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“A Breath of Fresh Air” – Clubhouse App Discussed by Chinese Social Media Users

Some Chinese social media users describe Clubhouse as “a small crack in the window.”

Manya Koetse

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Some call it “a breath of fresh air”, but others would rather read a book. The Clubhouse app is a hot topic among Chinese social media users.

What is Clubhouse? Why is Clubhouse so hot? Would you pay 1000 dollars to enter Clubhouse?

These are just a few of the hashtags and questions relating to the new drop-in audio social media platform Clubhouse that have been making their rounds on Chinese sites such as Weibo, WeChat, Douban and Zhihu over the past week or so, with discussions about the app really taking off on Saturday night.

Clubhouse describes itself as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations—with friends and other interesting people around the world” where you can “go online anytime to chat with the people you follow, or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.”

The app has virtual rooms and events themed around various topics – anything from politics to music – and lets hundreds of members join conversations as moderators, speakers, or listeners.

The new social media app is currently only accessible to iPhone users who have an invite to join. There’s a growing online market for selling and buying invites in order to join the platform.

Although Clubhouse has been around for some months already, it gained massive attention all around the world this week when Elon Musk went live in the app with a group of 5000 listeners (the maximum capacity of each Clubhouse room) on January 31st. Musk sat down for a chat with the Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also made an appearance on Clubhouse on February 4.

Elon Musk announced his Clubhouse appearance on Twitter on January 31.

The Clubhouse app was developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Seth. It was first launched in April 2020 on iOs only.

 

“One big boring seminar” 

 

At this time, the Clubhouse app is freely accessible from within China for those people who have an invite, but only if they have access to the non-Chinese Apple store to download the app.

As a result, pages explaining how to download the app and how to register for it are mushrooming online.

There are some people on Weibo sharing their positive experiences with the app, calling the quality of the conversations “high-quality,” “interesting,” and “helpful.”

But there are also many skeptics on Chinese social media. Tech blogger Shǒuzhōng Zhǎngwò (@手中掌握), for example, wrote that Clubhouse is only hyped because of Elon Musk at this time and that its basic function is not much different from joining live broadcasts. The app is also popular because it is invite-only at this point, giving it a somewhat prestigious reputation that allegedly won’t last.

There are also people who say joining Clubhouse felt like joining company meetings. Online tech blogger Yiyangish (@一杨ish) said that Clubhouse feels like “everyone having meetings all over the place,” with people willingly choosing to work outside of work time.

“This is like joining my company meetings!” another blogger said, with other commenters saying they’d rather read a book.

“It’s like one big boring seminar,” another Weibo blogger wrote.

 

“A Small Crack in the Window”

 

But Clubhouse is also an online platform where conversations take place that would otherwise not happen within China’s digital landscape.

“I just joined a chat room on Clubhouse that was about ‘does Xinjiang have concentration camps?'” one Weibo user writes: “It is so cool to raise your hand and line up with other Chinese-speaking people who are concerned about current affairs and politics and talk about on human rights, ethnicity, policies, international relations, etc., and to express your views on the basis of etiquette.”

That same Weibo user also expressed that Clubhouse was like a “breath of fresh air” in an online environment that is otherwise closed off from these kinds of conversations.

The virtual room discussing Xinjiang also made its rounds on Twitter on February 6, with Sinica podcast host Kaiser Kuo (@kaiserkuo) discussing the conversation in a Twitter thread (embedded below) and other Twitter users, from the Economist‘s China Affairs Editor Gady Epstein (@gadyepstein) to journalist Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) publishing Tweets about the ongoing conversations on Xinjiang on Clubhouse.

Meanwhile, on Weibo, the civilized and open character of the Clubhouse conversations were praised, allowing a broader understanding of issues that otherwise remain untouched or are limited within the Chinese social media sphere – not just about Xinjiang, but also about the status of Hong Kong and about issues such as whether or not (overseas) Chinese are willing to return to the mainland and why. “It is like a small crack in a window,” one person said.

“It’s in the middle of the night and I’m still on Clubhouse!” and “I’m on a Clubhouse marathon”, some users said, with others wondering if the “entire world” was currently looking for a Clubhouse invite.

While Clubhouse is a hot topic on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, many people do wonder how long it will take before the app is pulled offline within mainland China, with some suggesting “it’s just a matter of time” before the app is blocked.

“I hope it stays accessible from within China,” one (overseas) Weibo user writes: “This place is lit.”

By Manya Koetse

Featured image by Ivan Vranić

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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

U.S. Embassy Launches WeChat Stickers Featuring Cartoon Eagle

A Weibo hashtag about the eagle stickers, that feature some phrases previously used by China’s Foreign Ministry, has now been taken offline.

Manya Koetse

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On January 30, the American Embassy in China announced the launch of its very own series of social media gifs, a special ’emoticon collection’ (表情包), featuring a little, somewhat silly cartoon eagle.

The U.S. Embassy launched the eagle series on WeChat and also announced the series on their Weibo account, writing that the eagle made its first public appearance in light of the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The eagle is called “Xiaomei” or “Little Mei” (鹰小美). The ‘mei’ is part of 美国 Měiguó, Chinese for the ‘United States,’ but měi also means beautiful and pretty.

The American embassy issued a total of 16 different animated stickers, and they’re intended to be used on Tencent’s WeChat, where users can download all kinds of different emoticons or stickers to use in conversations.

WeChat users often use many different animated stickers in conversations to express emotions, make jokes, or increase the festive mood (by sending out celebratory New Year’s or birthday etc gifs). Users can download new and preferred sticker packages through the app’s sticker section.

One sticker shows Xiaomei with a festive decoration with 福 () for blessing and prosperity, wishing everyone a happy start to the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are also stickers showing the texts “happy winter,” “hi,” and “thank you.”

Another sticker in the series that has triggered some online responses is one that shows the eagle with a surprised look, wiping its eyes, with the words “wait and see” written above. The Chinese expression used is 拭目以待 shìmù yǐdài, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning to wipe one’s eyes and wait.

This same expression was often used by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) during press conferences, and he also used it in 2022 when responding to questions related to Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan and how the Chinese military would respond (e.g. he first used “wait and see” in the context of waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to go to Taiwan or not). But Zhao also used “please wait and see” (请大家拭目以待) when foreign reporters asked him how China would respond to the announced U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics in 2021.

The Little Mei emoji triggered the most responses as some netizens felt it was meant as a sneer to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

One of Little Mei’s quotes is also “remain calm” (保持冷静 bǎochí lěngjìng), which was – perhaps coincidentally – also often used by Zhao in the context of the war in Ukraine and to refer to other international conflicts or tensions (“all parties should remain calm”). The animated sticker also has olive branches growing behind the eagle.

It recently became known that Zhao, who became known as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat, was removed as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson and was moved to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

Especially in the context of Zhao leaving his post, some wondered why the U.S. Embassy would use phrases related to his press conferences for their new emoticons.

Although some people suggested the WeChat stickers were not launched in China with good intentions, others appreciated the humorous visuals and felt it was funny. Some also joked that America was infiltrating Chinese social media with its cultural export (“文化输出”), and others wondered if they could not also introduce some other stickers with more Chinese Foreign Ministry popular phrases on them.

A hashtag related to the topic made its rounds on Weibo on Tuesday (#美驻华大使馆上线鹰小美表情包#), but the topic suddenly was taken offline on Tuesday evening local time, along with some of the media reports about the remarkable WeChat series.

The WeChat stickers are still available for downloading by scanning the QR code below through WeChat.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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