Shanghai A-Fei: Fashionable Rebels and Discourse Showdown in Socialist China

Mandarin presentation

After 1949, in differentiating the ‘enemy’ from ‘us’, the CCP materialized cultural forms that did not conform to the characteristics of new society. A-Fei, named after Pidgin English, are commonly viewed as hooligans. However, they were not originally hooligans, and the discourse differences surrounding them reveal a complex history. While political campaigns did affect the criminality and punishment of A-fei, the grassroots society of Shanghai revealed a more complicated image of this category. That A-fei had emerged from among the ranks of young workers led it to oscillate between ‘victim’ and ‘victimizer’. Occasionally conflicting, various interpretations, including fashionable youth, hooligans, and bad elements, endlessly enriched the textual corpus that is A-fei, and once-lost categorizations and convictions reappeared under particular historical conditions. The rolling logic of such discourse guided grassroots practices, and it was thus that the connotatively vague A-fei gradually made its way into the shouts and murmurs of the masses.

Professor Yajuan Liu is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Director of the Shanghai History Research Centre at the East China Normal University. She is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford China Centre.

Mandarin presentation; English PPT; bilingual Q&A