Zhao Bowen is late for a Satanic heavy metal concert. After haggling the doorman down to half price, he pushes into a Beijing bar with a ceiling low enough to punch. He follows the shriek of guitars down a corridor and into a mosh pit lit by strobe lights. It’s hot as hell and looks like it too: Men onstage made up as demons are slashing through a song about damnation–the lyrics are in English–while headbangers worship at their feet. Zhao dives in.
The strobes capture midair collisions of bodies, sprays of sweat. Someone’s glasses fly off and are crushed underfoot. Over the faces of the onlookers spreads that distinctive look of thrill and fear that tends to presage a riot. But just then the song climaxes in a weird screamgasm and the band takes a break. The crowd responds with the ultimate compliment, chanting “Niu bi! ” and pumping their fists. The phrase can be roughly translated as “fuck yeah!” but it literally means “cow’s vagina.”
Zhao blends right in with all the Chinese teenagers in this sweltering rock dungeon. He has big wide-set eyes framed by dark eyebrows and a pair of silvery geek glasses. It makes him look like a friendly cartoon character, and the effect is enhanced by full cheeks that make his head look spherical. He is neither strikingly handsome nor unattractive. Zhao is of average height, average weight.