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China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community Shut Down: Behind Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua)

Why have China’s most popular Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua) channels been shut down?

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Rage Comics, known as Baozou Manhua in Chinese, have become a widespread phenomenon on Chinese social media over the past decade. Online censors are now targeting channels spreading these popular webcomics, which serve as a humorous weapon to China’s younger generations. What’s on Weibo explains.

Sixteen Weibo accounts relating to Rage Comics (暴走漫画) were shut down by Sina Weibo administrators this week for allegedly “insulting” and “slandering” the names of Chinese heroes and martyrs.

The official Weibo administrator account (@微博管理员) issued a statement in the evening of May 17, writing:

“In accordance with the Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (英雄烈士保护法), the Cybersecurity Law (网络安全法), and other legal guidelines, Weibo has fulfilled its corporate responsibility (..) and has focused on disposing of harmful information that insults, slanders, or in any other way infringes on the name, portrayal, or reputation of heroes.”

Among the banned Weibo accounts are @Baozoumanhua (@暴走漫画), @Baozoudashijian (@暴走大事件), @HuangJiguang (@黄继光砸缸) and @DongCunRuiattheoffice (@办公室的董存瑞) – all very popular channels through which China’s so-called ‘Rage Comics’ are created and spread.

The ban also goes beyond Weibo, affecting Rage Comics accounts on Q&A platform Zhihu.com, video-streaming sites Youku and iQIYI, and official Baozou Manhua websites.

 
China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community
 

What are Rage Comics? Many internet users will be familiar with the online crude and simple online comics featuring various characters, often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint, telling stories about everyday annoyances or personal embarrassments, and ending with a punchline. The jokes are often straightforward and politically incorrect (MacDonald 2016).

Random example of ‘rage comics’ genre.

Another random example of Rage Comics by ragebuilder.com

This genre of webcomics first surfaced in North America on the English-language website 4chan, after which it became more widespread in online communities such as Tumblr, Reddit, and beyond.

The Chinese translation of ‘Rage Comics’ is Bàozǒu Mànhuà (暴走漫画), with ‘baozou’ literally meaning ‘out of control’, and ‘manhua’ meaning ‘sketches’, popularized through the Japanese manga term. The term baozou manhua is also abbreviated as Baoman (暴漫).

Baoman became more popular in mainland China when ‘Wang Nima’ (@王尼玛 on Weibo) launched the website baozoumanhua.com (now offline) in 2008, inspired by the success of the webcomics on English-language online communities (Chen 2014, 690).

Screenshot of the baozou manhua website’s front page in 2018 (What’s on Weibo).

The website baozoumanhua.com became a thriving online community and media platform – allowing users to create their own Baoman through the creator’s tool (制作器), and to browse the popular comics of the day through its many channels, the ‘Baozou Daily’, an online forum, videos, and gif collection.

Various Baoman apps (source: https://36kr.com/p/5041049.html)

In 2012, the website officially registered the copyright of their Baoman products, as baozoumanhua.com started receiving 5000 to 8000 daily submissions of new comics (Chen 2014, 692-695); Chinese ‘rage comics’ then also became more widespread on platforms such as Weibo or Wechat, where these ‘rage faces’ are commonly sent as emoticon-like stickers during chat conversations.

Some of the popular Baoman characters are the same in China as in the US, such as ‘rage guy’ or ‘troll face’, or the ‘B*tch please’ meme – which is actually the face of Chinese retired professional basketball player Yao Ming responding to a journalist’s question during a post-game press conference.

The Yao Ming image is typically used as a ‘reaction face’ to convey a dismissive attitude towards comments in online discussions (Knowyourmeme 2018).

But there are also typically Chinese characters or biaoqing (表情 ‘expressions’), for example, those based on Chinese celebrities or referencing to Chinese pop culture (Chen 2014, 695; Xu 2016).

Chinese ‘biaoqing’ (via Motherboard).

As described by Christina Xu in the Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme; although Chinese ‘Baoman’ and/or ‘biaoqing’ all started as a Chinese response to the American Rage Comics, and still use some original characters, an “entirely separate pantheon has emerged” in the PRC (Xu 2016), in which Chinese netizens have collectively built a uniquely Chinese online ‘subculture’ and Baoman community.

A Baoman making fun of the challenges and ‘mindf*cks’ during multiple choice exams.

Baoman have been especially functional in China for urban Chinese youth to “vent their frustration about the inequalities they face on a daily basis,” as Chen (2014) points out in “Baozou Manhua, Internet Humour and Everyday Life.”

These issues go from rising unemployment to the high cost of living, or the difficulty of entering Chinese universities through the gaokao (national entrance exam) system.

Self-mockery and self-satire is an important part of China’s so-called “diaosi tribe”: a huge group of Chinese youths who’ve labeled themselves ‘diaosi’ (屌丝), basically meaning “losers”, as they struggle with the hardships of everyday life and growing social inequality. The ugly, amateuristic graphics of the Baozou manhua suit this youth culture, meeting their need for expression in a culture that focuses on ‘keeping face’ (Ma 2016, 20).

According to baozoumanhua.com founder Wang Nima, the Baoman genre provides Chinese gao gen (grassroots) netizens “a ‘lance’ to express themselves” (Chen 20154, 693); meaning this kind of humour can also serve as a frivolous way of resistance, using humor as a weapon to talk about daily frustrations.

 
No Disrepect for Chinese Heroes: A ‘Ban’ on Baoman
 

The recent ban on Baoman directly relates to a 2015 image and a 2014 short Baozou manhua video clip, which was reposted to online news app Jinri Toutiao earlier this month. Both the image and the clip joked about some of China’s renowned heroes, including Chinese civil war figures Ye Ting (叶挺, military leader) and Dong Cunrui (董存瑞, PLA soldier who destroyed an enemy bunker in a suicide bombing) (Lin 2018).


(The clip in question; some commenters say the words have been taken out of context.)

In the clip, Sixth Tone reports, video host Wang Nima – wearing a ‘rage face’ mask as always – narrates: “Dong Cunrui stared at the enemy’s bunker, his eyes bursting with rays of hate. He said resolutely, ‘Commander, let me blow up the bunker. I am an eight-point youth, and this is my eight-point bunker.’” The script, Qiqing Lin writes, was meant as a pun on a KFC sandwich that was broadcasted in 2014.

Although sarcasm and crudeness are very much inherent in the Baoman humor, this does not mix well with the new law that has recently been implemented in mainland China to ‘protect’ its national heroes.

The Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ, 英雄烈士保护法), has been introduced in March of 2018, as China Daily writes, “so that the country and the people forever remember the sacrifices made by the nation’s heroes and martyrs for the good of the country.”

It has thus become illegal to make fun of Chinese heroes, and people who “defame” them can now face criminal punishment.

But is this law really the only reason for the shutdown of Baoman channels? Or is it the fact that the all too popular Rage Comics are a representation of an online subculture that goes against the government’s view of “healthy developments” of Chinese youth and cultural industries?

Baozoumahua.com founder ‘Wang Nima’, who now has over 16.6 million followers on Weibo, responded to the ban on the Baoman channels on Thursday, saying he offered his “profound apologies” for bringing an “unhealthy influence” into society. The 40,000 comments to his post were not available to view at time of writing.

 
The Future of China’s Baozou Comics
 

Over the past few days, the ban on Baozou Manhua has been a huge topic of discussion on Chinese social media, although most comment threads have become publicly unavailable.

Current bans on China’s most important online webcomics channels do not necessarily predict their existence and survival in the future. Over the past few months, various online (announced) bans were overturned or denied after triggering controversy (e.g. the ban on gay content or the alleged Douyin targeting of Peppa Pig).

Although channels and hashtags are easy to take offline for censors, the actual creation and spread of new and existing Baoman is virtually impossible to combat. No sources thus far have pointed towards a current ban on the actual comics themselves (just their channels).

Besides the shutdown of the various social media channels, the closure of the baozoumanhua.com media empire is a huge blow to its fans and creators. The website’s founder Wang Nima’s net worth is estimated to be around 4 billion yuan (±US$628 million), according to Daily Economic News (每日经济新闻).

Netflix recently paid $30 million for the Chinese animated film ‘Next Gen’, which is also based on the original webcomic ‘7723’ by Wang Nima. Baozou financed and produced the film, which Chinese majors Alibaba and Wanda will reportedly release in China this summer (Amidi 2018).

Whether or not that will happen, and whether or not baozoumanhua.com will be allowed to go online again, is something to be seen.

For many netizens on Weibo, the fact that Baozuo Manhua has been punished for things in the past with a new law that has just been introduced, is something they find unjust. But there are also those who say it serves them right and that the names of Chinese heroes can not be slandered.

“Why Baozuo Manhua?”, one netizen says: “Why not other programs with vulgar content? (..) It’s unfair!”

Another Weibo commenter says: “China is a big country with many people, and since their education levels are unequal we need a level of control, but it doesn’t mean we should control absolutely everything. If there’s a problem it gets blocked and deleted, but problems do not get solved at their root.”

“Wang Nima I love you, I wait for your return,” one fan writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Amidi, Amid. 2018. “Why Did Netflix Pay $30 Million At Cannes For The Chinese Animated Film ‘Next Gen’?” Cartoon Brew, May 13. https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/why-did-netflix-pay-30-million-at-cannes-for-the-chinese-animated-film-next-gen-158348.html [20.5.18].

Chen, Shih-Wen. 2014. “Baozou manhua (rage comics), Internet humour and everyday life.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 28(5): 690-708.

China Daily. 2018. “英雄烈士保护法(yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ): Law on the protection of heroes and martyrs.” China Daily, May 3. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201805/03/WS5aea50e6a3105cdcf651ba95.html [20.5.18]

Know Your Meme. 2018. “Yao Ming Face / Bitch Please.” Know your Meme. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/yao-ming-face-bitch-please [20.5.18].

Lin, Qiqing. 2018. “Popular ‘Rage Comics’ Brand Gagged for Making Fun of Martyrs.” Sixth Tone, May 18. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002298/popular-rage-comics-brand-gagged-for-making-fun-of-martyrs [19.5.18].

Ma, Xiaojun. 2016. “From Internet Memes to Emoticon Engineering: Insights from the Baozou Comic Phenomenon in China.” HCI (3) 9733, Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Springer): 15-27.

Xu, Christina. 2016. “A Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme.” Motherboard, August 1. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/bmvd74/china-meme-face-a-biaoqing-field-guide [20.5.18].

MacDonalds, Sean. 2016. Animation in China: History, Aesthetics, Media. London: Routledge.

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


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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, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: China's Online 'Baoman' Community Shut Down: Behind Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua) | Sinosphere News

  2. execute all online nerd geek meme losers by firing squad

    May 20, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    this is nerd geek childish online culture which should be banned. nothing is more repulsive than these childish online nerd geeks. the Chinese govt should execute all nerd n geek that create this childish online rubbish. even in the west, there is nothing positive to come out of 4chan or pepe, just pedophilia n Nazism. just execute them all by firing squad, problem solved.

  3. Pingback: У Китаї заборонили лютий комікс про комуніста • Заборона

  4. Pingback: Comics Lowdown: Chinese authorities crack down on Rage Comics – SMASH PAGES

  5. Frankie

    June 28, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Hey, just want to let you know that ‘manhua’ doesn’t really translate to ‘sketches’, a closer translation is ‘cartoon’ (like political cartoon) and it generally refers to the exaggerated/stylized manner of drawing

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China Arts & Entertainment

China’s TV & Film Companies Join Hands to Boycott Huge Salaries in Entertainment Industry

Is this the end of the exorbitant pays for Chinese actors and actresses?

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Chinese television series 'Empress of China' starring Fan Bing Bing.

After authorities put restrictions on high pays for Chinese actors and actresses, nine of China’s most prominent entertainment companies have now come forward with a proposed boycott on excessive wages for stars in film and tv dramas.

On August 11, nine of China’s biggest entertainment and streaming sites, including iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent video, issued a joint statement on boycotting excessive high wages for actors and actresses.

The statement, titled “Resisting Unreasonable Pays & Rejecting Unhealthy Industry Trends” (‘抑制不合理片酬,抵制行业不正之风’) says that actors and actresses should not get paid more than one million yuan (±US$146,000) per episode and not more than 50 million (±7,3 million US) for an entire drama show or movie.

The relatively high pay of actors and actresses in China, especially in the TV drama industry, has been making headlines for years. Previously, Chinese authorities already sought to rein in high salaries for actors, which can take up a significant percentage of a production’s budget.

In 2016, Beijing Review reported that Chinese stars’ salaries were under fire for being excessively high. At the time, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Sun Baoshu, stated that since casting takes up such a large part of production funds, producers have to cut budgets for things such as scriptwriting, stage setting, and sound recording. This leads to poorer productions, Sun said, harming the development of China’s entertainment market.

In September of 2017, the China Alliance of Radio, Film, and Television (CARFT), a non-profit organization that works under the government, ordered China’s production agencies to limit the expenses for cast salaries to no more than 40% of the total production costs for online/TV drama series. Within this percentage, the salary of the show’s leading actors reportedly could not exceed 70% of the total salary paid to all actors, arguing that top-earning stars’ high fees are harmful to a ‘healthy development’ of China’s entertainment industry. The same rule was reiterated by the Chinese tax authorities this week.

Today’s statement, for the first time, puts a cap on the fixed amount actors and actresses in the Chinese entertainment can receive per project – not based on percentages of the total budget.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the statement comes at a time when a tax evasion scandal involving China’s highest-paid actress Fan Bingbing is making headlines in China. The actress reportedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she allegedly only declared 10 million to authorities.

The scandal has attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, with many bewildered reactions over the exorbitant pays in the entertainment industry.

Posts publishing the boycott statement have gone viral on Weibo this weekend; some received over 58,000 likes per thread, and the hashtag “boycott high pays” (#抵制天价片酬#) was viewed more than 16 million times at time of writing.

The companies signing the statement are:

iQiyi (爱奇艺), also dubbed ‘the Netflix of China’, a leading online entertainment and streaming service.

Youku (优酷), one of the biggest online video companies in China, sometimes referred to as the Chinese YouTube.

Tencent Video (腾讯视频), the hugely popular Chinese video streaming website owned by Tencent.

Daylight Entertainment (正午阳光), one of China’s most respected production companies.

Huace Film & TV Co (华策影视), well-known TV program production and distribution company.

Linmon Pictures (柠萌影业), a Shanghai-based Chinese film & TV producer and distributor.

Ciwen Media Co (慈文传媒), a Beijing-based film and television company.

Youhug Media (耀客传媒),a media and entertainment management company headquartered in Shanghai.

New Classics Media (新丽传媒), a renowned TV content and film producer.

Among the thousands of people responding to the new boycott on Weibo, there are many who find that the maximum pay is still way too high: “A million yuan per episode?! My god!”, many write, with some wondering why actors are making so much more money than doctors and scientists.

Others comment that they think it is funny none of the big actors and actresses on Weibo allegedly have reposted the popular statement.

“I’m supportive of the boycott,” a typical comment read: “These high fees really were an unhealthy tendency.”

Others write: “It’s good! They should have done it years ago.”

By Manya Koetse,
with contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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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China Arts & Entertainment

Why Disney’s Christopher Robin Is Not Released in China (And It’s Not Just Because of Winnie)

Recently, many foreign media reported that Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin’ (2018) will not be released in China due to an alleged “nationwide ban” on Winnie. But there is more to this than meets the eye.

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Disney’s latest film Christopher Robin will not be released in Chinese cinemas. Many English-language media claim it is for the fact that the movie’s main star, Winnie the Pooh, is regarded too politically sensitive in the country. But these reports are clouded by misconceptions: Winnie is not banned in China, and it is common for Western films not to be released in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explains.

 
With contributions from Luka de Boni
 

Christopher Robin, denied Chinese release, is the latest victim in China’s war on Winnie the Pooh,” writes Vox. “China gives Winnie the Pooh the enemy-of-the-state treatment,” says a recent New York Post headline.

Over the past days, the fact that Disney’s new 2018 film Christopher Robin will not premiere in mainland China has made headlines in many English-language media, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Most sources allege that the movie, inspired by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh, will not be released in the country’s theatres because “Chinese leader Xi Jinping is prickly about comparisons between him and the lovable cartoon character, who has become a symbol of the resistance there” (Vox).

Film poster for Christopher Robin (Disney 2018).

BBC linked the film’s absence from Chinese movie theatres to Winnie and the supposed “nationwide clampdown on references to the beloved children’s character.”

But to what extent are these allegations true? There seem to be some misconceptions in many media about the scope of censorship on Winnie, and the release of non-Chinese films in mainland China.

 

What’s up with Winnie?

 

Over the past four years, Winnie the Pooh has, at times, been used as a political and satirical meme on Chinese social media, first becoming a target for China’s online censors when netizens compared Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who met at the California Summit, with Pooh and Tigger in 2013.

In September of 2015, an image of Pooh became trending again on the day of the military parade. During the Beijing Parade that commemorated the 70th anniversary of WWII, President Xi Jinping drove around in a car (image), inspecting the troops.

When someone watching the parade then posted an image of Pooh bear in a toy car on Weibo, it was shared 62.000 times in little over an hour. Online responses included: “As I watched [the parade], I told my mother and father the similarities [between Pooh and the President] were uncanny.” The post was then soon deleted from Weibo.

This image of Pooh was censored in 2015.

The same happened in February of 2018, when images of Winnie the Pooh as a king emerged on Weibo after the end of China’s two-term limit on presidency was announced.

Although the censorship of Pooh at these specific moments are reason enough to call the bear some sort of “symbol of defiance against censorship,” it is not reason enough to assume the bear is at the epicenter of “a nationwide clampdown,” as BBC suggested.

 

“Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline.”

 

Winnie the Pooh is not banned from China, neither online nor offline. The bear is quite popular, just as in many other countries, and people walk around wearing Pooh t-shirts and accessories in Chinese cities every day.

A current search on Chinese search engine Baidu for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (“小熊维尼”) generates 8.5 million results. Taobao sells countless Winnie items on its e-commerce platform, and on social media site Weibo, thousands of Chinese netizens post photos of their Winnie-themed merchandise or favorite characters.

Random selection of Winnie-related posts on Weibo today (compilarion What’s on Weibo).

Disney’s Christopher Robin is also discussed online; not just by netizens but also by state media.

The moments that Pooh was censored on Chinese social media in the past, were times that China’s censorship machine was going at full-speed already. Any time that President Xi is taking part in an important meeting or event, whether it is a BRIC summit, military parade, or bilateral meeting, social media is more controlled than usual.

Because netizens were using the image of Pooh in a way that was meant to make fun of these high-profile political occasions and figures at particularly these times, they were censored. In other words: the Winnie images were censored along with many other things at particularly sensitive times for mocking a political event or figure.

Although it makes sense to say that Winnie the Pooh is perhaps more ‘sensitive’ than other cartoons (although Peppa Pig and Rage Comics had their share of censorship, too), it is questionable if this sensitivity is enough of a reason to ban Disney’s new blockbuster Christopher Robin.

 

Chinese Summer: Not a Time for Western Films

 

But if not for the bear itself, what would be a reason not to release a promising Disney movie? China’s strict foreign film import quota may play an important role.

Since the 1990s, China has a ‘foreign film quota.’ In the early years, this meant that just a small quote of foreign films were allowed to be imported into China, and in 2012, this was increased to 34 foreign movies per year. The amount of revenue that foreign producers can take from these movies is restricted to 25% (Latham 2007, 185; Ma 2017, 193).

Although Hollywood lobbyists have been negotiating with Chinese film authorities to allow more foreign films to be imported under revenue-sharing terms, there’s been little progress for now – the ongoing looming trade-war has not benefited the situation.

Besides the longstanding cap on foreign films, China also has unofficial ‘Hollywood black-out periods’ in which Hollywood blockbusters are prevented to enter the market so as to boost sales of local productions, a phenomenon dubbed “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).

The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years (read more here). As a consequence, it is common for big American productions to not be released in China during the summer months, the period where cinemas make the most revenues. 

In 2011, for example, the Harry Potter blockbuster of the year was premiered in China five weeks later than it was in the rest of the world. Last summer, both Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming had their release dates delayed by several months, most probably to give the patriotic, local production Wolf-Warrior 2 a boost in sales. 

These black-out periods can also serve another purpose. According to CNBC, they can also be used to give Chinese film authorities additional bargaining power in their negotiations with US lobbyists. With these negotiations increasing in importance lately, as a result of deteriorating US-China trade relations, it might make sense that Chinese authorities would want to put themselves in the most favorable bargaining position.  

Each year, it is unclear when the ‘black-out period’ starts and ends. Generally, it can start as early as mid-June and finish as late as late-August.

 

Goodbye, Christopher Robin?

 

With many netizens and various state media (including China Global Television Network) posting about the release of Christopher Robin on Weibo and beyond, it is unlikely that political sensitivity over Winnie is the (only) reason why the film will not be shown in Chinese cinemas this summer.

Whether or not the film will definitely not come out in China is also not clear. The process of translation and censorship checking for films can take a long time and will sometimes mean films come out much later in the PRC.

Even when not reaching the big screens, most Hollywood blockbusters will eventually be available for viewing on online channels such as Youku or iQiyi.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), another movie focusing on the story of Winnie the Pooh, is available for viewing on iQiyi and other (paid) streaming sites in China.

Many netizens would welcome a delayed release of Christopher Robin in China. The movie’s hashtag (#克里斯托弗·罗宾#) has already been viewed nearly three million times on Weibo.

While for many, the bear has no political connotations, there are also those who are still trying to post pictures of President Xi Jinping as Pooh – those will soon be deleted.

“I just wanted to see if it would be deleted,” the Weibo user says: “But actually, I really do think he’s cute.”

For more on this, check out today’s feature on BBC World Update (video by What’s on Weibo).

By Manya Koetse, and Luka de Boni

References

Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Oxford: ABC Clio.

Ma, Winston. 2017. China’s Mobile Economy: Opportunities in the Largest and Fastest Information Consumption Boom. Cornwall: Wiley.

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. ©2014-2018

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