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“Calling a Rat a Duck”: Jiangxi Students Discover Rat Head in Meal, School Insists It’s Duck (Updated)

Following the finding of a rat head in a cafeteria meal, this school maintains that it was actually a duck head, urging students not to discuss “rat head gate.”

Manya Koetse



Updated June 18, 2023

A topic about a student finding a rodent head inside his school canteen meal received a staggering 310 million views on Weibo this Wednesday (#高校鼠头事件涉事窗口几乎没人去吃饭#).

The incident occurred some days ago in Nanchang at a school canteen of the Jiangxi Vocational Technical College of Industry Trade. A video showing what looks like a mouse or rat head in someone’s rice meal has been circulating on Chinese social media since.

When the person who found the rodent head in his meal complained to the catering staff, they insisted that it was not a rat head, but rather a duck head or neck. In the video, the person can be heard arguing, “This is a rat! It clearly has rat teeth, can’t you see?”

Duck head or duck neck are popular dishes in many parts of China. But it was not what the person ordered, and the unexpected bite also did not look like duck.

On June 3rd, the Jiangxi college debunked the “rat incident” rumors and stated that it was, in fact, a duck head. The following day, the local food supervision bureau also alleged that it was not a rat, but duck meat.

According to Henan Business Newspaper (河南商报), students at the school were reminded by staff not to discuss the incident on the internet (#学生透露高校禁止发布鼠头事件相关言论#).

Meanwhile, the official catering company contracted by the Jiangxi Vocational Technical College of Industry Trade issued a statement clarifying that they were not involved in the “rat head incident.” The incident occurred at a separate Chinese fast-food stall within the Qingshanhu campus (青山湖校区) canteen, which is not operated by Jinghe Food & Beverage (菁禾餐饮), which is the contracted company.

In what appears to be an effort to further stifle the inconvenient issue, they issued a warning, stating that individuals spreading rumors about their company would face consequences (#菁禾餐饮再次声明非鼠头事件承包方#).

According to students at the college, the involved stall has been running its business as usual since the incident happened. But the cafetaria has been more quiet as students are avoiding eating there. Many people choose to order takeout instead and have it delivered directly to their dormitory building.

Some netizens are diving deeper into this incident to prove that the meal actually did contain a rodent head and not duck. A Weibo blogger named Jianghu Lifuxiang (@江湖李傅相) posted a photo comparing the ‘foreign object’ in the meal to a rodent head.

Rodents will be rodents, not ducks. Image posted on Weibo.

The blogger writes:

The ‘is it a rat head or a duck neck’ incident (“鼠头or鸭脖”事件) has been fermenting online for several days now. But the most significant issue at hand is no longer about it being a rat or a duck, but about the school and the related departement treating the students and the public as fools.

Discovering a rat head while eating is not [even] the scariest part. What is truly frightening is that the public clearly sees a “rat head,” yet they insist on claiming it to be a “duck neck.” If it’s really a rat head, it would be better to calmly admit it. At most, this would be a food safety incident and one or two temporary workers might get sacked and a fine could be imposed, and that would be it.

The current situation is that the school confirms the foreign object [“异物”] to be a duck neck and makes the students to also confirm it’s a duck. Even the local food supervision leaders have come forward to testify that it is a duck neck.

The way that the school and the food supervision bureau have handled this matter is in complete opposition to the public and it is a provocation of social morality, completely inverting right and wrong and disregarding public trust in order to protect the “innocence” of one or two individuals. I wonder if these leaders are actually so stupid or if netizens are too naive.

One Weibo user posts an image of duck neck and duck head besides the image of the mouse head.

There is a famous Chinese idiom, zhǐ lù wéi mǎ 指鹿为马, that translates to “calling a deer a horse” (or calling a stag a horse) in English, meaning to misrepresent something. The phrase comes from a story about the corrupt eunuch and minister Zhao Gao (赵高) during the Qin Dynasty who brought a deer to the second emperor, presenting it as a “horse.” Fearful to disagree with him, many people followed him and also identified the animal as a horse. In light of this phrase, some are now changing the idiom to “calling a rat a duck” (zhǐ shǔ wéi yā 指鼠为鸭) instead.

Calling a rat a duck, posted by @法律指南.

One Weibo commenter jokingly wrote:

“Students: “It’s a rat”
Leadership: “It’s duck neck”
Students: “It’s a rat”
Leadership: “Graduation certificate.”
Student: “It’s duck neck.”

The duckrat, posted on Zhihu.

“Controlling public sentiment is difficult, and it requires some expertise,” some write, with others describing the entire affair as ‘simply bizzare.’

“You’re all so focused on the head,” another person wrote, “don’t you wanna know where the rest of it went?”

Update: On June 10, Jiangxi authorities announced that they have established an investigative task force to further look into the incident. Their findings will soon be released to the public (#江西就鸭脖事件成立联合调查组#).

Update 2: On June 17, an official report was released regarding the “June 1st Food Safety Incident.” After reviewing video footage, examining purchase records, and conducting related investigations, local authorities have determined that the “foreign object” found in the cafeteria meal more than two weeks ago was, in fact, a rodent’s head and not a duck neck.

Jiangxi Vocational Technical College is being held accountable for the incident, although the specific legal consequences have not been specified at this time.

The conclusion of the incident has not put an end to the online discussions; if anything, it has amplified them. There are now further inquiries as to why it took an entire research team to confirm what was already known to the public. People are also questioning why the school insisted that the mouse head was a duck’s neck and whether corruption played a role.

Most importantly, individuals want to know what happened to the rest of the rodent and whether everyone who ate at the cafeteria stall on June 1st unknowingly consumed rat meat.

By now, the entire incident has transcended the rat versus duck debate. It has become a symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, power play, public deception, and the wastage of resources on senseless investigations.

Illustration of a rat wearing a red armband (for surveillance/inspection), shared via Chinese social media after the official statement on the rat head.

“It took them half a month to handle such a trivial matter. They attempted to silence and confuse. If they could brush it off, everything is fine. If not, they can feign ignorance,” wrote one Weibo user.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse



It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse



A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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