“Beijing Has 20 Million People Who Pretend to Live Here” or “Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Have a Life Here” by Zhang Wumao. Chinese title “北京，有2000万人假装在生活”, original text in Chinese posted by author on WeChat on July 23, 2017.
Beijing has no human warmth
Friends from outside the city frequently criticize the people of Bejing. They’ll say that Beijingers have lots of money, but that they show it off in a classless fashion and that they are not hospitable. ‘I’ve come to visit the city, why can’t we catch up!?’, ‘We’ve known each other for years, you can’t even take me to the airport!?’ In fact, Beijingers are not as hospitable as non-Beijingers. Coming to pick you up and giving you a ride, or showing you around the city, are all seemingly simple things that are too hard for Beijingers to do.
Beijing people are busy. They are busy ’til 11 o’clock at night, when they are still jammed on the 3rd Ring Road. The cost of social time in Beijing is really too high – so high that it would be quicker to go for dinner in Tianjin than to go from Shijinghsan (TN: inner district of West Beijing) to Tongzhou (TN: district east of Beijing). Beijing is really too big; so big that it is simply not like a city at all.
So how big is Beijing really? It is equivalent to 2.5 times Shanghai, 8.4 times Shenzhen, 15 times Hong Kong, 21 times New York, or 27 times Seoul.
“Beijing is a tumor, and no one can control how fast it is growing; Beijing is a river, and no one can draw its borders.”
In 2006, when I came to Beijing, the subway only had line 1, 2, and 13. Now I don’t even know how many lines the Beijing subway has without checking it on Baidu. Ten years ago I took public transportation to search for a job, and refused to go to any interviews of companies outside the 4th Ring Road. Now companies like JD.com, Tencent, and Baidu, are all outside the 5th Ring.
When friends from outside the city come to Beijing, they think that we are near. But actually, we’re hardly in the same city; they might be in China’s Houhai, Guomao, Tongzhou, Shijingshan,.. If you’d look at the time spent in traveling, when people from Tongzhou and Shijingshan are dating, they are basically in a long-distance relationship. When you go from the 5th Ring Road to Yizhuang you could call it an offical trip.
For 10 years, Beijing has always been controlling housing, controlling traffic, and controlling the population. But this pancake is only getting wider and bigger. It has become so big that when a school friend from Xi’an called me to tell me he’s in Beijing, I asked him ‘where in Beijing?’, he told me ‘I’m at the 13th Ring Road.’
Beijing is a tumor, and no one can control how fast it is growing; Beijing is a river, and no one can draw its borders. Beijing is a believer, and only Xiong’an can bring salvation.
Beijingers are not just cool towards people from outside, they also treat each other coolly. Every time an old school friend from outside the city visits Beijing and we have a get-together, they’ll ask: ‘You guys here probably often meet up, right?’. I then say that those few times they come to Beijing, are the only few times we actually meet up.
In Beijing, there’s a mutual understanding when exchanging name cards; if we call each other a couple of times within a year, we’ll consider it a good friendship. If people are willing to come from east of the city to the west to have a meal together, then we’ll be friends for life. The only people we meet every day and have meals with are our co-workers.
Beijing actually belongs to outsiders
If you let Chinese people pick one city to visit in their lives, I am convinced the majority will choose Beijing. Because this is the capital, this is where you have Tian’anmen, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and hundreds of big and small theaters. From modern drama to Western or traditional opera, from xiangsheng to skits or Two-people Rotation – people from anywhere in the world can find their spiritual food here. But these things actually have nothing to do with the people of Beijing.
If you step into any major theater in Beijing, you’ll find that six out of ten people are outsiders with an accent and that three of them have just arrived in the city, that there are no fresh artistic young persons. What’s left is one person swiping their phone in the corner; the bored Beijing tour escort.
“Going into the Forbidden City, I only see one empty building after the other; it’s less interesting than the lively pigsties we have in my native village.”
In the 11 years since I’ve come to Beijing, I have been to the Great Wall 11 times, 12 times the Imperial Palace, 9 times to the Summer Palace, and 20 times to the Bird’s Nest. I feel emotionless about this city’s great architecture and long history. Going up the Great Wall, I can only think of Lady Meng Jiang (TN: 孟姜女, heroine of the Qin Dynasty), it is difficult to feel a sense of national pride again for this world miracle. Going into the Forbidden City, I only see one empty building after the other; it’s less interesting than the lively pigsties we have in my native village.
Upon hearing any mention of Beijing, many people immediately think of the Palace Museum, Houhai, 798; they think of history, culture, and high-rise buildings. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s good! Does it make you proud? It does! But you can’t make food out of these things. What Beijingers increasingly feel is the suffocation of the smog and the high cost of housing. They cannot move, they cannot breathe.
Beijing Eventually is Beijinger’s Beijing
If you say that Beijing still has this somewhat smoky smell, then this is the smell that comes from the city’s native Beijingers who have been here for generations. It comes from their old bird cages, it comes from their palm leaf fans that cool the air after dinner, it comes from the haughty accents of the taxi drivers…
Old Beijingers are trying to make this city smell alive; they are trying to make the city appear like a place where people live.
“If you do not have a five-room house, how can you be calm? How can you breathe? How can you relax and play chess while drinking tea, like the Beijing uncles?”
This lively odor of the old Beijing people is passed down in genes, and it rises from the bottom of their five-room apartments. When the white-collar workers from the financial district in west Beijing are immersed in the excitement over their year-end bonuses, the nouveau riche in the south will calmly say they own five-room houses. When the computer programmers in Haidian crack a code and fantasize about being the next Richard Liu, the nouveau riche in the south will still calmly say they own five-room houses. When the media elite in Chaoyang have drawn up a new list and stand before their CBD office window contemplating their life, the nouveau riche in the south, as before, will still calmly say they own five-room houses.
If you do not have a five-room house, how can you be calm? How can you breathe? How can you relax and play chess while drinking tea, like the Beijing uncles?
In Beijing, the migrants who have no real estate from previous generations are destined to be trapped in their house for life. They strive for over a decade to buy an apartment the size of a bird cage; then they spend another decade struggling to get a house that has two rooms rather than one. If that goes well – congratulations! – you can now think about an apartment in the school district.
With a house in the school district, children can attend Tsinghua or Peking University. But Tsinghua graduates will still not be able to afford a room in that district. They will then either need to stay crammed together in the old shabby family apartment, or start from scratch, struggling for an apartment.
In 2015, the movie Mr. Six hit the cinemas. In my friend circle, many ridiculed the movie’s character ‘Mr. Six’ for his Beijing air. But I was deeply touched.
After being in Beijing for over a decade, I refuse to go to Wukesong to see the Shougang [basketball] team, I refuse to go to the Worker’s Stadium to see the Guoan [football] team, because I don’t have a real love for them and because I can’t cuss with a Beijing accent. But after being in Beijing for so long, you reach a kind of conciliation with old Beijing people. You’ll understand them in a more three-dimensional way, and can no longer simply label them.
“For Beijing’s new immigrants, the city is a distant place where they can’t stay; for Beijing’s old residents, the city is an old home they can’t return to.”
In fact, not all of the Peking people are unfriendly towards outsiders, a lot of my friends are Beijing rich kids. And it’s not like there are no young people in Beijing seeking progress – most of Beijing youth are just as diligent as we are.
You can dislike ‘Mr. Six’, and you can dislike the arrogant Beijing way of cussing and bragging, but you still have to respect them. Like you respect people from the northeast wearing gold necklaces or respect Shandong people for eating Chinese onions. It’s their culture, these are their customs. You don’t have to be like them, but the least you can do is to show respect from a distance.
I once took a taxi to Lin Cui Road. Because I was afraid the driver wouldn’t know the way, I opened the navigation on my phone to help him find the way. He said he did not need the navigation, because he knew that place. There was a flour mill there 30 years ago, [he said], it was demolished 10 years ago, and they built low-income housing there. I asked him how he knew this so well. “That used to be my home,” he said, the sorrow showing in his face.
I could hear nostalgia and resentment from the driver’s words. For Beijing’s new immigrants, the city is a distant place where they can’t stay; for Beijing’s old residents, the city is an old home they can’t return to.
We, as outsiders, ridicule Beijing on the one hand, while on the other hand, we cherish our hometowns. But in fact, we can still go back to our hometown. It is still there. It’s just that, with the defeats of each passing day, we can no longer adapt there. But for the old Beijingers, there really is no way to go back to their hometown. It has changed with unprecedented speed. We can still find our grandfather’s old house. The majority of Beijingers can only find their old homes through the coordinates on a map.
Some people say that we as outsiders have built Beijing, that if it weren’t for us, Beijingers wouldn’t even have breakfast to eat. The large numbers of people coming from outside the city have raised the housing prices in Beijing – they’ve created a flourishing city. But do you believe it? The native Beijingers might not need this kind of flourishing, and they also do not want higher housing prices. They are just like us, wanting a home that does not have too many people or too much traffic.
“There are over 20 million people left in this city, pretending to live.”
This year, they’ve begun to brick up the core city of Beijing. More and more small shops, small hotels and restaurants are forced to close, more and more people in the low-end market are forced to leave. This type of dressing-down and losing-weight city management frantically puts Beijing on the road to being a high-end and classy city. But it is becoming less and less of a convenient and livable city, and it is becoming further and further removed from being a city with a tolerant and open spirit.
Those who chase their dreams of success are now escaping. They’re off to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the West Coast of the United States. Those who’ve lost hope of chasing their dreams are also escaping. They returned to Hebei, the Northeast, and their hometowns.
There are over 20 million people left in this city, pretending to live. In reality, there simply is no life in this city. Here, all we have is the dreams of some people, and the jobs of most people.
Translated by Manya Koetse
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China’s TV & Film Companies Join Hands to Boycott Huge Salaries in Entertainment Industry
Is this the end of the exorbitant pays for Chinese actors and actresses?
On August 11, nine of China’s biggest entertainment and streaming sites, including iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent video, issued a joint statement on boycotting excessive high wages for actors and actresses.
The statement, titled “Resisting Unreasonable Pays & Rejecting Unhealthy Industry Trends” (‘抑制不合理片酬，抵制行业不正之风’) says that actors and actresses should not get paid more than one million yuan (±US$146,000) per episode and not more than 50 million (±7,3 million US) for an entire drama show or movie.
The relatively high pay of actors and actresses in China, especially in the TV drama industry, has been making headlines for years. Previously, Chinese authorities already sought to rein in high salaries for actors, which can take up a significant percentage of a production’s budget.
In 2016, Beijing Review reported that Chinese stars’ salaries were under fire for being excessively high. At the time, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Sun Baoshu, stated that since casting takes up such a large part of production funds, producers have to cut budgets for things such as scriptwriting, stage setting, and sound recording. This leads to poorer productions, Sun said, harming the development of China’s entertainment market.
In September of 2017, the China Alliance of Radio, Film, and Television (CARFT), a non-profit organization that works under the government, ordered China’s production agencies to limit the expenses for cast salaries to no more than 40% of the total production costs for online/TV drama series. Within this percentage, the salary of the show’s leading actors reportedly could not exceed 70% of the total salary paid to all actors, arguing that top-earning stars’ high fees are harmful to a ‘healthy development’ of China’s entertainment industry. The same rule was reiterated by the Chinese tax authorities this week.
Today’s statement, for the first time, puts a cap on the fixed amount actors and actresses in the Chinese entertainment can receive per project – not based on percentages of the total budget.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the statement comes at a time when a tax evasion scandal involving China’s highest-paid actress Fan Bingbing is making headlines in China. The actress reportedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she allegedly only declared 10 million to authorities.
The scandal has attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, with many bewildered reactions over the exorbitant pays in the entertainment industry.
Posts publishing the boycott statement have gone viral on Weibo this weekend; some received over 58,000 likes per thread, and the hashtag “boycott high pays” (#抵制天价片酬#) was viewed more than 16 million times at time of writing.
The companies signing the statement are:
iQiyi (爱奇艺), also dubbed ‘the Netflix of China’, a leading online entertainment and streaming service.
Youku (优酷), one of the biggest online video companies in China, sometimes referred to as the Chinese YouTube.
Tencent Video (腾讯视频), the hugely popular Chinese video streaming website owned by Tencent.
Daylight Entertainment (正午阳光), one of China’s most respected production companies.
Huace Film & TV Co (华策影视), well-known TV program production and distribution company.
Linmon Pictures (柠萌影业), a Shanghai-based Chinese film & TV producer and distributor.
Ciwen Media Co (慈文传媒), a Beijing-based film and television company.
Youhug Media (耀客传媒),a media and entertainment management company headquartered in Shanghai.
New Classics Media (新丽传媒), a renowned TV content and film producer.
Among the thousands of people responding to the new boycott on Weibo, there are many who find that the maximum pay is still way too high: “A million yuan per episode?! My god!”, many write, with some wondering why actors are making so much more money than doctors and scientists.
Others comment that they think it is funny none of the big actors and actresses on Weibo allegedly have reposted the popular statement.
“I’m supportive of the boycott,” a typical comment read: “These high fees really were an unhealthy tendency.”
Others write: “It’s good! They should have done it years ago.”
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Why Disney’s Christopher Robin Is Not Released in China (And It’s Not Just Because of Winnie)
Recently, many foreign media reported that Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) will not be released in China due to an alleged “nationwide ban” on Winnie. But there is more to this than meets the eye.
With contributions from Luka de Boni
“Christopher Robin, denied Chinese release, is the latest victim in China’s war on Winnie the Pooh,” writes Vox. “China gives Winnie the Pooh the enemy-of-the-state treatment,” says a recent New York Post headline.
Over the past days, the fact that Disney’s new 2018 film Christopher Robin will not premiere in mainland China has made headlines in many English-language media, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Most sources allege that the movie, inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, will not be released in the country’s theatres because “Chinese leader Xi Jinping is prickly about comparisons between him and the lovable cartoon character, who has become a symbol of the resistance there” (Vox).
BBC linked the film’s absence from Chinese movie theatres to Winnie and the supposed “nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.”
But to what extent are these allegations true? There seem to be some misconceptions in many media about the scope of censorship on Winnie, and the release of non-Chinese films in mainland China.
What’s up with Winnie?
Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has, at times, been used as a political and satirical meme on Chinese social media, first becoming a target for China’s online censors when netizens compared Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who met at the California Summit, with Pooh and Tigger in 2013.
In September of 2015, an image of Pooh became trending again on the day of the military parade. During the Beijing Parade that commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII, President Xi Jinping drove around in a car (image), inspecting the troops.
When someone watching the parade then posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car on Weibo, it was shared 62.000 times in little over an hour. Online responses included: “As I watched [the parade], I told my mother and father the similarities [between Pooh and the President] were uncanny.” The post was then soon deleted from Weibo.
The same happened in February of 2018, when images of Winnie the Pooh as a king emerged on Weibo after the end of China’s two-term limit on presidency was announced.
Could’ve expected this, but still pretty creative. First images of “king Winnie” surfacing on Weibo in response to Xi’s potential indefinite rule: https://t.co/u9kL5OYGwq #XiJinping #kingwinnie pic.twitter.com/Bb6Dmy46xH
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) 25 februari 2018
Although the censorship of Pooh at these specific moments are reason enough to call the bear some sort of “symbol of defiance against censorship,” it is not reason enough to assume the bear is at the epicenter of “a nationwide clampdown,” as BBC suggested.
“Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline.”
Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline. The bear is quite popular, just as in many other countries, and people walk around wearing Pooh t-shirts and accessories in Chinese cities every day.
A current search on Chinese search engine Baidu for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (“小熊维尼”) generates 8.5 million results. Taobao sells countless Winnie items on its e-commerce platform, and on social media site Weibo, thousands of Chinese netizens post photos of their Winnie-themed merchandise or favorite characters.
Disney’s Christopher Robin is also discussed online; not just by netizens but also by state media.
The moments that Pooh was censored on Chinese social media in the past, were times that China’s censorship machine was going at full-speed already. Any time that President Xi is taking part in an important meeting or event, whether it is a BRIC summit, military parade, or bilateral meeting, social media is more controlled than usual.
Because netizens were using the image of Pooh in a way that was meant to make fun of these high-profile political occasions and figures at particularly these times, they were censored. In other words: the Winnie images were censored along with many other things at particularly sensitive times for mocking a political event or figure.
Although it makes sense to say that Winnie the Pooh is perhaps more ‘sensitive’ than other cartoons (although Peppa Pig and Rage Comics had their share of censorship, too), it is questionable if this sensitivity is enough of a reason to ban Disney’s new blockbuster Christopher Robin.
Chinese Summer: Not a Time for Western Films
But if not for the bear itself, what would be a reason not to release a promising Disney movie? China’s strict foreign film import quota may play an important role.
Since the 1990s, China has a ‘foreign film quota.’ In the early years, this meant that just a small quote of foreign films were allowed to be imported into China, and in 2012, this was increased to 34 foreign movies per year. The amount of revenue that foreign producers can take from these movies is restricted to 25% (Latham 2007, 185; Ma 2017, 193).
Although Hollywood lobbyists have been negotiating with Chinese film authorities to allow more foreign films to be imported under revenue-sharing terms, there’s been little progress for now – the ongoing looming trade-war has not benefited the situation.
Besides the longstanding cap on foreign films, China also has unofficial ‘Hollywood black-out periods’ in which Hollywood blockbusters are prevented to enter the market so as to boost sales of local productions, a phenomenon dubbed “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).
The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years (read more here). As a consequence, it is common for big American productions to not be released in China during the summer months, the period where cinemas make the most revenues.
In 2011, for example, the Harry Potter blockbuster of the year was premiered in China five weeks later than it was in the rest of the world. Last summer, both Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming had their release dates delayed by several months, most probably to give the patriotic, local production Wolf-Warrior 2 a boost in sales.
These black-out periods can also serve another purpose. According to CNBC, they can also be used to give Chinese film authorities additional bargaining power in their negotiations with US lobbyists. With these negotiations increasing in importance lately, as a result of deteriorating US-China trade relations, it might make sense that Chinese authorities would want to put themselves in the most favorable bargaining position.
Each year, it is unclear when the ‘black-out period’ starts and ends. Generally, it can start as early as mid-June and finish as late as late-August.
Goodbye, Christopher Robin?
With many netizens and various state media (including China Global Television Network) posting about the release of Christopher Robin on Weibo and beyond, it is unlikely that political sensitivity over Winnie is the (only) reason why the film will not be shown in Chinese cinemas this summer.
Whether or not the film will definitely not come out in China is also not clear. The process of translation and censorship checking for films can take a long time and will sometimes mean films come out much later in the PRC.
Even when not reaching the big screens, most Hollywood blockbusters will eventually be available for viewing on online channels such as Youku or iQiyi.
Many netizens would welcome a delayed release of Christopher Robin in China. The movie’s hashtag (#克里斯托弗·罗宾#) has already been viewed nearly three million times on Weibo.
While for many, the bear has no political connotations, there are also those who are still trying to post pictures of President Xi Jinping as Pooh – those will soon be deleted.
“I just wanted to see if it would be deleted,” the Weibo user says: “But actually, I really do think he’s cute.”
For more on this, check out today’s feature on BBC World Update (video by What’s on Weibo).
Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Oxford: ABC Clio.
Ma, Winston. 2017. China’s Mobile Economy: Opportunities in the Largest and Fastest Information Consumption Boom. Cornwall: Wiley.
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