This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.”
The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.
Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming. Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms.
The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.
Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.
Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.
Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.
Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.
One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.
Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”
With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.
Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.
The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.
Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.
Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.
Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.
Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbō’ boom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.
Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.
Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.
Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.
But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact. At a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.
Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.
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This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
Watching ‘Chunwan’ 2023: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala by What’s on Weibo
Culture meets commerce, Party propaganda meets pop culture, it’s time for the annual Spring Festival Gala! Watch it with What’s on Weibo.
It is that time of the year again! It is time for the CMG Spring Festival Gala, better known as Chunwan (春晚), one of the world’s most-watched live televised events. Lasting a total of four hours, from 8pm to 1am Beijing time, the Chunwan is annually broadcasted since 1983 and has become a part of the Chinese New Year’s Eve.
The show usually consists of some 30-40 different acts. Although there was a time when the Gala was mostly considered corny and old-fashioned by most young people, the show has now also become ingrained in China’s social media environment. Besides traditionally being broadcasted via CCTV, it can now also be live-streamed through social apps such as WeChat, TikTok, and Kuaishou. This has also helped to boost viewership. The 2021 Gala reached a record 1.14 billion viewers around the globe, and in 2022, another record was broken after some 1.29 billion viewers tuned in at home and abroad.
But while viewer ratings of the Gala in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year on year. According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia and nationalistic songs. This has also led to an increase in censorship. Last year, Weibo issued an indirect warning to netizens criticizing the festive annual Chinese New Year Galas by suspending 21 Weibo users spreading “negativity” regarding broadcasted festival programs and their performances. A few years earlier, Weibo even shut down entire comment sections.
Nevertheless, complaining about the show is part of the tradition now, with the sentence “there will never be a worse, just worse than last year” (中央春晚，没有最烂，只有更烂) always showing up in comment sections. At the same time, many viewers and fans are also looking forward to seeing some of their favorite idols and performers appear on the show.
You might also know the Festival as the ‘CCTV Gala,’ but since 2020, it was rebranded to CMG Gala. CMG stands for China Media Group, which is the predominant state broadcaster in China and was founded in 2018 as a fusion of, among others, CCTV (China Central Television), CNR (China National Radio), and CRI (China Radio International).
CMG is under the direct control of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, and the show is an important moment for the Party to communicate its official ideology, highlight traditional culture, and showcase the nation’s top performers. Although the CCTV Gala is also a commercial event, it is still highly political and mixes official propaganda with entertainment.
Since recent years, it has also become a platform to showcase China’s innovative digital technologies. In 2015 the show first featured the exchange of virtual hongbao, red envelopes with money, which WeChat users could obtain while shaking their phones during specific moments in the show. Such marketing strategies have drawn in much younger viewer audiences than before. In 2021, the Gala explicitly presented itself as a “tech innovation event” by using 8K ultra high-tech definition video and AI+VR studio technologies and super high definition cloud communication technology to coordinate performances on stage.
This year, official media also present the event as a “technological innovation” show, which makes extensive use of new technologies such as 5G/4K/8K, AI, VR, and XR to promote China’s digital innovation developments.
The Gala will be broadcast on TV and will be live-streamed via various channels on January 21st, 20.00 pm China Standard Time. So turn on your TV and tune into CCTV or watch on YouTube, or head to the CCTV website. We have also embedded the live stream on this page. We will be live-blogging on this page here and you can scroll & watch at the same time from this page.
This is the 8th time for What’s on Weibo to do a liveblog of the Spring Festival Gala. If you want to know more about the previous editions, we also live-blogged
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog
Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala 2023
Underneath here you will see our liveblog being updated. Leave the page open and you’ll see the new posts coming in, there should be a ‘ping’ too with every update.
There will also be some social media updates via Twitter at @manyapan here.
Update: this liveblog is now closed, check below for an overview of the entire show.
The original liveblog was done via a third-party app. The original texts and images are copied below for reference. If there are links to particular segments of the show, they have been added later. The timestamp (in Beijing time) refers to the last moment that post was updated.
What Can We Expect Tonight?
Jan 21 19:41
So, what can we expect for this 41st edition of the Gala? Although the official program list of the show is always leaked days before the event, it is never 100% correct until just one or two days before the actual show. This year, the program was issued on January 20, just a day before the Gala.
This year, the show’s main director is the female director Yu Lei (于蕾). The Gala has had a male chief director for many consecutive years, so it’s nice to see a female director for a change (and “Change” is actually one of the main themes for the night). Yu Lei has an impressive resume with a lot of experience at CCRV, where she is a senior program producer. She’s been closely involved in the production of the Spring Festival Gala since 2013, and also played a role in the production of the G20 performance in Hangzhou and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Tonight’s show has been completely rehearsed a total of five times before tonight. These rehearsals are recorded and almost nothing ever goes wrong during the live show – perhaps some bad lipsyncing here and there – since the recording is running at the same time so that producers can always switch to a pre-recorded act.
Over the next few hours, we will see a variety of acts, including song and dance, comedy, sketches, opera, martial arts, acrobatics, and more.
● The song “Hello Stranger” (你好,陌生人) will be performed later tonight by Mao Buyi and it was released prior to the show as one of the theme songs about people helping each other out in times of need. The song hints at the difficult times of the past months in which China faced local Covid outbreaks before a major Covid wave hit the country after the ‘zero Covid’ policy was let go in early December of 2022.
● There’s also a Belt and Road Song – a classic Spring Festival Gala element to highlight China’s importance in the world today.
● There will also be a “mini-film” (微电影), which is the first time this genre appears on the show.
● We will see loads of young people tonight. Last year there were also quite some young performers, but there was actually more focus on honoring China’s recognized, elderly performers at the time. We’re gonna see a lot more singers and performers born after the 1990s and 2000s tonight, which suits the Gala’s “New China” theme.
Also: the show’s ending will be different this year as the super famous singer Li Guyi (李谷一) won’t be there. Her absence has gone trending on Weibo, where one related hashtag received 360 million views at time of writing (#李谷一回应缺席春晚#). Li is at the hospital, recovering from Covid.
Tu Yuanyuan, the Mascot
Jan 21 20:02
Ah, what a cute start to the show. The mascot of the show this year is Tu Yuanyuan (兔圆圆). The mascot was created by a special visual arts team, and it took a total of four months to make Tu Yuanyuan come to life through 3D technology.
The rabbit’s chief designer is Mr. Chen Xiangbo, the director of Guan Shanyue Art Museum, and it’s been well-received on Chinese social media.
That is actually quite special at a time when so many rabbits got roasted over their design. Perhaps you read about the Chongqing rabbit lantern getting so much criticism that it was taken down before the New Year even started.
China’s Post blue rabbit stamp was also deemed ugly, and a dedicated mascot was thrown out.
But the Nanning rabbit probably got the most criticism. “You can’t please everyone,” some commenters wrote: “But it is possible to displease everyone.”
Jan 21 20:07
We’ve officially started now! Tonight, so many famous people appear on stage.
First and foremost, Jackie Chan will return to the stage. Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the Spring Festival Gala. The last time he performed at the Gala, in 2021, he sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which was about the epidemic situation. Last year, Jackie Chan wasn’t in the show, so it’s good to see he’s still alive & kicking because it’s become tradition to have him at the Gala.
We will then see some of China’s celebrated Olympic athletes. There’s short track speed skater Wu Dajing (武大靖) who won gold for the 2000m mixed relay at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022; there’s Xu Mengtao (徐梦桃), who won China’s first Olympic gold medal in the women’s freestyle skiing aerials; there’s also Gao Tingyu (高停宇) who won the men’s 500m speed skating gold medal with an Olympic record of 34.32 seconds at the Beijing Winter Olympics (he became China’s first-ever male Olympic gold medalist in speed skating).
But Gu Ailing (Eileen Gu) wasn’t listed, despite being one of the stars of the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Despite her popularity, she also triggered some controversy after the Olympics after some online discussions focused on her alleged privileged position. At the time of the Gala, Gu is competing at the Freestyle Ski World Cup in Calgary.
We will also see a bunch of very famous actors and actresses on stage. We see Qin Hailu (秦海璐), Taiwanese actor Alec Su (苏有朋), Chinese actress Yang Zi (杨紫 aka Andy Yang), actor Sha Yi (沙溢), Wu Lei (吴磊), Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), Bai Yu (白宇), Oho Ou (欧豪), Song Zu’er (宋祖儿), Song Yi (宋轶）Wan Qian (万茜), Wang Baoqiang (王宝强), Rayzha Alimjan (熱依扎), Qin Lan (秦岚) and Josie Ho (祖丝), and many others, accompanied by different choir and dance groups, who are all from various places, from Beijing to Nanjing and beyond.
Jan 21 20:08
The line-up of hosts was previously released.
Ren Luyu 任鲁豫 (1978)
Chinese television host from Henan, who has also presented the Gala multiple times (2010, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021). Familiar face to the show.
Sa Beining 撒贝宁 (1976)
Also known as Benny Sa, Sa presented the Gala in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and in 2022. He is a famous Chinese television host known for his work for CCTV.
Nëghmet Raxman尼格买提 (1983)
Nëghmet is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who also is not a newcomer; he hosted the Gala since 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and in 2021.
Long Yang 龙洋(1989)
She was the youngest presenter hosting the CCTV Gala in 2021. Born in Hunan’s Chenzhou, she’s been working in Chinese state media for years. As a host, she’s done various big events before, but 2021 was the first time for her to host the CMG Spring Festival Gala.
Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993)
Ma Fanshu was the youngest and newest host in the 2022 Gala. She is a sports program host who has also been called “the most beautiful host of CCTV.”
Wang Jianing 王嘉宁 (1992)
The Beijing-born Wang Jianing, born in Beijing, is a Chinese actress and, unless we’re mistaken, this is the first time she is a host at the Gala. She graduated from the New York Film Academy with a performance and directing major and has since starred in many Chinese television dramas, movies, and TV shows.
“Let’s Eat, Let’s Have Fun”
Jan 21 20:12
This song (“开饭!开FUN!”) has some happy vibes. Uncoincidentally, Da Zhangwei (大张伟) – better known as Wowkie Zhang – also performed a song titled “Happy Vibes” in 2022. Singing with him is the TV star and singer Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀).
On stage with them are four different dance troupes, including the China Post Art Troupe.
Meanwhile, on social media, some wonder if everyone on stage had agreed to wear red without Yang Zi being informed about it.
“Hundred Birds Return to the Nest”
Jan 21 20:14
This song is titled “Homing Birds” (百鸟归巢) and it’s sung by Tan Weiwei (谭维维) who is also known as Sitar Tan. She is a singer from Sichuan who rose to fame when she became a runner-up in the Super Girl talent show.
This is her third appearance on the show, as she also performed at the Spring Festival Gala in both 2016 and in 2022. In 2020, she released a noteworthy album titled 3811 which focused on the struggles women in China are facing, with each of the eleven songs on the album telling the different stories of women from diverse backgrounds.
No More Masks!
Jan 21 20:19
Something we already wondered about: would the audience be wearing masks for this year’s Gala or not? They are not! Last year’s Gala in 2022 was the second year the audience was wearing a face mask. In 2020, when Wuhan was first facing the Covid19 outbreak, the audience was not wearing face masks yet. 2021 was the first year.
By the way, something unrelated; it’s noteworthy that renowned CCTV host Zhu Jun (朱军) still has not returned to the Gala. The presenter was accused of sexually assaulting an intern in 2018 and hasn’t been a host at the Gala since. Although the intern lost the sexual harassment lawsuit against Zhu Jun, he still hasn’t reappeared and it seems he has really lost his spot on the show now.
Time for Some Crosstalk
Jan 21 20:22
This is the first xiangsheng (相声) act or crosstalk act of the night. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns.
This act is performed by Yue Yunpeng (岳云鹏, 1985), who is particularly known for his xiangsheng performances. He is part of a famous duo together with well-known Beijing-born comedian Sun Yue (孙越1979). They’ve previously also performed together at the Gala in 2020 and 2021.
The participating poker magician is Jian Lunting (简纶廷) from Taiwan.
Theme: “China’s New Era and a Better Life”
Jan 21 20:28
Every year, the Gala has a special theme or a recurring narrative. This year’s theme is not particularly original, but it does make sense in the context of what happened over the past year. After previous themes such as “New China”, “Chinese Dream”, “National Unity”, “Family Affinity”, and “Chinese values, Chinese power,” this 2023 year’s theme is all about “China’s Flourishing New Era” and “A Better Life amid Rapid Changes” (“欣欣向荣的新时代中国，日新月异的更美好生活”).
“China’s New Era and a Better Life” should be seen in the context of China’s reopening, rapid changes over the past months, and the continuance of China’s road to rejuvenation, which was also strongly reiterated during the 20th Party Congress in October 2022. The themes that were highlighted there (read more here) also play an important part during the Gala, such as Chinese-style modernization, building a strong socialist modern country, being united in struggle, and building beautiful China with a focus on green development. We’ll see these themes come up throughout the show.
Another clear theme is homecoming, as this year will be the first time many families can finally reunite since the start of the Covid outbreak (people were previously discouraged from traveling home, doing a ‘staycation’ instead for the new year).
As noted by Andrew Methven @ Slow Chinese, the language and visuals used throughout the show are also a lot about flowers and blossoming, with some of these titles purposely sounding like “growing flowers”, which sounds the same as “China” (种花 / 中华 / 中华民族 / 以花为名). This resonates with the theme of a New China.
“Good Luck Will Come”
Jan 21 20:31
Popsong with traditional influences. On stage, we see Deng Chao (邓超, 1979), who is a Chinese actor, comedian, director, and singer. He is known for his work in multiple box-office hit films such as The Mermaid (2016) and Duckweed (2017). He also appeared as a singer in last year’s Gala, when he performed together with Jackson Yee and Li Yuchun.
Tonight, Deng is on stage with Wang Erni (王二妮, 1985), the famous singer from Shaanxi who had her major breakthrough in 2007 with her Northern Shaanxi folk songs.
Jan 21 20:33
Yang Hao (杨浩), Li Yifan (李一凡), and Zhang Haozheng (张浩正) perform in tonight’s fist acrobatics act with, among others, the Cangzhou Acrobatics Troupe.
“Clear waters and green mountains” (“绿水青山”)
Jan 21 20:40
“Clear Waters and Green Mountains” (绿水青山) is the title of this song, which refers to a political slogan on environmental policy formulated by Xi Jinping and is all about emphasizing the harmony between people and nature.
This song is sung by Huang Xiaoyun (黄霄雲, 1998), a singer/actress of Bouyei ethnicity who mostly became known due to the talent show The Voice of China in 2015. Also on stage is Shan Yichun (单依纯), who was the Voice of China winner in 2020.
Song Yi (宋轶, 1989) and Song Zu’er (宋祖儿, 1998) are both well-known actresses, mostly known for starring in various hit TV dramas.
This performance includes Chinese traditional Huangmei opera, one of the five major opera genres in China, by performers Pan Ningjing (潘柠静) and Zhang Xiaowei (张小威).
See a link to this performance here.
Zhang Ruoyun eating the chicken
Jan 21 20:44
During an earlier performance (the xiangsheng one), actor Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀) got the roasted chicken that magically appeared during the magic trick performed by magician Jian Lunting. The fact that he actually ATE the chicken while sitting in the audience is something that is causing some giggles on social media.
Maybe he was just really hungry!
Xiaopin: “First Look Photo Studio”
Jan 21 20:57
This is the first sketch comedy or short play of the night, called xiaopin 小品 in Chinese. Traditionally, the xiaopin is both the best-received and most-condemned type of performance of the Gala for evoking laughter among the audiences or triggering controversies for reinforcing (gender) stereotypes.
In 2017, for example, the sketch “Long Last Love” was about a woman who wanted to divorce her husband because she was not able to conceive children and wanted her husband to move on to another wife. The show was criticized for depicting women as “breeding machines” and viewers later demanded an apology from CCTV via social media.
Xiaopin sketches are usually not so deep though – they’re filled with puns, funny lines, and plot twists to entertain the viewers.
In this sketch, titled “First Look Photo Studio” (初见照相馆) we see Yu Zhen (于震), Sun Xi (孙茜), Bai Yufan (白宇帆), Zhang Jianing (张佳宁), Ma Xudong (马旭东), Lu Tengfei (吕腾飞), Li Hongjia (李红佳).
It’s about a couple who lost their marriage certificate and came to make new photos. Two couples meet in the photo studio, showing the contrast between the older and the younger generation. The younger couple still has some natural innocence and cuteness about them as a couple (all dressed in matching outfits), while the older couple has a lot of complaints about their marriage. In the end, the older couple also turns out to be very loving and encourage the younger generation to pull through, even if times are hard. The message of this sketch seems to be: get married, stay married – an important message at a time of falling marriage and birth rates!?
Jan 21 21:01
“Hello Stranger” (“你好, 陌生人”) is a song that was released prior to the Gala by CMG as one of the theme songs for the night. Performed by the 28-year-old Chinese singer-songwriter Mao Buyi (毛不易), the song is all about helping each other and it already received some praise on Weibo prior to the show (hashtag: #毛不易春晚唱你好陌生人#).
Mao Buyi rose to fame in 2017 thanks to the all-male singing competition “The Coming One” show. At the time, he was a 23-year-old nursing graduate. As previously described by Sixth Tone, Mao stood out in the show due to his “sheer normality.”
We also spotted the first creepy rabbit of the night, although online opinions vary on this.
Another rabbit that is attracting attention is actually very cute; it’s the one on the jacket of Ren Luyu, one of the hosts.
Martial Arts Spectacle!
Jan 21 21:06
This spectacular martial arts show is performed by Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo, the Shaolin Martial Arts Group, and the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School from Henan.
Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo (1972) is a famous Chinese actor and martial artist, best known for starring in the Once Upon a Time in China action film and television series.
Me and My Grandpa
Jan 21 21:11
We just saw the first public service ad of the night; these are short videos in between the show containing a propaganda message. The title of this video was “Village Night” (“村晚”), a word play on the Chunwan, the Spring Festival Gala Night, as it sounds similar.
This next act is a performance for the kids, titled “Me and my Granddad Walk on Stilts” (我和爷爷踩高跷). There’s a special kid’s show every year, and they’re often quite popular for being so cute.
“Give Me A Minute”
Jan 21 21:16
This is a stand-up comedy-like part of the show titled “Give Me a Minute” featuring Zhao Xiaohui (赵晓卉), Qiu Rui (邱 瑞), He Yanzhi (何广智), and Xu Zhisheng (徐志胜).
Last year, a similar performance (which came as a new kind of performance genre) received a lot of criticism, as people do not find the format of the ‘talk show + singing’ suitable for the Chunwan.
By the way, did you notice that the rabbit in the background interacts with the content of the show? It is displayed at all times and laughs about jokes and looks around in the audience. It is the first time for the Gala to have such a mascot, and if you see its 3D design and how interactive it is, you can understand why the development project of ‘Tu Yuanyuan’ (the rabbit’s name) took four months in total, involving an entire team!
“Toast to the Past”
Jan 21 21:22
This song, performed by Taiwan singers Chiang Yu-Heng (姜育e) and Alec Su (苏有朋), together with Reno Wang (王铮亮) and Silence Wang (汪苏拢), is meant as a romantic, nostalgic “Toast to the Past” (跟往事干了好几杯).
Silence Wang (Wang Sulong) is an ethnic Manchu, whose first album came out in 2010 when he was 20 years old.
Jan 21 21:29
In this dance performance (碗步桥), we see Shanghai Dance School’s Zhu Jiejing (朱洁静, 1985).
Zhu was selected from a group of 3,000 applicants to attend the Shanghai Dance School at the age of nine. She later rose to fame with her roles in productions such as Farewell My Concubine, and became the vice chairman of the Shanghai Dancers’ Association.
“Mini Film” – “Me and My Chunwan”
Jan 21 21:37
This ‘mini-film’ features some of China’s super famous actors, such as Jacky Wu, Huang Bo, Sandra Ma Sichun, Fan Wei, and others. It is the first time for the Gala to introduce such a film, which is different from the short public service ads that pop up two or three times during the show.
This mini film, titled “Me and my Spring Festival Night” (我和我的春晚) is meant to highlight the personal stories of ordinary people watching the Gala and was inspired by actual letters sent in by viewers. The presenter just mentioned that even in these digital times, people still write letters to the show.
Jan 21 21:43
Multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups are represented in “Good Morning, Sunshine,” including medical workers.
What is really remarkable is that the topic of the epidemic and Covid have not been explicitly mentioned at all yet. There’s been some hinting at “difficult times” and “change”, but Covid and the many infections throughout the country have not been addressed. This song is an indirect reference to the epidemic situation, singing about sunshine always coming after rainstorms.
Jan 21 21:52
Another xiaopin, a comical skit, this time featuring Chinese celebrity performers Wang Baoqian, Yang Zi, and Wang Ning.
Yang Zi is also known as Andy Yang, and she is a well-known Chinese actress and singer. She was previously named one of the ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (top actresses) of the post-90s Generation.
Wang Baoqiang is also very popular, perhaps also due to his humble background. At the age of 8, the actor left his family to study kung fu and later went to Beijing to play small roles as an actor in film and TV while doing construction jobs on the side. Wang made his big break when major director Feng Xiaogang chose him to play in A World Without Thieves (2003). Wang later became a critically acclaimed actor, known for his roles in films like Blind Shaft (2003) and A Touch of Sin (2013).
Jan 21 22:01
This song, performed by Huang Bo, is about all those delivery drivers across China. It suits the comical sketch that just preceded it, as the message was also to have more understanding for other people in tough jobs like the delivery staff.
The host Nëghmet Raxman 尼格买提 also just mentioned the epidemic for the first time when introducing this song, as he said that especially the ‘kuaidi’ and food delivery drivers have been struggling and working a lot to keep society going in Covid times.
Garden Full of Flowers
Jan 21 22:04
This stunning performance is called “Garden Full of Flowers/”National Colors”(满庭芳·国色) [translated by CCTV as C”ourtyard of Beauty, Colors of A Nation”], performed by Chinese actress Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) and others. It uses a lot of the special technologies (VR, XR) that were already promoted by the show’s directors beforehand.
Forget Your Worries
Jan 21 22:10
After a second public service ad of the night, we’ve already arrived at the 20th performance of the night.
Zhou Shen (周深) is singing this song (“花开忘忧”), with performances by Li Guangfu (李光复) and Sun Guitian (孙桂田). As previously mentioned in another post here, flowers are really a recurring theme throughout the night as they represent blossoming (main theme is “flourishing new China”) and new beginnings.
Jan 21 22:14
Some netizens have noticed how during the performance of the “Little Brother” song, an actual treadmill appeared on stage to make the performers walk. Some people find it funny: Huang Bo didn’t come to the Gala to perform, he came there to work out!
Beautiful Pear Garden (华彩梨园)
Jan 21 22:21
The first major Chinese opera performance of the night! These kinds of performances are generally well-liked among viewers, much more than comical sketches, which many people do not find that funny.
The actors on stage are all of different ages: the youngest performer is only 4 years old!
In this performance, you can also see the use of some cool effects made possible by the show’s integration of new technologies such as 4K/8K, AI, and XR.
How’s this show different from other years thus far?
Jan 21 22:35
There are some ways in which this show is different thus far. Over previous years, the Gala partnered with Tencent, Kuaishou, Baidu, Bytedance, JD, etc to allow various ‘media moments’ during which viewers can ‘catch’ red envelopes. Actually, the Gala became especially linked to social media since it first featured this kind of exchange of ‘hongbao’, red envelopes with money, which is a Chinese New Year’s tradition. In 2015, for the first time, viewers were able to receive virtual ‘hongbao’ as part of a cooperation between CCTV and WeChat. WeChat users shook their phones 11 billion times that night in order to ‘grab’ the money. These kinds of campaigns drew in many more young viewers – the Gala was previously viewed as something for older audiences (– although it still might be, social media has helped get the younger viewers involved, too).This year, we haven’t seen any kind of ‘shake your phone’ or ‘grab hongbao’ media activities.
Another difference is that the show is normally held across several locations besides the main studio in Beijing, which is a great opportunity for other places to boost tourism and attract attention to their region or city. In light of Covid, the Gala was also only held in Beijing’s CCTV studio 1 in 2021 and 2022. Perhaps the choice to again have just one location for the Gala is also related to the current Covid situation. This also still makes the Gala a bit less ‘spectacular’ and festive than the earlier versions before 2020, probably because it would not be appropriate at this time.
Local authorities not doing their job
Jan 21 22:48
The name of the comical skit we just saw was “Hole” or “Pit” (抗), and it was about local authorities not properly doing their job to fix a hole in the street, despite it being dangerous for people.
This skit is among the most well-received ones tonight, as many people recognize the scene as part of everyday realities. The actors in this skit are Shen Teng (沈腾), Ma Li (马丽), Ai Lun (艾伦), Chang Yuan (常远), Song Yuan (宋阳), and Yu Jian (于健).
Mother and Daughter
Jan 21 22:50
This is a really sweet song about the bond between mother and daughter. Perhaps this is the influence of having a female director? Huang Qishan (Susan Huang) is a 54-year-old Chinese musician who has also been referred to as the “number one female voice in Asia.”
The song is also performed by the Beijing-born Curley Gao (希林娜依·高). The 24-year-old singer has a Uighur first name because her mum is from Xinjiang (her dad is Han Chinese from Beijing). Although she is known as ‘Curley’ in English, her actual first name is transcribed as Shirinay (Xilinnayi). She rose to fame due to her participation in the “Sing! China” talent show.
This song is striking a chord among the people in the audience, and a little boy and an older woman were filmed as they got a bit teary-eyed.
Jan 21 22:52
This act, focused on kids, uses new VR + 3D technologies to let the mystic animals of the ancient past meet with Chinese children the present-day.
Future, I’m Coming
Jan 21 22:58
The future is always an important topic during the Gala, and this song is comparable to songs that were featured on previous Gala nights. It’s titled “Future I’m Coming” and it is performed by Ou Hao, Bai Yu, Wei Chen, and Wu Lei. It even includes some rap..
“I Made It to the Hot Search List!”
Jan 21 23:08
This sketch is about a social media video unexpectedly going viral and causing problems between husband and wife as the husband said things he did not mean in order to get more clicks.
One discussion that has come up prior to this show is that the popular Chinese comedian actress Jia Ling is not performing today. She is known for her annual Spring Festival Gala performances together with Zhang Xiaofei.
Everything is going to be ok
Jan 21 23:18
The hosts just addressed Covid for the first time this show. It also looked as if Ren Luyu was tearing up.
The song that follows is a classic pop song performed by a group of artists (Xiao Ke, Sha Yi, Qin Hailu, Hu Xia, Hui Yuanmeng, and Li Guangjie), and they are bringing a positive message about things taking a change for the better.
As Beautiful as Brocade (锦绣)
Jan 21 23:23
This beautiful dance featuring main dancer Li Qian (李倩) and the Beijing Art Troupe is inspired by the Han Dynasty.
See a link to this performance here.
“One Belt, One Beautiful Road Song” (一带繁花一路歌)
Jan 21 23:29
In this most international song of the night, we see a compilation of songs and performers from Indonesia, Greece, Serbia, Egypt Pakistan, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Kazakhstan, and then the last song, the famous Chinese “Mo Li Hua” [Jasmine Flower] song, is sung by a group of singers from various ‘Belt and Road’ countries.
Lang Lang is on stage playing the piano!
Over the past few years, the Belt and Road Initiative wasn’t really featured very much at the Gala during the closed, Covid era. Now that the borders have reopened, there is room for more international focus again, even if the performers are joining via video.
Jan 21 23:37
After the third public service announcement of the night, we’re on to the song “Hometown,” performed by Tibetan singer Alan Dawa Dolma (阿兰·达瓦卓玛), ethnic Mongol singer Daiqing Tana (黛青塔娜), Kashgar singer Air (艾热), Gansu singer Zhang Gasong (张尕怂), and Wu Tong (吴彤) from Liaoning. There’s always a song during the Gala that has different minorities from all over the country. This time, this is it, and they tried to do it a bit different this time by also integrating some modern rock and pop music.
Jan 21 23:40
Like every year, this is the part of the show where some ‘exemplary persons’ get honored for their accomplishments. This special segment recognizes people for their exceptional service and contributions to the Party and the country.
“Youth to the Sun” (青春向太阳)
Jan 21 23:44
Ah, here’s Jackie Chan again after being absent during last year’s performance. Jackie Chan (成龙) has become an annually returning performer at the CCTV Gala. Although his performances are always much-anticipated, they’ve sometimes also been pretty cringe-worthy. In 2017, the song performed by Jackie was simply titled “Nation” and was met with criticism for being overly political. In 2018, the Hong Kong martial artist sang a song that was called “China” and in 2019 he performed ‘My Struggle, My Happiness.’ In 2021 he sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好) which was about the epidemic situation and that song was actually received very well and made many viewers tear up.
He is now performing a song dedicated to China’s youth, together with Peng Yuchang (1994), Jiang Yiyi (2001), Guo Junchen (1997), Chen Linong (2000, from Taiwan), Yan Mingxi (2005, from Hong Kong) and Josie Ho (1989, from Macao).
A Song for All My Friends
Jan 21 23:46
Sun Nan is here! Sun Nan (孙楠) is a famous Chinese Mandopop singer who performed at the Gala multiple times over the past year, including the iconic 2016 performance where he danced together with 540 robots. In 2022 he was on stage with Tan Weiwei.
This time he is on stage with Hacken Lee (李克勤).
Just before this song started, the host addressed the difficulties so many in China faced over the past year. Although Covid is barely mentioned, the Gala has definitely hinted at the epidemic several times. Instead of some sad songs, the program is mostly filled with songs that are about positivity, hope, friendship, and “better times” – which is also one of the show’s main themes.
Jan 21 23:52
We actually thought the main “minority song” was already featured, but “Homeland” (家园) turns out to be the true “minority song” of the night, featuring dancers and singers from various minority groups, holding hands together in unity and singing about love.
Nearing Countdown, Expedition
Jan 21 23:55
It’s almost time for the countdown! First, we are seeing the song “Expedition” (远征) performed by Liao Changyong, Wu Bixia, Wang Kai, and Yisa Yu.
Countdown! Happy New Year!
Jan 21 0:05
Countdown! Happy New Year to you! All the hosts have just expressed their well-wishes to the viewers, wishing everybody blessings for the Year of the Rabbit. The countdown was started with everybody on stage, and there were even some well-wishes from out of space! [Added comment: although we didn’t immediately notice during the show, many social media users later commented that the countdown moment saw some delay and was not exactly times at 0:00.]
“New Year Hopping” (新春蹦蹦) is performed by Phoenix Legend, Chinese rapper Dong Baoshi, and Chinese actress/singer Angel Zhao. Phoenix Legend is a Chinese popular music duo of female vocalist Yangwei Linghua and male rapper Zeng Yi. The duo was also part of the CCTV Gala in 2016 and in 2018.
All the performers are joined on stage by Tu Yuanyuan, the little rabbit that undoubtedly is the star of the 2023 Gala. It danced right there with them.
Last Performances of the Night
Jan 21 0:20
After the comical skit performed by Jin Jing, Zhou Tienan, Yan Peirun (a romantic one about couples), we are now moving on to the “Group Photo” song.
This song is performed by Xu Song aka Vae, an independent musician from Hefei who is super popular on social media.
“To Advance Bravely”
Jan 21 0:22
This is the 38th act of tonight and also the last acrobatics one featuring performers Shi Renqi, Li Songlin, and Yang Jinhao together with the China Acrobatic Group.
Our Field and Dreams in Spring
Jan 21 0:28
The final dance of the night, titled “Our Field” (我们的田野) is a beautiful performance by the Liaoning Ballet.
The performance, all set in golden colors, is about harvesting wheat.
The performance is followed up by “Dreams in Spring.”
“Dreams in Spring” (梦在春天如愿) is performed by Wei Song, Huo Yong, Mo Hong, and Wang Li – among so many young performers this night, they represent the older generation of artists.
Jan 21 0:35
This is a very unusual ending to the Gala. Ever since the 1980s, the last song of the night was “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). As Li is now recovering from Covid at the hospital, all the performers are gathered on stage and sing the song together.
The song was composed in 1984 when CCTV was preparing for its second Spring Festival Gala.
That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for joining, and we wish you a very happy Year of the Rabbit.
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These Were the Biggest Trends on Chinese Social Media in 2022 from A to Z
Oh dear, what a year. Here’s an overview of the 26 biggest trending topics on Chinese social media in 2022.
The year 2022 has been an eventful one on Chinese social media. Especially in times of lockdown, many people turned to social media to vent their feelings of frustration and anger, and some of the biggest topics were those that mostly played out in the online environment while the streets were empty.
2022 was initially also called ‘2020 too’, since the major lockdowns in cities such as Xi’an and Shanghai brought back memories of Wuhan in 2020.
But the year turned out to be very different from 2020 in many ways. While strict Covid regulations dominated many of the trending topics lists for a long time, the sudden shift in measures and the end of ‘zero Covid’ meant a huge break from everything that happened in 2020.
This year was also very different from 2021. Last year, major events such as the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party, heightened tensions with the U.S., and the Henan flood disaster, brought people together and there was a clear sense of unity. That also changed this year, when people protested against local Covid lockdowns, against excessive measures, and also disagreed with each other about the future of Covid in China and whether to keep fighting the virus or to live with it.
To give you more insight into the topics that went trending this year and which were most discussed by Chinese netizens, we have compiled this list of Weibo trends for you, from A-Z.
A is for: A4 Protests
A big fire that occurred in Urumqi on November 24th killed ten residents and injured nine others. The fire took place in the city’s Tianshan District, an area that had seen local outbreaks and lockdowns since August of 2022.
The tragic fire led to more public attention to the Covid lockdown situation in Urumqi and while people across China mourned the victims, they also expressed anger over how the last 100 days of their lives were spent in (semi)lockdown.
In the days after the fire, protests started erupting in various places across the country. Students in Nanjing and Xi’an gathered on campus grounds to make their voices heard, people also came together in Beijing, in the streets of Shanghai, in Wuhan, Chengdu, and in other places. Because people took to the streets holding up white papers, some dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.” The blank sheets were used as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures.
Just days after the protests, Chinese health officials announced that changes were coming and on December 7th ten new Covid rules were introduced that basically ended China’s Zero Covid era (read more).
B is for: Barbie Hsu vs Wang Xiaofei
It’s the messy divorce drama that was one of the biggest celebrity topics of the year: Taiwanese actress Barbie Hsu (‘Big S’) and mainland Chinese businessman Wang Xiaofei got divorced and aired their dirty laundry (or actually, their dirty mattress) on Chinese social media. The ongoing drama started after ‘Big S’ accused her ex-husband of failing to pay alimony, the accumulated amount allegedly being over $160,000.
Wang Xiaofei publicly and angrily responded to Hsu’s accusations via multiple emotional posts on his Weibo account, where he has over seven million followers. Everyone and everything got dragged into the drama, from Wang’s mother to Barbie Hsu’s sister, her brother-in-law and new partner. One of Wang’s posts mentioned an incredibly expensive custom-made mattress that Barbie Hsu was still sleeping on with her new husband.
November 23rd became ‘Mattress D-day’ after it became known that Barbie Hsu had delivered the much-talked-about mattress to the S Hotel in Taipei, which Wang owns. The mattress was then publicly destroyed, with cameras and reporters standing by to see it being cut open and it was later burnt – ‘mattress gate’ was even live-streamed by Taiwanese media. With the mattress incident going viral, many netizens soon guessed that if it was such an expensive mattress, it must have been one by the Swedish Hästens company. Hästens (海丝腾) itself then responded to the drama via Weibo claiming that their mattresses are of such good quality that they would never go up in flames (read more).
C is for: China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735
Flight MU5735 became the number one news topic on Chinese social media on March 21st of 2022 after it was confirmed that the flight, carrying 132 people, had crashed in Guangxi province. The Boeing 737 was scheduled to fly from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou, but the plane dropped from the radar near the city of Wuzhou, Teng county, shortly before 14:30 local time, approximately half an hour before it was scheduled to land at Guangzhou.
The flight had already attracted attention on social media because the real-time flight tracking map Flightradar24 had shown the flight dropped some 7000 meters within 120 seconds. Some people tracking the flight thought it must have been a bug. Shocking footage later showed how the flight nosedived, plunging from the sky.
While rescue workers were still searching for the second black box, Chinese state media confirmed that all passengers and crew members were killed in the crash. Although a preliminary report about the crash stated that there were no unusual weather circumstances nor abnormal communications before the crash occurred, a final report on the crash still has not come out (#东航mu5735坠毁最新消息#).
D is for: Dabai
Chinese anti-epidemic workers dressed in hazmat suits have come to be nicknamed ‘dabai’ (dàbái 大白), which literally means ‘big white’ but is also a reference to the big white medical assistant robot Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6. Although the dàbái have been around ever since Wuhan 2020, they become a social media phenomenon in 2022, when it temporarily became all the rage for people to dance and sing for Covid-19 frontline healthcare workers in China.
What started as a cute gesture to show appreciation turned into a major hype, and the phenomenon of dancing for dabai was criticized by many who deemed this trend was not actually about gratitude but about attracting clicks and attention.
In 2022, there has been a shift in public views on dabai. Although people initially praised them and posted cute memes and videos about anti-epidemic workers, sentiments changed as frustrations over Covid measures grew in light of increasing outbreaks throughout the country and more viral videos showed altercations between local residents and the dabai working in their communities.
E is for: Excessive Measures
Excessive Covid measures received a lot of attention on Chinese social media this year. Although there was polarization between two epidemic ‘camps’ – namely those advocating opening up and those supporting zero Covid policies -, the majority of people agreed that excessive Covid measures were a big problem in many Chinese cities and counties in 2022.
Excessive Covid measures caused a significant delay when one toddler in Lanzhou needed emergency medical help after a carbon monoxide poisoning. The little boy passed away and the incident became a major story on Weibo. Excessive Covid measures also led to anger in Heilongjiang when local officials went around shops seeing if shopkeepers wore their masks at all times and asked for Health Codes before welcoming customers (more here).
Another time when excessive Covid measures particularly became a trending topic on Chinese social media is when local anti-epidemic workers at the harbor in Xiamen started testing fish, fresh off the boat, for Covid by swabbing their mouths. “I thought fish didn’t any lungs?” a popular comment said, with other commenters suggesting that this news made it clear that Covid “doesn’t affect the lungs but the brain instead.”
F is for: Foxconn Unrest
An exodus of Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou became a major topic on Chinese social media in October of 2022. A mismanagement of a big Covid outbreak at the huge ‘factory city’ – the world’s largest iPhone factory – led employees to leave the locked-down campus, starting their long journey home on foot.
Over a month after that initial exodus and unrest, protests broke out within the factory city as new workers had been recruited and were allegedly promised different things than the situation they faced at the ground. Foxconn was said to have promised that new workers and original workers would live separately, but in reality they were all sent to live in the same dorm buildings where employees with Covid were also staying. When the new workers also discovered that subsidy policies they agreed to were different from what they actually got, it caused panic and anger, and protests ensued. Because it was the second big wave of unrest at Foxconn Zhengzhou, the protest was also referred to as the “Foxconn Workers Movement 2.0” (富士康2.0工人运动) (read more).
G is for: Guizhou Bus Crash
Tragic accidents involving buses have happened in China before, but this year one bus accident particularly attracted the public’s attention because it involved a bus taking people to a mandatory quarantine facility. After the bus crashed in Guizhou province and fell into a deep ditch by the side of the road in the middle of the night on 18 September, 27 people died and 20 were left with injuries. The bus reportedly was taking people to a quarantine hotel in Qiannan prefecture for medical observation and isolation.
The incident triggered anger at a time when frustrations were already building over lockdowns and mandatory quarantines. Why was the bus taking people away in the middle of the night? Why were social media posts about the incident taken offline? Although local authorities later apologized for the accident, this incident – together with a number of other tragic incidents that happened around the same time – contributed to more dissatisfaction and a sense of despair over China’s zero Covid policies.
H is for: Homecoming
The Chinese movie Home Coming (万里归途) was the National Holiday film hit of the year. The movie is inspired by China’s overseas citizens protection response during the 2011 Libya crisis, and sparked waves of nationalistic sentiments among moviegoers. After its cinema debut, the film recurringly became a trending topic, especially after the movie’s box office sales went through the roof.
Home Coming was directed by Rao Xiaozhi (饶晓志) and features major Chinese actors such as Zhang Yi (张译), Wang Junkai (王俊凯) and Yin Tao (殷桃). The film tells the story of Chinese diplomats Zong Dawei (大伟与) and Cheng Lang (成朗), who are ordered to assist in the evacuation of overseas Chinese when war breaks out in North Africa in 2011. Just when they think they’ve successfully completed their mission, they learn they have to return to save a group of 125 compatriots who are still left behind.
I is for: IP Address
In 2022, Sina Weibo introduced a new function that displays the IP location of users posting on the platform. Weibo experimented with the function since 22 March of this year before completely rolling it out on 28 April. According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. The function can not be turned off by users.
The new function became a trending topic and also led to some banter as the account of Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai (read more).
J is for: Jiang Zemin
Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin passed away at the age of 96 in November 2022. Until 2002, Jiang was a Party leader for thirteen years during which a lot happened for China when it comes to economic developments and international relations. After Jiang’s death was made public, social media flooded with posts and videos commemorating him.
Over the past decade, and especially since his 90th birthday, the former leader became somewhat of a social media phenomenon among younger Chinese internet users who showed their appreciation for Jiang, mainly due to his particular way of dressing, his flamboyant but nuanced media appearances, his knowledge of languages, and perhaps especially due to the fact that he often showed emotions during interviews and public appearances – which all poses a stark contrast to current leader Xi Jinping.
K is for: Kris Wu
The Chinese-Canadian superstar Kris Wu, better known as Wu Yifan (吴亦凡), previously dominated Chinese social media in the summer of 2021, when news of his detainment over rape allegations lead to an explosion of comments on Weibo. The 19-year-old student Meizhu Du (都美竹) was the first to accuse Wu of predatory behavior online, with at least 24 more women also coming forward claiming the celebrity showed inappropriate behavior and luring young women into sexual relationships. Wu was formally arrested on suspicion of rape in mid-August 2021.
In November of 2022, a preliminary court ruling came out in the criminal case in which Wu was accused of rape and other sex crimes. The Beijing Chaoyang district court found Wu guilty of raping three women in his home in 2020 and of “gathering people to commit adultery.” He was sentenced to 13 years in prison followed by deportation (read more).
L is for: Liu Xuezhou
The story of Liu Xuezhou was overshadowed by all the Covid-related topics that went top trending this year, but nevertheless, his account made a deep impression on many Chinese netizens in 2022.
Liu Xuezhou was just a teenager when he posted a video on social media in late 2021 asking for help in finding his biological parents. This video would be the start of a story followed by millions of Chinese netizens. Many people supported Liu and wanted to help the teenage boy, who was thought to have been kidnapped as a baby and then bought by his adoptive parents through an intermediary.
Thanks to the internet and some external help, Liu ended up finding his biological parents. But what was supposed to be a happy reunion turned out to be a bitter disappointment. Liu soon learned that he had not been abducted as a child, but that he had been sold on purpose by his father. Liu later shared how heartbroken he was to learn about how he was sold to pay for his mother’s bride price and how his parents never searched for him.
It was all too much for the teenage boy. In an online farewell letter, he expressed the hope that his traffickers and biological parents would be punished for their deeds. Liu was later found to have committed suicide within a month after meeting his biological parents at the age of just 15 years old (read more).
M is for: Mother of Eight
In late January of 2022, right around the same time when Liu Xuezhou was one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media, a TikTok video showing a woman chained up in a shed went viral online and triggered massive outrage with thousands of people demanding answers about the woman’s circumstances. The video showed how the woman was kept in a dirty hut without a door in the freezing cold. She did not even wear a coat, and she seemed confused and unable to express herself.
The video, which concerned a woman from Xuzhou who was a mother of eight children, caused a storm on social media. Many netizens worried about the woman’s circumstances. Why was she chained up? Was she a victim of human trafficking? Was she being abused? How could she have had eight babies? While netizens were speculating about the case and venting their anger, Weibo shut down some of the hashtags dedicated to this topic, but the topic soon popped up everywhere, and people started making artworks and writing essays in light of the case.
Thanks to the ongoing social media attention surrounding the woman, and with the help of local authorities, it was eventually determined that the woman was indeed a victim of human trafficking and she was identified as Xiao Huamei (小花梅) from Yagu, Fugong county, who went missing (without anyone reporting her missing) in 1996. Although still many questions linger around the case of Xiao Huamei, what is clear is that she now has come to represent many women like her (read more).
N is for: Nancy Pelosi
“The Old Witch has landed” was a much recurring phrase on Chinese social media on 2 August 2022. The so-called “Old Witch” was US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and for the entire day, anyone who was online was closely following the latest developments regarding her potential visit to Taiwan. Up to the moment the plane touched down, Chinese bloggers and political commentators came up with different prediction scenarios as to whether Pelosi would really arrive in Taipei, how Chinese military would respond, and what such a visit might mean at a time of already strained US-China relations.
Shortly after Pelosi indeed arrived in Taiwan, online livestreams covering the event stopped, and the local servers for China’s leading social media platform Weibo temporarily went down. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was not just one of the biggest social media topics in China of 2022, it was also certainly one of the most-watched flight radar events ever.
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was highly controversial and was seen as provocative. A new wave of national pride and expressions of nationalism flooded social media after China announced countermeasures in response to Pelosi’s visit and began live-fire military drills around Taiwan (read more).
O is for: Olympics
At 20:00 o’clock China time on 4 February, the much-anticipated Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics took place at the National Stadium in the Chinese capital. In early 2022, Beijing 2022 mascots ‘Bing Dwen Dwen’ and ‘Shuey Rhon Rhon’ popped up everywhere amid the spectacle that went trending all over Chinese social media. On social media, there was a sense of pride about China successfully organizing the Olympics in epidemic times.
But the one who really stole the limelight from Bing Dwen Dwen and Shuey Rhon Rhon was the 18-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier Gu Ailing (谷爱凌 Eileen Gu), who became an absolute social media sensation in China. After grabbing the medals for China, the “snow princess” was widely celebrated for her athletic talent and disarming smile.
For many, Gu turned out to be an inspiration, not just for being hard-working and smart – she was admitted to Stanford, – but also for not being afraid to speak her mind when reporters asked her tricky questions. Nevertheless, Gu’s popularity later also backfired when some felt that her comments on internet censorship in China showed how utterly unaware she was of her privileged position.
P is for: Party Congress
The 20th CPC National Congress is without a doubt one of the biggest topics in China’s 2022 online media sphere. In the weeks leading up to the event, online discussions saw stricter controls and the propaganda machine went into full swing in October of 2022 to make sure every single Chinese netizen would be aware of the main messages that were sent out to the public during the event.
Throughout his address at the opening ceremony of the Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi Jinping spoke about various issues relating to the past five years and the future of China and the Party’s mission, including the challenges faced by the Chinese people and the CPC over the past years in an increasingly “complex international situation,” explicitly mentioning the Covid-19 pandemic, the unrest in Hong Kong, and the Taiwan independence movement, emphasizing that the Chinese state and Party have managed to stand strong in hard times and are still on the journey of China’s ‘New Era’ – building China into a modern socialist country. In this context, terms such as ‘national security’ and the ‘Chinese people’ were important recurring themes (read more).
Q is for: QR Code Controversy
Since 2020, China’s Health Code apps became utterly ingrained in everyday life as a pivotal tool in the country’s ongoing fight against Covid-19. The system gave individuals colored QR codes based on their exposure risk to Covid-19 and served as an electronic ticket to enter and exit public spaces, restaurants, offices buildings, etc. Do you get a Green, Yellow, or Red QR code? That all depends on personal information, self-reported health status, Covid-19 test results, travel history, and more – the health code system operated by accessing numerous databases. The Green color means you’re safe (low-risk) and have free movement, the Yellow code (mid-risk) requires self-isolation and the Red color code is the most feared one: it means you either tested positive or are at high risk of infection. With a red code, you won’t have access to any public places and will have to go into mandatory quarantine.
In June of 2022, the story of a Henan banking scandal and depositors’ Health Codes suddenly turning red triggered online discussions in China and even made international headlines. Thousands of duped depositors who had been fighting to recover their savings came to Zhengzhou to protest and many of them saw their Health Codes turn red without any logical reason. This raised suspicions that the duped depositors were specifically targeted, and that their Health Codes were being manipulated by authorities.
“Who is in charge of changing the Health Code colors?” became a much-asked question on Weibo, with many blaming local Henan authorities for abusing their powers to try and stop protesters from raising their voices in Zhengzhou. Although Henan authorities claimed they did “not understand” what had happened, five local officials were later punished for their involvement in assigning red codes to bank depositors without authorization (read more).
R is for: Russia’s War in Ukraine
In February of 2022, a new word surfaced on Chinese social media: wū xīn gōngzuò (乌心工作), meaning people were so concerned with what was happening in Ukraine, that they could not focus on work.
At the start of the 2022 Russian invasion, most people expressed worry about the situation of the Chinese students and other Chinese citizens who were still stuck in Ukraine. There were also many anti-war messages and those siding with the victims in this conflict.
Later on, the Chinese online media discourse shifted along with a heightened international media focus on Chinese responses to the war. Within that news narrative, emphasis was placed on the role of the United States, its Western allies, and Chinese resistance against the ‘Cold War mentality’ that allegedly fueled the current crisis. Some themes were recurring in the Chinese media, where the violent conflict in Ukraine was also used to reflect on the past and future of China-West relations. In light of the recent developments, NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade (1999) became a topic of focus again, together with discussions on what the Ukraine war could mean for Taiwan (read more).
S is for: Shinzo Abe
In the morning of July 8, 2022, Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot twice during a speech for an election campaign event in the Japanese city of Nara. On Chinese social media, the incident immediately became a trending news topic and shortly after, seven of the ten top trending Weibo topics were about Shinzo Abe, with the topic “Abe Shinzo Passes Away” receiving over 1,4 billion views.
Many commenters on Chinese social media seemed to gloat over Abe’s death. Some of the comments called the shooter a ‘hero,’ saying he would not just go into Japanese history, but that he would also be remembered in Chinese history books.
Chinese commentator Hu Xijin later wrote about the difference in how Shinzo Abe is perceived in the West and in China, where he is blamed for the deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations due to his rightwing nationalist and pro-military stance, including his visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine during and after his time in office. Hu Xijin expressed that it was “normal” for ordinary netizens to speak their minds about Shinzo Abe, just as foreign social media users also speak their minds whenever something happens in China. Hu condemned how some foreign media allegedly used these public sentiments as if it was the Chinese standard, smearing China in doing so.
T is for: Tangshan BBQ Restaurant Violence
In June of 2022, an outburst of violence against female customers at a restaurant in Tangshan sent shockwaves across Chinese social media. Surveillance videos from the restaurant showed how at least four women were brutally attacked by a group of men. The incident, now known as the ‘6.10 Tangshan Beating Incident’ (6·10唐山打人案件) sparked national outrage and its aftermath lasted for many weeks, with people demanding more answers on what exactly happened and how authorities dealt with it.
The Tangshan incident led to online discussions about gang-related crimes. The fact that at least five of the suspects had criminal records was a cause of anger among those who felt that they should not have been allowed to be out and about at all and that they were covered by authorities.
A total of 28 people were later prosecuted for their involvement in the incident. As Hebei authorities investigated the issue, they found that some local officers protected the gangs and basically allowed them to commit more crimes by not strictly enforcing laws. At least fifteen local officials were investigated, and eight of them were later taken into custody on suspicion of abusing power, taking bribes, and forming a ‘shield’ for gang-related violence (read more).
U is for: Uncle Carpenter
2022 really needed a heart-warming story. This story about ‘Uncle Carpenter’ came just at the right time. The Chinese vlogger Yige Caixiang (衣戈猜想) posted a short film on Bilibili about his disabled uncle living in a poor rural area in China. This portrait of his resilient and resourceful ‘Uncle’ touched the hearts of many netizens, and went viral overnight.
The short video tells the story of a resilient villager who became disabled as a teenager due to medical mistakes. He was inspired to become a carpenter after seeing one at work in the family courtyard, and so he also started doing the same work, and was able to make a living by going around and doing carpentry jobs for villagers. Despite his disability, he turned out to become a crucial part of village life, with so many people depending on him.
‘Uncle Carpenter’ struck a chord with many people in difficult times. Many were inspired by the short film because of the life lessons it contains regarding perseverance and not looking back on the things that might have been different (read more).
V is for: Voices of April
Although the ‘A4 protests’ mentioned in this list might have been more visible for many in the West due to the pictures of crowds gathering in the streets, there was another kind of protest in 2022 that arguably was even bigger yet played out at a time when the streets were empty.
The ‘Voices of April’ was a video that contained edited audio snippets that showed the reality of a Covid-stricken Shanghai where residents struggled with feelings of powerlessness. The video seeped into every corner of WeChat and other social media platforms, and kept popping up in various ways despite censorship.
Voices of April told the reality of lockdown through the words of those who experienced it during the Shanghai lockdown. Food supplies going to waste due to mismanagement and failing logistics; parents and children being separated in quarantine facilities; people unsuccessfully trying to get urgent care for a medical emergency in their family; cancer patients being unable to return to their homes after getting chemotherapy at the hospital; Covid patients arriving at centralized quarantine locations that have no supplies nor beds; a desperate mother who finds herself calling out to neighbors to get medicine for her sick child in the middle of the night; pet owners in tears over their dog being killed by anti-epidemic workers.
Not long after the video went viral, Wechat and Weibo users discovered they were no longer able to forward the file, and soon all links to the video ended up leading to a ‘404’ deleted message. The censorship only added fuel to fire. “[You want] war? War it is!”, some said, with others posting images protesting the censorship: “You can’t censor the unity of the people of Shanghai!” (read more)
W is for: Want Want
You might remember the underdog brand that was a real winner in 2021 China (ERKE). In 2022, the 60-year-old Taiwanese brand Want Want – you probably know their rice crackers with the cute kid icon – become all the rage again.
In light of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the brand saw a revival. What really became an essential point in Want Want’s regained success this year is the brand’s consistency in delivering a patriotic message to mainland consumers through multiple channels that resonated with Chinese netizens at a time of deteriorating US-China relations and more focus on cross-strait relations.
In October of 2022, Want Want celebrated China’s National Day by using drones to project netizens’ hopes and wishes for the future all over the Great Wall, including a projection of a giant Want Want drink. Rice crackers have never been more popular (read more).
X is for: Xi’an Lockdown
What a difference twelve months make. For many living in the city of Xi’an, the New Year of 2022 did not start off bright and joyful, but dark and filled with anxiousness as millions of residents were ordered to stay at home during a lockdown amid a new wave of Covid19 infections.
During the Xi’an lockdown, Weibo saw an outpouring of anger and disbelief from sleepless netizens who expressed their shock over the way in which local authorities were managing the Covid19 outbreak and the lockdown itself. With most offline and takeout stores being closed and residents not allowed the leave their compounds, getting food supplies and other essentials became a serious problem for many.
A heartbreaking story went viral about a woman who lost her baby on January 1st when she did not receive medical care in time and was left waiting outside of the hospital, and there was an outpour of anger online from those who had been seriously impacted by the restrictions and hurdles they faced in times of a lockdown that was mismanaged by local authorities (read more).
Y is for: Yang le ge Yang
‘Sheep a Sheep’ (Yang le ge Yang 羊了个羊) is a WeChat tile-matching puzzle game that became all the rage in 2022. The rather simple game’s success became somewhat of a mystery in China, which has a vibrant online gaming market. The game’s success came at a time when people tried to avoid getting Covid, with the word for ‘turning positive’ sounding the same as ‘sheep’ (yang).
At a time of boredom, lockdowns, and a lively social media atmosphere, people become hooked on the game where players can add more sheep to their province as they go on to the next level, getting ranked based on how many sheep they have (read more about the game’s rise and fall here).
Z is for: Zero Covid: The End
We end this list with the topic that is at the center of Chinese social media trending discussions of 2022: the zero Covid policy. The ‘zero Covid strategy,’ also known as ‘dynamic zero Covid,’ is all about the speedy detection of new cases, followed by a quick response to curb the spread of the virus immediately. It was trending in early 2022 for the incredible impact it made on cities, counties, villages across China throughout 2022, and then it was trending due to the fact that the measures were changed so suddenly in December of 2022.
In October of 2022, Party newspaper People’s Daily published an article titled “Dynamic Zero Is Sustainable and Must Be Adhered To” (link), and many other media sources kept propagating this policy until a sudden policy shift.
Now, there are various views on this sudden shift. Nevertheless, many people are happy that – despite the Covid outbreaks – the era of ‘zero Covid’ with excessive measures is finally over.
By Manya Koetse
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