Did you know that some models are paid for partying in luxury Chinese nightclubs? An average nightclub in Asia looks different from what we often see in Europe and US. Bram describes them as luxurious places with blinding lasers and neon lights. They are barely filled with huge alcohol bottles and expensive liqueurs, overflowing the cup. Even on weekdays. Rows of expensive cars are waiting outside, while their owners have fun with friends, invited models and female hosts. Chinese clubbers don`t dance: they sit at the tables and enjoy drinking games. In the morning, they go home, leaving approximately ¥20,000 (£2,300).

At first, being paid to have fun sounds like a dream job. However, it`s not that ideal as it seems. Sometimes the Asian modeling industry turns you into a slave, who imitates having fun at luxurious nightclubs, striving to earn some pocket money. So, why do the models, who decided to chase exciting life and fame in China, end up working for £3 per hour?

Pitty Party

Almost two weeks ago, a thrilling and informative story by Barclay Bram appeared on Dazed Digital. He came to Shanghai to get inside the modeling community and find out the peculiarities of Chinese modeling industry. The results were surprising! We`ve highlighted the most important points.

To tell the long story short, the reason is that Chinese modeling industry is fucked. Of course, that`s not because of some special national features: this problem exists in many other countries. But here the situation is spiced up with unregulated entrance and opacity. Shanghai modeling industry counts more than 30 agencies. Only six of them are listed on the international site Models.com, which means the world modelling community vouches for only 1/5 of Shanghai modeling agencies. The other ones are either unreliable/unknown, or work with Chinese models only. Therefore, the choice of reputable agency for foreigners is rather small.

Demand and Supply

Modeling industry in Shanghai is extremely unstructured. A common thing is when a foreign model comes to China with signed contract. The point is that such contracts are mostly like a pig in a poke: signing a contract thousands miles away a model has a very dim view of how they`re going to be received at the local market. They also can`t predict, how an agency will treat them and what kind of job will they get.

Working as a model in China doesn`t necessarily means taking part in runway shows, photoshoots or advertising campaigns. Chinese clients offer an ever greater array of opportunities: to hand out the balloons in shopping centers or give away food, for example. If you are a model, who is planning to work in Shanghai, get ready to dress in weird costumes and try on the role of giant tomatoe, mermaid or hamburger (and many more variants). Sometimes you can be invited as a mannequin and you`ll stand straight in front of a huge audience. Аs you see, many of these jobs can`t be called modeling. However, for many of foreign models, based in Shanghai,  such activities are the daily bread.

For any of these jobs the competition is extremely intense. Modeling market in Shanghai includes agencies` models as well as illegals and freelancers.  Agencies can`t provide their models with offers because the industry is not regulated and “there are too many models for one thing”. As a result, the salaries turn out to be very low.

Money matters

Major “expensive” jobs often go to native models. There are a separate niche of foreigners, who make ¥100k (£11,000) a month. If you got lucky enough, you can make a fortune. For some reasons their agencies push their favorite “faces” really hard. However, the rest are striving to get any job, even shitty one.

Models are the cheap labour in China. The maximum payment they get from working at events as a hamburger or handing out product samples is as low as 2000¥ (£233). “So for Chinese clients who are flush with cash, it seems like a good investment. Models therefore end up doing jobs that we would consider completely bizarre, and that intersect heavily with what one journalist has called the ‘rent-a-foreigner’ business”, – Barclay Bram writes.

Legal issues also make the models` life difficult. Only a few agencies follow the visa rules and provide models with appropriate documents. Others work illegally on tourist visas. The government tries to fight this phenomenon by various crackdowns. But this seems to be just a drop in the ocean. Unlike in the established markets of Paris, New York or Milan, the entrance in modeling industry in Shanghai is unregulated. Therefore, every day new faces appear on Chinese modeling scene. Bram says, that students and freelancers can do most of the “modeling” jobs. That is why the Shanghai job market is tightly connected with Wechat – Chinese social media. Here models connect directly with bookers.Newcomers can build up relationships with clients and bookers, using network. Models share the contacts and add each other in special groups, where clients give them a regular job.

Bizarre jobs and visa issues are not the only problems, awaiting newcomers in Shanghai. Many of the models, who have chosen unreliable agencies, are leveraged in debt up to their eyeballs.

Pocket Money Slavery

Every agency model has a personal account. The agencies include bills for flights, apartment and transportation as a debit on their account. Models have to pay back even the pocket money, which the agency gives them daily or monthly. In addition, most of them don`t get their salary until the end of their contracts. All that pushes foreign models to start clubbing for money. Over time, “party underworking” turns into a vicious cycle. Sleepless nights, free alcohol and lack of rest turn into dark circles and skin problems- models no longer look good. Considering the fact that models work in a very competitive industry, their faces are the only thing that allow them to keep the edge and the consequences of clubbing barely kill the model`s career.

So, three, four or even five days a week models line up at 10:30 at the black door of the club in the right clothes, hair and makeup to get the job. In rich clubs they don`t have fun – they work, and this work is hard. So why do they come to Shanghai, if there are so many hardships and pitfalls? The answer is simple – for many of them the office boxes seem to be far more intimidating.


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