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Meet Shamate, China's Most Hated Subculture

China's young rural poor favor shamate fashion, a gawky blend of goth, glam and anime. Their urban peers can't stop ridiculing them.

Posted on December 18, 2013, at 1:04 p.m. ET

Oppa Shamate style.

A Shamate "family portrait."

Examples of Shamate make-up.

Shamate is a Chinese transliteration of the word 'smart'. Online, it's also the name of a vibrant QQ video chatroom subculture of blue-collared kids who dress in exaggerated goth, glam, anime, and visual kei fashion. To each other, they're family. To the rest of China, they're failed arrivistes in the wealthier cities.

Chinese and English media profiles paint them mostly as 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 makeups, live in cramped basements, speak in farmland accents, and listen to bad dance music. Like Juggalos, they meet their 'family' online. Like Juggalos, everyone else is simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by them.

Shamate is almost always considered the opposite of a xiaoqingxing — a well-travelled, educated, privileged youth of fine tastes.

The difference between China's shamate and xiaoqingxing "will never be bridged, no matter how many of their kidneys they sell," says an article in the South Reviews.

The article's not unsympathetic to the shamate's urban alienation. Most other online commenters, however, are not so kind.

Dock punk.

A dating sim game called "Noble Shamate Academy: The Romance Of Shamate," which you can play here.

One glance at Chinese social networks makes it clear how alien they seem to their more well-heeled peers. Video parodies of their blue-collar glamor are very popular. On Weibo, "idiot shamate" is a catch-all insult for anything gaudy and outre, and on Sina, there's a slideshow of Totally Gross Photos Of Your Favorite Celebs As Shamate.

But there are also some efforts to understand. In 2012, a blogger called BlueWindmill claimed to have spent a summer 'risking his life to go undercover' in the community. His humorous diary of the encounter was read by over 2 million people. The shamate kids apparently did not mind his descriptions of them, either.

From BlueWindmill's 'White Collar Among Shamate' diaries:

A comment left on BlueWindmill's post:

He also penned a follow-up post called "Shamate: China's Only True Nobility" to thank the community for their kindness and support.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.