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Far From Horseplay: Bojack Horseman’s Chinese Fanbase

Young Chinese audiences have embraced the turbulent and often emotional story of the American adult animated comedy Bojack Horseman. Recently, Chinese fans are going crazy over the series, and a Bojack ‘screenshot hype’ has conquered Chinese social media.

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Young Chinese audiences have embraced the turbulent and often emotional story of the American adult animated comedy Bojack Horseman. Recently, Chinese fans are going crazy over the series, and a Bojack ‘screenshot hype’ has conquered Chinese social media. Among the online praise and endless screenshots, what is drawing such a devoted Chinese viewership to this hard-hitting comedy-drama?

It has been dubbed as the frontrunner in the rise of the ‘ultimately optimistic sadcom.’ Now, the American animated comedy Bojack Horseman (马男波杰克) has found a new fanbase on one of the world’s largest networking sites, China’s Sina Weibo.

“Bojack Horseman is one of the most subversively sad shows on TV.”

Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Bojack Horseman first premiered on Netflix in 2014. The animated comedy-drama follows the often heart-breaking journey of the show’s titular character, an anthropomorphic horse living in a city where both animals and humans coexist.

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Bojack portrays a familiar show business trope of a washed up actor living off the long gone success of 90s sitcom Horsin’ Around, with plotlines often revolving around his friend circle and his struggles with alcohol and self-loathing.

Stephen Kelly of The Guardian recently described the show as “one of the most subversively sad shows on TV.”

“The desire of Chinese fans to understand the meaning behind Bojack goes beyond wanting to improve their level of English.”

Considering China’s high consumption of emotional Korean dramas and weep-worthy ballads, appreciation for the tough emotional realism of Bojack Horseman might make sense.

China’s heavy control over the influx of Western media can make the country a difficult playing field for hard-hitting adult comedies, however Bojack has steadily accrued a firm Chinese following, achieving online ratings as high as 9.6/10.

Online acclaim appears to be the main avenue for Bojack’s success, with Chinese netizens posting anything from episode links to discursive articles. 

Some have even leapfrogged from the show’s success to teach English based on the show’s content. The online group Good Morning English posts English phrases organised by episode, while an online article explains the implications and offence caused by certain terminology (for example, the difference between using ‘handicapped’ and ‘disabled’).

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However, the desire of Chinese fans to truly understand the meaning behind Bojack’s scripts extends beyond wanting to improve their level of English. In fact, sites such as Weibo are home to fervent discussion and reflection over the characters’ heart-to-heart talks and the lasting quotes that have also drawn in Western audiences. From this, Chinese netizens have formulated somewhat cathartic outlets in the form of posts, links to the show’s music, and most importantly, screenshots.

“I really think I’m like Diane from Bojack Horseman.”

Screenshots, complete with subtitles, make up a majority of Bojack-related posts on Weibo, and also appear on other social media platforms such as WeChat. China’s Phoenix News characterised the trend surrounding the cartoon as “living for screenshots,” whereby Chinese viewers are using Bojack images to illustrate their feelings or personal experiences.

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Despite the cultural differences between modern China and the US, it seems that the subject-matter of the show often resonates with the experiences, hopes, and fears of young Chinese people.

Chinese text says: "Hello, I am your horse brother. You might not understand me, but when you do, you will definitely love me."

Chinese text says: “Hello, I am your horse brother. You might not understand me, but when you do, you will definitely love me.”

On one Weibo fan page, a netizen posting under the name of @我是马男Bojack added that her followers would “see their own reflections” if they watched the show.

In addition, after posting a screenshot reading “If you can’t find a way to let off some steam, you’re going to explode,” alluding to Bojack character Diane’s internal rage, one netizen (@竹裁雀念) added: “I really think I’m like Diane from Bojack Horseman.”

“The show’s refreshing honesty with life’s difficulties has struck a chord within China’s usually squeaky-clean entertainment industry.”

While netizens’ lives might not directly emulate Bojack Horseman’s internal battles, it seems that for some, the show’s refreshing honesty with life’s difficulties has struck a chord within China’s usually squeaky-clean entertainment industry.

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Previous popular dramas in China, such as Korean hit My Love From the Star, have tackled the emotional roller coasters of love, family, or illness. But rarely have they addressed issues such as mental health and societal pressures, which are particularly relevant in the midst of China’s rapid economic development and social change.

One set of screenshots featuring character Princess Carolyn, a pink cat and Bojack’s ex-girlfriend, reads: “Carolyn, you’re a single woman in your 40s, can you really afford to be picky?” Affronted, Carolyn responds, “I’m not afraid of being alone.”

Commenting on the interaction, one Weibo user (@我是少先森) described the realism of Bojack’s content as “really depressing.”

“More than just a cartoon, Bojack is used like a diary to express netizens’ innermost thoughts.”

China is no stranger to Carolyn’s frustration at the pressure of being a single woman. Recently, skincare company SK-II released a viral video featuring the stories of ‘leftover women’, those in China who are nearing their 30s and remain single.

In the video, various women were tearful at the stigma associated with their lives, despite their confidence and career success. It seems that the struggles of Bojack’s characters are animated portrayals of many home truths.

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One analysis of the SK-II was that it addressed an issue that had previously been swept under the rug. In turn, Bojack’s fearless and deep discussion of similar topics is embraced by Chinese netizens, with screenshots and quotes laying out in-depth commentary previously unseen on social media sites. More than just a cartoon, Bojack is used like a diary to express netizens’ innermost thoughts.

“Try watching Bojack calmly – experience it, understand it..no need to pick out every single sentence!”

Not everyone agrees that screenshots are the right use of Bojack’s material. One Weibo user (@直儿儿儿儿) posted: “Damn Bojack Horseman screenshots and quotes trying to get followers, even if you have that much self pity, or are that much of a narcissist, or even hate yourself, who needs that much validation?”

Others have expressed frustration at the screenshot trend’s increasing online presence, with another comment reading: “Try watching it [Bojack] calmly, experience it, understand it..no need to pick out every single sentence, please!”

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Protest on the Bojack screenshot hype mainly stems from the feeling that users who post screenshots do so for online attention, rather than criticism for the show itself. Essentially this backlash against the trend could strengthen the argument that Bojack’s content deeply resonates with the Chinese audience – something that shouldn’t be sullied for the sake of reposts and likes.

The popularity of Bojack Horseman in China shows no signs of slowing down. Screenshots are posted almost daily on social networking sites, either to entertain followers or illustrate someone’s innermost feelings.

It appears that an unlikely cultural bridge has formed between an anthropomorphic horse navigating the sea of show business to the homes and keyboards of China’s metropolitan youth. It could be a sign that Bojack will be the crux of a new viewing appetite in China for more hard-hitting and gritty television offerings in the future.

By Cat Hanson
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Cat Hanson is a U.K. graduate of Chinese Studies now teaching and living in China. She swapped Beijing for Anhui, and runs her own blog on China life: Putong Press.

China and Covid19

King of Workout Livestream: Liu Genghong Has Become an Online Hit During Shanghai Lockdown

Liu Genghong (Will Liu) is leading his best lockdown life.

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With their exercise livestreams, Liu and his wife are bringing some positive vibes to Shanghai and the rest of China in Covid times, getting thousands of social media users to jump along with them.

On Friday, April 22, the hashtag “Why Has Liu Genghong Become An Online Hit” (#为什么刘畊宏突然爆火#) was top trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Liu Genghong (刘畊宏, 1972), who is also known as Will Liu, is a Taiwanese singer and actor who is known for playing in dramas (Pandamen 熊貓人), films (True Legend 苏乞儿), and releasing various music albums (Rainbow Heaven 彩虹天堂). He is a devout Christian.

Besides all of his work in the entertainment business, Liu is also a fitness expert. In 2013, Liu participated in the CCTV2 weight loss programme Super Diet King (超级减肥王, aka The Biggest Loser) as a motivational coach, and later also became a fitness instructor for the Jiangsu TV show Changing My Life (减出我人生), in which he also helped overweight people to become fit. After that, more fitness programs followed, including the 2017 Challenge the Limit (全能极限王) show.

During the Covid outbreak in Shanghai, the 50-year-old Liu Genghong has unexpectedly become an online hit for livestreaming fitness routines from his home. Together with his wife Vivi Wang, he streams exercise and dance videos five days of the week via the Xiaohongshu app and Douyin.

In his livestreams, Liu and his wife appear energetic, friendly, happy and super fit. They exercise and dance to up-beat songs while explaining and showing their moves, often encouraging those participating from their own living rooms (“Yeah, very good, you’re doing well!”). Some of their livestreams attract up to 400,000 viewers tuning in at the same time.

The couple, both in lockdown at their Shanghai home, try to motivate other Shanghai residents and social media users to stay fit. Sometimes, Liu’s 66-year-old mother in law also exercises with them, along with the children.

“I’ve been exercising watching Liu and his wife for half an hour, they’re so energetic and familiar, they’ve already become my only family in Shanghai,” one Weibo user says.

“I never expected Liu Genghong to be a ‘winner’ during this Covid epidemic in Shanghai,” another person writes.

Along with Liu’s online success, there’s also a renewed interest in the Jay Chou song Herbalist’s Manual (本草纲目), which is used as a workout tune, combined with a specific dance routine. Liu is also a good friend and fitness pal to Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

This week, various Chinese news outlets such as Fengmian News and The Paper have reported on Liu’s sudden lockdown success. Livestreaming workout classes in general have become more popular in China since the start of Covid-19, but there reportedly has been no channel as popular as that of Liu Genghong.

The channel’s success is partly because of Liu’s fame and contagious enthusiasm, but it is also because of Vivi Wang, whose comical expressions during the workouts have also become an online hit.

While many netizens are sharing their own videos of exercizing to Liu’s videos, there are also some who warn others not to strain themselves too quickly.

“I’ve been inside for over 40 days with no exercise” one person writes: “I did one of the workouts yesterday and my heart nearly exploded.” “I feel fine just watching,” others say: “I just can’t keep up.”

Watch one of Liu’s routines via Youtube here, or here, or here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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China Music

Weibo is Watching the DJs & Sports Presentation Team at the Winter Olympics Venues

Chinese netizens are not just closely following the athletes, they are also paying more attention to the “atmosphere enliveners” at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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Chinese netizens are not just closely watching the athletes at the 2022 Winter Olympics – the DJs who are performing at the various venues and their noteworthy song selections have also become a popular topic on social media.

On Feb 8th, the US-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu (谷爱凌, Gu Aling) became the youngest ever gold medalist in freestyle skiing, winning the big air event for China. The American-born Gu has become a superstar in China, and everything related to her is going viral these days, including the songs that were playing when Gu had won gold.

The hashtag “When Gu Ailing Won the Gold, Jay Chou’s Song Huo Yuan Jia is Played” (#谷爱凌夺冠现场放周杰伦的霍元甲#) has received more than 29 million on Weibo. Chinese netizens praised the DJs for the song selection, saying it perfectly captured the scene as the song has a strong rhythm, and is also known as ‘Fearless.’

Before the hashtag about Gu went trending, the DJ team already attracted attention on Chinese social media for the interesting and noteworthy music selection at various events.

During the Ice Hockey Women’s Preliminary Round Group A, when Team US competed against Team ROC, there was a conflict between the two teams and the DJ played a remixed version of Katyusha, a Russian song that became famous during World War II. The dramatic effect of the scene and wartime song pairing made the song’s name (#喀秋莎#) and a video of the DJ trying to ‘make some noise’ on the venue go trending on Weibo with over 53 million views. Many netizens thought the music selection was humorous, with some joking that the DJ was adding oil to a burning fire.

Xie Xiao (@篮球DJ小牛), the ice hockey stadium music director for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics who played the song that day, later clarified on Douyin that the selection of Katyusha was not a response to the conflict. Before that game, he allegedly had already planned to use it because it is a famous song in Russia, and he already played a lot of well-known American songs.

Photo via Xie Xao, @篮球DJ小牛

Another creative song choice by this DJ team that resonated with Chinese netizens occurred during another ice hockey match between Team China and Team Japan, when an American DJ performed Defending the Yellow River on a keyboard. In China, Defending the Yellow River is a famous patriotic song. It was the seventh chapter of the classic Yellow River Cantata, written in 1939 to praise the fighting spirit of the Chinese people (#美国DJ现学后现场弹奏保卫黄河#).

A list of popular hashtags on Weibo relating to which songs are played at the venue of the Winter Olympics also demonstrates that music has become a more relevant and popular part of the Olympics, and is also an attractive component of the event that is encouraging more people, especially younger generations, to watch and participate in the Games.

Xie also said that the team is only allowed to select songs from a specific Winter Olympics music library due to copyright and licensing. The library includes 16000 musical tracks divided into various (sub)categories based on music styles, language, and themes, covering many hit songs and different music from all across the world. On the first event day of speed skating, for example, Adele’s Rolling in the Deep blasted through the speakers.

The pandemic has made the role of so-called ‘atmosphere enliveners’ or ‘vibe teams’ (气氛组, 氛围组) more important. This already became clear during the Tokyo Olympics, where we saw empty stadiums due to coronavirus measures, with DJs creating playlists to motivate athletes in the absence of cheering fans. This shift has also brought more online attention for DJs and other crew members, who would usually stay behind the scenes.

On the venues, the atmosphere is raised by Olympic mascots walking, jumping, and running around the venues interacting with smaller audiences. Meanwhile, the DJs are playing energetic tracks or are creating remixes and mash-ups while producers use different elements at the venue to enhance the audience’s experience.

Li Helin, the deputy manager of the venue operations team at Beijing National Speed Skating Oval, takes care of the event presentation at the venue. He also worked as an MC at the volleyball stadium during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Li has also been in charge of some popular music selections played by the DJs during events involving the China team, including Calorie (卡路里) by the Chinese idol girl group Rocket Girls 101 and Immortal Sound Above Cloud Palace (云宫迅音), the opening theme of Journey to the West, a 1986 TV series that is still considered one of China’s most popular TV dramas. These song selections also were popular on Weibo.

Li Helin, image via Sina.

Li previously said he believed that using DJs to connect with the audiences and to enliven the atmosphere at the venues will become a bigger trend for big sports events in the future. As the standard of sports presentation and fan engagement rises, more new elements, such as spectacular lighting, drones, 3D projects, etc. will also be included: “Sports presentation serves the game, but also adds fresh elements to it.”

Meanwhile, many social media users praise the music crew: “This time, the DJs at the Olympics are really awesome and their song selection is on point.”  “If you don’t know what kind of work you want to do, becoming an Olympic DJ is a good choice,” one Weibo user writes, with others agreeing: “Seriously, if I cannot be an Olympic athlete, then I’ll strive to be an Olympic DJ.”

 

By Wendy Huang

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

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