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China Arts & Entertainment

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 Memes & Viral

Dutch Vlogger Discovers Her Boyfriend’s Photo on a Chinese TV Drama

Dutch vlogger Rianne Meijer was surprised to discover her boyfriend being somebody else’s lover in this Chinese television drama.

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The Dutch influencer Rianne Meijer has gone viral in the Netherlands and on Chinese social media after she posted a TikTok video in which she shared the discovery of her boyfriend’s photo in a Chinese TV drama.

“Remember this picture? This is a picture that I posted with my boyfriend a while ago,” Rianne says in the TikTok video, then showing a scene in Chinese TV drama in which a photoshopped photo of Rianne’s boyfriend is featured.

Although Rianne stood next to her boyfriend in the original photo, her face was replaced in the photoshopped edition featured on the Chinese TV drama.

“They look good together, it’s fine!” Rianne jokingly responded to the scene.

Rianne Meijer is an online influencer and YouTuber with some 1.5 million fans on her Instagram. She is known for often posting funny videos and photos, sometimes together with her boyfriend Roy.

The scene featuring Roy’s photo comes from the Chinese TV drama Summer Again (薄荷之夏), which premiered on iQiyi in the summer of 2021.

The scene shows a lady named Mi Ya (played by actress Li Borong 李柏蓉) talking about her relationship with a man named ‘Andre.’

On the Chinese social media site Weibo, many netizens found the incident “embarrassing” and did not understand why the staff would just steal someone’s portrait: “Couldn’t the production team even find a foreign guy to take a picture?”

Others also thought the incident was very funny: “This is the reality of our global village. You’d think nobody would find out, but it’s really not so secret.”

According to Rianne’s most recent Tiktok post update, the show’s production staff has since sent her an apology. She also writes it’s “all good,” adding: “They are so sweet and this gave us a good laugh.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Musician Song Dongye Canceled (Again) after Complaining about China’s Cancel Culture

Song Dongye was shut down by Weibo after airing his grievances at being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

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Five years after being caught with drugs, Chinese singer Song Dongye went on Weibo to share his grievances on still being ‘canceled’ and asking for another chance to restart his career. Instead, he got criticized and blocked.

Chinese folk singer Song Dongye (宋冬野) has become a major topic on Chinese social media site Weibo this week after he posted a lengthy statement on his account airing his grievances regarding how he was shut out from China’s entertainment world after being caught with drugs.

In Song’s Weibo post of October 11 titled “I Need to Say Something” (“我需要说一些话”), the singer complained that one of his performances was canceled and that he has not been able to perform since he was detained for drug use five years ago.

The Beijing singer was scheduled to hold a concert in Chengdu on October 16th, but local authorities eventually canceled the show after receiving reports about Song being a drug addict.

According to Song, it is not the first time that one of his concerts is suddenly canceled for no apparent reason. In his post, the Beijing artist shared how disappointed he is that yet another performance was called off, even though it was previously approved and was organized in compliance with all strict regulations.

It seems that Song Dongye just cannot get rid of his tainted reputation.

Song Dongye

The 34-year-old Song Dongye started his career as a musician in 2009 and signed with the Modern Sky record label in 2012. One of his biggest hits is the 2013 song ‘Miss Dong’ (董小姐) (link), after which Song’s career further flourished.

Things went sour in 2016, when Song was arrested for smoking marijuana in Beijing after someone allegedly tipped off the police. Not long after news on his arrest made the rounds, Song himself posted a statement on his Weibo account on October 25th of 2016, apologizing to everyone for violating the law and promising to better himself.

Song is not the first Chinese celebrity to have been caught with drugs. There is an entire list of celebrities who were caught doing drugs, especially in the 2014-2016 years – including names such as Jaycee Chan, Kai Ko, and Zhang Mo.

In Song’s most recent Weibo post, the solo artist explains how his former drug abuse deeply affected him and his family, and that he has never touched drugs again since his ten-day prison sentence five years ago in 2016.

Song Donye’s lengthy Weibo post of October 11, in which he shared his grievances regarding still being ‘canceled’ five years after being arrested for drug use.

Despite the fact that Song complied with court orders and became an anti-drug advocate, he apparently is still not able to perform – even though the prescribed three-year ban on performing (in accordance with regulations provided by the Ministry of Culture) has officially ended two years ago.

The musician writes that he feels wronged. As a former drug abuser, he feels it was right for him to be punished, but he also says that drug users are actually the victims, claiming that drug trafficking is the real crime. Song argues that it is very difficult to be in the entertainment industry and that it is not easy to say no to drugs when you are down, depressed, and pressured.

In his Weibo post, the artist actually suggests he has been victimized in two ways: firstly, as a depressed artist lured into taking drugs, and second, as a canceled celebrity who keeps on being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

“I can’t understand it, I’m confused,” Song writes: “I’ve violated the law, but I’ve been punished! I’ve been detained and then I also received five years of verbal abuse! I’ve been educated! I understand! I never messed up again! I got up again, and I changed! I became a better person! Is that still not enough for me to be able to make a living? Why? I’m not doing anything but playing some small offline gigs in order to get by! I’m just a singer-songwriter! What else do you want me to do? (..) Shouldn’t society give people who have broken the law another chance?”

Song concludes his post by saying that, regardless of the challenges he is facing, he will not give up on his work.

Song’s Post Backfires

Soon after Song Dongye posted his short essay on Weibo, thousands of reactions started flooding in. Many netizens did not feel sorry for the artist, but instead blamed him for “playing the victim.”

The issue triggered a major discussion on Chinese social media on whether or not artists with a bad reputation should be allowed back into the limelight.

A recent article by What’s on Weibo on 25 ‘tainted celebrities’ in China (25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?) shows that Chinese entertainers who previously got ‘canceled’ generally do not return to the big stage, either because they have simply fallen out of favor with most people or because they are being shunned and sidelined in the entertainment industry (or a combination of both).

Many people felt that Song Dongye was being a hypocrite, not just because they felt he was excusing his former drug use by saying drug traffickers are the real offenders, but also because Song allegedly did do multiple commercial shows over the past five years and has been actively setting up new businesses since his 2016 arrest.

For official media accounts, in the meantime, this apparently seemed to be a good moment to highlight their anti-drug informational posts.

State newspaper People’s Daily posted a series of photographs on October 12th featuring police officers who got injured while doing their work combating drug trafficking and drug use, stating that over thirty staff members of the law enforcement against drugs were killed since 2017.

The post’s message was clear: these Chinese officers in drug law enforcement were unable to get a second chance in life – why would Song, as a drug abuser, be allowed to get another chance to restart his career as a performer?

That idea resonated with many, who wrote: “We should have a zero-tolerance policy [towards drugs]. We can’t ever revive these police officers!”

Another image circulated on social media with the tagline “taking drugs and selling drugs is the same crime,” showing a musician offering money for drugs and a law enforcement officer being shot on the job (image below).

On that same day, Song’s Weibo account was temporarily suspended. The hashtag “Song Dongye’s Weibo Suspended” (#宋冬野微博被禁言#) received over 620 million views in the days following the ban.

Many people on Weibo share the view that those who chose to take illegal drugs for their own pleasure can never be a public figure again, earning money from commercial appearances.

Others wrote that Song should have never posted his essay at all since it only caused him to be labeled as a ‘tainted celebrity’ again, even though many people had already forgotten about his former drug use. They think that Song’s real problem hindering his future career now is not his 2016 offense, but his 2021 Weibo post.

Song Dongye’s post did not just affect him, it indirectly also affected other Chinese ‘tainted celebrities.’

A planned concert by Chinese singer Li Daimo (李代沫), a previous contestant of The Voice of China (中国好声音), was also canceled this week following the Song Dongye controversy.

Li Daimo continued his music career after his 2014 drug offense.

Li Daimo was arrested in 2014 for possession of drugs and was later sentenced to a fine and nine months in prison. After being released from prison, Li resumed his music career. Although his tainted past was still sometimes discussed on social media, he was one of the few artists who seemed to have made some sort of a comeback to the entertainment industry after such a major controversy.

The Song Dongye situation, however, also made people (and authorities) reflect on Li’s current career.

Over the past year, Chinese celebrities have become a target of authorities and state media have consistently been reporting on the importance of Chinese stars setting a good example for their fans.

But amid all controversy, there are also people who come to Song’s defense: “If an artist has been punished for three years, we should give people the opportunity to reappear. It might [even] be more beneficial to the anti-drug campaign.”

“I really like his songs,” one person wrote about Song: “But he did drugs, and I can’t forgive him for that.”

At this time, it is not clear when or if Song Dongye will be allowed to post on his Weibo account again. Although his Weibo page is still there, it currently says: “This account has temporarily been suspended for violating Weibo guidelines.” It is not clarified which specific guidelines Song violated with his post.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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