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Girl is Dumped by Boyfriend for Being Too Fat, Takes Revenge Through Weibo

A girl named Xiaoxiao became trending on Weibo when she posted a public message to her former beau on the social media platform. After her boyfriend broke up with her for being too fat, she underwent liposuction and presented him with a piece of soap made from her removed fat.

Manya Koetse



A girl named Xiaoxiao became trending on Weibo when she posted a public message to her former beau on the social media platform. After her boyfriend broke up with her for being too fat, she underwent liposuction and presented him with a piece of soap made from her removed fat.

A young woman from Zhengzhou, Henan Province, posted a picture of herself on her   Weibo account with a text saying: “Yang Xiaolei, do you remember last year’s Spring Festival? Since I cannot go home with you this year, I’ve made a piece of soap from my own fat to give to your mum for washing up. Chinese New Year – the time to surprise those low men who can only judge a book by its cover!”


The post has been shared over 5400 times and received over 3500 comments in a day.

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‘Xiaoxiao’ also posted before & after pictures:

bef af


She also shared a screenshot with a recent message from her ex-boyfriend, that says:

“Why are you making me look bad on the Internet?! It was already over between us, you didn’t need to go to the hospital to suck out fat and disgust me! Damn, do I judge people solely by their appearances? You didn’t need to disgust my mum, or what? F*ck you b****!”

Underneath, she responds: “You said I was fat. I’m sending your entire family some soap, believe it or not!”


Although Xiaoxiao’s post got a lot of attention, most netizens do not agree with the girl’s actions. “Sometimes being ugly simply has nothing to do with being fat or not,” one person comments. “Being ugly inside is what being ugly really is,” another netizen says. “From this I can tell he really didn’t dump you because of your looks,” someone else responds.

Whether or not the girl really turned her body fat into soap remains unclear. It technically would be possible to do so. In 2013, Miami artist De La Paz kept the 3 liters of fat that was removed from his body during liposuction, and turned it into soap (source).

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    Jason Lan

    March 25, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    I love what she did. Creative and twisted. <3

  2. Avatar


    January 6, 2018 at 7:20 pm

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China Arts & Entertainment

From Comedy to Controversy: Behind the Li Haoshi Incident

Exploring the dynamics that led to the social storm involving Chinese comedian ‘House’ Li Haoshi.

Manya Koetse



The Li Haoshi scandal sheds light on a complex interplay of factors, including the working conditions within the Chinese comedy industry, the expectations placed on performers in China’s entertainment realm, and the significant role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in shaping Chinese nationalism. A deep dive by What’s on Weibo.

Humor is no joking matter. While the business of humor can be competitive and challenging no matter where you are in the world, there are some special considerations and implications for working in humor in China.

This week, Chinese comedian Li Haoshi (李昊石), who performs under the name ‘House’, experienced firsthand that there are strict limitations to what can be openly satirized or joked about in China today. When one of his jokes about two stray dogs described them by referencing a famous People’s Liberation Army (PLA) slogan, he found himself at the center of a social media storm. One related hashtag received over 1.1 billion views on social media platform Weibo this week.

The phrases used in the comic skit, with Li saying they came to mind while watching the dogs chasing a squirrel, were: “Forge exemplary conduct, fight to win.” The lines are part of the PLA slogan “Follow the Party! Fight to win! Forge exemplary conduct!” (“听党指挥,能打胜仗,作风优良!”), which was used by Xi Jinping in 2013.

Li Haoshi was not just socially canceled by angry netizens who defended the honor of Chinese soldiers and slammed the comedian for being so unpatriotic, he also saw his career go up in flames. His shows were called off, he was banned from social media, his employer was fined more than $2 million, he was blacklisted under orders of the China Performing Arts Association (CAPA), and he is now under official investigation.

Following the controversy, there were different views on Chinese social media regarding the issue (read more here). Although the majority of commenters argued that the PLA is never to be joked about, some people also lamented that online discussions lacked nuance.

This scandal sheds light on a complex interplay of factors, including the working conditions within the Chinese comedy industry, the expectations placed on performers in the Chinese entertainment world, and the important role played by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in shaping Chinese nationalism.




Humor has played a prominent role in Chinese language and culture for centuries, manifested through a diverse array of jokes and humorous texts. Professional comedians, who served to entertain the aristocrats, have been around since as early as 800 BC.

Although humor has always been there, it has not necessarily always been appreciated. Confucianism has played a significant role in devaluing humor in China, as it formally regarded humor and satire as inferior forms of aesthetic expression. Chinese rulers who did not tolerate criticism or dissent also could not appreciate jokes or comics which, in any way, went against their rule and authority (Sullivan & Sullivan 2021, 102; Yue 2008, 403-413).

In the early days of modern China, following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, there was a notable resurgence of various forms of humor and jokes that spanned two decades, including cross-talk (xiàngsheng 相声) and skits (xiǎopǐn 小品). It was during this period that the Mandarin word “yōumò” (幽默) was introduced, derived from the English term “humor.” This term was coined by the renowned Chinese writer and translator Lin Yutang (林语堂), who faced the challenge of finding an exact Chinese translation for the English word (Hsu 2015, 2).

For decades, from the founding of People’s Republic of China to the Anti-Rightists Movement and the Cultural Revolution and beyond, there was not much yōumò around. As described by David Moser (2004), the constraints imposed by the Party and political sensitivities severely limited the content and topics that comedians could explore.

The comparatively relaxed political atmosphere of the post-Mao era gave rise to novel forms of humor and comedy. In subsequent years, influenced by the United States, “stand-up comedy” (tuōkǒuxiù 脱口秀) also gained popularity. Initially originating in small bars or cafes in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, this comedic genre swiftly spread across the nation.

But similar to numerous other performance forms in China, stand-up comedy faces challenges in maintaining its spontaneity and provocative nature. Performers and comedy clubs are required to obtain licenses and gain script approval, while also navigating strict boundaries regarding politically sensitive topics that are strictly off-limits (Sullivan & Sullivan 2021: 102).

This does not mean that stand-up comedy is not thriving in China. On the contrary, the genre has only become more popular over recent years as stand-up comedy performers skillfully navigate the boundaries of what is acceptable by employing different techniques, such as irony, self-deprecation, and surreal humor to offer alternative perspectives within the permitted discourse (see: Chen and Gao 2023). In doing so, Chinese stand-up comedy has evolved beyond its American influences and embraced more traditional Chinese comedic language techniques from xiàngsheng and other performing arts.

In today’s landscape, Chinese comedians face a multitude of boundaries beyond just political ones. Operating within an environment where cultural and commercial factors hold significant sway, it becomes almost inevitable for popular performers to encounter controversy at some point in their careers. Authorities, audiences, sponsors, or companies may take offense at the content of their comedic expressions, adding further complexity to their navigation of these boundaries.

Li Dan, Papi Jiang, and Yang Li previously also faced criticism for their “inappropriate” or “vulgar” jokes.

The online comedian Papi Jiang (Papi酱), for example, saw her videos being taken offline in 2016 for containing “vulgar language and content,” after which she vowed to choose her words more carefully in the future. Female stand-up comedian Yang Li (杨笠), also known as the “punchline queen,” was dismissed as the spokesperson for American tech company Intel in 2021 for her jokes that allegedly insulted men. The popular talk show host and comedian Li Dan (李诞) sparked controversy for promoting female underwear brand Ubras with a slogan that was deemed sexist.

In such a working environment, it is difficult to fathom that the 31-year-old Li Haoshi, who had previously appeared on the immensely popular stand-up comedy competition show “Rock & Roast” Season Four, was unaware that his reference to a PLA slogan would surpass the acceptable boundaries. However, like many comedians, he may simply have been testing the limits.




Another factor that comes into play when exploring the reasons behind the ‘House’ scandal is the special role attributed to Chinese performers.

Although Chinese performers and renowned names in the cultural industries have always been seen as fulfilling an exemplary role, this notion holds even greater significance in the era of social media, where Chinese performers and celebrities wield tremendous influence in an online environment with over one billion internet users. The rapid growth of online entertainment-focused apps and platforms has also created opportunities for unknown performers to achieve overnight fame.

There have been various studies about celebrities in China. One study from 2019 by Sullivan and Kehoe highlights the complexity of China’s celebrity scene. Because while the industry flourishes, it still operates under strict regulations imposed by both the state and industry stakeholders. Additionally, moral values play a significant role in shaping the industry. Sullivan and Kehoe argue that the state, through media and cultural industries, retains control over the symbolic economy within which celebrities operate (2019, 242).

Channeling public opinion and safeguarding social stability are priorities for Chinese authorities, and the influence of Chinese celebrities is often used to promote Party ideology and policies. While authorities encourage Chinese famous performers to act as positive role models, negative news surrounding the country’s popular stars is often perceived as having a “negative social impact” or a “bad influence on public morale.”

There are some some noteworthy instances that exemplify the significance of moral values and the role of Chinese celebrities as role models. One such example occurred in 2019 when Roy Wang (Wang Yuan 王源), a young Chinese singer and actor widely regarded as one of the country’s most influential teenagers, found himself embroiled in controversy after being caught smoking during a restaurant dinner in Beijing.

The incident surrounding Wang’s smoking quickly ignited a firestorm on Chinese social media. The controversy stemmed from two main factors. Firstly, Beijing had implemented a ban on smoking in all public indoor spaces since 2015, making Wang’s actions a violation of the law by lighting up in a restaurant. Additionally, as an influential teen icon, Wang held the responsibility of being a role model to his numerous fans, amplifying the impact of his behavior.

The idea that China should “raise the bar” for becoming a celebrity was widely propagated in 2021. In that same year, the China Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers aimed at promoting adherence to the principles of “social morality.” According to these guidelines, performers could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

The guidelines are meant to “promote the healthy development of the performer industry” and lay out the “practice norms,” which stipulate that performers, among other things, should abide by national laws and regulations, should honor their contracts and comply with copyright laws. But they also stipulate that they should “love the motherland and support the Party’s line and policies” (“热爱祖国,拥护党的路线方针政策”), “persevere in the orientation that literature and art should serve the people and socialism” (“坚持文艺为人民服务、为社会主义服务的方向”), and “actively uphold a positive image” (“积极树立正面形象”).

By joking about the PLA, Li Haoshi violated some of the rules laid out by CAPA. His severe punishment not only demonstrates to the public that Chinese performers/celebrities should abide by the same laws as ordinary citizens – if not be held to even higher moral standards, – it also serves as a cautionary message to other entertainers, urging them not to overstep boundaries and to uphold their responsibility as public figures to positively impact public morale.




In addition to Li Haoshi’s position as a stand-up comedian and his role as a performer/celebrity, another significant aspect of this controversy revolves around the status of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in contemporary China. PLA soldiers are revered as the heroic “soldier sons of the people” who display unwavering loyalty to the Party and the nation.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was founded in 1927, with Mao Zedong counted among its founders. It played a crucial role in the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

In addition to its core duty of protecting the country and conducting military operations, the PLA is also involved in other tasks such as peacekeeping efforts and disaster relief. However, its primary and most significant role is to serve as the military branch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and ensure the CCP’s continued leadership in China. By safeguarding China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity, the PLA carries both a military and symbolic significance.

The PLA plays a major part in Chinese nationalist discourses, while simultaneously also playing a central role in driving nationalism in China. Whether it is the social media spectacle of China’s Taiwan military exercises or ‘100.000 soldier loving girls‘ during the Wuhan floods, the PLA acts as “a bridge between nationalism as an abstract ideological concept and as an everyday concern of the people for the security of their country” (Ji 2004, 248).

Military propaganda, often disseminated online, is important in reinforcing the image of PLA soldiers as guardians of the nation. When four Chinese PLA soldiers were killed during a border clash with Indian troops in 2020, Chinese state media outlets made noteworthy efforts to shape the ways in which the soldiers are to be remembered, blending political and personal elements while lauding their unwavering patriotism. In doing so, they posted their photos along with phrases such as “The place where I stand is China” and “I will defend the motherland with my life.”

Those insulting the PLA can face serious consequences under the “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law” which was introduced in 2018. In 2021, former Economic Observer journalist Qiu Ziming (仇子明), along with two other bloggers, were the first persons to be charged under the new law as they were detained for “insulting” the Chinese soldiers. Qiu, who had 2.4 million fans on his Weibo page, made remarks questioning the number of casualties China said it suffered in the India border clash. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Li Haoshi’s faux-pas is particularly sensitive because the lines used in his joke indirectly made a comparison between PLA soldiers and stray dogs, while also placing words famously used by Xi Jinping in a ridiculous context. Additionally, as highlighted by Chinese bloggers and China Digital Times editor Alexander Boyd, Li’s joke potentially alludes to a scene from the 1956 Chinese war movie Battle on Shangganling Mountain (上甘岭) during the Korean War, where soldiers were depicted chasing after a squirrel. The intention of the scene was allegedly to showcase the kind-hearted nature of the brave soldiers of the Volunteer Army.

Some people believe that Li Haoshi was purposely alluding to that scene with his joke, and in doing so, insulted China’s Korean War ‘martyrs,’ which is illegal under the martyr defamation law. That would be a serious offense. In 2022, former investigative journalist Luo Changping was sentenced to seven months in prison and ordered to make a public apology for insulting Chinese soldiers portrayed in a blockbuster movie about the Korean War.

Whether or not Li intended to make such a connection or put much thought into his joke remains uncertain. However, many netizens are angry with Li for various reasons. Chinese nationalists defend the honor of their hero soldiers, while others blame Li for not respecting the boundaries within which he should operate.

Furthermore, Li’s colleagues, Chinese stand-up comedians, are also upset that he took the risk of making a politically incorrect joke, which has put the entire industry under scrutiny. This incident has created more tension for other performers in an already challenging work environment.

On Chinese social Q&A platform Zhihu, one experienced stand-up comedian performer from Shandong shared his view on the matter, suggesting that Li has brought harm to their industry:

For commercial performances, our lines have to first have to go through a script reading meeting, they will then go through 4-6 open rounds of ‘polishing,’ and then go through the script polishing of the copywriters working for the show. (..) Moreover, the words and phrases we use in our jokes must have a contextual understanding and source. Therefore, there is no way that Li Haoshi was not aware of the history and origin of the sentences he used.

At the same time, all of our jokes in commercial performances require approval. Therefore, Li Haoshi obviously knew that this particular joke wouldn’t pass the approval, so he intentionally didn’t submit it. This is not a case of ignorance, it is simply being malicious.”

Overall, Li Haoshi’s case serves as a warning to others to be cautious with their words, whether used during performances, talk shows, interviews, or online.

Jokes are not to be taken lightly in a media environment where every line carries weight. When humor becomes such a serious matter, it becomes increasingly challenging to stay funny.

By Manya Koetse

References (other online sources hyperlinked in text)

Chen, Dan, and Gengsong Gao. 2023. “The Transgressive Rhetoric of Standup Comedy in China.” Critical Discourse Studies 20 (1): 1-17.

Hsu, Pi-ching. 2015. Feng Menglong’s Treasury of Laughs. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Ji, You. 2004. “Nationalism, the Chinese Defence Culture and the People’s Liberation Army.” In: Leong H. Liew and and Shaoguang Wang (eds), Nationalism, Democracy and National Integration in China, pp. 247-268. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Moser, David. 2004. “Stifled Laughter: How the Communist Party Killed Chinese the Chinese Humor Form of Xiangsheng.”, accessed via [20 May 2023].

Sullivan, Lawrence R. and Nancy Sullivan. 2021. Historical Dictionary of Chinese Culture. New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield

Sullivan, Jonathan, and Séagh Kehoe. 2019. “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China.” The China Quarterly 237 (March): 241–256.

Yue, Xiao Dong. 2008. “Exploration of Chinese Humor.” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 21 (4): 407-421.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Series of Shocking Hit-and-Run Incidents: Ruining the Reputation of BMW in China?

The negative news coverage surrounding BMW in China starkly contradicts its marketing image.

Manya Koetse



Although it is one of China’s strongest luxury car brands, BMW often makes headlines in China in the context of horrific hit-and-run incidents. Lately, a series of incidents involving BMW drivers ramming into people received a lot of attention on social media. Are the negative headlines impacting BMW’s brand image in China?

Multiple incidents involving BMW drivers driving into crowds of people have attracted online attention in China recently. It is not the first time. BMW hit-and-run cases have made headlines in China since at least two decades ago.

With BMW as a car brand coming up so often in headlines concerning shocking cases, from drunk drivers ramming into people to BMW owners misbehaving in traffic, are attitudes towards the BMW car brand shifting in China?

Here, we will discuss some of the cases that have received a lot of attention on Chinese social media recently, and the role BMW as a brand plays in these discussions.


Three Hit-and-Run Cases Sparking Outrage


Drunk female driver drags victim along for over 1 kilometer in Loudi

On Tuesday, April 11, a court case related to a hit-and-run incident that involved a woman driving a BMW sparked online discussions. The incident happened in September of 2022 in Loudi City, Hunan Province. A female named Xiao (肖) drove into a person on an electrical bike who was then dragged along under the car for a kilometer before the car was finally stopped by traffic police.

Shocking footage of the scene spread online and sparked anger. As the driver was stopped – the victim was still underneath the BMW, – she seemed reluctant to cooperate and was busy staring at her phone. The 28-year-old driver turned out to be driving under influence and was arrested. After being rushed to the hospital, the victim’s condition stabilized.

According to her family, the victim had to stay at the intensive care unit until January of this year. Now, six months later, she is still unable to speak and cannot walk (#宝马女司机撞人拖行案受害者家属发声#).

Once the trial started at the Loudi People’s Court, the incident again went trending, especially because the court decided to postpone its verdict due to the “complexity of the case” (“称因案件疑难复杂将择期宣判”). The woman is accused of causing serious damage or injury while driving (交通肇事罪).

As the victim’s family spoke to reporters in the days leading up to the trial, it also became known that the driver’s family had tried to convince the victim’s husband on three different occasions to sign an apology letter, seeking to mitigate her sentence. They allegedly also told the victim’s family that the driver and her family were also “victims” in this case. This did not exactly help in gaining more sympathy from the public.

Liu Dong drove into Dalian pedestrians to take “revenge on society”

On May 22, 2021, a Saturday morning, a black BMW drove into a crowd of pedestrians in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, leaving five people dead and five injured. The driver, who was soon arrested, was a man by the name of Liu Dong (刘东), who reportedly purposely drove into the crowd to take “revenge on society” after an investment failure.

The case recently became trending again because, following his October 2021 trial and death penatly sentencing, Liu Dong was executed on April 7th, 2023.

On social media, the execution attracted a lot of attention. One related hashtag, “Dalian BMW Driver Who Drove Into People Executed by Death Penalty” (#大连宝马撞人案司机被执行死刑#), received over 230 million clicks.

22-year-old man ploughed his car through a busy Guangzhou intersection

Five people were killed and 13 others were injured in a traffic incident involving a BMW driving into pedestrians at Tianhe Road in Guangzhou on January 11, 2023. The incident recently received online attention again due to its similarity with the Dalian hit-and-run.

The incident happened around 17:25 local time. Videos circulating on Douyin and Weibo showed how the black SUV just ploughed his car through the busy street at Tianhe Road/Tiyu East Road, where dozens of people were walking and crossing the intersection. Shortly after the incident, some people could be seen lying motionless on the road.

The driver, who was later filmed driving into other people and throwing money out of his car window, was a 22-year-old man from Jieyang in Guangdong. He was arrested shortly after and there has not been an update in his case since.


The “BMWs Driving Into People” Phenomenon


The three aforementioned incidents are prominent cases in which drivers drove into people. In all of these cases, the BMW car brand was explicitly mentioned in related hashtags and headlines. But these are not the only shocking incidents in which the BMW brand was explicitly mentioned, as there have been so many more “BMW drives into people” cases (宝马撞人案件) throughout the years.

One of the earlier cases happened in October 2003 in Harbin, where a BMW car rammed into a crowd. The incident resulted in the death of one person and injured 12 others. The driver, Su Xiuwen (苏秀文), was later sentenced to two years in prison.

In another well-known incident, a 3-year-old boy in Xinyi, Jiangsu, died under the wheels of a BMW after being run over four times in less than 30 seconds. Although the incident was an accident, the driver drove off and did not even attempt to get help for the child.

In 2016, a BMW driver drove into a crowd in Shenyang, killing two people and injuring six. Other incidents happened in Nanjing (2011/2015), Dongguan (2012), Chengdu (2012), and in many others cities across China where drivers fled the scene after a collision, often causing injuries or killing people.

One other case that became one of the biggest trending topics on Chinese social media in 2018 was that of a Kunshan man driving a BMW who got out of his car in an act of shocking road rage, pulling a long knife to attack a cyclist. (In the end, the cyclist was able to grab the knife and he stabbed his attacker, who died from his injuries. The case was later determined to be an act of self-defense, resulting in the cyclists’s acquittal. This decision brought great joy to netizens who had supported the cyclist all along.)

One of the cartoons that was published in the aftermath of the Kunshan BMW incident.

Back in 2010, author Meng Ke already wrote about the phenomenon of “BMWs driving into people” (“宝马撞人”) in China on the Chinese-language BBC website, suggesting the phrase had come to represent “being rich but immoral” (为富不仁). According to the article, the BMW brand was not just gaining a reputation as the car rich people like to drive, but also as the car they were using as a murder weapon.


“I Would Rather Cry in a BMW”


The idea that people driving a BMW are not just rich but also materialistic has been widespread in China for years, also reflected in the phrase “I would rather cry in a BMW” (宁愿宝马里哭) – a famous Chinese catchphrase and meme. The phrase became an online sensation in 2010 after it came up in the popular dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao (非诚勿扰 If You Are the One).

Ma Nuo (马诺), a 20-year-old female contestant on the show, was asked if she would ride a bicycle with one of the male contestants. In response, she said she would “rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle” (“我宁愿坐在宝马里哭,也不愿坐在自行车里笑”). Soon after, Ma was roasted by Chinese netizens, who attacked her for being a “gold digger” and criticized her for prioritizing material possessions above love. Ma suffered cyber bullying for years.

One reply on a dating show became a part of Chinese meme culture.

While BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, it is sometimes also jokingly said to stand for “Be My Wife,” which actually went viral due to a short Valentine Day film co-created by BMW which was released in 2021 (婚礼, link). It is also said to stand for “Bié Mō Wǒ” (别摸我), meaning “don’t touch me.” This literally conveys the idea of BMW owners being untouchable, and it comes from the popular 2006 film Crazy Stone (疯狂的石头).

From the Crazy Stone movie, when a BMW car owner angrily scolds the person he got into an accident with, saying: “Didn’t you see [the BMW brand,] it stands for Don’t Touch Me (Bie Mo Wo)!”

The popularity of the “rather cry in a BMW,” “Bie Mo Wo,” and “Be My Wife” phrases shows the power of the BMW brand. In the eyes of many, it symbolizes money, capital, and status.

In fact, the success of BMW in the Chinese market – which it entered in 1994 – greatly relies on its brand image of not just producing high-quality, reliable, and superior cars, but also on its brand association with an active, luxurious, and stylish lifestyle (Wang 2013, 107-108).

The negative news coverage surrounding BMW thus starkly contradicts its marketing image, creating a jarring clash between the positive perception of the brand and the unfavorable publicity it has received.


It’s Not the Car, It’s the Rich People Who Drive It


In online discussions surrounding the recent hit-and-run incidents, it is not so much the BMW cars but the rich persons driving them who have a widespread negative reputation. This was also suggested by one popular car blogger on Zhihu (Youshi Qiche @优视汽车), who wrote that BMW owners in China have gotten a notoriously bad name throughout the years.

One study by the Hurun Research Institute on Chinese luxury brands (“中国豪华车品牌特性研究白皮书”) writes that Chinese BMW owners are perceived as being “high-profile and ostentatious, materialistic, showing-off, and lacking a sense of responsibility.” They are also seen as “enjoying new things, good at making friends, seeking social recognition, individualistic and flaunting their wealth.”

Another characteristic attributed to Chinese BMW owners is that they are “profiting without effort” or “reaping what they have not sown,” as they are often associated with China’s nouveau rich (暴发户 bào fā hù) or fù’ér dài (富二代), the ‘second generation rich’ who owe their wealth and lavish lifestyles to their parents’ success under China’s economic reforms.

The BMW driver has gotten a bad reputation, image via Zhihu @优视汽车.

According to Youshi Qiche on Zhihu, some BMW owners only have themselves to blame for the negative stereotypes surrounding them. But what arguably plays a bigger role in their bad image is the social prejudice against those who are perceived as having excessive wealth or privileges, combined with the role media plays in the way they report on BMW owners causing trouble. When an accident involves a BMW or Porsche, it is more likely to be mentioned in the headlines and hashtags.

In many of the aforementioned incidents, but also in others that did not involve a BMW, rich and privileged people causing accidents – deliberately or not, – often try to shift responsibility and use their money, position, or network to avoid punishment.

The most well-known example of this, which has become a part of China’s internet culture, is the “My Dad is Li Gang” incident from 2010. The 22-year-old Li Qiming was drunk driving when he ran down two college students on the campus of Hebei University, killing one of them. When he was arrested after fleeing the scene of the accident, he yelled: “Sue me if you dare! My Dad is Li Gang!” (“我爸是李刚”). Li Gang was the deputy director of the local public security bureau.

“My Dad is Li Gang” instantly became a popular meme in China. Four years later, the sentence “Do you know who my dad is?” (“你知道我爸是谁阿”) became similarly famous after a young man who drove his BMW to school was caught cheating on an exam by a teacher and then intimidated them by suggesting his family was rich and powerful.

Although these incidents happened years ago, the sentiments have largely remained the same, and people are fed up with the careless, agressive and conceited behaviour displayed by nouveau riche who think they are invincible because of their status. These kinds of attitudes are associated with fraud and corruption – a sensitive social problem – and the recent incidents involving BMW drivers further reinforce preconceived beliefs about priviliged and ‘immoral’ BMW owners.

Despite all the negative news coverage in which BMW is mentioned, it is clear that the brand itself is not to blame for these horrific incidents. Nevertheless, the German multinational has shifted its marketing strategies in China over the past years and instead of purely focusing on pleasure, joy, and luxury, it is also placing more emphasis on social values and responsibility. As mentioned by Youshi Qiche, BMW China started sponsoring art and cultural projects, and is playing a role in creating awareness on traffic safety for Chinese children.

BMW China’s changing marketing strategies, images via Youshi Qishe (2021).

BMW’s current Chinese brand ambassador is the wildly popular singer and actor Jackson Yee (易烊千玺), who has a huge fanbase on social media. These kind of marketing strategies resonate with China’s younger generations, for whom the brand image of BMW will probably be different than the associations their parents have with the car.

After all, BMW is generally still seen as a prestigious and high-quality car brand, and it maintains its position as a leading luxury car brand in the Chinese market. Still, not all people prefer a BMW nowadays. “Remember that phrase ‘I’d rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle?’ I’d now say it’s the other way around,” one Weibo user writes.

“I’d rather smile regardless,” another commenter said: “And if I could smile in my own BMW, then I’d go with that one.”

By Manya Koetse 

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Wang, Kangmao. 2013. Capital War : How Foreign Companies Fight Their War in China. China MBA Series, Paths International Limited.

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