Librarians-in-Residence: Publications


Ye Funa, Elaine W. Ho (Display Distribute), Zijie (

Epistolary series by Ye Funa and collaborators,
Librarians-in-Residence 2024

Welcome to the second Love Letter, part of a monthly publication series where our Librarian-in-Residence Ye Funa shares critical ideas and reflections driving the library acquisitions and public programmes during her residency.

In this issue, Ye engages in a lively dialogue with her collaborators in the world of self-publishing, who are also among the suppliers of our recent acquisitions — Elaine W. Ho from Display Distribute, and Zijie from Coming from years of experience publishing within and beyond China, they spoke about the joys and challenges of border-crossing, counterfeiting, DIY technologies, and bitter-sweet interactions that have shaped their practices.

Our recent acquisitions from Display Distribute have arrived earlier this week via their unique 'LIGHT LOGISTICS' (後勤慢遞) service — an initiative that builds a person-to-person distribution network enabled by the surplus carrying power of couriers. Included in this article are some snapshot photos from courier Mr Liao and courier Portable of their playful journey delivering the books (HQL-605) from Hong Kong to London over 25 days, documenting their footsteps along the way. Thank you, couriers!


Courier snapshot. Caption: 'HQL-605 En route: Ready for boarding.' Image courtesy of Wenxi Liao and Display Distribute

Ye Funa [YFN]: Hello, Elaine and Zijie, I am a fan of both of you! I knew of Zijie way back while I was in uni because I was really into Cult Youth Choice comics, and later, I heard about Elaine through the HomeShop project space in Beijing. Later I participated in Display Distribute’s 'Parallel Trade' art project in Shanghai, and I also collaborated with Zijie on the 'Curated Nails' project. Come to think of it, it’s already been over ten years! When and how did you all start self-publishing? Do you have any interesting stories to share?

Zijie [ZJ]: Hi! Which project from Display Distribute do you mean? Was it the one at the Anxi Clothing Market in Shanghai? I think I participated in that one too, presenting the first few copies of the ‘How to use Space’ comics series that had just been released at the time. Regarding self-publishing, or zines and pamphlets — yes, I started from comics. In 2007, two underground comic books were published in China, one was SC and the other was Cult Youth Choice, and I was involved in both. SC3, which was the third issue of SC, was a thick, almanac-like collection including almost all the Chinese comics makers who were working on non-mainstream comics at the time. Cult Youth Choice was even more underground, with weird content and gory violence; it was closer in spirit to the early days of manga, like kashihon and akahon. The editor Bini wrote a foreword in a semi-fictional and pseudo-intellectual tone, bringing some of the discussions of film culture (including auteur theory, B-movies, cult films, etc.) into the context of manga creation. Seeing the editorial process and this immense power of comics as a medium in their own right, these two publications, especially the latter, opened up new horizons for me. Before we had only had experience with putting out our work and discussing it online — publishing spaces somewhere in the cracks left between pirated foreign books on one hand and the standard distribution of children’s literature edited by PhDs on the other. So I started to copy from books like SC, Cult Youth Choice, and Yan Cong’s Narrative Addiction, and I started to think about DIY publishing by trying to make my own comic.

The printing factory I went to at the time was next to a funeral parlour in Wuchang, and the owner was an army veteran who handed the factory over to his local collaborator before retiring and going back to his hometown in Shandong. I offset printed my first batch of Pheasant Tail Theatre (2010) and took some with me to the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Most of the rest I sold online. Back then you could still sell some of these kinds of ‘treasures’ on TaoBao (the ‘bao’ in online commerce platform Taobao’s name means ‘treasure’), but I was really not used to having to communicate with ‘customers who are always right’ from behind the computer screen, and besides, the 10-15 yuan per copy price was so cheap, equivalent to the shipping cost (and why my friend Zhang Dongxu later pointed out that my pricing was ridiculous and unreasonable).

Another thing I tried was to apply for an ISBN number with the help of friends in Spain and Hong Kong. At that time, you could apply for free, but in Spain nowadays you have to pay to get one — though they are quite inexpensive. These two experiences are very different from the way I have worked more recently. Now I prefer the convenience of the photocopy shop down the street; it’s lower cost and a shorter production time. In the last few years, ISBN numbers have also become less necessary in particular contexts, but this will probably change going forward. So we can only continue trying, again and again. This ‘over and over again’ makes it all the more urgent for me to document the changing situation.

My friend Y, who helped me apply for an ISBN in Hong Kong, was someone who I had met in Wuhan via the Womenjia space which I was part of at the time, and that’s when I started to follow some of the threads that eventually led me to come across all the self-published zines and pamphlets by punk bands and activists then. What interested me most about these zines were the DIY sections, from how to make a cocktail or toothpaste with charcoal and salt to how to organise a screening event. It felt as if by simply getting your hands dirty, you could build your own life from the ground up.

I also met Elaine at Womenjia. At the time, she had come to Wuhan with other friends from their space in Beijing, called HomeShop. I saw the newspaper they made, which was screen-printed on a quarto sheet of A2 paper. It must have been difficult to silkscreen print in such a large size, but it was amazing, recording the life of the community around their space. After that I came across several issues of WEAR, the journal of HomeShop. I’m also curious to know about Elaine’s background in independent publishing, and what made Funa start thinking and creating with this medium.

Elaine W. Ho [EWH]: My educational background is a wandering conglomeration of art history, fashion design, and critical theory, so getting into print culture is not something I was trained to do, but working with collaborations of image, people, and language via them seems to congeal nicely into the print form, so it is not a surprise that publishing practices have accompanied me for a long time. WEAR journal, which Zijie mentioned, was actually my first attempt outside of making a magazine during fashion school (haha!), and it was the outcome of both the DIY and less DIY production possibilities of living in China at that time. We made three issues between 2008-2012, and it was DIY in the sense that the first issue was funded in a proto-crowdfunding way (this was before platforms like Kickstarter and Gofundme existed), sending e-mails to everyone in our network to ask if they’d like to support. We didn’t pay ourselves nor anyone involved, not the photographers, writers, or translators, and this is something that seems ridiculous today considering the awareness of fair labour practices, but the atmosphere at the time was much freer in the sense that we simply worked on things that we liked and felt were meaningful. It wasn’t considered labour. I wrote, took photos, and did the editing and layout, just teaching myself InDesign along the way. And then, I call it less DIY in the sense that WEAR journals were printed offset in factories, so not exactly zines. At that time, it was much cheaper to print in China than it would be in many other places, and censorship was much less comprehensive than under this regime. Some of our more recent publishing projects have not been able to be printed in China anymore because the controls have become extremely tight, filtering through social bodies (self-censorship by the factories themselves) as well as technological control (automated data transmission to authorities). But like Zijie, it was also because of Hong Kong that we could easily obtain ISBN/ISSN numbers, so there was a veneer of ‘officialness’ that made us feel like we were doing something ‘proper’ rather than DIY. All in all, though, it was still self-publishing.

YFN: I began experimenting with making books during my time at school, around 2005 during the first semester of my undergraduate studies during the Experimental Art course at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. We all conducted social surveys related to the aesthetic preferences of our families and used the Pagemaker software to format and edit our findings into a fixed layout. The traditional thread-bound books designed by Professor Lü Shengzhong required each page to be folded by hand meticulously, aligning printed patterns with the spine perfectly and then drilling and sewing it all together. Since I was clumsy working with my hands and often did a poor job, the process was quite painful for me. I remember one interesting detail, though: on the last page of our books, we would invent some numbers to replace the ISBN, and write a very expensive price on it, even though these books were not for sale.

Later, I tried making my own catalogues and artist books. Influenced by the self-publishing trend in China, in 2017 I started discussing with my friend, curator Bi Xin, about creating our own self-publishing label. We envisioned it as a 'magazine' focused on topics that interest people like us. We had serious discussions about the leisure 'subcultures' of urban youth, which led to the birth of MondayOFF. The first issue, '#Fangirl' and the second issue, '#CosmeticSurgery', were released in 2018 and 2019, respectively. We also published some zines, such as Smart.

Courier snapshot. Caption: 'HQL-605 Sant Antoni: Relay Successful!' Image courtesy of Wenxi Liao and Display Distribute


YFN: The process of making books leads one through acts of writing and drawing, translation, editing, copyediting, printing, and all sorts of lugging and transporting labours of distribution. Sometimes these processes happen across borders in a guerrilla kind of fashion. For example, I know that Elaine has printed in factories in Wuhan, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and other places for batch distribution, stocking and selling at many other locations. In terms of working with contributors and editing, my magazine was also made almost entirely from a distance. Zijie's publications are distributed at numerous book fairs and shops in China and beyond. Books are like hidden links connecting different groups of people together. What do you both think about independent publications going overseas? Have you had any interesting feedback from your books being presented elsewhere, within different geographic or cultural contexts?

ZJ: Elaine and Display Distribute have printed books in different regions, I think, including a couple of times in Wuhan, when it was perfect for her to come visit me as well! This nomadic way of working opens up possibilities for more face-to-face meetings, just like the LIGHT LOGISTICS feral couriering project, right? That project has inspired a lot of people, and it doesn’t just linger as a concept or an idea but lives as an actual system in operation that many friends and I have participated in. Regarding more networked or nomadic ways of working, I have tried to find local copy shops in different cities to make saddle-stitched booklets, and I remember once in Hanoi where they had their own way of using long staples through all the pages without folding, then using binding tape to reinforce the spine and cover the staples; transparent PVC sheets were added to protect the cover. In China, people from Hunan Province control the photocopying industry, but different shops in different cities will always have their slight methodological differences. In the past few years, I’ve been moving around to various art book fairs like a wandering hawker, cutting through all sorts of obstacles to get to my little stall and introduce my ‘cultural wares’ to readers. I think this is also a kind of attempt to work in a nomadic or guerrilla-like fashion.

…dragging my goods across the various provinces and districts of different cities, you see that the borders are sometimes red, sometimes yellow, and sometimes blue. Sometimes the border is invisible, only manifest when an amber alert shows up on your mobile phone (as in the Health Code alerts during China’s Zero-COVID policy). Sometimes once you cross a line, you might feel relieved, as if the border had a weight that has been lifted. Borders also influence how much you carry on you, but that’s something about the temperature…

EWH: As I mentioned before, the choice to print in different countries has been a result of increasing difficulty with printing locally, for political reasons but also for economic ones. After Beijing, I moved to Hong Kong, but I almost never print in Hong Kong because it’s just too expensive! So while it doesn’t make any sense rationally and environmentally, we’ve also been forced to follow the model of global capitalism by outsourcing production in faraway locales where it is cheaper. The different methods of print production overseas do, however, give you different possibilities to create in ways that don’t work in the standardised, franchise model of a digital print shop, where you might only be able to print within a streamlined set of choices that have been designed for the fastest and most efficient way of making money. In fact, it was partly because of the burden of guilt (and costs) from overseas shipping that the LIGHT LOGISTICS project came into being. By finding ways to carry our books around ourselves and with the help of friends, maybe we gain back a bit of carbon credit. So yes, just like Zijie, I’ve become infamous for constantly carrying too much stuff on me; there’s always a heavy backpack or maxed-out luggage capacity, because ‘feral couriering’ has become a way of life, haha.

Regarding the reception of our publications in other contexts, it is the more rough-looking cheap productions and low-fi digital copy-shop books we make that are especially well received abroad. Because of the growing sophistication of independent publishing and design aesthetics within art book fairs, our cheap and badly printed chapbooks are seen as a novelty to Western audiences; and to Asian audiences, there’s a sense of nostalgia because this is the kind of pirate printing that many people in China and Southeast Asia grew up with.

Perhaps more crucial to consider is the circulation of ideas which occurs with the circulation of publications. Last year, I edited and published an edited volume called Acts of Departure, which worked through an epistolary format to talk about forms of address, starting from the question of leaving Hong Kong post-2019. After a friend read the book, she was inspired to follow in a similar vein to think through forms of distance in relation to the traumas of the Palestinian diaspora, and we are hoping to publish a second edition of Acts of Departure later this year. Tapping into what at first seems to be unlikely connections between Hong Kong and Palestine, I hope that we can foster more of such solidarities via writing, thinking and publishing together.

YFN: Production cost is indeed a problem, and as far as I know, printing in London has become so expensive. Some independent publishers have told me that after Brexit, there were more difficulties with shipping after printing in the EU, maybe because of higher taxes. They would rather rent a car and take the ferry from South Hampton to bring the books back from the printing press in Brussels. Or sometimes it may even be cheaper to print in Hong Kong and ship it to London.


YFN: While independent publishing is not limited to the material, books are often still something we can touch, with pages we can flip through. They also gather groups of people together around specific topics and interests, especially marginalised groups which are barely visible or have little voice in the mainstream. As magazines and periodicals circulate, they meet with unexpected publics from all walks of life. The act of buying one of these publications must have come from a certain kind of recognition and resonance. What kind of people have you met through your publishing projects, and what kind of communities enjoy your publications?

ZJ: I once helped courier books for Display Distribute and met a French guy who worked for the clothing brand Lacoste. During our meeting, he began to show me books one by one from his bookshelf, including photobooks and a new-age, French magazine from the 70s called Planet. He didn’t really talk much, just waited for me to finish looking at one before handing me another. Later on, he would occasionally chat with me on WeChat about going to some town or another in Jiangsu or Zhejiang, and about how the town produces socks, ballpoint pens or whatnot.

...It seems like a lot of architects and intellectuals like the publications I make, as well as students. When selling books, you’re in a more performative mode compared to that of making books. If I think now about the transition between these two, it’s mainly about how to make a connection with people, and how to go one step deeper in communication. This is not about communication around some particular research direction; it’s about going back to the little meanings of everyday life, and this is incredibly difficult. Perhaps I am too anxious and nervous in this regard; maybe I could keep reminding myself to be more like that Lacoste bro — relax, hand over a book, and remain silent.

EWH: I remember your delivery to that Lacoste guy! Actually, what I really liked about that dispatch (HQL-163) was that he had ordered two of your comics, so it must have been a really nice surprise to have the maker bring him his books, and for you both, with an already established common interest (like nomadism and urban exploration, based upon the titles he ordered from your ‘How to Use Space’ series), to form a connection.

I read a while ago about how there is a growing market for leisure and craft workshops in Hong Kong, where middle-class people have started to join all sorts of weekend, special-interest classes for things like baking, pottery or sound bath meditation. This is not so unique, but the report mentioned how this phenomenon was especially mined as a means for young people to meet potential romantic partners. I think the main reason for this is that most of us are awkward, and unless you’re a really skilled socialiser, having a medium through which two people can connect and reflect makes communication much, much easier. In our case, it’s the publications, and while I really don’t enjoy doing retail work, being able to share with interested readers about publications that I also like and support opens up pathways for so many more conversations and connections.

YFN: You’ll run into people sometimes on different occasions (e.g. school, bar, or art institution), and they’ll tell you that they’ve bought your books before. There were a few times I met someone whose publications have influenced me, and I get nervous pondering whether to pluck up the courage to tell them, ‘I've read your book.’ That feeling is quite subtle and special, like moving from two-dimensions to the real world.


YFN: There was no lack of shanzhai publishing in the context I grew up in — from hand-drawn newsletters when I was a kid to the pirated books sold by street hawkers, and later PDF archives online. It seems to me that pirating culture is a kind of statement, but it also follows a certain ethos of survival. I know that Display Distribute makes the 'SECOND(hand)MOUNTAIN(fortress)' series of books, and Zijie's Fuyin info also has an intimate relationship with this copy culture. How do you all understand and respond to the pirated and shanzhai’d?

ZJ: Some people talk about the concept of intellectual property during the socialist era —the brand names Pearl River or Phoenix, for example, were used by multiple factories at the time, in several different provinces and localities. But the aspect of shanzhai that I relate to is more recent, with the emergence of the word ‘piracy’ from the mid-1990s. The generation born in the 80s grew up in a pirated environment. The market in China had not yet developed into a more formal and standardised relationship with the international market, and everything from comics (books) to films (DVDs) or other products like cassettes, shoes, toys, and more became part of this epochal ‘border-crossing’. While the reproduction of material goods may be costly, a lot of cultural media are easily reproduced; cassette tapes or videocassettes can be easily duplicated, and books can be photocopied.

When comparing the ‘pirate version’ to the ‘official version' (i.e. copyrighted), the latter represents something superior, clear, and always correct; this status persists in the digital era, where the original and its copy can maintain a perfect 1:1 relation. These ideas directly influence our ways of seeing, leading us to believe that that which is damaged, blurry, or has mistakes, is fake, illegal, bad, or should not even exist at all. This damaged, blurry and mistake-ridden thing is exactly what I’m working with, even if it is considered fake or illegal — something different from the original to the point that it changes in an unpredictable manner with each copy. This is a kind of not-fully digitisable copy, something more akin to an analogous copy or simulated copy. For example, if a few pages are extracted from a book and photocopied, then footnotes are added, parts revised, and/or cut and edited, a mix in the vein of William Burroughs’ cut-ups is created. Or like the bootlegs we talked about before, what about — in contrast to proper studio recordings — recordings of more improvised performances from random venues of a live tour; what about alternative design adaptations that mimic some other design but replace the original technology with a cheaper or more interesting way to achieve the same functionality. I like versions that have their own autonomy, and don’t necessarily think of the labour invested as ‘pirating’.

It is, of course, worth talking about ‘open source’ as well.

EWH: Display Distribute’s attitude towards shanzhai culture is similar to Zijie's. One of our co-conspirators, Ming Lin, started an archival project called 'Shanzhai Lyric' to examine the poetic possibilities of text on cheap, mass-produced t-shirts, and similar to our ways of working with print production, we are not necessarily working with our hands to craft unique, finely made editions, but allowing the lo-fi discrepancies of machines to create their own material and conceptual pathways.

Courier snapshot. Caption: 'HQL-605 Bromley-by-Bow: Courier Mr LIAO’s home and the current nest of the Pidgin Library' Image courtesy of Wenxi Liao and Display Distribute


YFN: The threshold for getting into zine-making is not high, and the practice is very hands-on. Via the LIGHT LOGISTICS project, Display Distribute makes the transmissions between people and books more specific and concrete. Zijie’s practice also involves a great deal of research into the low-tech and its related ways of making, can you say something more about this?

ZJ: I first became aware of risograph printing, not only because of its possibilities to print using so many beautiful, fluorescent colours, but also because of its connection to Chinese local and underground cultures. Riso machines are made by a Japanese company and its printer-duplicator prints like a mimeograph but uses a stencil-type master created from a digital file. It’s also colloquially called a ‘speed printer’ in China and is used by schools or offices to issue examination papers or official documents, though the price of the machines remains high. But then some old machines were shipped by Hunanese businesses as electronic waste from Japan, and you know how the Hunanese have a hand in most of the country’s copy shop businesses, so risograph printing became incorporated into their printing business ‘empire’. The very beginning of its widespread use among everyday people was mainly for printing Mark Six lottery ads and leaflets, and the technology spread among their hometown business alliances. Thanks to China being ‘the world’s factory’, riso accessories and various other materials of that printing ecosystem, including ‘alternative inks’, became inexpensive. Some of these companies have been importing and redistributing these modern mimeograph machines since the 80s.

I recently held a few lo-fi, digital riso workshops, and I copied the Riso MiScreen, which can directly output silkscreen master sheets without the tedious, chemical exposure process required by traditional silkscreen making, taking advantage of China’s huge Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) factories to realise low-cost, digital office hardware and supplies. Even the everyday items around us, like kitchen tools or TaoBao products, can be used for print science and riso stencil making to make a lo-fi rewrite.

These technologies seem to be things that only geeks or nerds would care about, but in fact they have come from the DIY. Once these ‘copy’ versions of technologies are released, they become a kind of autonomous infrastructure, something that can be reclaimed as a technology for everyday life. They beg us to consider how humans and technology form relationships, and how this transforms the relationships between between people.

EWH: Your question already brings the distinction among processes of making, content, and circulation clear. Thinking and ideas enter into the production process from before we start making, but hopefully continue as reflection, dialogue, and fermentation far after a product is made. Discussing how a product is made may not necessarily have to do with what, for example, a book is saying with its words, but if many of our core questions, like Zijie says, relate to questions about how we organise and can reorganise life itself, then hopefully our designs and ways of making can facilitate a critique of existing systems of production.


YFN: If the world is a giant marketplace, are our creativity and labour merely the outputs of self-exploitation or a positive form of resistance?

ZJ: What if it’s about working and living for yourself and your friends — not for a system? Sounds not too bad.

EWH: I have come to notice that degrees of self-exploitation differ among genders and generations, and the reason seems to be a different relation to labour as a result of evolving conditions of work, survival, and economy, as well as to growing awareness of what fair practice means and how we attribute value to our work. For me, creativity and labour can never merely be self-exploitation, nor can they fully resist. Each of us, both cultural workers and otherwise, find different balances between these two based upon knowledge, background, skills, and desire. And perhaps this spectrum may already be inherent in the terms ‘creativity’ and ‘labour’, where creativity insinuates something spontaneous, open, and liberating, and labour automatically insinuates a dependency—to work for someone else, to be accountable to time and the question of value (e.g. economic, conceptual, and/or moral). So in the case of Zijie’s example, I do think that most people work and live for themselves to a certain degree, if not for the attempt to find joy and meaning in the work they do, then for the survival and sustenance of their children and loved ones. But these parameters are not outside of the system, and it is indeed that we try to do those things within systems of governance (legality), economy (to make a living in order to enjoy things in life), and sociality (our friends and networks are influenced by culture, biases, forms of statehood and citizenship, etc).

YFN: In the end, I hope we can continue self-publishing as a medium for creatively pursuing our interests to work and live in a self-sufficient manner, like HomeShop. Perhaps via the threads we’ve tied together in this dialogue, we can also studiously 'steal light through a crack in the wall' (also one of Zijie’s previous projects) — continue sowing seeds of knowledge and information so that more may sprout forth later. Thank you so much for your participation!

Courier snapshot. Caption: 'HQL-605 London Fields: Arrival' Image courtesy of Wenxi Liao and Display Distribute


the LIGHT LOGISTICS project by Display Distribute: Among several recent inquiries into the illicit movements of goods and people, the LIGHT LOGISTICS project organised by Display Distribute operates as a burgeoning distribution platform and travelogue in service of the channels between readers and semi-autonomous publishers. Described as a 'not-in-time' enterprise, LIGHT LOGISTICS appropriates the surplus carrying power of a network of travellers within the architectures of global logistics, simultaneously creating other forms of encounter and knowledge exchange parallel to the print-based production of critical practices of art and theory in East and Southeast Asia.

Zijie was born in Yulin, Guangxi Province and currently lives and works in Wuhan. He is an alternative comics maker, writer and activist who focuses on illustration and manga culture as an artistic tool within anti-gentrification movements, revolving especially around marginalised characters involved with issues of urbanisation and spatial justice. From 2010-2014, Lee co-organised Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab, an open house and social experiment located near the historic East Lake on the urban fringes of Wuhan.

Ye Funa, born in Kunming, Yunnan, is an artist and researcher who lives and works in London and Beijing. Her practice critically engages with the realities of daily life and the perceived nexus between authority and various societal domains, such as differing power structures and marginalised groups. Her politically charged art uses pastiche to critique and satirise cultural uniformity. Ye’s recent work incorporates new technologies and engages with various ethnic communities, developing participatory, internet-based projects like ‘Exhibitionist: Curated Nail’ and ‘Smart Master’, probing the integration of art systems into personal and communal spaces. As a passionate advocate for self-publishing, Ye co-founded the independent publishing brand ‘MondayOFF’, editing and authoring artist books like ‘Shamate zine’ and ‘Fire Golden Flowers’.

Ye has had solo exhibitions at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Nottingham Contemporary, as well as participating in group exhibitions in institutions such as the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei; esea contemporary, Manchester; Power Station of Art, Shanghai; Chronus Art Center, Shanghai; Art Center Nabi, Seoul; and Rhizome of the New Museum, NYC. Ye is a teacher in the Experimental Art and Sci-Tech Art Department, Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts, and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London.

Ye Funa is currently our 2024 Librarian-in-Residence.