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When I arrived in China, I expected to meet people sporting red armbands and green hats, like icons from a 1950s propaganda poster. So when I began seeing young people in Beijing that broke this mold – Mohawk-sporting musicians, tattooed skateboarders, extreme-sport enthusiasts – it seemed more significant than what this same behavior might mean back home. Thus the question: In a country that has put so much stock in conformity, do new forms of self-expression represent small but meaningful forms of rebellion?
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At the top of a five-story Adidas store in Beijing, a gaggle of perfectly styled teenagers and twenty-somethings crowded the escalator landing. Gathered for the opening of an art exhibition, the participants were members of Make Cute Club, or MCC, an online fashion forum catering to China’s style-obsessed Netizens, who were meeting in person for the very first time. Decked out with piercings, fake eyelashes and trucker hats, the MCC-ers hugged and mugged, snapping pictures with their cell phones and chattering in the silence of the otherwise empty store. Welcome to the microcosm of self-expression among China’s youth today. . . .