Yesterday, Chinese flashmobbers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen gathered themselves outside bookstores throughout the four cities and, en masse, began reading. Flashmobs are still somewhat of a novelty in China, but the most recent literary-happening suggests that Chinese flashmobbing is well on its way – but of course with a Chinese twist. The flashmobs we’ve witnessed here in the US are generally put on for fun, or a laugh, or often to get a rise out of bystanders taken off guard (the no-pants subway riding event springs to mind). Chinese flashmobbers, on the other hand, have taken the “art form” and given it a more concrete purpose – to advocate literacy and education.  As Charles Firth observes in his Punk Planning blog, “This is quintessential Chinese in so much as it takes a marginally subversive activity that could potentially be used for ‘Mob Sourcing’ … and is turned into something constructive with a point, while of course having fun and not unsettling the authorities.” We wonder if the authorities and state-run press would have been so friendly towards a less “constructive” happening – say, a massive freeze in the busiest terminal of the Shanghai subway system, a la ImprovEverywhere’s Grand Central flashmob… will flashmobbers in China be willing to find out?

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