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16 Years Ago Today: The Lanjisu Fire That Changed China’s ‘Wangba’ Era

The tragic Lanjisu fire led to a nationwide crackdown on internet cafes in China.

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A Beijing internet cafe fire that killed 25 young people in 2002 has become part of China’s collective memory: it was a shift in China’s internet cafe era. Today marks the 16th anniversary of this tragic event.

On June 16, 2002, at 2:40 a.m., a devastating fire broke out at a second-story Internet cafe (wangba 网吧) in Beijing’s Haidian, the city’s university district.

News of the tragic fire shocked the entire nation. The fire had instantly killed twenty people and severely injured 17, of whom five later died in the hospital.

All of the dead and injured people were students; 12 of them were from the prep school of the Beijing University of Science and Technology (Wang 2009, 86).

Lanjisu fire, June 16 2002.

Although it did not take long for firefighters to arrive that night, the fire at the Lanjisu (蓝极速, ‘Blue speed’) internet cafe was mainly so disastrous because windows were firmly secured with iron burglar-proof bars, leaving no option for people to escape. The only door was locked; it happened more often that wangba owners would (illegally) operate overnight behind locked doors (Qiu 2009, 33).

Investigators later ruled arson as cause of the fire at the cafe, which was located at Xueyuan Road 20. Traces of gasoline were discovered at the scene, and two teenage male suspects (13-year-old Zhang and 14-year-old Song) were arrested two days later.

The teenage boys were middle school students who used to play games at the internet cafe, but had gotten into a quarrel with other visitors and were not allowed to come in. To take ‘revenge’, they had purchased 1.8 liter of gasoline at a nearby gas station just 3-4 hours before they committed arson.

One of the suspects in 2002 (people.com.cn).

It was later revealed that the two boys both came from poor and shattered families, involving drugs and crime (Lifeweek 2003; Qiu 2015).

In August of 2002, a Beijing court sentenced the 14-year-old boy (Song X.) to life imprisonment, while the 13-year-old was sent to a juvenile re-education center as he was under the age of 14.

A third person, a 17-year-old female also named Zhang, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for being an accomplice; she gave the boys money to but the petroleum, and knew what they were up to. A fourth minor, a 14-year-old boy by the name of Liu, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for being part of the arson plan. The internet cafe owner was sentenced to 3 years in prison for breaching business and safety rules. The gas station was fined 50,000 yuan for selling gasoline to two minors (Lifeweek 2003; Sina 2008).

 

A turning point in the wangba boom

 

The Haidian Lanjisu fire had a big impact on China’s booming internet cafe culture. Internet cafes had been mushrooming in China since the mid and late 1990s. It was the time of Tencent’s highly popular instant messaging software OICQ and multiplayer online games. By 2002 there were thousands of wangba across Chinese cities, many of them unlicensed and illegal, with no fire control equipment.

Internet cafe in 1990s (new.qq.com).

The Lanjisu fire made the problem of China’s wangba a national concern. Not just the unsafe conditions were a reason for worry, but also the impact the internet cafes had on China’s youth, with students spending days on end playing online games in these smoky rooms, leading to a rise in school absence and internet addiction. Beijing’s vice mayor Liu Zhihua condemned internet cafes as “opium dens” for the country’s youth.

The fire led to a huge crackdown on illegal internet cafes. The Beijing authorities launched a campaign that would stop the development of new internet cafes and that would screen all existing wangba one by one, and to close all unlicensed businesses immediately and to confiscate their operational tools (Wang 2009, 87). Across the country, approximately 400,000 internet cafes were closed (Sina 2008).

Second hand confiscated wangba computers (http://www.hkcd.com/).

It also led to the implementation of new rules, such as that there could no longer be internet cafes within a 200-meter radius of schools, that minors were not allowed to enter, and that they had to be closed between midnight and 8 am (Venkatesh 2006, 55)

Since 2005, the remnants of the Lansiju internet cafe have been on display at the Haidian Safety Museum.

Image via People.cn.

The fire is remembered in China as the “6.16 Wangba Big Fire” (6·16网吧大火), and is still being discussed on Chinese social media to this day.

By Manya Koetse

References

Qiu, Jack Linchuan. 2009. Working-Class Network Society
Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China
. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Qiu, Jack Linchuan. 2015 (2009). “Life and Death in the Chinese Informational City: The Challenges of Working-Class ICTs and the Information Have-less.” In: Living the Information Society in Asia, Erwin Alampay Alampay (ed), 130-157. ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.

Sina. 2008. “北京蓝极速网吧老板今安在.” Sina News, 29 Dec http://news.sina.com.cn/s/2008-12-29/100416941011.shtml [16.6.18].

Venkatesh, P. 2006. “China on the I-way.” In: Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases, Hitt, Duane & Hoskisson (eds), chapter 2. Mason: Thomson Higher Education.

Wang, Xueqin. 2009. “Internet Cafes. What else can be done in addition to rectification?” In: Good governance in China–a way towards social harmony : case studies by China’s rising leaders, edited by Wang Mengkui, Lchapter 8. London & New York: Routledge.

Zhuang, Shan 庄山, Ke Li 柯立, Li Wei 李伟, Wu Ang 巫昂. 2003 (2002). “两个纵火少年和25条生命” [“Two Minor Arsonists and 25 Lives”]. LifeWeek 2002 (26), online April 8 2003 http://www.lifeweek.com.cn/2003/0408/1594.shtml [16.6.2018].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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In China’s “Kua Kua” Chat Groups, People Pay to Be Praised [Updated]

Money can’t buy you love, but in these ‘kua kua’ groups, they can buy you praise.

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Image via hexun.com.

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Social media is often called a battlefield, but in these Chinese WeChat ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群), people will praise you no matter what you do or say.

A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.

Kua kua groups (夸 ‘kuā‘ literally means ‘praise’) have become all the rage in China. People seem to love them for the mere fact that it makes them feel good about themselves.

The format is clear. Person A tells about something that is on their minds, and asks people for positive feedback. Person B, C, and D will then come forward and tell them how good or pretty they are, sometimes based on their profile photo.

One could say: “Hi everyone, I’ve just turned down a job offer, but now my future is full of uncertainty, please compliment me.” Then people in the chat group will respond and say things such as: “You look like the type of person who knows exactly what they want.”

The Kua kua praise group phenomenon allegedly began within the online community of Xi’an Jiaotong University – although some claim it was Shanghai’s Fudan University – when one person asked others in a chat group to compliment them. The idea started to compliment and praise others, and so a trend was born; first, in university (BBS) chat groups, and now on WeChat and beyond the realm of universities.

The phenomenon has been around for at least six years, but only recently started gaining widespread attention on Chinese social media. According to China’s Toutiao News, virtually every college now has its own ‘praise group.’

But the praise does not always come for free. Although many (college-based) chat groups are free to join, people who want to be complimented and are not yet a member of an existing group can join Kua kua groups when they pay for it. On Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, there are various online shops that sell a ‘Praise group’ membership starting from 50 yuan ($7,5) per person, going up to 188 yuan ($28).

The time of praise is limited to five minutes unless you pay more. The quality of the compliments you’ll be getting also depends on how much you pay. Some groups allegedly consist of “students of great talent,” and the number of people complimenting one person could reach up to 500 people.

The contents of the praise could literally be anything. A simple “I want to be praised” comment could get a variety of reactions from “your hat looks nice” to “the fact that you’re so honest and straightforward about what you want is something that is hard to come across in this day and age,” to “you used a period mark [at the end of your sentence], you must be someone who is very persistent in reaching your goals.”

The fact that the “Kua kua” phenomenon is such a success in China might relate to its culture, where humility and modesty are considered ideal in day-to-day communications. When given a compliment, it is common in China to deny it or to suggest that the person giving the compliment is much better than they are (also see Cheng 2003, 30).

These chat groups, however, break away from the dominant cultural interactions: people don’t have to be polite in responding to the compliments and can wallow in the praise they paid for.

Although not as big as the “Kua Kua” group phenomenon, these kinds of groups also exist in the English-language social media sphere. On Reddit’s “Toast Me” page, for example, there are some 92,000 subscribers participating in asking and giving positive feedback to others, albeit unpaid.

The people giving compliments in the Chinese Kua kua groups are random people, some students, some staff of Taobao stores, who get hongbao, red envelopes with digital money gifts, for contributing to the group. According to some reports, some ‘customers’ end up staying the group and become a part of the team themselves.

We will follow up on this later: we booked a ‘five-minute praise session’ ourselves, but are still awaiting admission to the group…

 

Update: Our Kua Kua Experience

 

So what is the Kua kua experience like? We decided to try out for ourselves and purchased a 5-minute praise session through Taobao for 50 yuan ($7,5) from a seller that had a good rating.

After the purchase is completed, the seller will contact you with details asking for your WeChat ID. After adding, they will ask you what your ‘problem’ or issue is, and you will be put in a virtual queue until your turn comes up to be praised.

You’ll then be added to a WeChat group that has your name in the headline (ours was something like “Manya you can do it”) and that has around 200 participants.

The message posted by us was:

Hello, I’m Manya (Dutch). I’ve been studying Chinese for more than ten years. In fact, I’m afraid to say it may even be more than 13 years, but I still often don’t understand what Beijing taxi drivers are saying. Even studying every day won’t help. I’ve been learning for so many years, yet I often still don’t understand what the old people in Beijing are saying. It’s a bit embarrassing. I think my Chinese is still not good enough. I can’t understand the ‘crosstalk’ [comedy sketches] during the Spring Festival Gala at all. It makes me feel a little dispirited.

Within a matter of seconds, the screen then just fills up with positive feedback and emoji. There are dozens of comments, and they almost go too fast to read them all.

Some of the responses:

You’re great, and even I don’t understand Beijing taxi drivers.

Stay confident in yourself!

You’re so cool.”

You can type so many Chinese characters, who’d say your Chinese is not good enough?!

Manya, you’re so fantastic.”

None of us understand what old people in Beijing are saying.

Chinese is just not easy to study, the fact that you’ve been doing it for so long already shows how great you are.”

It’s incredible that you’ve already come this far.”

A woman who is so motivated about studying really moves me, you’re my role model, you make me want to study more English.”

During the praise session, the group leader will occasionally post a hongbao [envelope with money] for the participants to receive in return for their compliments.

After five minutes, the session ends, and the people will send out some last words of encouragement. The group leader will personally thank you for being part of the group, and later, you’ll be removed from the group as the people will move on to the next person who is waiting in line to be praised.

How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.

Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.

Other people reviewing the same Kua kua group apparently feel the same: “I’m super satisfied, the result is amazing.”

By Manya Koetse  and Miranda Barnes

Featured image via hexun.com.

References

Cheng, Winnie. 2003. Intercultural Communication. Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Youth Federation: Ban Minors from Live Streaming Platforms

If implemented, this would mean a big blow to China’s live streaming market.

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More than 45% of Chinese live stream users are minors. A new proposal by the China Youth Federation wants to ban those under the age of 18 from broadcasting in China’s booming live streaming environment.

Chinese minors will no longer be able to do live streaming if it is up to the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF, 中国青联). The China Youth Federation submitted the proposal during the Two Sessions (Lianghui), China’s largest annual legislative meetings.

The China Youth Federation is an organization to represent China’s youth groups founded in 1949, that has the Communist Youth League of China as its core.

China’s live streaming market is booming. Sina News reports that some 425 million netizens used live streaming platforms in 2018. According to the Online Information Center of the Communist Youth League, Chinese minors are particularly active live streamers: 6.4% of live stream users are primary school students, 18.3% of them are junior high school students and 20.3% are senior high schoolers.

There are dozens of live streaming platforms in China, with this list of apps, including the short video & live stream platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, being among the most popular ones. If the law would be implemented, China’s thriving live streaming market would certainly suffer a big blow.

Earlier this week, Sixth Tone already reported that “protecting minors online” would be among one of the important themes discussed by tech leaders at the Two Sessions.

On Saturday, March 9, the hashtag “Proposal to Ban Minors from Engaging in Livestreaming” (#建议禁止未成年人担任网络主播#) [basically meaning “prohibiting minors from being online hosts”] became top trending on Weibo, attracting more than 180 million views. Various Chinese state media sources state that the live streaming industry is in “a state of chaos” and needs stricter control to protect minors, who could easily come into contact with “vulgar” and “inappropriate” content through live streaming platforms.

The ban could be realized by implementing stricter controls on the registration process of China’s various live-streaming networks. This could suggest that the measures would go beyond minors just being banned from live streaming themselves.

“I support this proposal, live streaming platforms are not appropriate for minors,” a popular comment said, with many Weibo users agreeing: “Young people should focus on their schoolwork instead.”

But not everyone agrees with stricter controls on China’s online platforms. One commenter wrote: “Officials can have multiple wives, rich people have multiple women, yet if common people watch live streams where some vulgar language or sensitive content occasionally pops up, then it’s not allowed.”

“What should be banned is vulgar content, not minor users,” others write.

Earlier this week, Beijing News reported that Yan Xiaohong (阎晓宏), director of the Chinese Copyright Association, also submitted a proposal relating to minors using the internet. Yan’s proposal goes much further than that of the ACYF: he suggests that special online platforms should be developed for minors, and argues that it is not good for China’s youth to be able to access the same online content as adults.

By Manya Koetse 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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