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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 Brands & Marketing

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

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

Manya Koetse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Manya Koetse 

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

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”

 

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