The Rise of the Zine in Asian Youth Counter-Culture

TABITHA THEARD WRITES – The word “zine” may bring to mind Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, where grunge music, punk fashion and all things counterculture were the rage. But the humble print format is enjoying a renaissance, as Asian youth from Hong Kong to London embrace the zine as a means of expression.

Dating back to the early 1920s, zines (short for magazine or fanzine) are self-published pamphlets or magazines filled with art, essays and other creative works by local contributors. After compiling enough material, editors lay out the material and, typically, photocopy and staple the publication together for distribution. In some cases zines have digital counterparts, such as blogs or websites.

Greater access to information thanks to the Internet, combined with normal youth dissatisfaction with the status quo, are helping fuel Asian youth in and outside Asia to publish. In the process, they are giving voice to individuals and ideas sometimes left out of mainstream dialogue in their home countries.

In Hong Kong, Print Studio Ink’chacha has instigated the reintroduction of zines on the former British colony. Ink’chacha is known for its use of a Risograph machine—a printer commonly used by hospitals and schools to produce leaflets.  However, according to Manami Okazaki from Post Magazine, the popular Print Studio believes the first use of the Risograph is to, “provide [a] local service tailored for artists.”

Discussing a wide-range of topics—from colonialism to cat obsessions—artists around Hong Kong are inspired by the “Western Mindset” that Odd One Out owner Phemie Chong Pik-kwan teaches in her art gallery in Wan Chai. The focus on artist representation has allowed for artists to feel empowered by the zines. Odd One Out artist Charlene Man Sin-hang, creator of a zine entitled Villain Hitting, explores Cantonese cultural themes that “remind people in Hong Kong how important these cultures are to [Chinese].”

Other popular Chinese zines include Genda, an independent, bilingual zine published in China that, “[intersects] Western and Eastern culture.” Wanting to not only provide an outlet for emerging artists, Genda emphasizes a focus on experience that includes asking controversial questions that spark much needed dialogue.

As the zine scene thrives in Asia, ypung people around the world have also began to use the zine as a medium of conversation and resistance. In Britain, where about 7% of people are of Asian descent, popular zines such as Daikon Zine have become more influential, especially among immigrant and first-generation youth.

Founded by several women of South and East Asian descent, Daikon seeks to include often marginalized groups in predominantly white societies. Their manifesto states Daikon is “a platform for Asian voices that are so often underrepresented and undervalued in mainstream political discourse.” Their focus is on building solidarity among Asian women by celebrating their diversity through art, creative writing, and other forms of expression.

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