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Behind the Spotlights of Transgender China

Transgenderism is becoming an increasingly popular topic on Chinese social media. The general attitude towards transgenderism in China is seemingly tolerant, but what goes on behind the spotlights of Transgender China?

Manya Koetse

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The issue of transgender identity is becoming an increasingly popular topic on Chinese social media, as celebrities such as Jin Xing or Han Bingbing openly talk about their sex change, and many other Chinese transgender people step into the limelight of public attention. The general attitude towards transgender people in China is seemingly tolerant, but what goes on behind the spotlights of transgender China?

Six years ago I met Han Bingbing (寒冰冰) in a Beijing bar, and I was intrigued by her right away. My friends told me she was a well-known post-operation transsexual who had a successful career in the fashion and entertainment industry, and called herself “China’s Number One Transsexual Beauty” (“中国第一变性美女”). We started talking, and Han invited me to come on her   online talkshow the next day.

zs32cHan Bingbing, well-known Beijing transgender who underwent sex reassignment surgery.

During our noodle lunch afterwards, we spoke about her life. The seemingly advanced emancipation of Chinese transsexuals surprised me. Mainland China is not exactly known for its excellent fundamental rights, yet here I was speaking to a radiant girl who had her male-to-female sex change in 1999, and now was not only officially a woman in body and on paper, but had also become the mother of her own adopted child. She was independent, successful, and seemingly happy and free.

 

“Mainland tabloids have entered a phase of fascination with transsexuals.”

 

Over a decade ago, China Daily wrote that “Mainland tabloids have recently entered a phase of sudden fascination with transsexuals.” With the rise of social media, ‘transgenderism’ has still remained a recurrent topic in Chinese media and on social media sites like Sina Weibo.

Earlier this week, pictures of a Lithuanian male-to-female transgender woman became trending on Chinese social media, where the 21-year-old woman was praised for her beauty and ‘female elegance’ (image below).

20150806105919925.jpg690

Many Chinese transgenders have stepped into the limelight to share their story with the public – such as Chen Lili (陈莉莉), who was the first transsexual woman to attempt to compete in the Miss Universe contest, or Liu Xuanyi (刘炫怡), “China’s first online transsexual celebrity”, or transgender opera star Bian Yujie (边玉洁).

Although there is a nuanced difference between ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’ in English (‘transgender’ being an umbrella term for those whose identity does not conform to what is associated with the sex they were born with, and ‘transsexual’ referring to those who transition from one sex to another, Medical Daily), there is no such nuance in common Chinese language, where both would be translated as ‘bianxing‘. ‘Bianxing’ (变性) literally means ‘change sex’, and a transgender or transsexual would be referred to as a ‘bianxingren‘ or ‘change-sex-person’.

China’s most famous transgender woman probably is Jin Xing (金星), a dancer, director and actress who formerly was a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army dance troupe and underwent sex change surgery in 1995. Years ago, Jin Xing stated that she was “quite pleased” with the way in which Chinese people have dealt with her transsexuality, and that she had “experienced no discrimination” (Canada 2000). With over 6 million followers on Weibo, the dance star is very popular on China’s social media. She now has her own talk show, simply called The Jin Xing Show, which is received well by netizens.

1436497608781_3Chinese celebrity Jin Xing underwent sex change operation in 1995.

Zhang Kesha (张克莎), who had a sex change surgery in 1983, has written a book about her experience as a transgender called ‘A Woman’s Dream’ (女人梦). She has become famous for being the first transgender in China to undergo a sex change surgery. Han Bingbing has also been open about her story, even sharing the price of the operations that turned her into “an ordinary girl”: she spent 200,000 RMB (over 30,000 US dollars) on them.

xin_bfaae4eb735e4adea933985d85955fe2Zhang Kesha, ‘China’s first transsexual’, who had sex reassignment surgery in 1983

And there are more who openly discuss transgenderism. Earlier this year, famous Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe stated on her Weibo blog that she had been living together with her female-to-male transgender partner for 17 years. Her revelation lead to online discussions about transgender people, raising awareness about different gender identities within China.

 

“China may be surpassing the U.S. in its tolerance and acceptance of transgender people.”

 

With so much exposure on transgenderism in China’s (social) media, the topic can hardly be called a taboo anymore. It is now possible for Chinese transgenders to undergo surgery, change their gender in their official ID, and get married. Some even report that “China may be surpassing the U.S. in its tolerance and acceptance of transgender people.”

Indeed, it is striking how many transgenders are present in China’s popular culture, and how accepted they are by the public. Virtually all of China’s well-known transgenders are artists, dancers or performers. It is perhaps no coincidence that transgender performance has been an important part of Chinese entertainment for centuries (Kile 2013).

 

“China has an estimated 400,000 transgender people.”

 

But beyond the limelight, the situation of transgenders in China is less rose-colored. Although China has an estimated 400,000 transgender people, the numbers of the two main centres for sex change operations reveal that no more than 800 transgender patients underwent surgery in the past 30 years, suggesting that many patients have gone to private clinics or foreign countries for their sex change (Jiang et al 2014).

Sex reassigning surgeries are not covered by medical insurance in China, and are very costly. The basic surgery starts at 50,000 RMB (7900 US dollars), while the average annual salary of a Chinese worker is 28,752 RMB (around 4540 US dollars). Besides the price, the guidelines on sex change provided by the Chinese Ministry of Health are also a hurdle to many. For example, the patient must get approval by family members and obtain proof of clean criminal records (ibid., 2014).

Earlier this week, the difficulty of Chinese bureaucracy concerning sex reassignment became painfully clear when Sichuan News reported that a Chinese transgender who underwent surgery in Thailand returned to China, only to find out she could not officially change her gender on paper (read her story).

Another major problem is employment discrimination. Within the arts and entertainment, transgenderism is commonly accepted, but in everyday life, transgender individuals are often discriminated, as they are considered “abnormal” or even “disgusting” by many. Especially female transgenders who identify as male will encounter discrimination, even from within the LGBT community (Jun 2010, 351-352).

The difficulty in finding a job leads many to work in the entertainment industry. “Many transsexuals have to work in she-male shows to make money,” Han Bingbing tells China Daily.

I saw Han Bingbing again this year, at Beijing Fashion Week, after our initial meeting in 2009. She had cut off her hair and was now a blonde, wearing a pearly pink dress that showed off her sexy cleavage. She was doing fine, and life had been treating her good, she told me, before her manager came round to take her to her next appointment. Transgender China is well-off within the spotlights. But there is a lot of room for improvement behind the limelight.

2014-03-31 06.22.04A brief encounter with Han Bingbing at the Beijing Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.

By Manya Koetse

References

* Thanks to Pei Yuxin (裴谕新) for her input on this article.

*Available online sources have been directly linked within this article.

Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. 2000. “China: Treatment of transsexuals who have undergone a sex change operation, particularly in Hong Kong (1997-2000).” Refworld (4 April). http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad4e10.html [11.08.15]

Jiang, Hua, Xian Wei, Xiaohai Zhu, Hui Wang, and Qingfeng Li. 2014. “Transgender Patients Need Better Protection in China.” The Lancet 384 (9960). Elsevier Ltd: 2109–10. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62372-2.

Jun, Pi. 2010. “Transgender in China.” Journal of LGBT Youth 7 (May 2013): 346–58. doi:10.1080/19361653.2010.512518.

Kile, Sarah E. 2013. “Transgender Performance in Early Modern China.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 24 (2): 130-149.

Hore, B. D., F. V. Nicolle and J. S. Calnan. 1973. “Male Transsexualism: Two Cases in a Single Family.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 2 (4): 317–21.

Jun, Pi. 2010. “Transgender in China.” Journal of LGBT Youth 7 (May): 346–58.

Ruan, F. F., V. L. Bullough and Y. M. Tsai. 1989. “Male Transsexualism in Mainland China.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 18 (6): 517–22. doi:10.1007/BF01541677.

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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Backgrounder

How Chinese Kuaishou Rebel ‘Pangzai’ Became a Twitter King

He’s been called a ‘Twitter king’, but how did the unexpected online fame of this ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Jessica Colwell

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Twitter has fallen in love with a Chinese farmer after his drinking videos on Kuaishou were cross-posted abroad and went viral. He has embraced his new fans and Western social media, arguably becoming one of China’s most successful cultural ambassadors of the year.

He describes himself as the “inventor of tornado beer drinking style” and as an “ordinary peasant from China.” ‘Hebei Pangzai’ only joined Twitter in August of 2019, but he already has a Twitter following of more than 111.6K.

Although his account is temporarily restricted by Twitter at time of writing (“due to suspicious activity”), his popularity is only growing. Some Twitterers, such as the China twitterer Carl Zha (@CarlZha), are even initiating a “#FreePangzai campaign” to restore the account of the “one true King.”

But where and when did the online fame of ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Let’s begin our introduction to Pangzai with one tweet from March of this year, when Twitter user ‘Hunnaban Trenchboss’ posted a video from Chinese short video app Kuaishou (快手) showing a man – ‘Pangzai’ – wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette while preparing an incredible mixed drink.

The man in the video smoothly pops the cap off a bottle of beer with a chopstick, pours some in a large jar, then twirls the bottle and propels the rest of the beer in a tornado of force down his throat.

He follows that up by pouring in more beer, some blue liquor, an egg, some Pepsi, and a hefty glass of baijiu – which he dumps in only after lighting it on fire, igniting his finger, and coolly lighting his cigarette. He then chugs the entire concoction in a matter of seconds.

“How do I become as cool as this guy, The Coolest Guy?”, the tweet said.

The same video was shared again in August by a few Russian accounts, was retweeted by an American account, and then went completely viral, racking up millions of views and tens of thousands of retweets.

That video has now been viewed almost 12 million times on Twitter, and has inspired tens of thousands of fans who herald him as ‘king.’

The man in the video referred to as ‘Pangzai’ (胖仔, ‘chubby dude’) is Liu Shichao (刘世超), a 33-year-old farmer and small-time Chinese internet celebrity from a city called Xingtai in Hebei Province.

According to an interview with Technode, he found out about the video on Twitter when some of his new foreign fans opened Chinese social media accounts to find him and tell him about his overnight online fame.

“One message told me that I was a celebrity now in America,” he told Technode: “So I chatted with the person [who sent the message] for a whole day, with the help of translation software.”

Within two days of his video going viral, Pangzai had figured out how to use a VPN, opened his own Twitter account and started uploading videos.

He even posted a reply on the original viral video to alert everybody to his account.

Liu’s early response to his viral video on Twitter.

Since then, Liu ‘Pangzai’ has amassed over 111,000 followers and has posted many more videos of everything from drinking, to cooking, to exploring his countryside hometown.

But it was the drinking videos specifically that earned him his following, both abroad and in China.

 

IT STARTED ON KUAISHOU

“Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account.”

 

Liu began his internet career three years ago on Kuaishou, a Chinese short video app massively popular among China’s lower-tier cities and countryside.

In contrast to the polished, celeb-heavy platform Douyin, which is most popular among urban youths, Kuaishou is a platform for the masses. Its users are known for their crazy antics and general disregard for personal safety.

Liu Shichao’s Kuaishou account has 354,000 followers, but the majority of his videos have been removed.

Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account. Posting under the handle “Chubby Dude from Hebei” (@河北胖仔), he uploads videos of himself eating and drinking in eye-popping combinations, or sometimes smashing things – from bricks to unopened water bottles – with his bare hands.

Liu’s video of breaking bricks with his hands was also popular on Twitter.

Liu also gained notoriety, and a couple hundred thousand followers, from his mastery of the so-called ‘beer tornado technique’ (小旋风 xiǎo xuànfēng).

According to an interview with the BBC, he peaked at 470,000 followers on Kuaishou and was monetizing his online fame with some 10,000 RMB ($1420) per month.

Liu’s signature beer tornado technique features in the first video he posted to Twitter.

Unfortunately for Liu, China’s Cyberspace Administration announced a crackdown on vulgar and illegal content across multiple social media platforms in spring of 2018, with a focus on Douyin, Kuaishou, and its sister news company Jinri Toutiao. Kuaishou was pulled from app stores until it cleaned up its act.

It is unclear just how many videos and accounts have been removed as a result of the cleanup. We can get a rough idea from an announcement by Kuaishou earlier this year that in March of 2019 alone, it removed an average of over 11,000 videos and blocked almost 1,000 accounts every day.

The result for Liu was that his account was suspended for four months and the majority of his most popular videos, including the one that went viral abroad, were removed for promoting ‘unhealthy drinking habits.’

When you look at his Kuaishou account today, you won’t see many videos focused solely on baijiu and beer chugging.

The videos that remain on his account do include drinking (and his signature tornado move) but it is always accompanied by eating food or some other activity (such as sitting deep in a field of corn, munching on roast duck and dribbling baijiu down a corn leaf into a glass.)

In a video posted to Kuaishou, Liu pours baijiu into a glass from a corn leaf, before then lighting it on fire and chugging it.

Liu still has 354,000 followers on Kuaishou. His Chinese fans, like his foreign ones, marvel at his cool and collected manner as he eats and drinks all sorts of disgusting things.

Canned herring features heavily in his most popular recent videos, where he can be seen sipping the juice directly from the can.

In one of his videos on Kuaishou, Liu eating herring directly from the can, to the disgust of his fans.

“This has to be the most unaffected anyone has ever been by eating canned herring,” says one fan. “The flavor is disgusting! 99.9% of people who try this would vomit,” another online commenter replies.

 

AN UNEXPECTED TWITTER KING

“Liu is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life.”

 

This year, Liu seems to have embraced his newfound international stardom with grace and savvy.

He uses Twitter’s in-app translation to help him communicate with fans and has been highly interactive on the platform.

Liu ‘Pangzai’ was also quick to open up a Paypal account and share it with followers, and has recently made YouTube and Instagram accounts to prevent scams pretending to be him. He has also collaborated with a Twitter fan to sell T-shirts online in America.

Many online fans have dubbed him ‘king’, perhaps the highest praise one can receive on the internet today.

But in contrast to the sunglasses and chill demeanor of his videos, Liu does not appear to be an internet celebrity overly obsessed with being cool.

Instead, he is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life (and drinking habits) with the rest of the world.

Liu began using translation software to communicate with fans soon after joining Twitter.

After reposting all of his old drinking videos from Kuaishou, Liu started asking Twitter fans what they would like to see from him. Many responded that they wanted more about his life in rural China.

He has since followed up with videos showing him fixing a pipe with his friends, exploring his local market, cooking sweet potatoes, and, of course, a tutorial on how to master the ‘tornado beer’ technique.

Liu explaining on Twitter how to perform the tornado beer technique that helped make him famous.

Many have expressed concern for his health in light of his drinking habits, but he has assured everybody that everything he does is “within his ability” and that he doesn’t drink like that very often.

Liu is grateful for all the support and praise he has received from abroad. “It’s crazy to have all of these foreign friends all of a sudden,” he recently said in an interview with Deadspin: “I really have to thank them a lot. If I have a chance I will find them and we can drink together.”

Seemingly to that end, Liu has recently organized a party to be held near his hometown in China, exciting fans all over the world and spurring many to apply for passports and visas.

Once Liu began inviting people to his party, he changed the date and location in order to accommodate more attendees.

The date is set for December 14, 2019 in Zhuamadian City, Hebei Province; too soon for many to make it, but he promises another party in the spring. There is talk also of organizing a visit for Liu ‘Pangzai’ to go to America.

 

WINDOW INTO CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA

“Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet.”

 

Although there are many vloggers like Pangzai in China, he stands out on Twitter as some sort of window into Chinese social media, especially because this online world is usually so separate from the Western realms of social media.

The recent explosive growth of Chinese social media apps such as TikTok has not done much to facilitate this kind of cultural interaction between China and the West.

Although Tiktok is, in fact, a Chinese app (called Douyin 抖音 in China), there are actually two different versions of the same app in mainland China and abroad, meaning that the other ‘Pangzais’ of the Chinese internet still remain within the social media spheres of the PRC, rarely gaining fame outside of the Great Firewall.

In China, aside from his fans on Kuaishou, Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet. He is mentioned only one or two times across Weibo, and searches for his name and handle on WeChat, Baidu, and various Chinese tech news sites bring up nothing.

Liu is a rare example of genuine soft power coming out of China. A pure, grassroots man of the people with strong cultural appeal who sincerely enjoys sharing his life and his culture with the rest of the world. His tweets are full of affection and appreciation for his fans, as well as frequent prompts for followers to share their own lives and customs of their home countries.

To watch his introduction to Twitter and rise to fame is to see the best of the internet: cultural interaction, genuinely shared delight, and mutual admiration inspired by hilarious antics caught on camera.

His Twitter fans express their hope that Twitter Support will soon lift the temporary ban on their ‘Twitter king.’ To them, it’s perfectly clear: this online king is nowhere near dead, long live Pangzai!

Follow the #FreePangzai hashtag on Twitter.

Update: Panghaizi is out of Twitter jail!

 
Want to read more about unexpected online celebrities from China? Also see:
The Story of Two Farmers Who Became Internet Celebrities;
The “Vagrant Shanghai Professor”;
From Farmgirl to Fashionista: Weibo Celebrity Fairy Wang.

 

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

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