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From Gold Mine to Land Mine – The Chinese in Ghana

150 Chinese immigrants in Ghana have been detained whilst the crackdown continues. What is the problem behind the large-scale arrests?

Manya Koetse

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READING TIME: 9 MINUTES

 

Topic Summary

During the first week of June 2013, the Chinese in Ghana instantly became a hot topic over China’s Internet as 124 Chinese civilians were captured by Ghanaian soldiers for alleged illegal gold mining. As local media reported that Chinese residents were being looted by villagers, disturbing pictures of the situation in Ghana started to spread across Weibo- they depicted wounded Chinese civilians and their houses amidst blazing fire.

trending6thjune

Weibo Commenters

Weibo user Duzhifu (43.752 fans) says: “The Chinese in Ghana are in a state of emergency! As exposed on the Internet, Ghana has dispatched military troops to slaughter and loot Chinese citizens. Chinese in Ghana have sent pictures taken with their mobile phones of the ‘crackdown’. In these pictures you can see the flames lighting up the sky, a completely looted supermarket and even a wounded Chinese man lying on the ground waiting for help.”

Duzhifu comment:Ghana

 

A user who calls himself ‘Speaking in Whispers’ (Laonie tan zhanlue) (11538 followers), says: “I haven’t followed the situation of Chinese in Africa too much, but the past few days Weibo is flooded by news of Chinese being killed in Africa. After looking at this post [see the following post] I understand why the Chinese are hated so much. Perhaps it’s a people that naturally only respects those who act as slaves – I am not referring to Ghanaians or to the black people of Africa.”

The post that the last user is referring to is one that originally surfaced on a forum on June 6th – its screenshot was then shared by netizens. It supposedly is written by a Chinese man who calls himself “Washed, but not Brainwashed” (只洗头不洗脑)and who lives and works in Ghana himself. Here’s a translation of part of the text:

“The denigration and discrimination of black people is spreading like an epidemic.

When the day comes that large-scale anti-Chinese incidents erupt in Ghana, it surely cannot be taken as an unlucky accident. Thousands of Shanglin people in Ghana display abusive and discriminatory behavior towards black people on a daily basis, in various degrees. Other Chinese, with whom I share the same cultural genes, are not much different. They are robbing away the food provisions of the black people every day. They spend hundreds of cedi on some Fujian hookers in Kumasi, but can’t even give black people one rotten grain of pepper. The black people work the hardest and are the most tired, but end up getting the worst food. There are about ten dogs at the construction site, and they get fed better than the black people, who only get half a fish per person every day, whilst the dogs can eat unlimited amounts of fish. (…) The Chinese buy eggs and then just let them stand there go rotten. They’d rather throw them away than give them to the black people. Black people like to flavor their food with some hot pepper, but they never get it when they ask for it. One time a man who asked for pepper was even threatened with a gun by a Chinese guy. The Chinese like to give the black men insulting nicknames. Even though they cannot understand it, they understand its ill meaning because of the laughter and facial expressions of the Chinese.

 100% of the Chinese men have had sex with a black maid. Groping a girl’s bosom in a public place has become just one way to entertain themselves- they never grow tired of it.  A large part of black maids have slept with Chinese men. They can get some money for it afterwards, and although it seems like the majority is not forced into sex, the ones who are will never admit it since they’re too afraid to lose their well-paid job.  And so they have no other option than to cater to the Chinese man’s wishes. Even if they sell their bodies, the Chinese men will replace them after a month or two because the fun has worn out and they want to have a new one.

Whether it’s a boss or a worker- they all take pleasure in making fun of black people. Especially when they’re dissatisfied with something, they like to take out their anger on the black people. (..) I once asked why they would not treat black people with humanity, but the question was evaded and they just said that it would take me a long time to understand. Maybe I haven’t been here long enough, because I still don’t understand the malicious behavior of the Chinese people (…).

PS: When someone gropes a new maid in her bed in the middle of the night and satisfies himself, isn’t he doing exactly the same as what the Japanese did in those years? (…) A month ago, when a black man was struck with the gun of a Chinese man, the latter only remarked: “It’s a pity he didn’t die”. (…) What do you think- will it be long before Chinese will be killed?”

 

BACKGROUND ARTICLE: From Gold Mine to Land Mine – The Chinese in Ghana

 

Tensions between Chinese immigrants and Ghanaians reached their zenith in the first week of June as authorities started raiding camps, mines and hotels in search of Chinese nationals that were trespassing the law by overstaying their visa or undertaking illegal mining. Over 150 Chinese were detained. According to Chinese reports, the crackdown was violent and driven by popular resentment towards Chinese immigrants. Some Chinese were allegedly beaten and robbed by the military police before taken into custody (Nossiter&Sun 2013). Pictures of the situation in Ghana flooded across Weibo (see selection below). What is the background of these Chinese immigrants in Ghana, and how can we explain the resentment towards them? This article construes how the golden story of the Chinese in Ghana could turn into a nightmare for many of them.

ChinainGhanaWeibo

China declared 2006 as the national “Year of Africa” when the China-Africa summit took place in Beijing. China has had long-term political and economical relations with Africa since the 1960s and started to conduct a more active African policy in the 1990s. The continent offered China the energy resources it needed and formed a strategic ally for China as an upcoming global power in the international community. The China-Africa relationship started off as the ideal love affair; China was willing to ignore Africa’s political, environmental or humanitarian misbehavior in exchange for energy resources, as Africa was willing to give this in return for China’s investment in technology, infrastructure and other sectors that urgently needed improvement for Africa’s long-term growth (Cornelissen&Taylor 2000; Rotberg 2008, 83). As one African official noted: “(..)the Western world is never prepared to transfer technology- but the Chinese do,[and] while China’s technology may not be as sophisticated as some Western governments’, it is better to have Chinese technology than to have none at all” (Sautman&Hairong 2007, 80).

Since the beginning of the millennium Chinese immigrants flooded into Ghana, Africa’s second-largest gold producer. A great part of the Chinese immigrants in Ghana come from Shanglin county, a place in Guangxi province with a long history of gold mining.  There are about 50,000 Shanglin locals in Ghana, also referred to as the “Shanglin Gang”. Their plans in Africa follow a three-year scheme: in the first year they build the mines and earn back their invested money, in the second year they generate profits and in the third year they return back to China (Hille 2013; Kalman 2013; Song 2013). Although Ghana’s law states that areas under 25 acres can only be mined by nationals, the Shanglin Gang actively mines these areas as well: “As long as you enter into an agreement with Ghanaian landowners, you can mine,” says one Chinese immigrant (Song 2013): “It’s their land and their mining permit. I’m just helping him mine.”

GHANA

Existing tensions and conflicts between Chinese immigrants and Ghanaians cannot only be explained by Shanglin’s people illegal gold mining or overstay of visa. The roots of the problem can be found in the fundamental relationship between Chinese and Ghanaian workers. Conflicts within these employment relations have existed since the first Chinese immigrants started hiring Ghanaians to work for them and derive from “culturally grounded expectations”, as explained in an insightful article by Giese and Thiel (2012). As netizens on Weibo condemn the large-scale discrimination of black people amongst Chinese in Africa, Giese and Thiel argue that the problem does not so much lie in racial prejudices that Ghanaians have of Chinese and vice versa, but within the situations that occur during work and the expectations the Ghanaians and Chinese have of each other in their respective functions.

The vulnerability of both Chinese employers and Ghanian employees is central to the problem. The Chinese are vulnerable because they are in a foreign and possibly hostile environment with a different language and culture, while there is a lot at stake for them in terms of financial investment. They expect honesty, proactivity and dedication from their workers in order for their mutual relation to be successful (Giese&Thiel 2012, 16). In exchange, they pay Ghanaians wages that often exceed the local average (2012, 6). The Ghanaians that work for the Chinese, on the other hand, are vulnerable because they are overall economically marginalized and uneducated young men. They come from a cultural background where one’s employer is also supposed to be one’s guardian and protector. Employment relationships are characterized by the employer taking care of his workers in terms of fees or gifts in order to build on long-term loyalty; the employment relation, in this way, somewhat resembles a family relationship. The Chinese employers do not get what they want from their Ghanaian workers (hard work and loyalty) because they do not give them what they want (symbolic gifts or extra fees) (Giese&Thiel 2012: 6,16). This results in structural dissatisfaction; a derailed relationship where discrimination and violence eventually emerges as the consequence of complete mutual misunderstanding.

The Chinese in Ghana have created a dangerous situation for themselves as anti-Chinese sentiments are spiraling out of control. There are still many people who have fled and are hiding on cocoa farms or within Chinese owned companies, afraid of the military police (Nossiter&Sun 2013). The Chinese immigrants who are currently detained will be released and send back to their country (Hille 2013). This, however, does not solve the problem. As long as Chinese entrepreneurs do not work out their frustrated attitude towards local workers, the situation will keep on escalating and more blood will be shed on both sides. One thing is for sure; the happy end of the China-African fairytale relationship still needs a lot of work- if it’s possible at all. For the people of Shanglin, at least, the gold rush seems to have come to an end.     

 

What do you think about this situation? Do the problems of the Chinese immigrants in Ghana indeed lie within fundamental problems in the working relationship, or is it perhaps part of deeply rooted racist prejudice amongst Chinese? Share you thoughts and ‘like’ my page on the What’s on Weibo Facebook page.

 

– Manya Koetse, 2013.

 

References:  

Cornellisen, Scarlett and Ian Taylor. 2000. “The political economy of China and Japan’s relationship with Africa: a comparative perspective.” The Pacific Review 13, no. 4: 615-633.

Giese, Karsten and Alena Thiel. 2012. “The Vulnerable Other- distorted equity in Chinese-Ghanaian employment relations.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 1:20.

Kaiman, Jonathan.2013.”Ghana arrests 124 Chinese citizens for illegal gold mining.” The Guardian, June 6. Accessed June 11. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/ghana-arrest-chinese-illegal-gold-mining.

Nossiter, Adam and Yiting Sun. 2013. “Chasing a Golden Dream, Chinese Miners are on the Run in Ghana.” New York Times, June 10. Accessed June 12, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/world/africa/ghana-cracks-down-on-chinese-gold-miners.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Rotberg, Robert. 2008. China into Africa: Trade, Aid and Influence. Cambridge: World Peace Foundation.

Sautman, Barry and Yan Hairong. 2007. “Friends and Interests: China’s Distinctive Links with Africa.” African Studies Review 50(3):75-114.

Song, Sophie. 2013. “A Modern Day Gold Rush.” International Business Times, May 15.  Accessed June 6. http://www.ibtimes.com/modern-day-gold-rush-how-people-one-county-china-are-making-millions-ghana-1260801.

 

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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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  1. Avatar

    J

    May 23, 2016 at 4:31 am

    Years ago when black people here in the US used to tell me that the Chinese will be helping Africa when the White Man wouldn’t, I would say to them “We will see.”
    Greed is greed no matter what the skin color or nationality. First, the Europeans raped Africa, now will be the Chinese’ turn.

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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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Backgrounder

How Chinese Kuaishou Rebel ‘Pangzai’ Became a Twitter King

He’s been called a ‘Twitter king’, but how did the unexpected online fame of this ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Jessica Colwell

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Twitter has fallen in love with a Chinese farmer after his drinking videos on Kuaishou were cross-posted abroad and went viral. He has embraced his new fans and Western social media, arguably becoming one of China’s most successful cultural ambassadors of the year.

He describes himself as the “inventor of tornado beer drinking style” and as an “ordinary peasant from China.” ‘Hebei Pangzai’ only joined Twitter in August of 2019, but he already has a Twitter following of more than 111.6K.

Although his account is temporarily restricted by Twitter at time of writing (“due to suspicious activity”), his popularity is only growing. Some Twitterers, such as the China twitterer Carl Zha (@CarlZha), are even initiating a “#FreePangzai campaign” to restore the account of the “one true King.”

But where and when did the online fame of ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Let’s begin our introduction to Pangzai with one tweet from March of this year, when Twitter user ‘Hunnaban Trenchboss’ posted a video from Chinese short video app Kuaishou (快手) showing a man – ‘Pangzai’ – wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette while preparing an incredible mixed drink.

The man in the video smoothly pops the cap off a bottle of beer with a chopstick, pours some in a large jar, then twirls the bottle and propels the rest of the beer in a tornado of force down his throat.

He follows that up by pouring in more beer, some blue liquor, an egg, some Pepsi, and a hefty glass of baijiu – which he dumps in only after lighting it on fire, igniting his finger, and coolly lighting his cigarette. He then chugs the entire concoction in a matter of seconds.

“How do I become as cool as this guy, The Coolest Guy?”, the tweet said.

The same video was shared again in August by a few Russian accounts, was retweeted by an American account, and then went completely viral, racking up millions of views and tens of thousands of retweets.

That video has now been viewed almost 12 million times on Twitter, and has inspired tens of thousands of fans who herald him as ‘king.’

The man in the video referred to as ‘Pangzai’ (胖仔, ‘chubby dude’) is Liu Shichao (刘世超), a 33-year-old farmer and small-time Chinese internet celebrity from a city called Xingtai in Hebei Province.

According to an interview with Technode, he found out about the video on Twitter when some of his new foreign fans opened Chinese social media accounts to find him and tell him about his overnight online fame.

“One message told me that I was a celebrity now in America,” he told Technode: “So I chatted with the person [who sent the message] for a whole day, with the help of translation software.”

Within two days of his video going viral, Pangzai had figured out how to use a VPN, opened his own Twitter account and started uploading videos.

He even posted a reply on the original viral video to alert everybody to his account.

Liu’s early response to his viral video on Twitter.

Since then, Liu ‘Pangzai’ has amassed over 111,000 followers and has posted many more videos of everything from drinking, to cooking, to exploring his countryside hometown.

But it was the drinking videos specifically that earned him his following, both abroad and in China.

 

IT STARTED ON KUAISHOU

“Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account.”

 

Liu began his internet career three years ago on Kuaishou, a Chinese short video app massively popular among China’s lower-tier cities and countryside.

In contrast to the polished, celeb-heavy platform Douyin, which is most popular among urban youths, Kuaishou is a platform for the masses. Its users are known for their crazy antics and general disregard for personal safety.

Liu Shichao’s Kuaishou account has 354,000 followers, but the majority of his videos have been removed.

Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account. Posting under the handle “Chubby Dude from Hebei” (@河北胖仔), he uploads videos of himself eating and drinking in eye-popping combinations, or sometimes smashing things – from bricks to unopened water bottles – with his bare hands.

Liu’s video of breaking bricks with his hands was also popular on Twitter.

Liu also gained notoriety, and a couple hundred thousand followers, from his mastery of the so-called ‘beer tornado technique’ (小旋风 xiǎo xuànfēng).

According to an interview with the BBC, he peaked at 470,000 followers on Kuaishou and was monetizing his online fame with some 10,000 RMB ($1420) per month.

Liu’s signature beer tornado technique features in the first video he posted to Twitter.

Unfortunately for Liu, China’s Cyberspace Administration announced a crackdown on vulgar and illegal content across multiple social media platforms in spring of 2018, with a focus on Douyin, Kuaishou, and its sister news company Jinri Toutiao. Kuaishou was pulled from app stores until it cleaned up its act.

It is unclear just how many videos and accounts have been removed as a result of the cleanup. We can get a rough idea from an announcement by Kuaishou earlier this year that in March of 2019 alone, it removed an average of over 11,000 videos and blocked almost 1,000 accounts every day.

The result for Liu was that his account was suspended for four months and the majority of his most popular videos, including the one that went viral abroad, were removed for promoting ‘unhealthy drinking habits.’

When you look at his Kuaishou account today, you won’t see many videos focused solely on baijiu and beer chugging.

The videos that remain on his account do include drinking (and his signature tornado move) but it is always accompanied by eating food or some other activity (such as sitting deep in a field of corn, munching on roast duck and dribbling baijiu down a corn leaf into a glass.)

In a video posted to Kuaishou, Liu pours baijiu into a glass from a corn leaf, before then lighting it on fire and chugging it.

Liu still has 354,000 followers on Kuaishou. His Chinese fans, like his foreign ones, marvel at his cool and collected manner as he eats and drinks all sorts of disgusting things.

Canned herring features heavily in his most popular recent videos, where he can be seen sipping the juice directly from the can.

In one of his videos on Kuaishou, Liu eating herring directly from the can, to the disgust of his fans.

“This has to be the most unaffected anyone has ever been by eating canned herring,” says one fan. “The flavor is disgusting! 99.9% of people who try this would vomit,” another online commenter replies.

 

AN UNEXPECTED TWITTER KING

“Liu is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life.”

 

This year, Liu seems to have embraced his newfound international stardom with grace and savvy.

He uses Twitter’s in-app translation to help him communicate with fans and has been highly interactive on the platform.

Liu ‘Pangzai’ was also quick to open up a Paypal account and share it with followers, and has recently made YouTube and Instagram accounts to prevent scams pretending to be him. He has also collaborated with a Twitter fan to sell T-shirts online in America.

Many online fans have dubbed him ‘king’, perhaps the highest praise one can receive on the internet today.

But in contrast to the sunglasses and chill demeanor of his videos, Liu does not appear to be an internet celebrity overly obsessed with being cool.

Instead, he is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life (and drinking habits) with the rest of the world.

Liu began using translation software to communicate with fans soon after joining Twitter.

After reposting all of his old drinking videos from Kuaishou, Liu started asking Twitter fans what they would like to see from him. Many responded that they wanted more about his life in rural China.

He has since followed up with videos showing him fixing a pipe with his friends, exploring his local market, cooking sweet potatoes, and, of course, a tutorial on how to master the ‘tornado beer’ technique.

Liu explaining on Twitter how to perform the tornado beer technique that helped make him famous.

Many have expressed concern for his health in light of his drinking habits, but he has assured everybody that everything he does is “within his ability” and that he doesn’t drink like that very often.

Liu is grateful for all the support and praise he has received from abroad. “It’s crazy to have all of these foreign friends all of a sudden,” he recently said in an interview with Deadspin: “I really have to thank them a lot. If I have a chance I will find them and we can drink together.”

Seemingly to that end, Liu has recently organized a party to be held near his hometown in China, exciting fans all over the world and spurring many to apply for passports and visas.

Once Liu began inviting people to his party, he changed the date and location in order to accommodate more attendees.

The date is set for December 14, 2019 in Zhuamadian City, Hebei Province; too soon for many to make it, but he promises another party in the spring. There is talk also of organizing a visit for Liu ‘Pangzai’ to go to America.

 

WINDOW INTO CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA

“Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet.”

 

Although there are many vloggers like Pangzai in China, he stands out on Twitter as some sort of window into Chinese social media, especially because this online world is usually so separate from the Western realms of social media.

The recent explosive growth of Chinese social media apps such as TikTok has not done much to facilitate this kind of cultural interaction between China and the West.

Although Tiktok is, in fact, a Chinese app (called Douyin 抖音 in China), there are actually two different versions of the same app in mainland China and abroad, meaning that the other ‘Pangzais’ of the Chinese internet still remain within the social media spheres of the PRC, rarely gaining fame outside of the Great Firewall.

In China, aside from his fans on Kuaishou, Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet. He is mentioned only one or two times across Weibo, and searches for his name and handle on WeChat, Baidu, and various Chinese tech news sites bring up nothing.

Liu is a rare example of genuine soft power coming out of China. A pure, grassroots man of the people with strong cultural appeal who sincerely enjoys sharing his life and his culture with the rest of the world. His tweets are full of affection and appreciation for his fans, as well as frequent prompts for followers to share their own lives and customs of their home countries.

To watch his introduction to Twitter and rise to fame is to see the best of the internet: cultural interaction, genuinely shared delight, and mutual admiration inspired by hilarious antics caught on camera.

His Twitter fans express their hope that Twitter Support will soon lift the temporary ban on their ‘Twitter king.’ To them, it’s perfectly clear: this online king is nowhere near dead, long live Pangzai!

Follow the #FreePangzai hashtag on Twitter.

Update: Panghaizi is out of Twitter jail!

 
Want to read more about unexpected online celebrities from China? Also see:
The Story of Two Farmers Who Became Internet Celebrities;
The “Vagrant Shanghai Professor”;
From Farmgirl to Fashionista: Weibo Celebrity Fairy Wang.

 

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

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