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China Arts & Entertainment

‘Fifteen of Us’: This is the Chinese Utopia

Fifteen people with different backgrounds build a new society: one place, hundreds of camera’s, starting from scratch. The format of Dutch reality TV programme Utopia has now made it to China. The question is: what will Chinese Utopia look like? Who are the contestants? Will their society be communist or capitalist?

Manya Koetse

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Fifteen people with different backgrounds build a new society: one place, hundreds of camera’s, starting from scratch. The format of Dutch reality TV programme Utopia has now made it to China. The question is: what will Chinese Utopia look like? Who are the contestants? Will their society be communist or capitalist? What’s on Weibo brings you an overview of the show thus far.

In the Netherlands, Utopia first aired on December 31st, 2013. The reality show is a social television experiment that puts 15 people from different backgrounds together to create a new society. The contestants have to start from scratch, and learn how to make survive as a group. They can decide on their own rules or laws, but there is an important general restriction: contestants cannot leave the premises, that cover around 1,5-2 hectare. The show is recorded 24 hours per day, and can be followed by viewers through online live streams on the Utopia app. Besides the live streams, there are daily 30 minute recaps on TV. Every month, the contestants have to vote on their least favourite resident, who will then be eliminated from the show and replaced by a new contestant. Contestant are supposed the stay in the show for one year. If they decide that they want to leave earlier without being eliminated, they will be fined by the television company. Apart from sporadic letters, they cannot communicate with their friends and family.

Utopia is produced by Talpa, a top-notch Dutch production company that has launched various popular TV formats, such as The Voice, which also became a huge success in China (中国好声音). The Chinese version of Utopia is called  ‘The Fifteen of Us’ (我们15个), and first aired on June 29 this year. It is a joint production of Talpa and the Chinese online group Tencent.

In the Netherlands, Utopia has seen a rich variety of participants; gay and straight, black and white, young and old, religious and atheist. The contestants had different backgrounds as artists, singers, accountants, philosophers, carpenters, psychics, some jobless, one homeless.

Besides an official website, the Chinese show also has an official Weibo account, that regularly updates with everyday developments on the show.

According to Variety, as many as 100,000 people applied to take part in the the Chinese Utopia. The show’s selected fifteen contestants have diverse backgrounds and ages.

UTOPIACHINAThree of the 15 contestants, from left to right: Yi Qiu (the vagabond), Tan Limin (feisty auntie), Zheng Hu (wannabe singer).

The show’s oldest contestant is Tan Limin (谭利敏) a retired 61-year-old Shanghai woman with a young mind and feisty nature. The other participants range from 21 to 51 years old. Yi Qiu (易秋), with his unique look, is a vagabond with no stable job. Zheng Hu (郑虎) is a chubby 26-year-old music lover from China’s northern Shanxi province, who wants to lose weight and work on his career as a singer.

utopia2Three of the contestants, from left to right: Deng Biying (the model), Liu Zhixuan (the fashion designer), Taiwanese 44-year-old Zhang Tingxuan (the perfectionist mum).

Deng Biying (邓碧莹) is the young and sexy 24-year-old car show model. The extravagant Liu Zhixuan (刘志轩) from Zhejiang is a 27-year-old fashion designer. Zhang Tingxuan (张婷媗) is the show’s only Taiwanese participant. She is 44 years old, a ‘hot mother’, and a perfectionist with extreme willpower.

chineseutopia3From left to right: Sun Ming and Nie Jiangwei (both veterans), and Liu Fuhua (divorced dad).

The youngest is the 21-year-old veteran Sun Ming (孙铭), for whom discipline is the main thing in life. Nie Jiangwei (聂江伟) is also a veteran, 51 years old. Electrician and daddy Liu Fuhua (刘富华, 30 years old), is trying to get over his failed marriage. Furniture maker Guo Daohui (郭道辉) from Qingdao is the rebellious one of the group. The handsome Qiu Zijian (丘子健) is a professional boxer and model.

utopiachina4From left to right: Rebel from Qingdao, Guo Daohui, professional boxer Qiu Zijian and fashionista Liu Xi.

Another fashionista is the 26-year-old woman Liu Xi (刘希), who majored in fashion at Shanghai University. Liu Luoxi (刘洛汐) is an ambitious 25-year-old super model and business woman from Chengdu, who is active in the online game industry. Song Ge (宋鸽) is a 27-year-old female Harvard graduate, majoring in psychology. Xiao Fanfan (肖凡凡) is the last one of the group: a young and pretty university student who loves make-up and cherishes her freedom.

utop5From left to right: Liu Luoxi the super model/business woman, the academic (Song Ge) and Xiao Fanfan, the sexy student.

Similar to the Dutch version, contestants of Fifteen of Us are allowed to bring one wooden case with some items (cooking utensils, rice, sleeping bag, etc) upon arrival.

The show is recorded in the scenic lush green area of Tonglu, in southern China’s Hangzhou. At the start, the contestants only have one shared empty hangar, a grass field, a total of 5000 RMB (about 816 US dollar), and one basic mobile phone. There are also two cows and some chickens.

In the first episodes, the fifteen contestants struggle with their new surroundings, where they have no beds or proper toilets. They spend the days milking the cows, making fire, cooking basic food, talking about how to make money and survive, and arguing on how to divide the tasks ahead. Chubby Zheng Hu practices his singing skills at all hours of the day (check video below).

Supermodel/business woman Liu Luoxi takes on a leader role, much to the disgruntlement of divorced father Liu Fuhua. Veteran Nie Jiangwei, the oldest man of the group, balances her business-like leadership with his own views (“We came here as one group, we will act as one group!”). Besides an apparent leader, supermodel Liu Luoxi is also a dramaqueen. As shown in the video below, she breaks out in tears when the vet comes to Tonglu to check on one of the cows and then states it is sick and needs to take medicine. Although Liu cares for the cow’s health, she also cares about the little money the residents currently have. The medicine costs 200 RMB (32 dollar), and Liu cries out that there is no money.

The humid and basic surroundings already take their toll on the health of the contestants. Within the first week of airing, two participants already had to leave the show to go to the hospital. Young carpenter Guo Daohui suffered from severe backache, and vagrant Yi Qiu was wounded when broken glass cut through his hand (see video below). The chubby and extravagant Zheng Hu seems to suffer mentally, as he cannot stop crying after seeing a snake outside the hangar (video).

Vagrant Yi Qiu severely cuts his hand on a broken window.

Yi Qiu has just cut his hand and is taken to hospital. Zheng Hu is crying because he saw a snake. While some support him, others get angry because of his dramatic cries (see 1:20).

So far, Fifteen of Us has been lacking the more political discussions the Dutch version of the show sometimes had at the beginning, when contestants would have to decide if they would choose for a communist or capitalist-run society. These kind of debates might be too sensitive for the Chinese version, where the show is undoubtedly censored. But censorship of this reality show is not typically Chinese. Viewers of the Dutch show have complained about censorship of the show, and the German version (‘Newtopia’) became the centre of a scandal earlier this year when an allegedly drunk producer was heard on livestreams giving directions to the contestants.

China is not the first to follow Dutch Utopia. The show also has its own version in Turkey. Although there was also an American version, it turned out to be a flop and was cancelled after airing for two months.

So far, the Dutch version has been airing for 1,5 years. The contestants have managed to rebuild the hangar that now holds bedrooms, a bathroom, two kitchens and a gym. There is also a swimming pool and wellness centre. Contestants receive money by letting guests pay for indoor concerts, parties or weekend markets. The show’s storyline has seen some highlights, with an unexpected romance between two young female contestants, a resident caught stealing, one couple having live sex on TV, a number one hit, some fights, the occasional drunken party, and conflicts over homosexuality, religious beliefs and political systems.

China’s Utopia might not get too political, but it could nevertheless offer some interesting insights in today’s society. Contemporary Chinese societal issues such as the rich-poor gap, migrant workers, leftover women or the growing generation gap are bound to come up as items of discussion within this diverse group of people. A lesbian couple? Unlikely, but who knows. We will be watching – and’ll keep you posted.

By Manya Koetse

[box type=”bio”] koetse.148x200About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.[/box]

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Memes & Viral

Chengdu Disney: The Quirkiest Hotspot in China

How a senior activity park in Chengdu was ‘Disneyfied’ and became a viral hotspot.

Manya Koetse

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How did a common park turn into a buzzing hotspot? By mixing online trends with real-life fun, blending foreign styles with local charm, and adding a dash of humor and absurdity, Chengdu now boasts its very own ‘Chengdu Disney’. We explain the trend.

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Have you heard about Chengdu Disney yet? If not, it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. It’s not actually a Disney theme park opening up in Chengdu, but it’s one of the city’s most viral hotspots these days.

What is now known as ‘Chengdu Disney’ all over the Chinese internet is actually a small outdoor park in a residential area in Chengdu’s Yulin area, which also serves as the local senior fitness activity center.

Crowds of young people are coming to this area to take photos and videos, hang out, sing songs, cosplay, and be part of China’s internet culture in an offline setting.

 
Once Upon a Rap Talent Show
 

The roots of ‘Chengdu Disney’ can be traced back to the Chinese hip-hop talent show The Rap of China (中国新说唱), where a performer named Nuomi (诺米), also known as Lodmemo, was eliminated by Chinese rapper Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), one of the judges on the show.

Nuomi felt upset about the elimination and a comment made by his idol mentor, who mistakenly referred to a song Nuomi made for his ‘grandma’ instead of his grandfather. His frustration led to a viral livestream where he expressed his anger towards his participation in The Rap of China and Boss Shady.

However, it wasn’t only his anger that caught attention; it was his exaggerated way of speaking and mannerisms. Nuomi, with his Sichuan accent, repeatedly inserted English phrases like “y’know what I’m saying” and gestured as if throwing punches.

His oversized silver chain, sagging pants, and urban streetwear only reinforce the idea that Nuomi is trying a bit too hard to emulate the fashion style of American rappers from the early 2000s, complete with swagger and street credibility.

Lodmemo emulates the style of American rappers in the early 2000s, and he has made it his brand.

Although people mocked him for his wannabe ‘gangsta’ style, Nuomi embraced the teasing and turned it into an opportunity for fame.

He decided to create a diss track titled Xiè Tiān Xièdì 谢天谢帝, “Thank Heaven, Thank Emperor,” a word joke on Boss Shady’s name, which sounds like “Shady” but literally means ‘Thank the Emperor’ in Chinese. A diss track is a hip hop or rap song intended to mock someone else, usually a fellow musician.

In the song, when Nuomi disses Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), he raps in Sichuan accent: “Xièdì Xièdì wǒ yào diss nǐ [谢帝谢帝我要diss你].” The last two words, namely “diss nǐ” actually means “to diss you” but sounds exactly like the Chinese word for ‘Disney’: Díshìní (迪士尼). This was soon picked up by netizens, who found humor in the similarity; it sounded as if the ‘tough’ rapper Nuomi was singing about wanting to go to Disney.

Nuomi and his diss track, from the music video.

Nuomi filmed the music video for this diss track at a senior activity park in Chengdu’s Yulin subdistrict. The music video went viral in late March, and led to the park being nicknamed the ‘Chengdu Disney.’

The particular exercise machine on which Nuomi performed his rap quickly became an iconic landmark on Douyin, as everyone eagerly sought to visit, sit on the same see-saw-style exercise machine, and repeat the phrase, mimicking the viral video.

What began as a homonym led to people ‘Disneyfying’ the park itself, with crowds of visitors flocking to the park, some dressed in Disney-related costumes.

This further developed the concept of a Chengdu ‘Disney’ destination, turning the park playground into the happiest place in Yulin.

 
Chengdu: China’s Most Relaxed Hip Hop Hotspot
 

Chengdu holds a special place in China’s underground hip-hop scene, thanks to its vibrant music culture and the presence of many renowned Chinese hip-hop artists who incorporate the Sichuan dialect into their songs and raps.

This is one reason why this ‘Disney’ meme happened in Chengdu and not in any other Chinese city. But beyond its musical significance, the playful spirit of the meme also aligns with Chengdu’s reputation for being an incredibly laid-back city.

In recent years, the pursuit of a certain “relaxed feeling” (sōngchígǎn 松弛感) has gained popularity across the Chinese internet. Sōngchígǎn is a combination of the word for “relaxed,” “loose” or “lax” (松弛) and the word for “feeling” (感). Initially used to describe a particular female aesthetic, the term evolved to represent a lifestyle where individuals strive to maintain a relaxed demeanor, especially in the face of stressful situations.

 

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The concept gained traction online in mid-2022 when a Weibo user shared a story of a family remaining composed when their travel plans were unexpectedly disrupted due to passport issues. Their calm and collected response inspired the adoption of the “relaxed feeling” term (also read here).

Central to embodying this sense of relaxation is being unfazed by others’ opinions and avoiding unnecessary stress or haste out of fear of judgment.

Nowadays, Chinese cities aim to foster this sense of sōngchígǎn. Not too long ago, there were many hot topics suggesting that Chengdu is the most sōngchí 松弛, the most relaxed city in China.

This sentiment is reflected in the ‘Chengdu Disney’ trend, which both pokes fun at a certain hip-hop aesthetic deemed overly relaxed—like the guys who showed up with sagging pants—and embraces a carefree, childlike silliness that resonates with the city’s character and its people.

Mocking sagging pants at ‘Chengdu Disney.’

Despite the influx of visitors to the Chengdu Disney area, authorities have not yet significantly intervened. Community notices urging respect for nearby residents and the presence of police officers to maintain order indicate a relatively hands-off approach. For now, it seems most people are simply enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

 
Being Part of the Meme
 

An important aspect that contributes to the appeal of Chengdu Disney is its nature as an online meme, allowing people to actively participate in it.

Scenes from Chengdu Disney, images via Weibo.

China has a very strong meme culture. Although there are all kinds of memes, from visual to verbal, many Chinese memes incorporate wordplay. In part, this has to do with the nature of Chinese language, as it offers various opportunities for puns, homophones, and linguistic creativity thanks to its tones and characters.

The use of homophones on Chinese social media is as old as Chinese social media itself. One of the most famous examples is the phrase ‘cǎo ní mǎ’ (草泥马), which literally means ‘grass mud horse’, but is pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother” (which is written with three different characters).

In the case of the Chengdu Disney trend, it combines a verbal meme—stemming from the ‘diss nǐ’ / Díshìní homophone—and a visual meme, where people gather to pose for videos/photos in the same location, repeating the same phrase.

Moreover, the trend bridges the gap between the online and offline worlds, as people come together at the Chengdu playground, forming a tangible community through digital culture.

The fact that this is happening at a residential exercise park for the elderly adds to the humor: it’s a Chengdu take on what “urban” truly means. These colorful exercise machines are a common sight in Chinese parks nationwide and are actually very mundane. Transforming something so normal into something extraordinary is part of the meme.

A 3D-printed model version of the exercise equipment featured in Nuomi’s music video.

Lastly, the incorporation of the Disney element adds a touch of whimsy to the trend. By introducing characters like Snow White and Mickey Mouse, the trend blends American influences (hip-hop, Disney) with local Chengdu culture, creating a captivating and absurd backdrop for a viral phenomenon.

For some people, the pace in which these trends develop is just too quick. On Weibo, one popular tourism blogger (@吴必虎) wrote: “The viral hotspots are truly unpredictable these days. We’re still seeing buzz around the spicy hot pot in Gansu’s Tianshui, meanwhile, a small seesaw originally meant for the elderly in a residential community suddenly turns into “Chengdu Disneyland,” catching the cultural and tourism authorities of Sichuan and even Shanghai Disneyland off guard. Netizens are truly powerful, even making it difficult for me, as a professional cultural tourism researcher, to keep up with them.”

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Music

The Chinese Viral TikTok Song Explained (No, It’s Not About Samsung)

The viral Chinese ‘Samsung’ Tiktok song is also not about cheating or getting back with your ex.

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few days, a Chinese song ‘challenge’ has been going viral on TikTok, with various TikTokers from America and beyond mastering the phonetics of a Mandarin song, lip-syncing it and delivering their own dramatic performance.

TikTok user Ajibola Olalekan posted the popular part of the song on March 16, receiving over 71k likes within two weeks, with various TikTokers using the sound for their own videos, some receiving millions of views (watch).

TikTok creator Emily, also known as Maverickmother, lip-synced the song from her car, writing: “Admit to your husband you were wrong and apologize or sing in Chinese..”

The popular video maker Azz (@theofficial_azz) also posted a video of himself singing the song, writing: “Admit you were wrong or sing in Chinese.”

TV host and content creator Mark Odea took things a bit further and put on a dramatic performance of himself lip-syncing the song, writing: “I didn’t realize this song was in English.” According to his interpretation of the song, the lyrics go like this:

Woman cheat
So true in shit sun sun
Would you lie? you shout It’s over Ya
But you are now women itchy
Loud loud itchy ya
Woman cheat send some d
Ching eat chang

While some think the song is about cheating or getting back with your ex, others also refer to this song as the “Chinese Samsung song,” because they believe the singer is singing about ‘Samsung.’ It’s actually the word cāngsāng (沧桑) they’re hearing, meaning ‘great changes’ or ‘ups and downs.’

The Chinese song in question is “This Life’s Fate” (今生缘) by the Beijing-born singer Chuan Zi (川子, real name Jiang Yachuan 姜亚川, born in 1969). Released in 2009, it is one of his most famous songs, which is about life and friendship.

The part of the song that has recently gone viral on TikTok is as follows:

我们今生注定是沧桑
Wǒmen jīnshēng zhùdìng shì cāngsāng
哭着来要笑着走过呀
Kūzhe lái yào xiàozhe zǒuguò ya
朋友啊让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a ràng wǒmen yìqǐ láo láo míngjì ya
我们今生兄弟情谊长
Wǒmen jīnshēng xiōngdì qíngyì cháng

“Our lives are destined to be full of change
We cried when we came [into this world], let’s leave with a smile
My friend, let’s remember very well
We’ll always be like brothers in this life”

By now, the Tiktok trend of foreigners pouring their hearts into mastering a song they may not even understand has also attracted attention on Chinese social media, where many netizens are enjoying the spectacle.

“The feelings of a ‘straight guy’ are just universal,” one top commenter writes (the word used is ‘Zhinan’ 直男, originally referring to heterosexual males, but then came to refer to an entire category of men in China).

“They may not get the exact meaning of the song, but the emotion is there,” others say.

The song, filled with nostalgia, contemplates life and death, emphasizing our shared journey and finding solace in companionship.

If you want to master the entire song yourself, here are the full lyrics (see full song here):

我们今生有缘在路上
Wǒmen jīnshēng yǒu yuán zài lùshàng
In this life, we are destined to be on this journey

只要我们彼此永不忘
Zhǐyào wǒmen bǐcǐ yǒng bù wàng
If only we never forget each other

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

别在乎那一些忧和伤
Bié zàihu, nà yīxiē yōu hé shāng
Don’t mind about all that worry and pain

我们今生注定是沧桑
Wǒmen jīnshēng zhùdìng shì cāngsāng
Our lives are destined to be full of change

哭着来要笑着走过呀
Kūzhe lái yào xiàozhe zǒuguò ya
We cried when we came [into this world], let’s leave with a smile

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya.
My friend, let’s remember very well

我们今生兄弟情谊长
Wǒmen jīnshēng xiōngdì qíngyì cháng
We’ll always be like brothers in this life

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

我们今生有缘在路上
Wǒmen jīnshēng yǒu yuán zài lùshàng
In this life, we are destined to be on this journey

只要我们彼此永不忘
Zhǐyào wǒmen bǐcǐ yǒng bù wàng
As long as we never forget each other.

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

别在乎,那一些忧和伤
Bié zàihu, nà yīxiē yōu hé shāng
Don’t mind about all that worry and pain

我们今生就像梦一场
Wǒmen jīnshēng jiù xiàng mèng yī chǎng
This life is like a dream.

有你陪喝醉了又何妨
Yǒu nǐ péi hēzuì le yòu héfáng
What’s the harm in getting drunk together with you

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember it very well

凡尘过后终了无牵挂
Fánchén guòhòu zhōngle wú qiānguà.
After this mundane life, there will be no worries

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya.
My friend, let’s remember it very well

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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