Wedding photos are an important part of wedding ceremonies across the globe, but in China they’re a whole different ballgame; the perfect wedding shoot has become a top priority in the wedding arrangements. China’s pre-wedding photography industry is more booming than ever before.
A booming marriage market
Red Army uniforms and balloons dresses don’t appear to have all that much in common. But visit one of China’s scenic spots on a clear day, and you may discover that they are amongst the growing trends for China’s luxurious wedding photos, known in Mandarin as jiehun zhao (结婚照).
Chinese wedding photography is slowly becoming an art in itself. The Chinese marriage industry is soaring with an estimated worth of 800 billion RMB (130 US$) billion in 2015. Wedding shoots are one of its key sectors – some photography packages are sold at a staggering $80,000.
Profits stem from the expensive backdrops and costume rentals, along with more modern additions of presentation videos and interactive wedding invitations.
No time for photos
One noticeable characteristic of Chinese wedding shoots is that they largely take place before the wedding ceremony, sometimes months in advance. One explanation for this is that many wedding ceremonies in China follow a set structure involving cultural practices that leave little room for more spontaneous wedding photographs on the day of marriage.
Traditional weddings include lengthy processes such as toasting each guest table by table. Because Chinese wedding ceremonies often last shorter than wedding ceremonies in Europe and America, there is limited time to pose for wedding pictures. By planning pre-wedding photos, couples can pose for hours – taking pictures in numerous locations and outfits.
An additional advantage of planning the photos before the wedding: the photos are ready for everyone to see during the day of the ceremony. Some couples even turn their best photos into custom life-size cardboard cutouts – a photo opportunity for their weddings guests.
Recent shoots on social media
The reputation of China’s wedding photography industry is gradually becoming more prevalent worldwide as sessions increase in extravagance and expense.
Recent examples of lavish photo shoots have included both traditional and modern scenes, as well as artistic influences. Last year, a Tibetan couple’s pre-wedding photographs went viral on Chinese social media due to the contrast between depictions of modern city-life and traditional Tibetan landscapes. The photographs were reportedly seen by over 80 per cent of WeChat users in China (BBC 2015).
More recently, a man in Qingdao hand-crafted dresses from balloons for his fiancée to wear during their wedding photos, while another couple’s photographs wearing traditional ethnic minority dress attracted much online discussion.
The developing ‘trends’ of wedding photography
In today’s social media age, Chinese wedding photographs are routinely shared with a large audience. This has led to various trends in the industry.
One style mirrors the original ‘wedding photographs’ of China’s pre-reform era. Before the popularity of pre-wedding shoots, engaged couples would usually pose for one formal photograph when in the process of obtaining a marriage certificate. In more modern interpretations, couples can be seen to wear Mao-era military fatigues and hairstyles, even holding copies of Mao’s Little Red Book in keeping with photographs of the time, the main difference being that today couples are permitted to adopt whimsical poses and expressions.
Another recent trend is to stand out from the crowd by taking pre-wedding photos in another country, such as posing under the Big Ben in faraway London. This generally involves more Western-style photographs in suits and white bridal gowns. Transport and accommodation are often organised as part of one photography package.
The most famous example of wedding pictures taken abroad is arguably that of Chinese celebrity Angelababy, whose extravagant pre-wedding photographs in Paris with husband Huang Xiaoming made headlines in both Chinese and Western media (see featured image).
Other popular pre-wedding photo locations and styles include local parks, botanical gardens, amusement parks and indoor studio backdrops, with couples often wearing traditional Han qipao (旗袍) and hanfu (汉服) dress.
Regardless of scenery or price, most pre-wedding shoots have one thing in common: a production team. Besides a photographer, couples doing photo shoots are often accompanied by stylists and make-up assistants, as well as people taking care of the lighting and wardrobes. Then there are the people taking care of airbrushing and photoshopping the pictures before they are shown to friends and family.
The cost of pre-wedding shoots
As the production level of pre-wedding photography rises, couples in China have been spending increasing amounts on photography packages.
In order to get ahead in the market, there are now companies that have begun to offer additional services including electronic online invitations and wedding videos at comparatively affordable prices. Photo slideshows that can be played during the ceremony itself are available in a range of themes from cornfields to Disney, with some available to purchase for 68 RMB (roughly $10).
Pre-wedding shoots themselves can range from hundreds to (ten)thousands of dollars, depending on the number of locations and the price of the outfits.
Public opinion of pre-wedding photography
Online opinion of pre-wedding photography varies, with some Weibo users admiring viral wedding photos while others scorn the practice.
For wedding photography companies, Weibo is a lucrative platform to advertise their services. With many couples, including the rich & famous, sharing their own pre-wedding pics on the social network site, the business is also booming on Weibo.
Some netizens are critical at the costs involved in extravagant photo shoots. Commenting on the recent story of the couple who wore 56 ethnic minority outfits in their pre-wedding photographs, one Weibo user said: “All I can say is that they have too much money.”
On the other hand, unusual photo shoots can attract admiration, with one netizen commenting on the same story: “What a creative journey!”
The trend of wearing Communist-style uniforms still appears to be popular, with a user named Shufen commenting: “This kind of photo is so much better than the usual stereotypical wedding photos.”
However, many Weibo users express frustration at the constant circulation of wedding photographs- especially when they are single themselves. As one user says: “For the past few months in a row, my news feed has been full of all sorts of wedding photos. It’s crazy!”
With the growth of China’s emerging middle-class, the trend for pre-wedding photographs is likely to further flourish for the years to come; as couple’s strive to find new and innovative wedding photos, the industry is only set to become more competitive. The honeymoon is not over yet.
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Binging and Purging as Online Trend: From China’s “Big Stomach Stars” to “Vomit Bars”
China’s ‘Big Stomach Stars’ are all the rage – but is it really just harmless entertainment?
Unlike previous rising Chinese social media stars such as Papi Jiang, the 26-year-old Mimi from Chongqing did not become an online celebrity because of her comic skills or acting talent, nor for her singing voice or dance moves. Mimi Zhang became famous for eating 8 lb (4 kg) of rice in one sitting, during an eating challenge in 2016.
By now, Mimi is one of China’s most successful ‘Eating Broadcasting’ hosts. Also called ‘Big Stomach Star Eating Livestream’ (大胃王吃播) or ‘Livestream Eating Vlogging’ (吃播女博主) in China, it is an online video genre in which hosts will consume extremely large amounts of food.
In South Korea, it is known as the ‘mukbang‘ phenomenon, and the craze started there some years earlier, peaking in 2016. ‘Eating Broadcasting’ stars such as Kinoshita Yuka (video) and BJ The Diva (video) already had their moments of fame on the internet in South Korea, Japan, and beyond, but the genre only recently has become a real hype on Chinese social media.
Binging on Camera
Looking at the number of views and subscribers from YouTube to Twitch, or on platforms such as Kuaishou or Douyin, the ‘Eating Broadcasting’ genre obviously has millions of fans worldwide.
This online movement is innocuous in many ways. According to experts, people enjoy watching others eat because they feel a social connection, or want to stimulate their own appetite – it is one of the reasons why the craze is also dubbed ‘social eating.’
For many, the genre is simply entertaining; hosts often eat unconventional dishes, they are descriptive with taste, play around with their expressions, take on challenges, talk, and make funny sounds while eating.
But what if ‘social eating’ becomes ‘binge eating’? How harmless is the genre if it shows skinny women eating excessive amounts of food, inadvertently promoting unhealthy eating habits and unrealistic standards?
Along with Mimi Zhang, ‘Big Stomach Mini'(@大胃mini) is one other among many Chinese livestreamers that has achieved online stardom by eating large amounts of food. The 24-year-old reportedly is 1,70 m. tall and only weights 47 kilograms (103lbs), yet recently managed to eat a staggering 17 kg (35 pounds) of meat (video).
More and more, netizens are starting to connect these live-streamers to a habit of purging. Ongoing rumors suggest a supposed connection between binge streaming and vomiting.
Recently, various accounts claimed that Mimi Zhang used to have an account (using the name ‘Little Mi 360’ 小密360) on an online forum where people, mainly women, encourage each other to binge and purge.
China’s “Vomit Bar” (催吐吧) Community
China’s so-called “Vomit Bars” (催吐吧), online forums focused on binging and purging, have formed a hidden community on Chinese internet for years.
The phenomenon already came to light in 2012, and started to receive news media attention within China in 2015 and 2016. Most of the bigger online forums got shut down in 2017, however, after rumors circulated that a member of a ‘Vomit Bar’ had reached such a low weight that her organs failed and she passed away.
Nevertheless, the online community consists of thousands of people, mainly women aged 14-40. A previously well-known forum on Baidu (now shutdown) had around 50,000 members called ‘rabbits’ (兔子) and over 5,5 million posts.
Since then, there are still some scattered forums, and a special Android app called ‘Meet Like Rabbits’ (相识于吐), where users can share their experiences and tips on message boards. On WeChat’s group chats, members of the community have more freedom to talk in private with less risk of being shut down.
Members of the online ‘purging community’ are called ‘rabbits’ since the Chinese word for rabbit, tuzi (兔子), sounds similar to the word for ‘purging’ (tu 吐), and also because they eat all day, just like rabbits.
The main goal of these online forums is to share tips and tricks on how to lose weight by purging, while still binging on food. People also post photos of their binges or body, and share their hopes and fears in losing weight. “The way it is now, I could maintain a weight of around 46 kilograms,” one ‘rabbit’ writes: “I think it’s fat. My heart is filled with panic. I can only vomit.”
Newcomers ask others about best ways to vomit, and some people who say they’ve been binging and purging for years share experiences about their painful stomach and tooth decay.
Doctor Ma Yongchun (马永春) from Zhejiang Tongde Hospital since long has been warning people that these kind of online forums are harmful. She told iFeng news that the so-called ‘rabbits’ get caught up in a vicious cycle of binging and purging, and in doing so are developing serious eating disorders that can become life-threatening.
Eating Disorders in China
The Chinese ‘rabbit’ community could perhaps be compared to the Western ‘pro-ana‘ phenomenon, an online movement where people promote the behavior related to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.
But there is one major difference; the ‘pro-ana’ community is connected to the term ‘anorexia’, suggesting that users of such forums are somewhat aware their behaviors are a sign of an actual eating disorder.
In these Chinese online communities, however, there seems to be a lesser acknowledgment that the cycle of binging and purging is one that belongs in the realm of a psychological disorder. Although people do complain that they feel they can no longer stop their irregular eating pattern, they talk more about their stomach aches and ulcers than they actually talk about suffering from an eating disorder.
This perhaps relates to the fact that there is little general awareness about eating disorders (ED) in China. Although there are no official statistics on the occurrence of bulimia, anorexia, or other ED in China, previous studies have found levels similar to Western countries (Tong et al 2014).
What various studies over the past years have also established is that there are major differences between Western countries and China in how eating disorders manifest themselves, suggesting they are not culture-bound but culture-reactive (Getz 2014, 749; Pike & Dunne 2015).
Because EDs are (1) traditionally conceptualized as a “Western mental health issue,” because (2) there is a social stigma attached to mental health issues in general in Chinese society, because (3) there is little general awareness on EDs, because (4) there is a lack in Chinese healthcare facilities specialized in EDs, and because of (5) various cultural factors (e.g. a very strong food culture), Chinese patients are more prone to talk about their problems in the form of somatic symptoms such as an extreme (dis)taste for food or abdominal problems, than in the form of a psychological problem (Getz 2014, 746-750).
Recently, Chinese media slowly seem to be promoting more awareness on eating disorders. The American video “I became Anorexic for Instagram” has gone viral on Chinese social media over the past month, as it was posted by various state media channels on Weibo.
Among thousands of reactions, many said: “It seems that this kind of disease doesn’t occur much in China – we have too many tasty food!” Others said: “I want to lose weight too – I want an eating disorder like this!”
But there are also more and more people who are tying the rise of China’s online unhealthy eating trends to more serious issues. “These girls who eat so much [on camera] do not just have big stomachs, they actually puke in order to eat so much. I don’t find it entertaining to watch them anymore,” one netizen (@有兔劳劳) says.
“I now find it sad to watch these ‘big stomach stars’ (大胃王),” another person says: “They definitely vomit – it’s impossible for one person’s stomach to hold so much food.”
“What’s up with all these ‘big stomach stars’ recently? It’s not something they were born with, or something they were trained in doing; they are like those ‘rabbits’ and it is a disease, it’s bulimic. I don’t want to support them anymore by watching how they harm themselves,” another commenter writes.
Meanwhile, China’s binge-eating online stars seem to be unaffected by the online rumors that connect them to unhealthy trends and eating disorders.
For some commenters, there is no issue at all: “She just has a great appetite.”
Are you suffering from an eating disorder and need help? For information on eating disorders and how to help if you are worried about someone, Beat (UK) or ANAD (US) has advice for sufferers, friends and family.
References (online references linked to in text)
Getz, M.J. 2014. “The Myth of Chinese Barbies: Eating Disorders in China including Hong Kong.” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 21: 746-754.
Pike, Kathleen M., and Patricia E. Dunne. 2015. “The Rise of Eating Disorders in Asia: a Review.” Journal of Eating Disorders 3:33. Available online https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-015-0070-2 [17.1.18].
Tong, J., Miao, S., Wang, J. et al. 2014. “A Two-stage Epidemiologic Study on Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Female University Students in Wuhan, China.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 49(3): 499-505.
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Netizens or Not? About Chinese Online Communities & Use of the Term ‘Netizen’
The term ‘netizens’, referring to Chinese internet users, is both loved and hated.
It has been an issue of debate for years; the use of the word ‘netizen’ in English-language media – especially when referring to Chinese internet users.
At What’s on Weibo, it is a word we use in pretty much every article we post. Online media in China is our focus, and how ‘netizens’ deal with social media and trending topics is at the heart of this website.
But many people have had enough of the word ‘netizen.’ Already in 2013, Matt Schiavenza at The Atlantic wrote that the term was “once useful as a way to describe China’s internet users,” but that it is now “meaningless, inaccurate, and misleading.”
Schiavenza argues that “netizens” is mainly used for Chinese internet users who are politically active or outspoken, while there is a huge number of Chinese people who are non-political in their online behavior.
The term has also been discussed among people on Reddit, where some call it a “stupid journalism” term.
At the conclusion of the recent Chinese Internet Research Conference at Leiden University, the term was also briefly discussed in the context of ‘online communities,’ with some scholars deeming the word inappropriate to refer to Chinese internet users – also suggesting that speaking of Chinese “online communities” in itself was problematic to begin with.
One discussion participant suggested that words such as ‘community’ or ‘netizen’ are labels used by outsiders in the academic world or in foreign media, rather than Chinese describing themselves that way – saying it is problematic because it is “our label, not theirs.”
Is this really true? What’s behind the term ‘netizens’? Should Chinese internet users be described with other terms than ‘netizens’? For what reasons?
Behind the Word ‘Netizen’
The word ‘netizen’ was first coined in 1984 and popularized with the spread of the internet during the 1990s. The word is a blend of the words ‘internet’ and ‘citizen,’ and is (or was) generally used to either refer to people who use the internet, or more specifically, to refer to people who participate in online discussions or belong to ‘online communities’ (Johnson 2013).
The term is also often attributed to net theoretician Michael Hauben, who used it in his 1997 work to define people who “actively contribute toward the development of the Internet” and for a “citizen who used the Internet as a way of participating in political society.”
Already in 2012,Time Magazine elected the term as one of the words that should be banished, suggesting it had become archaic since its launch in the 1980s.
But when looking at the more recent use of the word ‘netizens’ in academia and foreign media, the term is anything but dead. It does seem to be applied far more often to Asian online contexts, e.g. Chinese or Korean online users, than it is used to describe internet users in Europe or America.
It is often used, for example, to talk about online fans of the K-pop industry or users of the Sina Weibo platform – suggesting that there has been a shift in the use of ‘netizens’ from the 1980s or 1990s to describe any internet user, to more specifically describing those (often Chinese) internet users that are part of a specific online circle.
From Netizen to Wangmin
One reason why ‘netizen’ is used in the Chinese case specifically, is because Chinese media and social media users use the word ‘wǎngmín’ (网民) very frequently.
Wangmin (网民) literally means ‘net-people’ or ‘net-citizens’ (thus literally: ‘netizens’), and is the generally accepted term to designate internet users in China. The term was described by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) in 2013 as “Chinese residents who are six or older and have used the Internet at least once in the past six months” (Shen 2013).
The CNNIC has used the term wangmin officially since 1997, the year of its founding, when its first ‘China Wangmin Survey’ (中国网民调查) came out – the same year that Michael Hauben theorized and politicized the word.
The Chinese term wangmin seems to lack the more political implications of the term ‘netizen’ in English in Western countries, which has come to imply that an internet user is politically involved in online issues. Chinese fans of certain music genres or TV series are hardly politically involved in online causes, yet they are still wangmin.
There are (political) implications to the term wangmin on another level, though; in Chinese media, the term is mostly connected to nations. For example; one can speak of ‘American netizens’ (全美网民), ‘Canadian netizens’ (加拿大网民) or ‘Chinese netizens’ (中国网民,国内网民).
There are also instances in which the term is applied to platforms rather than nations. Some Chinese media have used the term ‘Sina Weibo netizens’ (新浪微博网民), for example.
Netizens versus Netizens
So what does this all mean? Firstly, it means that the use of ‘wangmin’ or ‘netizens’ in the Chinese context is not the same as the way the term ‘netizens’ has come to be used in the English-language Western context.
It also means that the term is not archaic at all. After all, who can claim a word is ‘outdated’ or ‘old-fashioned’ when it is practically being used at all hours of the day on Chinese internet and in Chinese media today? Even though it has been used since 1997, it has proved to be anything but a word trend: wangmin has become a part of normal Chinese vocabulary.
Third, claiming that it is a “stupid journalist term” or “our label, not theirs” also does not do just to the word; in the Chinese context, the term is used far beyond journalism, and more importantly; it is used by Chinese organizations and individuals to describe Chinese internet users, meaning it is not merely a term that is used by non-Chinese to describe Chinese online populations.
One thing that stands out when talking about ‘netizens’, no matter in what context, is that it is tied to the idea of an ‘online community.’ Much has been researched and said about what constitutes an online community, but for the scope of this article, we could say that it minimally requires some sense of a shared collective identity or some pursue of a shared purpose (Massa 2017, 961).
In the case of China’s online environment, online communities are built in two ways.
In one way, it is constructed at the state level to “define wangmin within the nation-state boundary,” as Yiping Shen (2015) writes in Public Discourses of Contemporary China.
This is, amongst others, very visible in state reports or state media that define “Chinese netizens” (中国网民) in the same way in which citizens are legally recognized subjects of a nation or state, meaning citizens of the PRC. In this way, all of China’s 772 + million internet users are part of this group of ‘netizens’ and have to follow to guidelines the government lays out for Chinese netizens.
In another way, it is used among Chinese companies and internet users to define themselves, either in the way the state has intended it, or at a smaller online community level. And these communities exist everywhere, from small-scale to large-scale, some existing for a long time, some being short-lived; from the long-standing Rage Comics community to temporary groups and Human Flesh Search Engines, to flourishing BBS or WeChat groups.
A platform such as Sina Weibo also clearly defines itself as a ‘community’ (社区), with its ‘Weibo Community Management’ (新浪微博社区管理) being an important part of the site in setting out guidelines for its members.
Wangyou: Chinese Online Friends
So what options are there for future references to Chinese internet users? Should we just stick to ‘netizens’? Would it more appropriate to use the original Chinese term ‘wangmin,’ or should we perhaps use another widespread term, namely that of ‘wǎngyǒu’?
Besides Chinese internet users defining themselves as wangmin, the word wangyou (网友), literally ‘web friend’, is also often used among netizens to define the members of their online ‘community’ (e.g. Weibo) or Chinese internet users at large.
Jessica Sun (孙慧), linguist and co-founder of the Dutch website Chinatalk, explains that ‘wangyou’ or ‘webfriends’ initially was meant to define those people one knew from cyberspace, when internet just gained traction in China.
Once China’s online population grew bigger, the idea of wangyou also grew to include more people. “It could also refer to a larger group of people who share the same interests or attitudes, instead of just friends,” Sun explains.
Sun compares the use of wangyou to the Chinese word for ‘friend’, pengyou (朋友), which is often used to sound more intimate, although the person addressed is not necessarily really considered a ‘friend.’
According to Sun’s analysis, wangmin (netizen) and wangyou (webfriend) are generally interchangeable, although there are some subtle differences. Sun has some remarks explaining the difference between the two terms:
1. In many cases, wangmin could also be a wangyou, but not the other way around. Wangyou can be used to show a more emotional attachment or personal relation, as in ‘my webfriends’ (我的网友). One can not say ‘my netizens’ (我的网民).
2. While wangyou is more intimate, wangmin is more neutral, and is therefore mainly used by news outlets.
3. The use of the term wangmin or wangyou depends on the attitude of the person who uses it towards a specific person/event, depending on the ‘community’ they are in or the stance they have towards a particular incident.
For example, when Chinese media report about wangyou doing something or being angered about something, it often means this author/publication is siding with these ‘webfriends’.
The headline featured above (“As policeman bravely sacrifices his life, [some] webfriends are angered about these details“) is a story about a policeman who died on duty while trying to protect pedestrians from an out-of-control car. When some online commenters said that it was the policeman’s job to protect the people, suggesting his death was part of his duty, many other commenters were angered with these comments. By featuring the ‘webfriends’ term in this headline, the publication shows it sides with those ‘webfriends’ who mourn the policeman’s death and who are angered about insensitive comments relating to his death.
Another story, headline above (“Shenyang policeman dies on duty, two netizens detained over insulting comments“), is about another policeman dying on duty due to an attack by a suspect, with two web users commenting that the person attacking the police was a “hero” for doing so. The headline states that “two netizens insulting [police] have been detained” – in such a case, the media report shows a distance towards the commenters – ‘webfriends’ would surely not be used to refer to them.
All in all, it is clear that words such as netizen or wangyou, although they might sound outdated in an English-language context, are anything but outdated in the Chinese context.
Nearly five years after The Atlantic posted its anti-‘netizen’ article, claiming the word “meaningless, inaccurate, and misleading,” recent uses of the term and its ubiquity in (Chinese) media show that it was perhaps the author’s perspective that was flawed, rather than the term itself.
For the time to come, Chinese ‘netizens’ are here to stay.
We’d like to hear your stance! How do you feel about ‘netizens,’ or would you rather see a more frequent use of the original wangmin term? Fill out the poll below:
With contribution from Jessica Sun at Chinatalk.
Hauben, Michael and Ronda Hauben. 1997. Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. Computer Society Press: Los Alamitos, CA.
Jones, Paul Anthony. 2013. Haggard Hawks and Paltry Poltroons: The Origins of English in Ten Words.
Massa, Felipe G. 2017. “Guardians of the Internet: Building and Sustaining the Anonymous Online Community.”Organization Studies 38 (7): 959 –988.
Shen, Yiping. 2015. “Netizens, Counter-Memories, and Internet Literature into the New Millennium.” In: Public Discourses of Contemporary China. Chinese Literature and Culture in the World, Chapter 4. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.
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