niche in contemporary Chinese culture, the ‘Shamate’ are a group who just can’t and don’t want to associate with the mainstream.

When did this social trend begin?

It seems that the ‘shamate’ first appeared on the mainland in the 1990s. The word shamate is a transliteration of the English word “smart,” but has nothing to do with academic achievement. In fact, the shamate are seen as a rebellion against the status quo and the intelligent, well-off individuals of contemporary society. 

Just like any new trend, the shamate roots were planted elsewhere. In an article for China Daily, Tony Lam, links shamate to Hong Kong’s MK style (i.e. Mong Kok Style), which in turn was derived from Japan’s notorious anti salary-man youth counter culture that really began to take off in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The young residents of Mong Kok created their own alternative counter culture that mixed outlandish hairstyles, loud colors, spiky hair and, of course, lots of harsh cigarettes. And many see shamate as the poorer, semi-urbanized, and uncultured version of that style.

How do they set themselves apart?

Similar to their MK Style brethren and Japanese sub cultures like the Saburuko girls, they wear and dress in a way that screams, “I’m not you.” However, due to their relatively low incomes, their style comes off as a bit tackier than their predecessors in Hong Kong and Japan. I would argue that shamate style is a cross between Goth, punk, emo and MK Style. Dyed hair, chains, thick leather boots, piercings, tattoos, heavy makeup (for males and females) and various accessories are just a few of the common styles seen with the shamate movement: though it definitely lacks any cohesion or any sense of style that is associated with other counter cultures.

It must be noted, though, that just because the shamate style is associated with this particular brand of fashion, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the typical shamate dressed like this every day. Some of the shamate go to work during the day, and at night or in limited free time, dress up in shamate flare.

Why do the shamate separate from society?

Kevin Tang argues that the shamate’s uniqueness is a backlash against China’s Chuppie (Chinese yuppies), the strawberry generation (who are known to be pretty on the outside and soft in the inside) and the notorious fuerdai (the uber-materialistic “second rich” generation who obnoxiously spend daddy’s money like there ain’t no tomorrow). These sub categories that have benefited from China’s booming economy have money, consumer goods, an education, a worldly view and all the pleasures that come with having a fortunate life. Since the shamate don’t have these privileges, they do the opposite and separate themselves from that culture. In essence, it’s a backlash against society, and they identify with other who are in their same position and unite so they can be “part of a group.”

Where are the shamate?

I’ve only seen one shamate after having lived in China for years now, so yes, they are hard to stumble upon. Though they come from rural areas and migrated to China’s big cities, they maintain a low profile and try to avoid the society that they loathe. Many prefer to connect with each other online. There are QQ chat rooms that organize “shamate families,” and there’s a hierarchy within those families with individuals holding certain positions from “tech-assistant” to “president.” Based off their position within their certain shamate family unit, they are also granted noms de guerre such as Evil Cat Y, Leftover Tears and Ghost Monster. There are even ‘celebrities’ within the sub-culture, one vampire, who strangely resembles Marilyn Manson, has become a shamate “idol.”

So, the best place to find the shamate is online rather than in the streets since they like to keep a low profile, but after years of cyber bullying, they now do extensive background checks on any prospective new shamate family members to ensure they aren’t bullies in disguise. Furthermore, to keep their identity while simultaneously staying under the radar, shamates have set up exclusive dating sites for members. It’s said that most shamate are females, and in these dating sites, they seek shamales. Interested fellas?


As you can see, any avant-garde style such as the shamate causes a lot of controversy, especially in a place like China that has conformist tendencies. For this reason, it should be no surprise that they have been labelled “China’s most hated subculture” by Buzzfeed, and the reason why they get bullied so much. In the West, there still is bullying and discrimination against certain groups of people, but it seems that extreme fashions like shamate are becoming more acceptable every day, especially in larger cities. In New York or LA, for example, you’re bound to see a shamate-like character every day!

Perhaps as China grows, opens and internationalizes, people like the shamate will become more accepted, almost how they have been in Japan. Or perhaps the discriminatory stereotype will stick, causing the shamate to either sink deeper into exclusion and disappear or, perhaps even more disturbing, turn violent, as some outcasts in American society have done. Only time will tell, and so will the legacy of China’s newest and perhaps least understood sub culture—the shamate.

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Keywords: China’s shamate; shamate; contemporary Chinese culture; counter-culture; sub-cultures; MK style; Mong Kok style The Shamate of China


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It looks like a bunch of life size Raggedy Ann dolls were defaced with graffiti. Ah well if they enjoy it more power to them.

Feb 04, 2014 13:47 Report Abuse



millions of people around you and feel like it's all the same so you look for some way to identify and distinguish yourself.

Jan 30, 2014 15:37 Report Abuse



I guess the big problem for these people is just that the lifestyle floor here is so low that someone who isn't competitive can't possibly carry themselves with any confidence. You can't sell yourself as like a romantic rebel-type when it's painfully clear that you earn $200 per month and live with 8 other guys in a dirty one-room apartment. I mean shit that really sucks and that's a big part of the reason why I think everyone just buys into the pursuit of money above all else. The alternative just isn't good enough to be viable for most. Once the salaries at the low end get up into a somewhat acceptable range people will be more accepting of counter-culture here.

Jan 30, 2014 00:49 Report Abuse



The only difference between the picture in this article and EVERY SINGLE Barber shop in China is maybe the permanent marker tattoos. Bad hairstyles from the American 80's and British 70's are common here in China. In school, I remember studying that a good measure of a society's culture was the presence of robust sub- and counter-cultures. I was wondering what was considered Chinese counter-culture, since there doesn't seem to be much variety in style here. I do occasionally see the Cosplay style girls around my area of town. They're easy to spot based on the fact that they are usually dressed in white from head to toe, sporting a white wig, and standing in stark contrast from the usual blacks and grays of winter attire. It's nice to hear that China is finally breaking free from conformity. The severe lack of museums and varieties of the arts has been a tell-tale sign that China severely lacks in culture, despite the fact that so many Chinese try to emphasize that China has thousands of years of culture. Pfff! All one has to do is watch Chinese television to realize that Chinese culture is nothing but a bunch of spin-offs of "American Idol", Chinese Gouache paintings and "easy listening" music. Perhaps maybe this "shamate" sub-culture will finally introduce something new. I don't know, those hairstyles are just laughable though. They look like damn clowns! Circus freaks would be a more appropriate name. I guess it's not that far off from some of the styles found back in the US. I wonder what the South Park boys would have to say about it.

Jan 29, 2014 13:53 Report Abuse



Even their "counterculture" is a rip-off. There's not much creativity in slathering dye and gel in your hair, wearing too much make up, and proclaiming, "I look different from most of the people around me! Give me attention!" The Chinese are perfectly capable of creativity and culture, but the government (and by extension, the schools) work to suppress it.

Jan 31, 2014 01:33 Report Abuse