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‘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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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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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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