What is visual Vaporwave? Vaporwave arts and their history and position in China


Social critique
1980s/1990s Japan
Japanese animation
Chinese cultural context
TikTok (‘Dou yin’)

How to Cite

Zhang, X. “What Is Visual Vaporwave? Vaporwave Arts and Their History and Position in China”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 10, Dec. 2021, pp. 295-26, doi:10.32926/2021.10.zha.vapor.


By Vaporwave we refer to a digital-born electronic music genre and a trend in visual aesthetics. It emerged in some US-based online communities in the early 2010s, and now its visual expressions are in vogue in Chinese visual media context. In this article, Vaporwave’s aesthetics are discussed through three stages of analysis. In the first part, the paper outlines relevant theories and general features of Vaporwave’s (both visual and musical) aesthetics; next, the paper focuses on Vaporwave's visual characteristics, and, to provide a deeper understanding of its visual aesthetics, I discuss a school of painting derived from early twentieth-century Italy—Metaphysical art. In the second part, the article discusses why and how vaporwave aesthetics are inseparable from some Japanese visual characteristics and how it is represented in China, with particular reference to examples of Japanese comics from the 1980s/early 1990s and one popular Chinese video-focused social media TikTok in recent years. In the third part, the article focuses on illustrating Vaporwave's visual features in the Chinese context in recent years, and several examples are provided.

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Copyright (c) 2022 Xiaolong Zhang