They all look cool enough for the Hollywood remake of Big Bang Theory; but this is clearly not a comedy. Whereas Western protesters usually kid around for the camera, keen to be seen as not too serious, not wanting to be thought of as boring old adults, these supporters of censored Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly, gathering on the streets of Guangzhou in the interests of press freedom, are strait-laced and po-faced. Not that they’re ignorant of the repetitive double-take which is the essential credential in today’s Western culture. With retro-hair and glasses (big, black, square), they’re already doing that knowing impression of the Asiatic Geek who isn’t really so Geeky (prototype: YouTube’s Steve Chen). But just being there, standing holding a chrysanthemum and an A4 sheet of neat, orderly characters (‘End press censorship, the Chinese people want freedom’), these young people are putting their careers on the line. School days drenched in exams, the fierce competition to get in to a top university, the pressure to get a good degree – all that exertion could be wasted away with a few deft strokes of a bureaucrat’s pen. Fear of committing career suicide – it’s enough to straighten out even the most twisted ironist. In open letters to Communist Party officials penned by well-respected lawyers and academics, there is a different kind of rhetoric. Of censorious Tuo Zhen (the regional propaganda chief who replaced Southern Weekly’s New Year message and lied about what happened), it is said that: ‘wherever he goes ten thousand horses stand mute’, i.e. they are silenced by his decrees. But this is the language of an older generation, which grew up alongside the incoming cohort of top-ranking ministers. The new vernacular, personified in young protesters picking up the chrysanthemum petals which dropped onto the pavement during their demonstration, combines outward signs of Western kidulthood with seriousness of purpose. They manage to be mature and tender at the same time.