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Aggression in Beijing’s Underground: Female Violence on the Rise

Beijing’s subway has become increasingly congested over the recent years. Overcrowding often leading to outbursts of aggression. What is different from before is that more and more fights now involve female passengers.

Manya Koetse

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Beijing’s subway has become increasingly congested over the recent years. Transit station Sihui (四惠站) is known for being one of the most overcrowded stations of the city, often leading to outbursts of aggression. On average, the Sihui station police has to intervene in three fights on a daily basis. What is different from before is that more and more fights now involve female passengers.

Chinese newspaper Beijing Times recently interviewed officers working at the Sihui local police station to discover how they deal with aggression in the subway. According to these officers, violent situations increasingly involve women between the ages of 20 to 30. This group currently accounts for one third of all fights occurring at the station. The repercussions of these arguments are often more serious then when men fight, says officer Li Hongjian: female passengers tend to get more injured due to violent hair pulling and scratching with long nails.

For the local police, intervening in these fights is often difficult and time-consuming. Li Hongjian explains in the Beijing Times that intervention in female fights is different from that in arguments amongst male passengers. Normally, the police will let passengers cool off for a while and then mediate by letting them talk to each other – generally solving the case in ten minutes. When dealing with violent outbursts amongst young women, the scenario is different. The passengers have to be taken apart to avoid further escalation. An officer will hear their stories separately to win their trust and settle the case. The disputes are often more complicated because the passengers want to be compensated for dirty clothes or missed hours at work. Mediation for these cases generally takes the police over half an hour.

Officer Li Hongjian also explains that officers mediate by asking passengers about their current situation. Personal problems and stress are usually at the root of subway arguments. When a person is already stressed and agitated, the atmosphere of a stuffy and overcrowded subway station can quickly trigger an argument and lead to an escalation of anger.

The eruption of fights and disorder in Beijing’s congested stations can cause dangerous situations. Earlier this year, a fight amongst two passengers lead to a panicked rush in Beijing’s Guomao Station. Last November, a woman died in an overcrowded when getting trapped between the subway doors. Beijing Subway reminds people to keep calm when something unexpected happens during their journey.

-by Manya Koetse
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[box] This is Weiblog: the What’s on Weibo short-blog section. Brief daily updates on our blog and what is currently trending on China’s biggest social medium, Sina Weibo.[/box]

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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Weibo Watch: The Last ‘T’ Standing

The last ‘T’ standing, Gaokao week, and why Chinese publishers are boycotting JD’s 618 festival.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #30

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – The Last T-Word
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Taiwan students lack knowledge on Chinese history
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Will China save Lululemon?
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Divorce peek after Gaokao
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Sunscreen Warriors”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week marked the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, a time when censorship and online control in China intensify.

Ten years ago, around the 25th Tiananmen anniversary, I was browsing a bookstore in Beijing when I came across a book titled My Homeland in the 1980s (我的故乡在八十年代), its cover showing students reading and sitting at Tiananmen Square. The book, featuring dozens of interviews, was supposed to discuss the events of the 1980s in China, reassessing the era’s impact on the country today.

I immediately bought the book, as I was curious to see how this work, published in 2013, would narrate the events of the summer of 1989. Perhaps I was naive, but after carefully hopping from chapter to chapter, from page to page, I was stunned to discover that while the Tiananmen Square was referred to several times throughout the book, which thoroughly discussed happenings from 1980-1990, there was no reference to the student protests or June 4th at all. Not one single sentence—it was as if it had never happened.

Of course, the surprise wasn’t that big. I was well aware of the so-called ‘Forbidden Ts,’ highly sensitive and often censored topics which are closely tied to the end of Twitter in China and the rise of Weibo in 2009.

These ‘Three Ts’—which even have their own Wikipedia page—refer to Chinese taboo topics: Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan. You might even call it the ‘Four Ts’ if you include Xinjiang (for T’s sake, borrowing the T from its old reference as East Turkestan).

 
“The Last ‘T’ Standing”
 

Many things were happening in the summer of 2009, following a period of a relatively free Chinese internet since 2006 that saw a flourishing of new BBS sites and social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter. The year 2009 was a year of change and key events: the Jasmine revolution was taking place, there was growing unrest in Xinjiang including the Urumqi riots, and it was the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

That year, online censorship was particularly strict, and various websites and discussion boards became inaccessible around June 4th. Some sites displayed a message stating they were “closed for maintenance,” leading to the day sarcastically being nicknamed “Chinese Internet Maintenance Day” (中国网站维护日).

For some sites, their temporary ‘maintenance’ became permanent. While American Twitter disappeared from China, the domestic Sina Weibo emerged—a new social media platform designed to keep information flows under control by censoring sensitive topics and hiding posts containing blocked keywords.

The ‘Four Ts’ remained highly sensitive, and often there would be no results at all when searching for a term like ‘Xinjiang.’

Throughout the years, however, in line with China’s rising importance on the world stage and its growing assertiveness under Xi Jinping, wolf warrior diplomacy, new strategies in digital propaganda, and other factors, most of the forbidden Ts have become not so taboo nor forbidden at all anymore.

There have been various extensive online discussions about Tibet or about Xinjiang – and what Western media are getting wrong about these topics. Nowadays, even the words for ‘Taiwan independence’ – once a censored term – are ubiquitous in China’s online environment as part of the intensified Taiwan reunification social media campaign.

The primary change in these topics is how official accounts now control the narrative, framing them in ways that are not politically sensitive but rather vehicles of Chinese pride and nationalism. This shift enables these subjects to be addressed because there is now an official online discourse providing a context for the conversation.

Tiananmen, however, is the last ‘T’ standing.

If anything, censorship surrounding this ‘T’ has seemingly only grown stricter. During the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests in 2019, there was a complete shutdown of searches for this term on Weibo. As in previous years, Weibo quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4, and also started removing other emojis deemed remotely sensitive, such as the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

 
“Internet Maintenance Day”
 

During the Tiananmen anniversary in 2022, Weibo saw an uptick in posts using the English phrase “It’s my duty,” relating to a video of a young student in 1989 Beijing answering a foreign reporter on why he was off to march at Tiananmen Square (“Why? I think it’s my duty” – see video). Following this, any mention of the “It’s my duty” slogan was meticulously scrubbed from Chinese social media.

The term ‘May 35’, which became a code word for ‘June 4,’ is also censored, like so many other plays on words. No matter if it’s numbers, different characters, English phrases, or emojis – once a creative way to commemorate Tiananmen’s June 4 becomes popular on Weibo or other platforms, it’s swiftly removed.

This year is no different. As described by Alexander Boyd, the breadth of censorship in China during this 35th Tiananmen anniversary was “breathtaking.”

And so it was somewhat noteworthy when New Zealand national Andy Boreham, a Chinese state media (Shanghai Daily) worker, posted a long thread on X [Twitter] this week about the “Tankman” and Tiananmen, in which he attempted ‘to set the record straight’ by claiming that the idea of the “Tiananmen Square Massacre” is “a U.S.-led myth based on a very real set of events over a few weeks in 1989.”

The first part of Boreham’s now-deleted X thread, screenshot via Fergus Ryan @fryan.

The ‘T-word’ is obviously not censored on X, where Boreham tweets for a foreign audience, not a domestic one. But considering Boreham’s position within the Chinese state media apparatus and the guidance that comes with it,[1] his lengthy discussion of Tiananmen was still unusual. Boreham wrote about the protests and did not deny that there were many casualties, while mainly focusing on the alleged “Tiananmen Square massacre,” which he claimed did not occur. (DW News reporter Monir Ghaedi explains more about Boreham’s post here).

A day later, after Boreham’s post was shared over 5000 times, the entire thread was suddenly deleted.

Although he posted another tweet about Americans dying from gun violence on June 4th, Boreham did not address the deletion of his detailed Tiananmen thread.

Instead, he wrote: “It seems the world isn’t ready for the truth, or even just to face the idea that what they believe is only one version.”

Not a single mention of the deleted post—it was as if it had never happened. Perhaps Boreham’s response had a double meaning when he wrote “it seems the world isn’t ready for the truth”, including how China isn’t ready for this T, even if it’s happening on X. Maybe he had his own private “Internet maintenance day” this June 4th.

Best,
Manya

 

[1]Ryan, Fergus, Matt Knight, and Daria Impiombato. 2023. “Singing from the CCP’s Songsheet: The Role of Foreign Influencers in China’s Propaganda System.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 35-36. https://ad-aspi.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/2023-11/Singing%20from%20the%20song%20sheet.pdf?VersionId=mdVBVPrFokz_xlEyhQdz0H3ZPmRs76el.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Students vs. Chatbots | It’s Gaokao time! Over 13.4 million Chinese students are taking the national college entrance exams this week. For the first time, China’s Gaokao essay topic is about the latest AI developments, sparking discussions on social media platforms about whether AI is actually making life easier or not.

Read more
 

2: The Cost of Cheap Books | Interesting discussions are emerging ahead of JD.com’s major 618 shopping festival this year, following a joint statement from Chinese publishers declaring that the price war on books is no longer sustainable. Of course, bookworms always love getting a good deal on books, but when the deals are just too good, it could harm the publishing industry.

Read more
 

3: Uncle Wang Goes Phnom Penh | Various tribute videos are circulating on Chinese social media this week following the announcement that MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin is starting his new post as China’s new ambassador to Cambodia. Wang served as the 32nd MFA spokesperson from 2020 to 2024. While some perceive his new role as a “downgrade,” it is more likely a reflection of his importance given the strengthening of Sino-Cambodian relations and Cambodia’s role as a key strategic partner to China in the region.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • THURSDAY 30 MAY
    • 270 million views for the hashtag “Gou Zhongwen Suspected of Serious Disciplinary Violations and Illegal Activities” #苟仲文涉嫌严重违纪违法#.
    • Gou Zhongwen is a Chinese politician who served as director of the State General Administration of Sports from 2016 to 2022. He is under investigation for suspected severe violations of Party discipline and the law.
    • The probe involving the retired Gou, who is currently being held in custody, is part of a wider government crackdown on corruption in sports. Read more on Caixin here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 31 MAY
    • After a New York jury found Trump guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records in his hush-money criminal trial, his historic conviction – making Trump the first former U.S. president to be found guilty of felony crimes – went top trending on Weibo.
    • On Chinese social media, the Trump trial is seen as a spectacle to enjoy, a “historical performance” featuring “Comrade Trump” as the leading figure.
    • Political commentator Hu Xijin also commented on the issue, stating that the case triggers the curiosity of Chinese people because they mostly wonder about two things:
      1. Will Trump actually go to jail?
      2. Can he still run for president?
  •  

  • MONDAY JUNE 3
    • The topic “China has stopped giving away pandas for free for over 40 years” went trending on Weibo, garnering over 440 million views.
    • This refers to the policy shift in the 1980s when China stopped gifting pandas to friendly nations for free and switched to “lending” them for shorter periods, with all pandas and their offspring remaining Chinese property.
    • The policy, widely supported among Chinese commenters, sparked discussions because of Fu Bao, a panda born in 2020 as South Korea’s first naturally-bred panda.
    • •As part of China’s “panda diplomacy” program, Fu Bao was returned to China in early April, but South Korean netizens have now set up a petition to ‘bring back’ their beloved panda.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY JUNE 5
    • Chinese streaming platform iQIYI faced an online storm this week after asking its paying members to pay an additional fee to watch a livestream of an event related to its hit show, “Become a Farmer.”
    • Adding to the frustration, the event itself was free for offline participants, leading to the hashtag “iQIYI – offline free, online paid” (爱奇艺 线下免费线上收费), which garnered 200 million views on Weibo.
    • The criticism comes at a time when members are already dissatisfied with price hikes and additional charges for higher streaming quality and early access to content.
    • To read more on the hit show “Become a Farmer,” check out our article here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY, SATURDAY 7&8 JUNE
    • Over 13.4 million students sat down for their Gaokao, the national college entrance exams, which started this week and dominated trending topics on Chinese social media.
    • Platforms like Weibo and Douyin saw a flood of videos featuring relieved students emerging from the exam room. For many, it’s finally time to relax after weeks of intense studying.
    • Some provinces and regions, including Henan and Jiangsu, are offering freebies for those who took the exam, such as free entrance to scenic areas.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The latest TV drama to create a lot of buzz and discussion this week is The Double (墨雨云间 Mò Yǔ Yún Jiān), a superdramatic romance/costume series starring, among others, Chinese actress Wu Jinyan (吴谨言), and Chinese actors Wang Xingyue (王星越) and Chen Xinhai (陈鑫海). Wu stars as the female lead, Xue Fangfei, the daughter of a county magistrate who leads a happy and privileged life until everything changes and she gets buried alive by her husband. Don’t worry, she’ll assume another identity to go on a quest for revenge.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from the Chinese web novel “Marriage of the Di Daughter” (嫡嫁千金) by Qian Shan Cha Ke (千山茶客).
    ▶️ The Double immediately became top ranking on Youku’s drama list for 2024, becoming the fastest drama this year to hit 10,000 on Youku’s “heat index.” The series is also scoring well outside of China, scoring 8.5/10 on MyDramaList.
    ▶️ The drama is a true social media hit: its hashtag has received a staggering 1.59 billion views on Weibo.

    The Double is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    Chinese state media have recently taken a new approach in the discourse surrounding cross-straits relations, highlighting how students in Taiwan lack knowledge about Chinese history and are victims of a “de-Chinafication” education policy. This policy is supposedly embedded in the Chinese history education in Taiwan.

    On May 30, state broadcaster CCTV News released a street interview video with Taiwanese students after their college entrance exams, asking them about Chinese history. Some students mentioned that Chinese history was only covered in one or two questions, while others responded with “What is Chinese history?” This topic quickly became the number one trending topic on Weibo (#台湾高中生问中国史是什么#).

    In online discussions, many netizens argued that Taiwan’s “pro-independence” education curriculum is purposely distorting views on Chinese history, allegedly leading to a lack of identification with being ‘Chinese,’ raising concerns about the long-term impact of such ‘educational policies.’

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

    American athletic apparel brand Lululemon has recently been trending on Chinese social media for two reasons. First, reports highlighted significant growth in the Chinese market. In the first quarter of 2024, Lululemon’s sales increased by 10%, with a notable 45% surge in revenue from China. Second, the company’s stock price recently dropped due to concerns over its outlook, exacerbated by the departure of a key executive, Sun Choe, and the significant slowdown in revenue growth in the Americas market in the final quarter of 2023.

    These developments have led to speculation in China about whether the Chinese market might be the one to ‘rescue’ the American brand, sparking conversations about the willingness of Chinese consumers to purchase the relatively pricey activewear brand.

    However, on social media, many believe Lululemon’s success in China might not be everlasting. Searching for ‘Lululemon alternatives’ on China’s online shopping platforms, some argue that a 50-yuan sweater ($7) is just as comfortable as the original, which costs over 1,000 yuan ($138). Chinese sellers claim that the Lululemon alternatives produced by Chinese OEM factories are indistinguishable from the real product at a much better price. This sentiment is echoed by many Chinese consumers, who find the cheaper made-in-China alternatives to Lululemon just as satisfactory. A related hashtag received over 140 million views on Weibo this week.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2018 about the post-Gaokao divorce trend. For millions of Chinese students and their parents, the national college entrance exams – taking place this week – are incredibly stressful. To support their child’s performance, some unhappy couples decide to postpone their plans to divorce, leading to a spike in divorce rates shortly after the exams end. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Sun Protection Warriors” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is fángshài zhànshì (防晒战士), translated as “sun protection warriors” or “sunscreen warriors.”

    In recent years, China has seen a rise in anti-tan, sun-protection garments. More than just preventing sunburn, these garments aim to prevent any tanning at all, helping Chinese women—and some men—maintain as pale a complexion as possible, as fair skin is deemed aesthetically ideal.

    As temperatures are soaring across China, online fashion stores on Taobao and other platforms are offering all kinds of fashion solutions to prevent the skin, mainly the face, from being exposed to the sun.

    On the social lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, women share all kinds of strategies to avoid sun exposure, from enormous sunhats to reverse hoodies. This extreme anti-sun fashion has led some users to label themselves or others as “sun protection warriors.”

    Some people think the trend is going too far, saying that fashionable women nowadays are more like “sunscreen terrorists” (防晒恐怖分子, fángshài kǒngbùfènzǐ).

    Image shared on Weibo by @TA们叫我董小姐, comparing pretty girls before (left) and nowadays (right), also labeled “sunscreen terrorists.”

    To see more examples of extreme anti-tan fashion and read more about this phenomenon, click here 👇

    Read more
     

     
    This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

    Featured image: Part of the image is based on photo taken by photographer Liu Xiangcheng, depicting dozens of students sitting down at Tiananmen Square.

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China Books & Literature

Why Chinese Publishers Are Boycotting the 618 Shopping Festival

Bookworms love to get a good deal on books, but when the deals are too good, it can actually harm the publishing industry.

Ruixin Zhang

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JD.com’s 618 shopping festival is driving down book prices to such an extent that it has prompted a boycott by Chinese publishers, who are concerned about the financial sustainability of their industry.

When June begins, promotional campaigns for China’s 618 Online Shopping Festival suddenly appear everywhere—it’s hard to ignore.

The 618 Festival is a product of China’s booming e-commerce culture. Taking place annually on June 18th, it is China’s largest mid-year shopping carnival. While Alibaba’s “Singles’ Day” shopping festival has been taking place on November 11th since 2009, the 618 Festival was launched by another Chinese e-commerce giant, JD.com (京东), to celebrate the company’s anniversary, boost its sales, and increase its brand value.

By now, other e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and Pinduoduo have joined the 618 Festival, and it has turned into another major nationwide shopping spree event.

For many book lovers in China, 618 has become the perfect opportunity to stock up on books. In previous years, e-commerce platforms like JD.com and Dangdang (当当) would roll out tempting offers during the festival, such as “300 RMB ($41) off for every 500 RMB ($69) spent” or “50 RMB ($7) off for every 100 RMB ($13.8) spent.”

Starting in May, about a month before 618, the largest bookworm community group on the Douban platform, nicknamed “Buying Like Landsliding, Reading Like Silk Spinning” (买书如山倒,看书如抽丝), would start buzzing with activity, discussing book sales, comparing shopping lists, or sharing views about different issues.

Social media users share lists of which books to buy during the 618 shopping festivities.

This year, however, the mood within the group was different. Many members posted that before the 618 season began, books from various publishers were suddenly taken down from e-commerce platforms, disappearing from their online shopping carts. This unusual occurrence sparked discussions among book lovers, with speculations arising about a potential conflict between Chinese publishers and e-commerce platforms.

A joint statement posted in May provided clarity. According to Chinese media outlet The Paper (@澎湃新闻), eight publishers in Beijing and the Shanghai Publishing and Distribution Association, which represent 46 publishing units in Shanghai, issued a statement indicating they refuse to participate in this year’s 618 promotional campaign as proposed by JD.com.

The collective industry boycott has a clear motivation: during JD’s 618 promotional campaign, which offers all books at steep discounts (e.g., 60-70% off) for eight days, publishers lose money on each book sold. Meanwhile, JD.com continues to profit by forcing publishers to sell books at significantly reduced prices (e.g., 80% off). For many publishers, it is simply not sustainable to sell books at 20% of the original price.

One person who has openly spoken out against JD.com’s practices is Shen Haobo (沈浩波), founder and CEO of Chinese book publisher Motie Group (磨铁集团). Shen shared a post on WeChat Moments on May 31st, stating that Motie has completely stopped shipping to JD.com as it opposes the company’s low-price promotions. Shen said it felt like JD.com is “repeatedly rubbing our faces into the ground.”

Nevertheless, many netizens expressed confusion over the situation. Under the hashtag topic “Multiple Publishers Are Boycotting the 618 Book Promotions” (#多家出版社抵制618图书大促#), people complained about the relatively high cost of physical books.

With a single legitimate copy often costing 50-60 RMB ($7-$8.3), and children’s books often costing much more, many Chinese readers can only afford to buy books during big sales. They question the justification for these rising prices, as books used to be much more affordable.

Book blogger TaoLangGe (@陶朗歌) argues that for ordinary readers in China, the removal of discounted books is not good news. As consumers, most people are not concerned with the “life and death of the publishing industry” and naturally prefer cheaper books.

However, industry insiders argue that a “price war” on books may not truly benefit buyers in the end, as it is actually driving up the prices as a forced response to the frequent discount promotions by e-commerce platforms.

China News (@中国新闻网) interviewed publisher San Shi (三石), who noted that people’s expectations of book prices can be easily influenced by promotional activities, leading to a subconscious belief that purchasing books at such low prices is normal. Publishers, therefore, feel compelled to reduce costs and adopt price competition to attract buyers. However, the space for cost reduction in paper and printing is limited.

Eventually, this pressure could affect the quality and layout of books, including their binding, design, and editing. In the long run, if a vicious cycle develops, it would be detrimental to the production and publication of high-quality books, ultimately disappointing book lovers who will struggle to find the books they want, in the format they prefer.

This debate temporarily resolved with JD.com’s compromise. According to The Paper, JD.com has started to abandon its previous strategy of offering extreme discounts across all book categories. Publishers now have a certain degree of autonomy, able to decide the types of books and discount rates for platform promotions.

While most previously delisted books have returned for sale, JD.com’s silence on their official social media channels leaves people worried about the future of China’s publishing industry in an era dominated by e-commerce platforms, especially at a time when online shops and livestreamers keep competing over who has the best book deals, hyping up promotional campaigns like ‘9.9 RMB ($1.4) per book with free shipping’ to ‘1 RMB ($0.15) books.’

This year’s developments surrounding the publishing industry and 618 has led to some discussions that have created more awareness among Chinese consumers about the true price of books. “I was planning to bulk buy books this year,” one commenter wrote: “But then I looked at my bookshelf and saw that some of last year’s books haven’t even been unwrapped yet.”

Another commenter wrote: “Although I’m just an ordinary reader, I still feel very sad about this situation. It’s reasonable to say that lower prices are good for readers, but what I see is an unfavorable outlook for publishers and the book market. If this continues, no one will want to work in this industry, and for readers who do not like e-books and only prefer physical books, this is definitely not a good thing at all!”

By Ruixin Zhang, edited with further input by Manya Koetse

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