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56 Flowers: The All-Girl Group Promoting Socialist Values

The all-girl group ’56 Flowers’ (五十六朵花) is all about promoting China’s core socialist values. Although many Chinese are happy with the group’s “positive energy”, there are also those who are fearful for its revival of the Cultural Revolution.

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The girl group ’56 Flowers’ (五十六朵花) is all about promoting China’s core socialist values. Although some Chinese netizens are happy with the group’s “positive energy”, there are also those who are fearful for its rekindling of the Cultural Revolution-era .

Chinese idol girl group ’56 Flowers’ had the debut performance of their latest concert in the Great Hall of the People on April 23, 2016, and has since been a popular topic on Chinese social media.

The Great Hall of the People (人民大会堂), located near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, is generally used for legislative and ceremonial activities by the PRC and the Communist Party of China.

The 56 Flowers program consists of “red songs” about the Chinese nation, the socialist regime and its core values. The girl group’s combination of political propaganda and pop culture has drawn much attention from Chinese netizens, who have contrasting opinions about the new pop group.

“China’s Dream, the Most Beautiful”

56 Flowers (五十六朵花; 56朵花吧) is a girl music group with 56 members. They are young women aged between 16 and 23, and are selected from the 56 different ethnic groups of China.

First appearing on stage in June of last year, 56 Flowers reportedly aims to be the biggest idol girl group in the world. The director of the group, Chen Guang (陈光), compares them to the popular Japanese group AKB 48. On stage, the uniforms and dancing styles of the singers are indeed not much different from their mainstream Japanese or Korean counterparts – their message, however, is.

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Chen Guang said that his goal was to nurture the “purest Chinese girls” and run a popular music group that follows the “main theme” (主旋律) of China’s Party and the State. The emblem of 56 Flowers meets Chen’s idea; it adopts the red and yellow of China’s national flag, and resembles the national emblem of China. Below the group’s name the phrase “China’s Dream, the Most Beautiful” (中国梦,最美丽) is featured.

56 Flowers: Socialist-Style Pop Group

56 Flowers sings “red songs” – songs that praise the socialist regime, the Communist party, and the Chinese nation in general.

Earlier this year, 56 Flowers appeared in the Pre-New Year Gala of Hunan TV, a local broadcaster famous for its entertainment programs. In the gala, 56 Flowers presented an original song “Don’t Know How to Address You” (不知该怎么称呼你). The song referred to Xi Jinping’s 2013 visit to ethnic groups in Guangxi Province. All 56 girls, dressed in traditional Miao clothes, sang an ode to the president: “You love the people and the people of the whole nation deeply love you.”

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In the most recent performance at the Great Hall of the People, 56 Flowers brought back memories of the Maoist era with the song ‘Sailing the Sea Depends on the Helmsman‘ (大海航行靠舵手). Originally named ‘Revolution Depends on Maoist Thoughts’ (干革命要靠毛泽东思想), this was a popular song during the Cultural Revolution.

Echoing the lyrics “Maoist thoughts are the sun of China”, the performance was accompanied by a big portrait of Mao in the middle of a radiant sun. They also chanted about “socialism is good” and “down with American imperialism.”

No to Sexy, No to Glamour, No to Romance

The 56 girls of 56 Flowers were dressed in black and white t-shirts, hair tied up in a pony tail, during first public appearance June 2015. Art director of the group, Liu Yanxi, told South Weekend (南方周末) about his member selection criteria: the girls can absolutely not be sexy, nor glamourous, no blond or dyed hair, and cannot be “street-wise”. Another strict rule is that the members of 56 Flowers should not be involved in any romantic relationships. According to the director, the last criterion is to ensure a “pure and innocent” image of the girls.

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Once selected, what awaits the girls is tough training. Living in four-person dormitories, they have a tight daily schedule that runs from 6:00 till 17:00, including physical training, figure training, Chinese dancing, and lessons on how to be a pop idol. Evenings are dedicated to patriotic education, literature lectures, and training in eloquency. The singers have one day off each week, and contracted members receive 3000 RMB (460 US$) per month with performance subsidies.

By now, only a few girls of the group are actual contracted members; most singers are temporary members that participate in daily training. Two girls were fired last July for participating in an AKB 48 audition.

Reviving the Cultural Revolution?

Since their first appearance last June, 56 Flowers has been attracting contrasting opinions on Chinese social media.

Supporters say the group sings songs that “encourages people, inspires national solidarity, and expresses much energy”, that “realizes the Chinese dream”, with songs full of “positive energy”.

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But some netizens worry that singing “red songs” may revive the Cultural Revolution. “Singing red songs in such a sensitive place as the Great Hall of the People, everyone will associate it to a revival of the Cultural Revolution, a second round of personal worship, a second round of dictatorship!”, one Weibo netizen says.

Some netizens also criticize the group for using young girls for political propaganda: “The remains of the Cultural Revolution are used to poison young girls. Those who utilize children and tarnish true art will not die in peace!” Another netizen remarks with annoyance: “Why destroy the children!?”

Politics through Popular Art

Around the world, pop music is often used to convey political and nationalistic messages – in that regard, China’s 56 Flowers is no exception.

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The Moranbong Band of North Korea (see image) is a state-orchestrated all-female music group. Initiated by Kim Jong-Il in 2012 and featuring modern-looking young artists, the objective of the group is to promote revolutionary creativity and advocate the battle for nation and country in a modern fashion. The band has just performed on the closing ceremony of the 7the National Congress of North Korea.

There is also a myriad of international examples of single songs, rather than pop groups, focused on political or nationalistic messages. In the West, UK Independence Party candidate Mandy Boylett released a song Britain’s Coming Home in February 2016 to propagate the Brexit campaign. The song sends the explicit message that the EU had “gone too far” and “it’s time to get out”.

In the Netherlands, the National Inauguration Comittee (NCI) released a King’s Song (Koningslied) to celebrate the 2013 inauguration of King Willem Alexander. Asking the public to contribute phrases for the song, the final lyrics ended up with phrases such as “I will shelter you in the storm; I will keep you safe as long as I live”, and “I will fight like a lion, to make sure you have all you need.”

56 Flowers in Trouble?

It is not just the songs by UKIP and the Dutch NCI that received much public criticism for the aforementioned songs – the music by 56 Flowers has also drawn much controversy. Besides voices that warn against a revival of the Cultural Revolution, 56 Flowers is also criticized for utilizing “red songs” for commercial purposes, and for other things, such as delaying payment for members, or giving false information about the band’s background.

There are some signs that the controversies surrounding the pop group are affecting its online presence. The official 56 Flowers website 56hua.cn has recently become inaccessible, and its video album on China’s online video platform Tudo.com has been deleted. Other recent news coverage on the group by prominent Chinese news agencies, including reports about the group’s controversies, have been removed. This might relate to the fact that its official website previously stated that the group was supported by a committee on the promotion of socialist values, which later turned out to be non-existing.

Where 56 Flowers will go from here remains a question for now. But the media sensation and controversy the group has created shows how tricky it can be to combine political propaganda with popular culture – even when (or especially when?) its message conveys the official Party line.

– By Diandian Guo

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China and Covid19

King of Workout Livestream: Liu Genghong Has Become an Online Hit During Shanghai Lockdown

Liu Genghong (Will Liu) is leading his best lockdown life.

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With their exercise livestreams, Liu and his wife are bringing some positive vibes to Shanghai and the rest of China in Covid times, getting thousands of social media users to jump along with them.

On Friday, April 22, the hashtag “Why Has Liu Genghong Become An Online Hit” (#为什么刘畊宏突然爆火#) was top trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Liu Genghong (刘畊宏, 1972), who is also known as Will Liu, is a Taiwanese singer and actor who is known for playing in dramas (Pandamen 熊貓人), films (True Legend 苏乞儿), and releasing various music albums (Rainbow Heaven 彩虹天堂). He is a devout Christian.

Besides all of his work in the entertainment business, Liu is also a fitness expert. In 2013, Liu participated in the CCTV2 weight loss programme Super Diet King (超级减肥王, aka The Biggest Loser) as a motivational coach, and later also became a fitness instructor for the Jiangsu TV show Changing My Life (减出我人生), in which he also helped overweight people to become fit. After that, more fitness programs followed, including the 2017 Challenge the Limit (全能极限王) show.

During the Covid outbreak in Shanghai, the 50-year-old Liu Genghong has unexpectedly become an online hit for livestreaming fitness routines from his home. Together with his wife Vivi Wang, he streams exercise and dance videos five days of the week via the Xiaohongshu app and Douyin.

In his livestreams, Liu and his wife appear energetic, friendly, happy and super fit. They exercise and dance to up-beat songs while explaining and showing their moves, often encouraging those participating from their own living rooms (“Yeah, very good, you’re doing well!”). Some of their livestreams attract up to 400,000 viewers tuning in at the same time.

The couple, both in lockdown at their Shanghai home, try to motivate other Shanghai residents and social media users to stay fit. Sometimes, Liu’s 66-year-old mother in law also exercises with them, along with the children.

“I’ve been exercising watching Liu and his wife for half an hour, they’re so energetic and familiar, they’ve already become my only family in Shanghai,” one Weibo user says.

“I never expected Liu Genghong to be a ‘winner’ during this Covid epidemic in Shanghai,” another person writes.

Along with Liu’s online success, there’s also a renewed interest in the Jay Chou song Herbalist’s Manual (本草纲目), which is used as a workout tune, combined with a specific dance routine. Liu is also a good friend and fitness pal to Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

This week, various Chinese news outlets such as Fengmian News and The Paper have reported on Liu’s sudden lockdown success. Livestreaming workout classes in general have become more popular in China since the start of Covid-19, but there reportedly has been no channel as popular as that of Liu Genghong.

The channel’s success is partly because of Liu’s fame and contagious enthusiasm, but it is also because of Vivi Wang, whose comical expressions during the workouts have also become an online hit.

While many netizens are sharing their own videos of exercizing to Liu’s videos, there are also some who warn others not to strain themselves too quickly.

“I’ve been inside for over 40 days with no exercise” one person writes: “I did one of the workouts yesterday and my heart nearly exploded.” “I feel fine just watching,” others say: “I just can’t keep up.”

Watch one of Liu’s routines via Youtube here, or here, or here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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China Music

Weibo is Watching the DJs & Sports Presentation Team at the Winter Olympics Venues

Chinese netizens are not just closely following the athletes, they are also paying more attention to the “atmosphere enliveners” at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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Chinese netizens are not just closely watching the athletes at the 2022 Winter Olympics – the DJs who are performing at the various venues and their noteworthy song selections have also become a popular topic on social media.

On Feb 8th, the US-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu (谷爱凌, Gu Aling) became the youngest ever gold medalist in freestyle skiing, winning the big air event for China. The American-born Gu has become a superstar in China, and everything related to her is going viral these days, including the songs that were playing when Gu had won gold.

The hashtag “When Gu Ailing Won the Gold, Jay Chou’s Song Huo Yuan Jia is Played” (#谷爱凌夺冠现场放周杰伦的霍元甲#) has received more than 29 million on Weibo. Chinese netizens praised the DJs for the song selection, saying it perfectly captured the scene as the song has a strong rhythm, and is also known as ‘Fearless.’

Before the hashtag about Gu went trending, the DJ team already attracted attention on Chinese social media for the interesting and noteworthy music selection at various events.

During the Ice Hockey Women’s Preliminary Round Group A, when Team US competed against Team ROC, there was a conflict between the two teams and the DJ played a remixed version of Katyusha, a Russian song that became famous during World War II. The dramatic effect of the scene and wartime song pairing made the song’s name (#喀秋莎#) and a video of the DJ trying to ‘make some noise’ on the venue go trending on Weibo with over 53 million views. Many netizens thought the music selection was humorous, with some joking that the DJ was adding oil to a burning fire.

Xie Xiao (@篮球DJ小牛), the ice hockey stadium music director for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics who played the song that day, later clarified on Douyin that the selection of Katyusha was not a response to the conflict. Before that game, he allegedly had already planned to use it because it is a famous song in Russia, and he already played a lot of well-known American songs.

Photo via Xie Xao, @篮球DJ小牛

Another creative song choice by this DJ team that resonated with Chinese netizens occurred during another ice hockey match between Team China and Team Japan, when an American DJ performed Defending the Yellow River on a keyboard. In China, Defending the Yellow River is a famous patriotic song. It was the seventh chapter of the classic Yellow River Cantata, written in 1939 to praise the fighting spirit of the Chinese people (#美国DJ现学后现场弹奏保卫黄河#).

A list of popular hashtags on Weibo relating to which songs are played at the venue of the Winter Olympics also demonstrates that music has become a more relevant and popular part of the Olympics, and is also an attractive component of the event that is encouraging more people, especially younger generations, to watch and participate in the Games.

Xie also said that the team is only allowed to select songs from a specific Winter Olympics music library due to copyright and licensing. The library includes 16000 musical tracks divided into various (sub)categories based on music styles, language, and themes, covering many hit songs and different music from all across the world. On the first event day of speed skating, for example, Adele’s Rolling in the Deep blasted through the speakers.

The pandemic has made the role of so-called ‘atmosphere enliveners’ or ‘vibe teams’ (气氛组, 氛围组) more important. This already became clear during the Tokyo Olympics, where we saw empty stadiums due to coronavirus measures, with DJs creating playlists to motivate athletes in the absence of cheering fans. This shift has also brought more online attention for DJs and other crew members, who would usually stay behind the scenes.

On the venues, the atmosphere is raised by Olympic mascots walking, jumping, and running around the venues interacting with smaller audiences. Meanwhile, the DJs are playing energetic tracks or are creating remixes and mash-ups while producers use different elements at the venue to enhance the audience’s experience.

Li Helin, the deputy manager of the venue operations team at Beijing National Speed Skating Oval, takes care of the event presentation at the venue. He also worked as an MC at the volleyball stadium during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Li has also been in charge of some popular music selections played by the DJs during events involving the China team, including Calorie (卡路里) by the Chinese idol girl group Rocket Girls 101 and Immortal Sound Above Cloud Palace (云宫迅音), the opening theme of Journey to the West, a 1986 TV series that is still considered one of China’s most popular TV dramas. These song selections also were popular on Weibo.

Li Helin, image via Sina.

Li previously said he believed that using DJs to connect with the audiences and to enliven the atmosphere at the venues will become a bigger trend for big sports events in the future. As the standard of sports presentation and fan engagement rises, more new elements, such as spectacular lighting, drones, 3D projects, etc. will also be included: “Sports presentation serves the game, but also adds fresh elements to it.”

Meanwhile, many social media users praise the music crew: “This time, the DJs at the Olympics are really awesome and their song selection is on point.”  “If you don’t know what kind of work you want to do, becoming an Olympic DJ is a good choice,” one Weibo user writes, with others agreeing: “Seriously, if I cannot be an Olympic athlete, then I’ll strive to be an Olympic DJ.”

 

By Wendy Huang

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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