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China’s Exam Fever and ‘Gaokao Economy’

It is time for China’s gaokao (高考) – the national college entrance exams. The exams, that are taking place on June 7 and 8, are attracting nationwide attention – both offline and online. Not only does the gaokao dominate the top trending lists on China’s social media, companies also profit from the so-called “gaokao economy” (高考经济).

Manya Koetse

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It is time for the gaokao (高考) – China’s national college entrance exams. The exams, that are taking place on June 7 and 8, are attracting nationwide attention both offline and online. Not only do the gaokao dominate the top trending lists on China’s social media, companies also profit from the booming “gaokao economy” (高考经济).

China’s gaokao (高考) week, the time of the national college entrance exam, is one of the biggest events of the year. During this time, topics like ‘the 2016 Exams’ (#2016高考#) are trending on social media, and Weibo accounts revolving around the exams, like Sina’s Gaokao Newsflash (@高考快讯), are suddenly very popular.

More than 9 million students are taking the exams this year. The gaokao (literally: ‘higher exams’) are a prerequisite for entering China’s higher education institutions, and are usually taken by students in their last year of senior high school. The exams take place during a period of 2 days. Scoring high grades for this exam can give high school students access to a better college, which enlarges their chances of obtaining a good job after graduation. Because the exam results are potentially life-changing, the gaokao period is generally a stressful time for students and their parents.

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China’s social media platforms are well-visited during the exam period. Many exam candidates post photos of their study material or go online for support, posting encouraging words to themselves and to their fellow students on Sina Weibo. Weibo is also the go-to platform for parents whose children are taking exams, as these strenuous times are generally stressful for the entire family. Weibo currently therefore also has trending hashtags like “Respect for all parents supporting their kids during exams” (#向高考陪读父母致敬#).

“Gaokao Economy”

Many businesses and universities profit from the nationwide gaokao fever by drawing attention to themselves and trying to make money during this time. “Gaokao economics” (高考经济) refers to this phenomenon of businesses specifically using the exam-period to promote their brands and make more profit.

On Weibo, gaokao economics are mainly visible through brands wishing exam students good luck; making sure they link their logo to the exams. The trending topic ‘2016 exams’, for example, is sponsored by the popular herbal tea brand Wong Lo Kat. wanglaojiThere are also various brands and companies that organize special exam activities and advertise them through social media. Wenzhou radio announced that they are organizing special local taxi’s to drive students to their exam rooms and back.

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App developers and app stores take this opportunity to promote apps focused on studying and concentration. The weekly recommendations of the Chinese Apple app store are specially themed around “Exam Preparation” (专注备考), with various apps listed to help students organize their study information, improve time efficiency, relax in between studying, and meditate for better focus.

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Many educational institutes also profit from the exam fever, either by offering expensive cram courses or by using this time for promotion. While the exams are still in full swing, universities are already trying their best to attract prospective students. Under the hashtag “I Will be Waiting for You in University” (#我在大学等你#), many universities are posting their campaign videos and publicity photos, featuring university students holding signs saying “I will be waiting for you at [university name]”.

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But the gaokao economy goes far beyond the digital environment. Many companies jump at this opportunity to offer anything students might need, from clothes to food and other basic needs. There are also many hotels, for example, providing hourly rooms and special discounts for gaokao candidates who need some room for study or accommodation. These so-called ‘exam rooms’ (高考房) are currently very popular, as they give students the opportunity to concentrate and get a good night sleep. One Shijiazhuang hotel provides free yogurt and chocolate for exam candidates, as well as lucky signs in their hotel rooms to boost their chances of success.

There are also companies offering special ‘gaokao nanny’ (高考保姆) services, as reported by 961 News. ‘Gaokao nannies’ do everything they can to make the exam student as comfortable and focused at possible; cooking them the right food, taking them to the exam room and alleviate their stress through talking.

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As the ‘gaokao economy’ has grown bigger through the years, there are also media criticizing the phenomenon. Some media say businesses shouldn’t profit from students, others say it is not good as it puts extra strain on those families that are already having financial struggles, as they cannot afford to spend more during their child’s exam period.

But not all netizens agree with the media’s critical stance: “Don’t these companies just need to make money too? It’s not like they’re cheating people,” one netizen writes: “I am not in this business, but you’re making a big fuss over nothing.” Another Weibo user responds: “There are just so many people who need to make money in this country – and they’ll think of anything to do so.”

– By Diandian Guo & Manya Koetse

©2016 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

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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China and Covid19

Happiest Lockdown in China: Guests Undergo Mandatory Quarantine at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

“I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too!” The Shanghai Disney hotel apparently is the happiest place to get locked in.

Manya Koetse

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While many cities across China are experiencing new (partial) lockdowns and millions of people are confined to their homes, there was also a group of people that had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a very special place: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

On September 7, social media posts started surfacing online from people who said they were required to quarantine while they were at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel. Disneyland reportedly had received a notification from the local health authorities that a visitor who previously stayed at the Disneyland hotel was found to be a close contact of a newly confirmed Covid case.

In line with the Center for Disease Control requirements, Disney created a ‘closed loop system’ by locking in all hotel residents and staff members and doing daily Covid tests. While the Disneyland theme park was open as usual, the hotel became a temporary isolation site where people’s health would be monitored for the next few days while all staff members would also be screened.

During their mandatory quarantine, guests stayed at the hotel for free and did not need to pay for their rooms. Room prices at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel start at around 3000 yuan/night ($433).

Some guests shared photos of their Disneyland quarantine stay on social media, showing how Disney staff provided them with free breakfast, lunch, a surprise afternoon tea, delicious dinner, fun snacks, and Disney toys and stickers.

On the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) app, one Shanghai Disney visitor (nickname @恶霸小提莫) wrote: “We have three meals a day, there is both Chinese and Western-style breakfast, we also get afternoon tea and desserts, they have shrimp, beef, scallops, drinks, French macarons, yogurt, ice cream, and much more. We watched so many Disney movies for free. We are given so many little gifts, they brought us gifts twice today as they also brought us toy figures at night. We watch the fireworks from our windows every night at 8.30 pm. Although we weren’t allowed to go out, we really had a pleasant stay.”

Another Disney guest named Zoea (Xiaohongshu ID: yiya0313) also shared many photos of the mandatory quarantine and wrote: “When the staff knocked on the door to tell me they were bringing dinner, I even wondered how it was possible that they brought food again. Afternoon tea during quarantine, can you believe it? And fruit before dinner? And midnight snacks brought to us after dinner? And it was so nice to watch all the Disney movies on tv. Disney really is the most magical place.”

“I’m just so happy,” another locked-in Disney guest posted on social media, sharing pictures of Mickey Mouse cakes.

Other guests also posted about their experiences on social media. “They probably feared we would get bored so they brought us glue, stickers, and painting brushes, the kids loved it and so did we!”

Reading about the happy quarantine at Disney, many Weibo users responded that they envied the guests, writing: “I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too.”

“I need to find a way to get in, too,” others wrote.

Earlier this year, one Chinese woman shared her story of being quarantined inside a hotpot restaurant for three days. Although many people also envied the woman, who could eat all she wanted during her stay, she later said she felt like she had enough hotpot for the rest of her life.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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