Clicking Into the Craze: Exploring the Rise of
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Clicking Into the Craze: Exploring the Rise of "Ethnic

Jul 13, 2023

Patriotic, problematic, or purely photogenic? The trend of ethnic photoshoots has sprouted across Chinese social media platforms.




What looks like a professional photoshoot in a fashion magazine, is actually a local photo service found in one of China’s many popular tourist destinations. Dressing up as various ethnic minorities is not just a souvenir for domestic Chinese travelers; it presents a chance to indulge in a glamorous fantasy.

Exquisitely blushing cheeks, voluminous artificial eyelashes, meticulously styled hairdos, alluring ethnic garments, and enchanting landscapes. These are the captivating elements of the “ethnic-themed photo” (民族风写真) trend that has become increasingly popular on Chinese social media.

The trend is all about Chinese domestic tourists, predominantly young women, who adorn themselves in the traditional attire of China’s ethnic minorities while exploring various regions across the mainland, seeking to capture glamorous moments for their social media posts.

The favored destinations for these photoshoots predominantly encompass regions like Yunnan, Xinjiang, or Tibet— home to various Chinese ethnic communities. For the shoots, they usually wear popular ethnic dresses that are aimed to simulate those worn by people belonging to the Tibetian, Miao, Naxi, or other ethnic groups who each have their own unique cultures and traditional clothing.

Meanwhile, a flourishing industry has emerged to cater to the production of these ethnic photos for tourists. While some visitors simply rent ethnic dresses from shops, many opt for more comprehensive and professional services provided by local photo studios that offer a convenient “one-stop” experience.

Ethnic photos shared by netizens on Xiaohongshu.

Situated in popular tourist destinations, these studios not only provide an extensive selection of ethnic dresses and accessories, but also skilled makeup artists catering to individual preferences, professional photographers capturing moments throughout the daytime excursions, and photo editors perfecting the final photos.

For example, a studio located in Lijiang, Yunnan, promoting its services on the social media app Xiaohongshu, boasts a diverse collection of more than 300 dress choices along with complementary accessories. Their offerings encompass makeup services, ranging from applying false eyelashes and intricate small-scale face painting to skillfully braiding hair.

A studio located in Lijiang advertising on Xiaohongshu. It offers ethnic dresses, makeup, photography, and retouching starting as low as 59 yuan ($8.5).

The studio even promises to deliver the final retouched photos within just 24 hours. Prices for these convenient “one-stop services” differ, starting from less than 100 yuan (approximately US$14) and going up to over 1700 yuan (about US$240). The final cost depends on several factors, including the studio preference, preferred styles, the number of people in the photographs, and the quantity of retouched photos the tourists opt for.

Unique Captures: The Thriving Dress-Up Photography Industry

As the trend of snapping ethnic-inspired photos during trips gains traction in China, the idea of indulging in dress-up photoshoots with stunning makeup and glamorous outfits is not exactly new.

Photography studios specializing in diverse personal portrait services have been a fixture in China for quite a while. These all-inclusive packages usually encompass makeup, hairstyling, outfit selection, backdrop arrangement, skilled photography, and the final retouching.

Some of these studios focus on offering uniquely themed photo shoots, from Tang Dynasty to Disneyland or the magic world of Harry Potter. The customs and backdrops are usually carefully crafted to create extraordinary settings. It is quite common for people to have a series of artistic photos captured for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or weddings (read more about wedding photoshoots in China here).

Haimati (海马体), a trending photography studio, advertising their new styles of Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter photoshoots.

In recent years, this concept of unique photoshoot experiences has been embraced within the realm of travel. What were previously staged backgrounds painted on canvases have evolved into real tourist attractions, and the studio attire has made way for genuine local outfits. Rather than opting for Disney princesses or Hogwarts students’ costumes, Chinese tourists are now embracing a variety of outfits like kimonos, Hanbok, and Chut Thai as they explore destinations like Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in Chut Thai, traditional Thai clothing, when visiting Thailand on Xiaohongshu.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in Hanbok, the traditional clothing of Korea, when visiting Seoul on Xiaohongshu.

Netizens posting photos of themselves in kimonos when visiting Kyoto and Tokyo on Xiaohongshu.

The popularity of these practices has grown so much that many Chinese internet users have shared stories of mistaking young women wearing kimonos for locals and asking them for directions, only to find out they are fellow Chinese tourists. As one internet user commented on a video featuring people in kimonos in Kyoto, “It seems like around 90% of the people wearing kimonos on the streets of Kyoto are Chinese.”

In answer to this tourist trend, Chinese photography studios have started to broaden their horizons and new industries have sprung up in bustling domestic tourist spots in China. These industries offer comprehensive services similar to those provided by traditional studios, but making the people in the photographs look more exotic, elegant, and enchanting.

Following the Stars and Praising the Country: Embracing Ethnic Attire

While the trend of donning ‘exotic’ outfits for sophisticated photoshoots is not new (and not unique to China), the recent growing popularity of local photoshoots themed around Chinese ethnic minority groups is about more than China’s thriving themed-focused photography industry alone – ethnic-themed photos possess a unique appeal for Chinese travelers.

Chinese social media and celebrities have played a significant role in inspiring numerous people to embrace the ethnic clothing trend. Celebrities like Yang Chaoyue (杨超越) and Mao Xiaotong (毛晓彤) frequently appear in online conversations about ethnic-themed photography. Admiring the beauty of these celebrities in ethnic dresses, many bloggers on Xiaohongshu use their photos as references to analyze outfits and photo filters, aiming to recreate similar styles during their own travels. One Xiaohongshu user excitedly shared, “I can’t believe I achieved the same kind of ethnic look as Yang Chaoyue!” alongside a picture of herself dressed similarly to the Miao ethnic group.

Photos of Yang Chaoyue (left, source) and Mao Xiaotong (right, source) in ethnic dresses.

Some individuals take the trend a step further by fully immersing themselves in a fantasy world through dressing up. One Chinese blogger portrays herself as a “playful chieftain’s daughter, beloved by many,” while adorned in ethnic attire. Another, set against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, describes the liberating sensation of embodying a carefree “daughter of the gods” (神明少女) and a radiant Gesang flower (格桑花) — a bloom cherished by the Tibetan people as a sacred symbol of love and good fortune. To them, ethnic clothing offers an escape from the ordinary routines of daily life, allowing them to embrace a desirable alternate reality within their imaginations.

Furthermore, in contrast to foreign attires such as kimonos, ethnic dresses hold a unique allure as they symbolize the ethnic diversity within China, evoking a sense of patriotism among Chinese travelers.

Recently, numerous videos have emerged featuring bloggers proudly donning traditional clothing from the 55 ethnic groups, apart from the Han majority, with the goal of showcasing ‘the charm of Chinese culture.’

A screenshot from a Bilibili video featuring the blogger wearing traditional costumes of various ethnic minority groups. The video proudly presents itself as “Showcasing the beauty and allure of China’s 56 ethnic groups.”

The growing trend of ethnic photos is being embraced as a way to honor China’s abundant cultural legacy and the essence of being Chinese. “Chinese girls indeed look stunning in red,” one netizen expressed in a blog post featuring photos of her donning a vibrant red Monongalia dress, accompanied by a national flag emoji within the sentence.

A screenshot of the netizen’s Xiaohongshu post.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this trend and its patriotic undertones have garnered support from Chinese state media, with the People’s Daily recognizing ethnic minority-themed photoshoots as a contemporary portrayal of Chinese ethnic traditions, highlighting “the distinct aesthetics inherent in Chinese traditional culture.”

Perpetuating Problematic Portrayals of Ethnic Minorities?

While there may be plenty of positive stemming from the revival of public interest in China’s ethnic minority communities through the ethnic photoshoot trend, there are also some less rose-colored consequences to consider.

Firstly, certain popular ethnic photoshoots might inadvertently perpetuate problematic portrayals of ethnic minority cultures. While ethnic photos claim to provide a glimpse into the cultures of ethnic minorities, their primary focus lies in showcasing the beauty of those being photographed for social media purposes, often at the expense of the authenticity of the minority culture they claim to represent.

The ethnic dresses provided by studios for tourists often display mismatches with local traditions. For instance, some tourists dress up as Tibetans in Miao villages, while studios located in Yunnan, home to major ethnic groups like Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Dai, and Miao, allow customers to don Uyghur outfits, even though Uyghurs are primarily found in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Additionally, many so-called ethnic dresses are often modified to serve customers’ demands. This may include incorporating elements like black chiffon skirts into traditional Miao attire or introducing ditsy floral patterns to traditional Tibetan dress.

These disparities highlight that the contemporary trend often diverges significantly from the genuine portrayal of the minorities it purports to represent (sometimes, the costumes really have more to do with imaginary minorities than representing actual traditional attire). Instead, it frequently caters more to tourists seeking a fantastical and fun experience rather than fostering genuine insights into local traditions and realities.

A traditional Miao dress posted by China & Asia Cultural Travel (left) and the “Miao dress” provided by a photography studio (right).

A traditional Tibetan dress posted by Tibet Vista (left) and the “Tibetan dress” provided by a photography studio.

As the ethnic photo industry continues to expand, questions also arise concerning its repercussions on local economies and the communities residing within these popular tourist spots.

Accounts from tourists in Lijiang, Yunnan, paint a vivid picture of a bustling scene, where the entire Lijiang old town is alive with visitors seeking opportunities for ethnic-themed photography. One observant netizen notes, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can find an ethnic photography studio every ten steps in Lijiang.”

Does this intense enthusiasm for ethnic photos actually serve as a catalyst for local economic growth? Or will it inadvertently reduce the rich cultural experience in these tourist destinations into mere picturesque settings for photography? Is there a risk of these places becoming the next Zibo, experiencing a temporary surge in popularity at the expense of the peaceful lives of local communities, only to eventually face a decline in popularity?

Chinese netizens seem less preoccupied with deeper discussions about the impact of ethnic minority representations and their influence on these tourist destinations. Online conversations are largely dominated by tourists showcasing pretty photos of themselves, while studios vigorously promote their services in a fiercely competitive market.

Photo by Life Photo生活视觉女子写真摄影.

Where does the future trajectory of the trend of ethnic photos lead? Will it simply continue to exist as another form of exquisite photo service, providing people with an opportunity to escape from mundane life and experiment with different styles for cherished memories? Or will it evolve into something more significant, igniting broader discussions on cultural representations and the far-reaching influence of tourism?

Images via photo studios promoting their services on Taobao.

While some may find the trend problematic and complex, many see it as merely photogenic and fun. In the end, regardless of where the ethnic photo hype ultimately will lead, it crystallizes a moment where the interplay of China’s social media’s lens, the surge in domestic tourism, and the intrigue surrounding ethnic minorities seamlessly intersect. Whether it’s a mere snapshot in time or a lasting chapter, this phenomenon captures a blend of cultural curiosity, social media dynamics, and new Chinese traditions in the digital era.

By Zilan QianFollow @whatsonweibo

Featured image is part of a ethnic photoshoot in Lhasa in 2021, copyright by What’s on Weibo.

This article has been edited for clarity and commissioned by Manya Koetse.


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Zilan Qian is a China-born undergraduate student at Barnard College majoring in Anthropology. She is interested in exploring different cultural phenomena, loves people-watching, and likes loitering in supermarkets and museums.

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A casual remark made by Chinese actress Zhang Yuqi regarding the price of socks has ignited discussions surrounding the stark disparity between the perspectives of celebrities and the financial realities experienced by ordinary individuals.




Amidst rising joblessness, surging prices, and economic challenges in China, it is not easy to get by for many people. So when Chinese actress Zhang Yuqi (张雨绮) recently suggested that 699 yuan (about US$100) would not be enough money to buy a pair of socks, her comment sparked discussions about celebrities flaunting their wealth and income inequality.

The incident took place during a live broadcast where Zhang Yuqi was participating in product sales alongside guest speaker Hao Shaowen (郝劭文). The focus of the broadcast was a luxury cashmere blanket priced at 1,699 yuan ($238). In the course of the session, Hao proposed reducing the price to 699 yuan ($100). In response, Zhang Yuqi made the remark, “699 yuan? I don’t even think I can buy a pair of socks with that amount.”

Screenshot of the live stream session when Zhang said “699 yuan? I don’t even think I can buy a pair of socks with that amount” (source).

Hao continued to emphasize that 699 yuan was already an excellent offer, highlighting the high cost of wool. Zhang echoed his sentiment, emphasizing the exorbitant price of wool. Eventually, the price of the blanket was further discounted to 369 yuan ($51) for a 1.5-meter size cashmere blanket.

Zhang Yuqi’s statement about 699 yuan not being sufficient to buy a pair of socks quickly grabbed attention online, leading to intense debates.

A screenshot of Zhang’s Weibo post on June 11th. Zhang apologized and explained that her intention was misunderstood due to her failure to effectively communicate her point.

On June 11th, Zhang issued an apology for her remark, explaining that her intention was to highlight the high cost of wool and that certain wool socks cannot be obtained for 699 yuan (#张雨绮致歉#). However, despite her apology, the discussions surrounding the incident did not subside.

“Zhang Yuqi doesn’t need to apologize. 699 yuan [$100] is truly not enough for celebrities to buy a pair of socks”

What was Zhang’s intention behind the controversial statement? Some individuals view Zhang’s comment as a calculated move designed to showcase her wealth.

Associate Professor Liu Chunshen from the Central University of Finance and Economics suggested that such a remark could be a tactic employed by celebrities to display their extravagant lifestyles and attract attention, which could potentially translate into financial gains (#学者称明星不该边赚钱边说风凉话#).

On the other hand, some argue that Zhang’s statement simply reflects the inherent luxury associated with the everyday lives of celebrities. One Weibo user shared a series of photos showcasing the prices of handbags, watches, and hats worn by various celebrities as part of their personal outfits.

The examples included jeans worn by Chinese actress Angelababy priced at 48,500 yuan ($6,805) and Chinese singer Roy Wang’s watch priced at a staggering 16.8 million yuan ($2,357,230).

One of the photos included in the Weibo post. The photo shows Angelababy’s personal outfit she wore at the airport on June 2nd, 2023, which includes a Hermès Faubourg Birkin handbag of around 2 million yuan (about $280,000), a Celine cap of 3700 yuan ($520), and a pair of Louis Vuitton shoes of 10000 yuan ($1400).

In the accompanying post, the Weibo user wrote, “Zhang Yuqi doesn’t need to apologize. 699 yuan is truly not enough for celebrities to buy a pair of socks,” implying that the seemingly exorbitant price of the socks is just a regular expense for these celebrities when compared to the extravagant items they commonly wear in their daily lives.

“Celebrities have attained an income level that is unimaginable for ordinary individuals in China”

Amidst the varying interpretations of Zhang’s statement, there is widespread agreement among netizens that the significant income gap is the primary driving force behind the online discussions.

Professor Liu, in his analysis of the incident, also asserts that income inequality is the core reason why netizens find Zhang’s statement unacceptable. Likewise, Weibo users who believe that Zhang had no intention to flaunt her wealth also acknowledge that celebrities have attained an income level that is unimaginable for ordinary individuals in China.

The potential earnings of celebrities have been a topic of discussion, with a prevailing consensus suggesting that they can earn approximately 2.08 million yuan (about $291,000) per day. This estimation originated from actress Zheng Shuang’s alleged earnings of 160 million yuan ($22.35 million) for the film A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂), averaging around 2.08 million yuan per day over a span of 77 days.

While Zheng’s case may be regarded as somewhat exceptional, it is widely known that celebrities earn substantial incomes. Reports of various celebrities earning 100 million yuan ($14 million) in six years, 8 million yuan ($1.1 million) in four days, or 1.8 million yuan ($252,000) per episode have been extensively circulated in recent years.

In stark contrast, the disposable income of residents nationwide was 36,882 yuan (about $5,100) in 2022, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China.

“Chinese actor Wang Chuanjun shared he only had 1 million yuan ($140,000) left in his bank account, which caused him great distress.”

This is not the first time celebrities’ statements on prices trigger controversies, indicating a sense of disconnect from the reality of everyday expenses.

In 2021, Su Mang, the former CEO of a fashion group and former editor-in-chief of Harper’s BAZAAR China, also attracted attention with her remarks on prices. During the variety show “50km Taohuawu (三十里桃花坞),” when actress Song Dandan suggested a daily food expense of 650 yuan ($91) per person, Su immediately exclaimed, “650 yuan is truly not enough. Don’t you have milk and eggs in the morning? We should have better meals! I can’t settle for such low-quality food.”

In response to this incident, some commenters mentioned that 650 yuan could cover their food expenses for an entire month.

Photo of Su Mang claiming that 650 is not enough and questioning whether people have eggs and milk for breakfast in the variety show (via Sohu).

Not only do some Chinese celebrities seem to live in another world where everything costs more, but they also live in a place where “poverty” is differently defined.

Actor Wang Chuanjun (王传君) once shared in an interview that during his most financially challenging period, he just had 1 million yuan (about $140,000) left in his bank account, which caused him great distress.

Similarly, singer Eason Chan expressed unease during the Covid-19 pandemic when he had “only” 30 million in his bank account. (While the original report did not specify the currency, we assume it to be in HK dollars, which would be approximately $3.83 million.)

(Photo of the interview when Wang Chuanjun expressed his anxiety when finding out that he “only” had 1 million yuan left (via Baijiahao)

“It’s too divided,” one Weibo user wrote:

“On one side, there are individuals who earn 2.08 million yuan per day, lacking education and expertise, yet dominating a significant portion of public opinion with their extravagant life of luxury. On the other side, there is the marginalized lower class (probably including most of you and me) who are squeezed to the point of being voiceless, pushed to the brink of collapse and even driven to end their lives due to the pressure of just tens of thousands of yuan.”

In the thread below this post, one commenter provided an example to support the argument of individuals being driven to the point of ending their lives. They recounted a case that was recently disclosed by the court, involving a lonely elderly person who attempted suicide by consuming pesticides after being robbed of 45,000 yuan ($6,287).

One Weibo user provided a perspective from common individuals with a relatively average salary:

“Considering a monthly income of 5,000 yuan (about $700) and no expenses, it would be possible to accumulate 60,000 yuan ($8,383) in a year. Hypothetically, if someone were to retire at the age of 60 without any expenses, they could potentially have 3.6 million yuan (about $503,000) saved up.”

However, this already impractical scenario seems far from reality for many people across China, particularly those residing in smaller cities, who struggle to reach an annual salary of 60,000 yuan.

“I no longer know how to place trust in the notion that hard work guarantees success”

This striking disparity between the lifetime earnings of average salary earners and the daily earnings of celebrities evokes a sense of both indignation and helplessness. “Isn’t it absurd when some people discuss earning 2.08 million yuan per day? I also find it quite amusing. It’s genuinely pitiful and disheartening,” expressed the user in response to the calculations.

By this point, Zhang’s livestream comment about the ‘699 yuan socks’ has transcended a mere debate about whether she was flaunting her wealth or not. When coupled with other instances where celebrities divulge their astounding earnings and extravagant lifestyles, this incident has become catalyst for individuals to question the ideals of equality and meritocracy in society.

“I no longer know how to place trust in the notion that hard work guarantees success,” wrote one Weibo user.

In these online discussions about privilege and disillusionment with meritocracy, Xiangzi’s name frequently comes up. Xiangzi is a character in Lao She’s book “Rickshaw Boy.” He is a poor rickshaw puller who dreams of escaping the lower class and achieving wealth through hard work. Despite his persistent efforts, he faces continuous failures. In the end, he gives up on working hard and becomes a lazy good-for-nothing.

The book ‘Rickshaw Boy’ (骆驼祥子) by author Lao She.

“Is this still the era where hard work can change the future?” one commenter wonders.

It is clear that the extreme contrast between celebrity earnings and the average disposable income of ordinary people is a topic that many people care about. By now, the hashtag ‘Zhang Yuqi Says She Can’t Buy Socks for 669 Yuan’ (#张雨绮说699我都买不了袜子#) has garnered over 860 million views on Weibo while Zhang Yuqi’s apology received over 410 million clicks, and the influx of comments discussing wealth inequality in China shows no signs of stopping.

“Today I saw workers sleeping in the shade next to a supermarket in the scorching heat. Their faces looked thin, their clothes looked dirty,” one commenter wrote: “How ironic is it that they work so hard and may not even earn 699 yuan in a day? It makes you wonder, with such circumstances, how can societal hostility not increase? It’s a sick society.”

Also read: Online Discussions over Income: “When My Dad Was Young, His Monthly Salary Was 2000 Yuan (And I Still Earn the Same) [link here]

By Zilan Qian

Follow @whatsonweibo


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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at [email protected].

After showing up as brides at Roy Wang’s concert, some female fans attempted to return their gowns within the store’s 7-day ‘No Questions Asked Return Policy’.




A recent concert by Chinese celebrity Roy Wang (Wang Yuan 王源) has become a hot topic on Chinese social media as female fans attending the show collectively decided to wear wedding dresses to express their love for the singer.

Born in 2000, Roy Wang is best known as a member of the hugely popular TFboys idol group that debuted in 2013, but his solo career has also been thriving for years. Wang is an award-winning musician, who is now among China’s most influential young celebrities. On Weibo, he has nearly 85 million followers.

The sight of so many fans coming to Wang’s Chongqing concert wearing wedding dresses was already remarkable, but it garnered even greater attention when it turned out that some of the women’s boyfriends were so upset over their girlfriends wearing a wedding dress for another man that they ended the relationship because of it.

On Douyin (China’s TikTok), the related discussion made it to the top 5 trending daily topics list.

Female fans partying in their wedding dress. Photo posted on Weibo.

The story gained further traction when reports emerged that some female fans who had recently purchased wedding dresses for the concert attempted to return them to the store the next day, taking advantage of the store’s policy that allows returns within seven days without requiring a specific reason (7天无理由退货).

“I already wondered why business was suddenly booming,” one Chongqing wedding gown seller wrote on social media, complaining how the return policy was being abused by some of Roy Wang’s fans.

Others saw the fact that they wore the wedding dress to the concert as a unique selling point, and tried to resell their gowns online for more than the original price, claiming that the dress still had “a hint of the concert’s aroma.”

Scene of the concert.

Commenters bombarded these women with negative comments, as the topic also drew wider discussions on how far some fans are willing to go to show their love for their idols.

Some social media users expressed that a wedding dress has a symbolical or even sacred function, and that tying the concept of fandom to matrimony is inappropriate. They condemned the women for showing up to the concert as brides.

Given that many of the commenters criticizing the women were male, there were also feminist voices that condemned these men for their pettiness and chauvinistic attitudes. One comment stood out: “There will always be men whose ego is bruised when women they don’t even know won’t wear a wedding dress and save their chastity for them. Thanks to Roy Wang’s concert, I once again realize the diversity of species.”

In an online poll asking people “Can women only wear a wedding dress once in their lives” (#女生一生只能穿一次婚纱吗#) the majority of people replied that they should just wear whatever they like.

“My first thought is that this is romantic,” one popular entertainment blogging account (@娱大蜀黍) wrote: “My second thought is that it’s actually quite moving. In the midst of their youth, they are writing a passionate chapter for themselves. They will treasure it as a beautiful memory later on in life. They do what they love and they’re not bothering anyone. It’s perfectly fine.”

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

Follow @whatsonweibo


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Unique Captures: The Thriving Dress-Up Photography IndustryFollowing the Stars and Praising the Country: Embracing Ethnic AttirePerpetuating Problematic Portrayals of Ethnic Minorities?By Zilan QianAlso readBy Zilan QianBy Manya Koetse & Miranda BarnesStay updated on what’s trending in China & get the story behind the hashtag