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‘Carpet Pacific’: A Timeline of the Cathay Pacific Scandal Through Weibo Hashtags

Cathay Pacific flight attendants mocking non-English speaking passengers by saying, “If you can’t say blanket, you can’t have it,” has sparked a major controversy and caused a marketing catastrophe.

Manya Koetse

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Last week, Xiamen Airlines was the focus of attention on Chinese social media after one of their pilots was caught secretly filming a female staff members in the ladies room. This week, the focus has shifted to Cathay Pacific, as the Hong Kong-based airline faced accusations of discrimination against travelers from mainland China.

The incident gained significant attention on May 22 when a user of the Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) app shared a public complaint about the Hong Kong airline. In the post, the author, who claimed to have resided in Hong Kong for eleven years, expressed their inability to remain silent after witnessing overt discrimination on a Cathay Pacific CX987 flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong.

The passenger said they were seated near the area where the flight attendants rest and prepare meals, and that they could hear the cabin crew making fun of passengers who could not speak English. Passengers who tried to ask them for help in English about filling out immigration cards allegedly also received impatient responses. The passenger recorded some of their conversation, and later posted the audio clip online.

In one clip, you can hear the staff laughing about a passenger who wanted a blanket but could not properly say it in English. “If you cannot say blanket, you cannot have it,” they joked. Since some passengers allegedly had used the word ‘carpet’ instead of ‘blanket’, the cabin crew can be heard saying: “A carpet is on the floor.”

Since the incident was first exposed on social media, it turned into a major controversy and a marketing crisis for the Cathay Pacific company. As Cathay was condemned by million of netizens, many also vowed to boycott the airline.

Cathay Pacific has been hit hard by the pandemic, and was seeing an increased demand for travel into the Chinese Mainland since quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong the Mainland was finally resumed on January 8 of this year. Cathay is heavily dependent on the Chinese market, and approximately 70% of its revue reportedly comes from China (#国泰航空近七成营收来自中国#).

The incident has ignited anger due to the discriminatory treatment of mainland customers by a Hong Kong company, leading to further discussions on anti-Chinese sentiments in Hong Kong and the role of language in fostering (or hindering) national unity between mainland China and Hong Kong.

This is a timeline of the incident through Weibo hashtags that have gone trending over the past few days.

▶︎ The Cathay Discrimination Audio Leaked Online #国泰空乘歧视乘客录音曝光# (260 million views)

After a netizen posted about supposed discrimination against non-English speaking passengers by cabin crew members on the Cathay Pacific CX987 flight, the incident soon garnered widespread attention on Chinese social media, especially when the 30-second audio was also shared online (hear the audio snippet here).

▶︎ Cathay Pacific Apologizes #国泰航空致歉# (210 million views)

On May 22, Cathay Pacific soon issued a response apologizing for the passenger’s experience and promised a thorough investigation. However, their initial apology was considered inadequate by many netizens, and only sparked more debates about the discrimination against mainland Chinese passengers within Cathay’s work environment.

On May 23, Cathay Pacific issued a second apology via social channels, mentioning that they had contacted the passenger and that they had suspended the flight attendants involved.

▶︎ Cathay Pacific Uses Standard Mandarin to Apologize #国泰航空行政总裁用普通话道歉# (10 million views)

Lin Shaobo apologizes using Standard Mandarin, image via Weibo.com.

During a media briefing in Guangzhou on May 24, Cathay Pacific CEO Lin Shaobo (林绍波) once again expressed his sincere apologies on behalf of Cathay for the incident. In doing so, he used Standard Mandarin, the national language of mainland China.

▶︎ Three Employers Fired for Discriminating Against Passengers #国泰航空3名歧视乘客空乘被解聘# (460 million views)

At this time, it was also announced that Cathay had completed their investigation into the matter and, in accordance with the company’s regulations, had dismissed the three involved cabin crew members. Lin Shaobo clarified that the airline maintains a “zero tolerance” approach towards any employees who violate the company’s rules and ethical standards.

▶︎ Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendant Union Regrets the Incident #国泰空乘工会对空姐被解聘感到遗憾# (180 million views)

On May 24, there was some online turmoil over a statement issued by Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendant Union (FAU). In the statement, the union expressed that Cathay is “facing a shortage of both manpower and resources, a significant increase in workload and low salaries.” Because these problems are ignored, Cathay is seeing an “extremely low” morale among cabin crew and more complaints regarding cabin service. “Nothing comes from nothing,” the statement said. The Union was criticized for “whitewashing” the cabin crew’s discrimination against non-English-speakers.

▶︎ No Official Support for The Union #国泰航空称空中服务员工会不代表国泰# (130 million views)

On May 25, Cathay Pacific issued a statement in which they clarified that The Union is an independent labor union and does not represent the company. They also clarified that did not support the union’s position nor agreed with it.

▶︎ Hu Xijin Recommends Mainland Passengers to Speak Mandarin #胡锡进建议乘国泰航空只讲普通话# (910,000 views)

Chinese political & social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also responded to the Cathay incident in multiple posts. In one of them, he suggested that mainland passengers should primarily speak Mandarin when they fly Cathay in the future. Since so much of their customer base is from mainland, Cathay should have enough cabin crew speaking Mandarin, he argued. Hu also reflected on how Cathay also caused controversy in 2019, when it would not stop staff from joining the Kong Kong pro-democracy protests. According to Hu, the company should pay attention to “correcting the values” of their employees.

▶︎”Leaked” Internal Email Labeled as Fake News #国泰航空称网传英文内部信件为伪造# (77 million views)

Post by Cathay in which they deny that this “leaked memo” is authentic. Screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

In the meantime, some images circulated online that allegedly showed an internal Cathay Pacific memo by the company’s HK Express CEO Mandy Ng in which a warning was issued to be “cautious when engaging with customers from China and be aware of their media culture.” That memo was labeled as being false by Cathay Pacific.

▶︎ Hong Kong Perfomer Condemns Cathay for Incident #香港演员怒斥国泰空乘歧视乘客# (170 million views)

Hong Kong celebrity Maria Cordero, nicknamed ‘Fat Mama’ (肥妈) went trending on Weibo for condemning the Cathay Pacific crew members in a recent interview. “Is speaking English that important?” she wondered: “The whole world is learning Chinese!” She also expressed that the primary duty of flight attendants is to look after passengers and help solve their problems. If they are incapable of fulfilling their duty, they should be sacked.

▶︎ Blankets for Everyone #旅客称现在国泰的航班挨个发毛毯# (6.5 million views)

According to passengers flying Cathay after the ‘blanket incident,’ the cabin crew went around explicitly asking all passengers if they needed any blankets, making announcements in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

▶︎ Follow-up to the Incident #国泰航空空乘歧视乘客后续# (26 million views)

As the Cathay scandal keeps fermenting online, one commenter expressed a common viewpoint by stating: “If Cathay Pacific is so unwilling to serve Chinese people and they refuse to speak Mandarin, why don’t they clearly state that they don’t welcome Chinese passengers? They can’t have it both ways by earning money from Chinese tickets without providing the same level of service.”

Meanwhile, an online meme has gained popularity, depicting ‘Cathay Pacific’ as ‘Carpet Pacific’ in reference to the controversial comments made by the cabin crew.

Other memes include the quote: “If you cannot say blanket, you cannot have it,” or include the phrase “no zuo no die” – a popular internet meme that basically means ‘what goes around comes around.’

Those flying China Southern Airlines or Eastern Airlines are posting about their warm on-board blankets, joking: “I didn’t even have to say ‘blanket’ and still got it!”

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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