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Faking Street Photography: Why Staged “Street Snaps” Are All the Rage in China

Staged street photography is the latest “15 minutes of fame” trend on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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It looks as if they are spontaneously photographed or filmed by one of China’s many street photographers, but it is actually staged. Chinese online influencers – or the companies behind them – are using street photography as part of their social media strategy. And then there are those who are mocking them.

Recently a new trend has popped up on Chinese social media: people posting short videos on their accounts that create the impression that they are being spotted by street fashion photographers. Some look at the camera in a shy way, others turn away, then there are those who smile and cheekily stick out their tongue at the camera.

Although it may appear to be all spontaneous, these people – mostly women – are actually not randomly being caught on camera by one of China’s many street fashion photographers in trendy neighborhoods. They have organized this ‘fashion shoot’ themselves, often showing off their funny poses and special moves, from backward flips to splits, to attract more attention (see example in video embedded below).

In doing so, these self-made models are gaining more fans on their Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, or WeChat accounts, and are turning their social media apps into their very own stage.

 

Street Photography in Sanlitun

 

The real street photography trend has been ongoing in China for years, near trendy areas such as Hangzhou’s Yintai shopping mall, or Chengdu’s Taikoo Li.

One place that is especially known for its many street photographers is Beijing’s see-and-be-seen Sanlitun area, where photographers have since long been gathering around the Apple or Uniqlo stores with their big lens cameras to capture people walking by and their trendy fashion.

A few years ago, Thatsmag featured an article discussing this phenomenon, asking: “Who are these guys and what are they doing with their photos?”

Author Dominique Wong found that many of these people are older men, amateur photographers, who are simply snapping photos of attractive, fashionable, and unique-looking people as their hobby.

But there are also those who are working for street fashion blogs or style magazines such as P1, and are actually making money with their street snaps capturing China’s latest fashion trends.

Image by 新浪博客

People featured in these street snaps can sometimes go viral and become internet celebrities (网红). One of China’s most famous examples of a street photographed internet celebrity is “Brother Sharp.”

‘Brother Sharp’ became an online hit in 2009 (image via Chinasmack).

It’s been ten years since “Brother Sharp” (犀利哥), a homeless man from Ningbo, became an online hit in China for his fashionable and handsome appearance, after his street snap went trending on the Chinese internet.

 

Staged Street Scenes

 

But what if nobody’s snapping your pics and you want to go viral with your “Oh, I am being spotted by street fashion photographers” video? By setting up their own “street snap” shoots, online influencers take matters into their own hands.

It is not just individuals who are setting up these shoots; there are also companies and brands that do so in order to make their (fashion) products more famous. According to People’s Daily, in Hangzhou alone, there are over 200 photographers for such “street snaps” and hundreds of thousands of models for such “performances.”

The photographers can, supposedly, earn about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,890-$4,335) per day and the models are well paid.

In this way, the “street snap performance” phenomenon is somewhat similar to another trend that especially became apparent in China around 2015-2016, namely that of ‘bystander videos’ capturing a public scene. Although these videos seem to be real, there are actually staged.

One such example happened in 2017 when a video went viral of a young woman being scolded on a Beijing subway for wearing a revealing cosplay outfit.

The story attracted much attention on social media at the time, with many netizens siding with the young woman and praising her for responding coolly although the woman was attacking her. Later, the whole scene turned out to be staged with the purpose of generating more attention for the ad of a “cool” food delivery platform behind the older lady.

In 2015, photos of a ‘romantic proposal’ made its rounds on social media when a young man asked his pregnant girlfriend to marry him using over 50 packs of diapers in the shape of a giant heart. One bag of diapers carried a diamond ring inside. It was later said the scene was sponsored by Libero Diapers.

 

Wanghong Economy

 

Both the latest street snap trend and the staged video trend are all part of China’s so-called “Wanghong economy.” Wǎnghóng (网红) is the Chinese term for internet celebrities, KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or ‘influencer.’ Influencer marketing is hot and booming in China: in 2018, the industry was estimated to be worth some $17.16 billion.

Being a wanghong is lucrative business: the more views, clicks, and fans one has, the more profit they can make through e-commerce and online advertising.

Using Chinese KOLs to boost brands can be an attractive option for advertisers, since their social media accounts have a huge fanbase. Prices vary on the amount of fans the ‘influencer’ has. In 2015, for example, the Chinese stylist Xiao P already charged RMB 76,000 ($11,060) for a one-time product mention on his Weibo account (36 million fans).

According to the “KOL budget Calculator” by marketing platform PARKLU, a single sponsored post on the Weibo account of a famous influencer will cost around RMB 60,000 ($8730).

The current staged street snap hype is interesting for various online media businesses in multiple ways. On short video app Douyin, for example, the hugely popular street snap videos come with a link that allows app users to purchase the exact same outfits as the girls in the videos.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an online survey by Tencent found that 54% of college-age respondents had the ambition to become an “online celebrity.”

 

Making Non-Fashion Fashion: The Farm Field as a Catwalk

 

Although becoming an actual online celebrity used to be a far-fetched dream for many Chinese netizens, the latest staged-street-snap trend creates the possibility for people to experience their “15 minutes of fame” online.

Just as in previous online trends such as the Flaunt Your Wealth Challenge or A4 Waist Challenge, you see that many people soon participate in them, and that they are then followed by an “anti-movement” of people making fun of the trend or using it to promote a different social point-of-view.

The 2018 “Flaunt Your Wealth” challenge, for example, in which Chinese influencers shared pictures of themselves falling out of their cars with their expensive possessions all around them, was followed by an Anti-Flaunt Your Wealth movement, in which ordinary people mocked the challenge by showing themselves on the floor with their diplomas, military credentials, painting tools, or study books around them.

In case of the (staged) “Fashion Street Photography” movement, that now has over 103 million views on Weibo (#全国时尚街拍大赏# and #街拍艺术行为大赏#), you can also see that many people have started to mock it.

“I find [this trend] so embarrassing that I want to toss my phone away, yet I can’t help but watch it,” one Weibo user (@十一点半关手机) writes, with others agreeing, saying: “This is all so awkward, it just makes my skin crawl.”

The anti-trend answer to the staged street shoot hype now is that people are also pretending to be doing such a street snap, but ridiculing it by making over-the-top movements, doing it in ‘uncool’ places, wearing basic clothing, or setting up a funny situation (see embedded tweet below).

Some of these short videos show ‘models’ walking in a rural area, pretending to be photographed by a ‘street fashion photographer’ – it’s an anti-trend that’s become a trend in itself (see videos in embedded tweets below).

Although this ‘anti-trend’ is meant in a mocking way, it is sometimes also a form of self-expression for young people for whom the Sanlitun-wannabe-models life is an extravagant and sometimes unattainable one.

They don’t need trendy streets and Chanel bags to pretend to be models: even the farm field can be their catwalk.

In the end, the anti-trend “models” on Chinese social media are arguably much cooler than the influencers pretending to be photographed. Not only do they convey a sense of authenticity, they also have something else that matters the most in order to be truly cool and attractive: a sense of humor.

Also read: From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Street Photographer Jimmy on the Run

Also read: Beijing Close-Up: Photographer Tom Selmon Crosses the Borders of Gender in China

By Manya Koetse

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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

    Boboy

    June 29, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    I have a term for people who mocked others “green face”.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 10 Chinese Celebrities with the Most Followers on Weibo in 2021

The top celebrities with the most followers on social media – who are they, why are they famous, and what do they do?

Manya Koetse

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They are the crème de la crème of China’s giant pop entertainment scene. These are the top celebrities and influencers on Weibo in early 2021.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

While celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, and Katy Perry are the leaders of Twitter in terms of followers, there are Chinese celebrities with an equally large fanbase on the country’s biggest social media platform Weibo, yet these are names that are generally less well-known outside of China.

Although China’s social media landscape has seen the rising popularity of new social apps and sites, Weibo is still the number one platform for the entertainment industry. This is a list of Weibo celebrities with the most followers as of early 2021.

There are some things worth noting about this list. First, it does not contain any ‘internet celebrities’ (网红 wanghong), meaning people who have become self-made online influencers through the internet. The biggest Weibo stars are still the ‘traditional celebrities’ in the sense that they have made their big breakthrough through TV drama, cinema, or the mainstream pop music scene.

Second, although the top list of Chinese celebrities with the most followers on Weibo has changed somewhat throughout the years, many of these celebrities have been at the top for a long time already. Some of them simply have become so big on Weibo because they were among the first celebrities to join the platform since its beginning in 2009. Celebrities such as Yao Chen or Chen Kun already had over 50 million followers on Weibo in 2013. This indicates that while China’s social media landscape is becoming more diverse, it is also more difficult for new social media superstars to emerge and become bigger than the long-time Weibo champions.

Third, the most-followed celebrities on Chinese social media are often true ‘superstars’ in the sense that they are all incredibly versatile. They often do acting, singing, presenting, but also have their own (restaurant) business or engage in other activities as ‘celebrity entrepreneurs.’ Virtually all celebrities in this list are also active contributors to charity or represent a good cause, as well as being brand ambassadors – they often have lucrative deals to do advertisements for world-renowned brands, from fashion brands to cosmetics or high-end spirits. This multidimensionality makes these celebrities all the more appealing to fans: they are talented, beautiful, wealthy, fashionable, virtuous and successful in business.

This article first introduces the ten Weibo accounts with the highest number of followers, and then also includes some newer accounts with the highest “influence rate” (博主影响力) according to Weibo Charts, meaning they have high network interaction and follower growth.

 

1. Xie Na 谢娜 – The Queen of Weibo

Fans on Weibo: 129.4 million followers, @谢娜
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 6 May 1981
Birthplace: Deyang, Sichuan

Xie Na (1981), also nicknamed ‘Nana,’ is an extremely popular Chinese presenter, singer, actress and designer who is also known as ‘the Queen of Weibo.’

One of the reasons she has become so famous in mainland China is that she is the co-host of Hunan Satellite TV’s Happy Camp (快乐大本管), one of China’s most popular variety shows that has been running since 1997. She presents the show together with, amongst others, colleague He Jiong, who also appears in this list.

But ‘Nana’ is also very popular because she is such a versatile celebrity. Besides hosting various variety TV shows and starring in many popular Chinese films and television series, she has also released several albums, founded a personal clothing line, and published two books. Xie Na made headlines in March 2017 when she announced she would go to Italy as an overseas student to study design.

The TV host also stars in various commercials. She is, for example, the Chinese brand ambassador for American skin care brand Olay.

Xie Na holds the official Guinness World Record as the First Person to Accumulate 100 Million Followers on Weibo and for having the Most followers on Weibo.

In January of 2021, the 39-year-old Xie Na announced her second pregnancy together with her husband Zhang Jie, with whom she has been together for ten years. If you’re not on Weibo, you can also find Xie Na on Instagram here, where she has 485.000 followers.

 

2. He Jiong 何炅 – Key Figure in China’s Entertainment Industry

Fans on Weibo: 120.6 million followers, @何炅
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 28 April 1974
Birthplace: Changsha, Hunan

He Jiong has been the host of China’s popular Happy Camp TV show for over two decades. He is also a singer, actor, writer, and used to be an Arabic teacher at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University, which is why he is often nicknamed ‘Professor He’ (何老师). Chinese media have called He Jiong “a key figure in China’s entertainment industry.”

Like Xie Na, He Jiong made it to the Guinness Book of Records for being the male celebrity with the most Weibo followers.

He Jiong recently was criticized for ‘exploiting his fame’ when it became known that he was accepting lavish gifts from fans, together with other hosts at Hunan Satellite TV. The broadcaster later stated that they would no longer allow any of their staff to receive gifts from fans, and He Jiong also wrote on Weibo that he would decline all presents in the future.

 

3. Yang Mi 杨幂 – One of the Most Bankable Female Stars

Fans on Weibo: 109.8 million fans on Weibo @杨幂
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 September 1986
Birthplace: Beijing

The beautiful actress and singer Yang Mi (1986) gained fame and popularity through her various roles in Chinese hit TV dramas. Born in Beijing, Yang started her acting career at the age of 4. Yang starred in many successful films and tv dramas, including hit shows such as Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花) and The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官), which happen to be produced by Yang’s own media company Jay Walk Studio.

Yang is now seen as one of Chinas biggest actresses, and also as one with the most commercial value; she was listed in the Top 10 Forbes Chinese Celebrities of 2020. Yang was previously named as one of China’s “New Four Dan Actresses” (the ‘top 4’ actresses).

Besides her acting career, entrepreneurship, and charity efforts, Yang Mi is also active as a brand ambassador for various renowned fashion and skincare brands, including Estee Lauder, Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret.
This year, the actress will star in the live action movie A Writer’s Odyssey by director Lu Yang.

Yang has a daughter and was previously married to Hong Kong actor and singer Hawick Lau How-wai, with whom she co-starred in various productions. They announced their divorce in 2018. Fun fact: Yang Mi’s dad is also active on Weibo (@休闲小林哥), where he rebutted ongoing rumors about Yang undergoing plastic surgery by sharing her childhood photos. Though not as impressive as his daughter’s, his fanbase of 364,000 followers is still relatively big. Yang Mi is also active on Instagram here.

 

4. Angelababy 杨颖 – A Household Name

Fans on Weibo: 103.3 million followers @angelababy
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 28 February 1989
Birthplace: Shanghai

‘Angelababy’ (nickname for Yang Ying aka Angela Yeung Wing) has practically become a household name in China over the past years. The award-winning actress, model, and singer started her acting career in 2007 and has taken on many roles in different movies and TV dramas since.

The famous actress married actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) in 2015, with whom she has a son. Their lavish $31 million wedding is the most-discussed Chinese weddings of the past decade, and their marriage and relationship status is a popular gossip topic on social media. There are ongoing rumors that the two might already have separated.

Angelababy is the brand ambassador for Dior. She recently opened her own hotpot restaurant named ‘Douliu Hotpot’ (斗鎏火锅) in Chengdu. She is also involved in charity and has previously donated to hospital relief efforts related to the COVID19 crisis in Hubei.

You can also find Angelababy on Instagram, where she has 8.1 million followers.

 

5. Chen Kun 陈坤 – With Love from Chongqing

Fans on Weibo: 93.3 million fans @陈坤
Main occupation: Actor and singer
Date of birth: 4 February 1976
Birthplace: Chongqing

Chinese top actor, singer and writer Chen Kun, sometimes also credited as Aloys Chen, is known for his roles in many television dramas and movies. The award-winning actor starred in popular TV dramas such as Love Story in Shanghai (像雾像雨又像风) and The Story of a Noble Family (金粉世家), as well as many movies including the 2016 comedy Chongqing Hotpot (火锅英雄) that is set in his hometown. Internationally, he mainly gained recognition for his role in Painted Skin (2008).

Chen belongs to the same generation of Beijing Film Academy graduates as his former classmate Vicki Zhao, who also appears in this list, and Huang Xiaoming, Angelababy’s husband.

Chen Kun is not only popular because of his acting work, but also for his looks – he is known to have a large gay fanbase. He is not shy about his looks, and likes to post a lot of photos of himself on his Weibo page.

Chen is a brand ambassador for Braun, Italian fashion house Prada, and was recently also featured in the campaign for French Cognac brand Martell Noblige. He is also active in charity and is a global ambassador for WildAid. He also founded ‘Power to Go,’ an initiative that aims to encourage people to improve their health and spirit by leading a more energetic lifestyle.

 

6. Zhao Liying 赵丽颖 – An Audience Favorite

Fans on Weibo: 88.4 million followers on Weibo @赵丽颖
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 16 October 1987
Birthplace: Langfang, Hebei

The award-winning actress and singer Zhao Liying, also known as Zanilia Zhao, is an audience favorite in China. Her acting career started some fifteen years ago but Zhao mainly gained recognition when she starred in 2010 Chinese television series The Dream of Red Mansions (红楼梦) and then played the main role in the 2013 popular series Legend of Lu Zhen (陆贞传奇). In 2017, she starred in the film Duckweed (乘风破浪), directed by Han Han.

Zhao is a tourism ambassador for her home province of Hebei, and she is the brand ambassador for fashion house Dior. Like others in this list, the actress was included in the top 10 of Forbes China Top Celebrity List for 2020.

 

7. Jackson Yee 易烊千玺 – Teen Idol with Power Star Status

Fans on Weibo: 86.9 million followers on Weibo @TFBOYS-易烊千玺
Main occupation: Singer/dancer with boyband TF Boys
Date of birth: 28 November 2000
Birthplace: Huaihua, Hunan

Although he is a ‘newcomer’ compared to other celebrities in this list, Jackson Yee (Yi Yangqianxi) is one of the most popular Chinese celebrities of the moment. Debuting as a child star, he is a member of China’s hugely popular band TFBoys and was recently included in the Forbes list of “Asia’s 100 Digital Stars” and ranked first in the 2020 Forbes Chinese Celebrity list. The 19-year-old singer-actor also is the number one blogger with the most influence on Weibo at the time of writing, according to Chinese social media data platform Xiguaji.

Besides a band member and solo singer, he is also an actor ad starred in the movie Better Days (2019), for which he won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Performer. He also stars in the box office hit A Little Red Flower (2020).

Yee is the global brand ambassador for Armani, and also works for brands such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co, and Adidas.

 

8. Vicki Zhao 赵薇 – China’s Billionaire Actress

Fans on Weibo: 85.8 million followers on Weibo @赵薇
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 March 1976
Birthplace: Wuhui, Anhui

Vicki Zhao is a Chinese film star, singer, entrepreneur, and director. She is also known for her work as the face for various brands (Samsung, Burberry, Fendi), which has added to her wealth: she was previously named as China’s richest actress and even as one of the world’s wealthiest working actresses.

But above all, Zhao is one of China’s most famous actresses. She starred in the highly successful Chinese costume television show My Fair Princess (還珠格格) which first aired in 1998, after which she went on to star in many TV series and big films, including Painted Skin (2008) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015). Together with actresses Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Xun and Xu Jinglei, Zhao was named as one of China’s ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (四大花旦, the four greatest actresses of mainland China) in the early 2000s.

Zhao is known for her work in charity and her efforts for good causes. She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Zhao is married to Chinese businessman Huang You Long (黄有龙) with whom she has a daughter.

 

9. Yao Chen 姚晨 – “China’s Answer to Angelina Jolie”

Fans on Weibo: 84.6 million followers @姚晨
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 5 October 1979
Birthplace: Quanzhou, Fujian

Fujian-born Yao Chen is a Chinese actress and Weibo celebrity, who was previously mentioned as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine. Speaking out about social issues and being the first-ever Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, she has also been called ‘China’s answer to Angelina Jolie.’

Yao Chen is not necessarily China’s number one actress, but she was one of the first celebrities to share her personal life on Weibo since 2009, and interact with her fans. On Weibo, she talks about her everyday life, family, news-related issues, work, and fashion. She posts personal pictures every day. Yao Chen’s popularity as an actress and philanthropist combined with her frequent Weibo updates and closeness to her fans have made her a huge Weibo celebrity.

Yao has acted as an ambassador for various brands, including Miu Miu, Fendi, and Lululemon.

 

10. Deng Chao 邓超 – Box Office Hit

Fans on Weibo: 81,6 million followers on Weibo @邓超
Main occupation: Actor
Date of birth: 8 February 1979
Birthplace: Nanchang, Jiangxi

Deng Chao is an award-winning Chinese actor, director, and singer. He is, amongst others, known for his role in the popular variety program Keep Running (奔跑吧). Many films in which Deng played, such as The Breakup Guru (2014), The Mermaid (2016), Duckweed (2017), and The Sacrifice (2020) have been box-office hits. Deng is one of China’s most favorite actors.

Deng is married to Chinese actress Sun Li (孙俪), also known as Susan Sun, with whom he has two children. Like many other celebrities, the two donated money to contribute to China’s fight against COVID19 in 2020, but received some online criticism when some thought their donation was ‘stingy’ compared to those of others.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Yibo 王一博

37.3 million followers @UNIQ-王一博

Wang Yibo (1997) is a Chinese actor, singer, dancer, and rapper who debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boyband UNIQ in 2014 and starred in the 2019 Chinese TV series The Untamed (陈情令). On Sina Weibo, the celebrity was the champion of Weibo’s ‘Most Influential Celebrity’ charts in December of 2020 – he has a huge fanbase. Like many other Chinese celebrities, Wang often features in various commercials and represents various brands, including Audi and Swarovski. He also has an Instagram account with 1.9 million followers.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Junkai 王俊凯

79.4 million followers @TFBOYS-王俊凯

Wang Junkai (1999), also called Karry Wang, is a singer and actor who debuted as the lead member of the super popular group TFBoys in 2013. The boy band consists of three members; besides Wang, there’s Jackson Yee, who is also in this list, and Wang Yuan (王源also known as Roy Wang). The band recently won a Guinness World Record for most-viewed paid concert, which was their live NetEase cloud music concert for which 786,000 fans bought a virtual ticket. Wang Junkai, who also has a thriving career as a solo singer and represent brands like Swatch and Dior, is one of China’s wealthiest people born after 1990.

 

Top Influencer: Xiao Zhan 肖战

28.2 million followers @X玖少年团肖战DAYTOY

Xiao Zhan (1991), also known as Sean Xiao, is one of the hottest Weibo bloggers at this time who consistently ranks first lately in daily ranking concerning most influential and most interaction. Xiao is an actor and singer who co-stars in The Untamed (陈情令) together with Wang Yibo. Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo are super popular within fan fiction communities, where boys’ love fans imagine a romantic relationship between the two – which is not always appreciated by fans of Xiao Zhan.

By Manya Koetse
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This text was written for 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.
 

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

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China Celebs

Six Years After Becoming a Viral Hit, “Little Jack Ma” is Not Doing Well At All

Recent videos of ‘Little Jack Ma’ have caused concern among netizens. They are angry at those who exploited and abandoned him.

Manya Koetse

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He became famous overnight for looking like a mini-version of Jack Ma. Now, he’s worse off than before he became an online sensation.

Six years after he became famous for looking like Alibaba founder Jack Ma (Ma Yun 马云), the young boy known as ‘Little Jack Ma’ seems to be struggling and lagging behind his peers.

The boy’s name is Fan Xiaoqin (范小勤) and he is from a rural village in Yongfeng County in Jiangxi Province. In November of 2015, at eight years old, he became an online sensation for resembling Jack Ma. After his photo went viral – one of his cousins initially posted it online – he was nicknamed ‘Little Jack Ma’ (also ‘Mini Ma Yun’, 小马云).

Fan Xiaoqin’s resemblance to Jack Ma is so striking, that there have even been persistent fake news posts including a photo of Fan, claiming it is Jack Ma as a young boy.

On the left, photo of Fan Xiaoqin that is often falsely claimed to be Jack Ma. On the right, an actual photo of Jack Ma as a young boy.

Fan Xiaoqin was all the rage – he even became a meme. People wanted to take a photograph with him, companies wanted him to promote their business, and social media influencers wanted to share a moment with him for clout-chasing reasons. ‘Little Jack Ma’ traveled the country to attend banquets and fashion shows and to meet with celebrities.

One of Little Jack Ma’s press photos.

After Jack Ma himself even acknowledged the resemblance between him and Xiaoqin in a Weibo post, Chinese state media claimed Alibaba was funding Fan Xiaoqin’s education until university graduation, something that was soon denied by the company’s spokesperson.

State media reported that his education would be funded (left), a rumor that was later debunked (Fortune, right).

At the time, the boy’s sudden fame was already a cause of concern to some. Just a year after becoming famous, it became known that Fan was not doing well at school and that his parents, who are poor and struggling with health issues -his mum has polio and his dad is handicapped -, did not know who to trust or how to deal with their son’s rise to fame.

 

A Tragic Story Behind a Famous Meme


 

At the height of his fame, Xiaoqin was managed by a company that arranged his gigs and he also had his own nanny to accompany him during his travels and performances. At events and dinners, Xiaoqin was often constantly playing a role and shouting out Alibaba slogans.

Traveling with his nanny during the peak of his fame.

Image via https://www.sohu.com/a/449433430_113692.

Now, Fan Xiaoqin is once again a topic of online conversation as recent videos and a live stream on the boy came out, showing the boy is back with his family in the village.

He was previously let go by the company that managed him. His former official Weibo account and Kuaishou account, where he was known as ‘Chairman Little Jack Ma’ (小马云总裁) are no longer online, and there have been no new updates on his activities since the launch of a Mini Jack Ma schoolbag in 2019.

The video shows that the boy, both physically and mentally, appears to be much younger than his actual age. At the age of 14, his physique is more similar to a 6 or 7-year-old child and he suffers from painful legs. Another video also shows that the boy falls behind in language development and struggles to answer the most basic math questions.

Screenshot of the livestream that is making its ways around Chinese social media.

The moment that Xiaoqin is approached by the (self-media) reporters live streaming their visit, he walks up in dirty clothes and says: “Money, do you have money?”

According to an article on Sohu by author Li Honghuo (李洪伙), the company that managed Xiaoqin promised to send the family 2000 yuan ($310) every month, but they have stopped issuing payments seven months ago.

News about Fan Xiaoqin’s current situation triggered anger online, with many people saying Fan Xiaoqin is a victim of greedy people who exploited the boy and then abandoned him. The recent video shows the boy has small spots on his skin; some claim it is because the boy was given hormones to slow down his growth.

What commenters are most upset about is how Xiaoqin did not get the chance to properly go to school together with his peers, and that the most important years of his childhood were taken away from him for a piece of fame that eventually left him empty-handed. He now seems to be worse off than before he became ‘Little Jack Ma.’

“They abandoned him once he was no longer of value to them,” some say. “They destroyed him, let’s hope he can still lead a happy life.”

Some people also wonder if the child has an intellectual disability, with his situation only getting worse during the years he was exploited. They blame his parents for allowing their son to be taken away from them.

But there are also those who criticize the people who now visited Xiaoqin and filmed him, questioning their intentions and calling on people to leave the child in peace.

Overall, the majority of commenters still hope that Xiaoqin can receive a proper education and enjoy what is left of his childhood.

 
By Manya Koetse

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