A steganographic fashion zine in China called “Thunderclap” has used clothing to politically instrumentalize the writings of He-Yin Zhen (1886-1920?), whose groundbreaking theoretical texts on Chinese feminism were translated into English for the first time in the 2013 Weatherhead Book on Asia The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory, co-edited by Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, and Dorothy Ko and published by Columbia University Press.
Because He-Yin Zhen’s feminist writings had been considered subversive, they had largely been erased from Chinese history. In order to reinsert He-Yin’s feminist theories into China’s historical record and contemporary public sphere, “Thunderclap,” created by the artist Amy Suo Wu, has utilized steganography–a kind of secret writing–to make He-Yin’s work publicly visible by printing quotes from her texts on patches and ribbons on clothing. Since clothing is usually understood to be politically benign, these fashions have allowed He-Yin’s feminist theories to be publicly circulated under the radar of authorities and censors. The clothing also features a QR code that allows people to download He-Yin’s original Chinese essays.
“Thunderclap” is part of Amy Suo Wu’s larger project “The New Nüshu,” which investigates Chinese feminism, language politics, steganography and publishing in the context of China.
Please click here to learn more about the project.
Please click here for a Q&A with the artist that discusses her discovery of the Weatherhead Book on Asia The Birth of Chinese Feminism.
Photos by Jeff Yiu