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China Arts & Entertainment

“Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Live Here” (Full Translation)

Translation of “Beijing Has 20 Million People Who Pretend to Live There” (“北京,有2000万人假装在生活”) by Zhang Wumao.

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On July 23, Chinese blogger Zhang Wumao (real name Zhang Guochen) posted a humorous yet sharp essay criticizing the status quo of life in Beijing, and the city’s old locals and new immigrants. The article soon went viral and was denounced by official media. Translation provided by What’s on Weibo.

“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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

 

“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.

–End—

Translated by Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kevin Ma

    July 29, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for your sharing!

  2. Hamza

    July 29, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Hey, do you have a link for the Chinese version,

  3. Daniel

    August 1, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    When I lived in Beijing a while ago, it was my least favourite city in China. Chengdu was steamy & sexy with the best food anywhere, Shanghai was thrilling, buzzing and futuristic, Shenzhen was boring but pleasant. Beijing however – it is a harsh, cold and unforgiving city. There’s a sense of Big Brother watching over you. The only city where I was ripped off by thieving shysters and more than once at that.

  4. John Myers

    August 26, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Zhang Guochen’s essay is badly needed in a country where these personal observations and feelings are censored. You might be able to validate many of his points throughout many large metropolises in China and throughout the world. This is the results of our modern world where progress and commerce over rule and push aside community and simple human interaction. People experiencing these situations should have the freedom to express their feelings in an honest way. This is a form of catharsis that can lead to dialog and healing. If censored, it will only manifest as unrest in the future.

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China Arts & Entertainment

CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)

It’s time for the CCTV 2018 New Year’s Gala – follow the highlights and the low points here.

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It is time for the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, one of the most-watched, most-discussed, and most mocked lived television events in the world, taking place on the Lunar New Year’s Eve. What’s on Weibo discusses the ins & outs of the 2018 edition and the social media frenzy surrounding it in this live blog.

The biggest live televised event in the world, the CCTV New Year’s Gala, also known as the Spring Festival Gala or Chunwan (春晚), is a true social media spectacle. On February 15th 2018, the 36th edition of the 4-hour-long live production is taking place.

The show, that is organized and produced by the state-run CCTV since 1983, is not just a way for millions of viewers to celebrate the Lunar New Year (除夕); it is also an important opportunity for the Communist Party to communicate official ideology to the people and to showcase the nation’s top performers.

Watch the live stream here on What’s on Weibo (if you have no access to YouTube, please check the CCTV live stream here).

What’s on Weibo provides you with the ins & outs of the 2018 Gala and its social media frenzy, with updates before, during and after the show. Follow our liveblog below (we recommend you keep your browser open – you’ll hear a ‘beep’ when updated). (Note: this live blog is now closed, thank you!).

By Manya Koetse, with contributions via WeChat from Boyu Xiao, Diandian Guo, and Tim Peng

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©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Comic & Games

Chinese Media Ascribe ‘Traveling Frog’ Game Hype to China’s Low Birth Rates

Is the Traveling Frog more like a husband or like a baby? It’s a topic of debate on Weibo.

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The Japanese mobile game ‘Traveling Frog’ is a hit among young working – mainly female – adults in China. According to various Chinese media, the ‘virtual frog’ fills a void in a society that faces year-on-year declining birth rates.

“Has your frog returned home yet?” – it is a somewhat odd question that has become normal since the ‘Traveling Frog’ (旅行青蛙/旅かえる) mobile game has become all the rage in China.

In the Traveling Frog game, that is now dominating China’s online mobile gaming charts, players have to help a little frog prepare for his travels across Japan.

The app is characterized by its unique design and revolves around a frog who lives in a stone cave and goes on frequent trips. Once he goes traveling, the frog comes back with local delicacies and snapshots of his adventures – but players are never sure how long their virtual friend stays away from home.

With its cute design and stress-free strategy, the hype surrounding Traveling Frog is somewhat comparable to that of the Tamagotchi in the 1990s and early 2000s. The frog, which players can give its own name, is like a mobile cyber pet that players have to keep an eye on and take care of.

Although the game was initially meant for young girls, it is now a hit amongst young working adults, mainly women.

 
A Virtual Baby
 

Over the past week, various Chinese media outlets have connected the success of the game to China’s low birth rates. Caijing.com writes: “Facing higher house prices, intensive jobs, the collapse of the [hierarchical] pyramid family structure, and huge medical and educational costs, we can no longer deny the reality that more and more young people are choosing not to get married and not to have children. And ‘nursing a frog’ is one kind of psychological substitute for ‘nursing a baby.'”

The news site reports that the obsession of some people over their frog is comparable to a parent’s worries over a child; players are so upset when their frog does not return home during the night, that they cannot sleep.

Despite the shift from China’s One Child Policy to the Two Child Policy, China’s birth rates have been declining year-on-year; 17.23 million newborns were added to China’s population last year – 630,000 less than the year before.

China News also reports about the deep attachment some players show for their virtual pet, and suggest that the Traveling Frog is a “low-cost way” in which people can “fill an emotional gap” in their lives.

 
Baby or Husband?
 

The suggestion that the virtual frog is like a baby has stirred discussions on Weibo about the matter, with some wondering if the frog really is like a baby, or if he is more like a friend, partner, or husband; the matter in itself has become an online squabble between netizens and media.

According to gamer’s platform 17173 (@17173游戏网), the designer of the game, Mayuko Mura (村真裕子), recently refuted the idea that the traveling frog is like a child. In an interview, she said: “For Japanese players, the frog is actually more like their husband, who goes on business trips and then comes home with some local specialties and photos.”

Mura Mayuko, the game’s designer.

Many Chinese netizens were not too happy with the explanation. “If my husband would stay away a night and a day, I’d be infuriated!”, some said. “So now you’re telling me I’m raising a guy?!”, others commented.

The interview even led some people to wonder about the butterfly that is often depicted on the snapshots the frog sends players from his travels, suspecting she represents his mistress.

Is the butterfly on the snapshots in fact the frog’s mistress?

But according to news outlet Pear Video, Mura’s words have been misinterpreted. In a recorded phone conversation, she does say that for many Japanese players, the frog is more like a ‘husband,’ but that the original intention of the game was never to turn the frog into anything but itself.

“We just want players to freely enjoy the game and turn the frog’s role into whatever they want,” one of the game’s developers told Pear Video.

One author on Weibo (@魔力的真髓) reflects on the idea that the Traveling Frog apparently plays a different role in Japan than in China, and writes: “How comfortable it must be to be a husband in Japan, where you don’t have to do anything around the house, your wife serves you, and then you just take off with the things your wife prepared for you, and go out and seek an extramarital affair.”

“Whatever, the island nation turns it into a husband, we turn it into a child,” one pragmatic netizen concludes. Another Weibo user adds: “What’s the difference – husbands nowadays are like babies anyway.”

Others commenting on the issue, however, are too occupied with the real important matters: “It’s been three days, and he still isn’t back,” one unhappy commenter writes. Another one has the same worries: “All I want to know is why my baby has gone traveling for a week, and still hasn’t come home..”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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