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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 Arts & Entertainment

China’s New Hit Drama ‘Nothing But Thirty’ Thrives in the “She Era”

Chinese latest hit drama ‘Nothing but Thirty’ has 20 billion views on its Weibo hashtag page.

Yin Lin Tan

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China’s latest TV drama hit Nothing But Thirty is flooding Weibo discussions. With over 20 billion views on its hashtag page, the show is one of the most popular shows of the season and demonstrates that China’s ‘she era’ (ta shidai 她时代) dramas are all the rage. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin Tan explains.

“Have you heard of ‘independent at the age of thirty’ (sān shí ér lì 三十而立)?” Wang Manni asks, her hair pulled back neatly and white shirt cleanly pressed. “I hope that, before I’m thirty, I’ll be promoted to supervisor.”

Riding on the wave of female protagonist (‘heroine’ 大女主) shows that have been taking over China’s entertainment scene, Nothing But Thirty (三十而已) is a 43-episode drama by Dragon Television that follows the challenges of three different women who have reached the ever-important age of thirty.

In a society where women are often expected to be married by their late twenties, a show like this, which tackles women’s present-day struggles, both in their personal and professional lives, has resonated with many.

In fact, the show is so popular that at the time of writing, the show’s hashtag (“Nothing But Thirty”, #三十而已#) has over 20 billion (!) views on Weibo.

 

Depicting the struggles of China’s thirty-something women

 

Nothing But Thirty revolves around the lives of three female leads from different walks of life. Gu Jia (Tong Yao) is a capable businesswoman turned full-time housewife; Wang Manni (Jiang Shuying) is an independent, career-oriented sales assistant; and Zhong Xiaoqin (Mao Xiaotong) is your run-of-the-mill office lady.

For Gu Jia, the birth of her son was what truly transformed her into a full-fledged housewife. In many ways, she seems like a perfect wife and mother: well-educated, capable, and thoughtful. But, eventually, she too has to face life’s challenges.

Driven and hardworking, Wang Manni is confident in both her looks and abilities. Her immediate goal, at least at the start of the show, is to achieve professional success. Throughout the show, her resilience is put to the test, personally and professionally.

Zhong Xiaoqin is described by many netizens as the most “average” or “normal” character. She is kind-hearted -sometimes to the point of being a pushover -, and has spent years at the same company without rising the ranks. Though her story might seem mundane at first, this peace is disrupted when her marriage takes a turn for the worse.

 

A story that resonates with the masses

 

“The show attracted wide attention, and it strongly resonated with female audiences. Many thirty-something working women saw their own lives reflected in the show,” Xinhua recently wrote about the show.

Nothing but Thirty currently carries a 7.6 out of 10 rating on Douban, an online reviewing platform.

Though some reviewers criticized how the later episodes of the show were unnecessarily draggy, most praised it for its portrayal of strong female characters, good acting, and largely realistic depiction of women above the age of thirty.

“I saw myself, and also saw the friends beside me,” a reviewer notes.

In China, women are, more often than not, burdened with expectations of getting married and settling down by the time they are in their late twenties. If you’re single and thirty, that’s made even worse.

Those who fall into this category carry the derogatory label of “leftover women” (剩女), a term that reflects how single women above the age of thirty are seen as consolation prizes or even unwanted goods.

Thirty is thus an incredibly important number, especially for women — something that’s clearly reflected in the show’s concept trailer.

Aside from societal expectations of starting a family, some women now also take it upon themselves to build their careers. In fact, you can chase after professional success without burdening yourself with the idea that you must be married – a notion exemplified by the character of Wang Manni.

Nothing But Thirty also showcases the sheer diversity of experiences for women above thirty: you don’t have to be married, you don’t have to be super capable, and you don’t have to be thinking about having children. Each woman goes through her own unique struggles and isn’t necessarily endowed with the so-called “protagonist’s halo.”

Ultimately, the popularity of the show is driven by the three female leads and the actresses who bring these strong characters to life.

By telling a story that is relatable and touches on relevant social issues, namely on expectations of women in society, Nothing But Thirty was able to achieve widespread popularity and is adding another notch on the trend of China’s ta shidai (她时代) dramas. 

 

The rise of ta shidai shows

 

Ta shidai literally translates to “her era” or “the ‘she’ era.”

Ta shidai shows explore what it’s like to be a woman in China today. The female characters are diverse when it comes to both their backgrounds and character arcs; they might have different jobs, different levels of education, or different personalities. These shows mostly center around a strong female lead and/or a main cast that is primarily female.

More importantly, they often feature capable women and how these women overcame the odds to achieve success.

Recent shows like The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊) and Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐) also fall under this category, as do somewhat older hit shows such as Ode to Joy (欢乐颂) and Women in Beijing (北京女子图鉴).

The Romance of Tiger and Rose is set in a society in which women are in charge and men are subordinate, in a daring reversal of gender roles. Though the show has been criticized for using social issues to attract attention, it gained a decent following for tackling topics like gender inequality and women’s rights.

The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊)

A reality TV competition that swept the Chinese entertainment scene, Sisters Who Make Waves attempted to rebuke stereotypes of women over 30 as “leftover women.”

The show brought together female celebrities above the age of 30 (the oldest competitor was 52), and had them go through a series of challenges, culminating in a girl group formed by the final competitors.

Nothing But Thirty is just another example of a show that’s attempted to depict the realistic struggles of women in modern-day China.

More Chinese dramas that feature women — specifically, their struggles and the expectations that society places on them — are slated to be released in 2020.

Over the past few years, more attention has been focused on women’s rights in China. As feminism becomes an increasingly important topic of discussion in China, strongly facilitated by social media and not without controversy, companies are likely to hop on the bandwagon and continue producing shows that fall squarely in the ta shidai category, given the genre’s rising popularity.

Though we can’t expect every single show to perfectly, accurately, and realistically portray women’s struggles, the fact that more stories like these are being produced already helps bring such conversations into the mainstream. 

Hopefully, the trend of ta shidai shows is a sign that these issues won’t just be tackled on camera, but in real life as well. 

 
Read more about Chinese TV dramas here.
 

By Yin Lin Tan

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China Arts & Entertainment

Two Hour Time Limit for KTV: China’s Latest Covid-19 Measures Draw Online Criticism

China’s latest COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures are drawing criticism from social media users.

Manya Koetse

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No more never-ending nights filled with singing and drinking at the karaoke bar for now, as new pandemic containment measures put a time limit as to how long people can stay inside entertainment locations and wangba (internet cafes).

On June 22nd, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism (文旅部) issued an adjusted version to earlier published guidelines on Covid-19-related prevention and control measures for theaters, internet cafes, and other indoor entertainment venues.

Some of the added regulations have become big news on Chinese social media today.

According to the latest guidelines, it will not be allowed for Chinese consumers to stay at various entertainment locations and wangba for more than two hours.

Singing and dancing entertainment venues, such as KTV bars, can only operate at no greater than 50% maximum occupancy. This also means that private karaoke rooms will be much emptier, as they will also only be able to operate at 50% capacity.

On Weibo, the news drew wide attention today, with the hashtag “KTV, Internet Cafe Time Limit of Two Hours” (#KTV网吧消费时间不得超2小时#) receiving over 220 million views at the time of writing. One news post reporting on the latest measures published on the People’s Daily Weibo account received over 7000 comments and 108,000 likes.

One popular comment, receiving over 9000 likes, criticized the current anti-coronavirus measures for entertainment locations, suggesting that dining venues – that have reopened across the country – actually pose a much greater risk than karaoke rooms due to the groups of people gathering in one space without a mask and the “saliva [drops] flying around.”

The comment, that was posted by popular comic blogger Xuexi, further argues that cinemas – that have suffered greatly from nationwide closures – are much safer, as people could wear masks inside and the maximum amount of seats could be minimized by 50%. Karaoke rooms are even safer, Xuexi writes, as the private rooms are only shared by friends or colleagues – people who don’t wear face masks around each other anyway.

Many people agree with the criticism, arguing that the latest guidelines do not make sense at all and that two hours is not nearly enough for singing songs at the karaoke bar or for playing online games at the internet cafe. Some wonder why (regular) bars are not closed instead, or why there is no two-hour time limit for their work at the office.

Most comments are about China’s cinemas, with Weibo users wondering why a karaoke bar, where people open their mouths to sing and talk, would be allowed to open, while the cinemas, where people sit quietly and watch the screen, remain closed.

Others also suggest that a two-hour limit would actually increase the number of individuals visiting one place in one night, saying that this would only increase the risks of spreading the virus.

“Where’s the scientific evidence?”, some wonder: “What’s the difference between staying there for two hours or one day?”

“As a wangba owner, this really fills me with sorrow,” one commenter writes: “Nobody cares about the financial losses we suffered over the past six months. Our landlord can’t reduce our rent. During the epidemic we fully conformed to the disease prevention measures, we haven’t opened our doors at all, and now there’s this policy. We don’t know what to do anymore.”

Among the more serious worries and fears, there are also some who are concerned about more trivial things: “There’s just no way we can eat all our food at the KTV place within a two-hour time frame!”

By Manya Koetse

*” 餐饮其实才更严重,一群人聚在一起,而且不戴口罩,唾沫横飞的。开了空调一样也是密闭空间。电影院完全可以要求必须戴口罩,而且座位可以只出售一半。KTV其实更安全,都是同事朋友的,本身在一起都不戴口罩了,在包间也无所谓。最危险的餐饮反而都不在意了”

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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