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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 Travel

Chinese Tourists in Europe: Getting Robbed Is Part of the Experience

“The Best Anti-Theft Strategy in Europe”? Chinese netizens are sharing tips how not to get robbed during their Europe trip.

Manya Koetse




My bag was stolen in Amsterdam, my phone was snatched in Paris, and my camera was robbed in Rome. Chinese social media is brimming with accounts from Chinese travelers sharing their unfortunate experiences of falling prey to theft during their trips to Europe. Getting robbed in Europe has become so common that Chinese apps like Xiaohongshu and Douyin are now flooded with numerous “Europe Anti-Theft Strategies” and “How Not To Get Robbed in Europe” guides.

In this post-pandemic days, a growing number of Chinese tourists are making their way to Europe, some for the first time in years. As the practice of chronicling one’s journey on social media has become part of the travel experience, Chinese platforms like Xiaohongshu, Douyin, and WeChat have witnessed a surge in posts capturing Europe trip adventures.

Unfortunately, many of these posts are about Chinese tourists getting their phone stolen, their wallet nicked, or being robbed of their travel bags.

When it comes to European destinations, Paris stands out as one of the most notorious places where Chinese travelers frequently report incidents of robbery. However, social media is also filled with posts recounting unfortunate experiences in cities like Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, and London.

The average Chinese tourist is often a vulnerable target for thieves and pickpockets in Europe for several reasons. They are often equipped with premium gadgets, wear designer’s clothes, and are frequently engrossed in their smartphones. Many Chinese tourists also find handling wallets, cards, and physical currency unfamiliar due to their background in a cashless society.

Additionally, the challenges of using China Unionpay cards for payments in many European locations, coupled with difficulties in withdrawing money from conventional ATMs, lead Chinese travelers in Europe to carry substantial amounts of cash. This, combined with a general lack of awareness about potential dangers, makes Chinese travelers in Europe more susceptible to theft.

Getting robbed in Europe is now so commonplace among Chinese tourists, that some argue that “if you haven’t been robbed, you didn’t get the full Europe experience.”


“The Europe Experience”


So what is that ‘Europe experience’ people are talking about?

Of course, many posts concerning Europe travel among Chinese tourists center on savoring delightful cuisine, admiring beautiful architecture, and exploring world-famous sites. Yet, a significant portion of these posts is focused on sharing personal experiences of becoming victims of theft in European cities.

Below, we have highlighted the most-mentioned cities on Chinese social media when it comes to getting robbed and what kind of experiences are shared for these locations.

◼︎ Amsterdam: Subtle and Sudden

Many who share their unfortunate experiences of falling victim to theft in Amsterdam or other parts of the Netherlands often recount having their valuables stolen on trains or at train stations, frequently right after arriving in the country from Schiphol Airport or traveling from other European destinations via international trains. Numerous accounts emphasize how a mere moment of distraction can lead to the sudden discovery that their bags have disappeared. The same vulnerability applies to stolen phones – some people share how one moment their smartphone was in their hand, only to be gone the next minute, without even realizing they had somehow let go of it.

Furthermore, alongside incidents involving theft on trains or at train stations, another common way tourists experience robbery in Amsterdam is through valuables being stolen from parked cars. A recent account highlights an incident where an individual’s parked car, situated near a hotel, had its windows smashed, resulting in the loss of all items except their Van Gogh museum souvenirs.

◼︎ Barcelona: Bold and Brazen

Barcelona is also infamous for tourists becoming victims of theft. In July of this year, the Chinese Consulate General in Barcelona even issued a warning to Chinese nationals about the risks. Accounts shared by Chinese travelers on social media highlight that theft experiences in this city lack subtlety compared to those in Amsterdam; thieves in Barcelona tend to employ bolder and rougher tactics.

Several Chinese tourists recount incidents where, upon exiting the subway, they encountered individuals who deliberately splashed paint, ketchup, or other substances on their bags or clothes to create a distraction. Caught off guard and attempting to clean off the mess, they became vulnerable to pickpocketing and subsequently lost their phones and wallets.

There are exceptionally audacious thieves who won’t hesitate to snatch bags or phones from tourists right within the subway or even on bustling streets like the Ramblas. They make a swift getaway with the stolen items. Certain Chinese bloggers have shared their experiences of attempting to fend off thieves who targeted their crossbody bags or other belongings, only to feel a sense of regret afterward, realizing that the thieves might have been armed with knives.

◼︎ Brussels: With Love and Chocolates

There are also reports coming from Chinese tourists in Brussels who are warning others of their experiences with thieves there. Some of these thieves seem surprisingly sweet-toothed and romantic, like the thief who first told his victim “I love you” before trying to snatch their phone.

Compared to other theft experiences, another man’s encounter in Brussels took on a somewhat amusing tone. He shared his exasperation over an incident where a man unexpectedly reached into the bag of chocolates he had just purchased in the Belgian capital and snatched a piece of chocolate.1

◼︎ Paris: Nowhere is Safe?

Paris is renowned as one of the most infamous destinations for theft, with many Chinese tourists labeling the city as “unsafe.” From minor pickpocketing incidents to brazen daytime carjackings, a variety of crimes pose challenges for travelers in the French capital.

Paris is a favored destination among Chinese travelers who frequently indulge in shopping sprees, purchasing luxury items like Chanel or Louis Vuitton handbags, which increases their vulnerability to theft. Many shoppers bring their bags back to their hotel for safekeeping, and, as an extra measure of caution, opt to store their most valuable things inside the hotel room’s safety box. However, some Chinese tourists recently recounted the unsettling experiences where even their own rooms weren’t secure havens for their valuables. Upon returning to their accommodations, they were dismayed to find everything missing. When raising their concerns with the hotel management, they received the response that the hotel claimed no responsibility for the incident.

The notion that ‘nowhere is safe’ is further underscored by accounts from travelers, including those with rental cars, who have encountered incidents of smashed windows and theft of bags even while inside their vehicles.

Another aspect worth noting about Paris is that certain Chinese nationals, particularly those who are residing in the city temporarily rather than just visiting briefly, have reported experiencing theft for the second time. A user on Xiaohongshu recounted an incident where they were assaulted and robbed near Porte de Clignancourt. Additionally, there are accounts of multiple thieves collaborating to target unsuspecting commuters on the subway.

◼︎ London: Picky Pickpockets

London thieves are infamous for targeting phones, often using aggressive tactics. “Gangs” on scooters or bicycles speed by and snatch phones from people’s hands, especially when they’re using them by the roadside, such as at bus stops or traffic lights.

Some Chinese in London have shared their experiences of thieves attempting to steal their phones, only to realize they were Huawei devices and then tossing them back, seemingly disappointed since they were expecting iPhones. Another Xiaomi user recounted a similar incident. In a separate older post, a Chinese young man recalled a 2022 incident where a duo of thieves snatched his bracelet and watch near Bond Street. Interestingly, they returned his belongings later (with the second person pretending to assist) after realizing they held no significant value and weren’t worth the effort.

Xiahongshu user Alex Ya Yulun shares a nasty experience near Bond Street.

Another person shared how they discovered that a thief had somehow gotten into their wallet at Euston Station and only took their creditcard, leaving his cash and debit card. The idea behind this – of only stealing one credit card instead of the entire wallet – is that it buys the thief time to go and spend money on the card before it is canceled, as it might take a while for tourists to discover it missing. In this case, the victim was quick to discover and cancel his card via his bank. Just seconds later, he received a notification that someone had attempted to make a purchase worth of 3000 pounds (US$3820) with his card. “That’s how sneaky they are,” he wrote: “They just take one card to buy themselves time.”

◼︎ Milan: Distracted by Pigeons

How nice it is to have dinner outside and enjoy the vibrant citylife. But in Milan, Chinese travelers warn about groups of young people who will come up to your table, pretending to promote something and hand out flyers. While distracting you, they will nick the phone they have spotted on the table.

Distraction seems to be a popular tactic among Milan thieves. Another female Xiaohongshu user shares how she was waiting for someone at a high-end hotel in Milan center, when a man called out to her in English. She turned around to see why, and before she knew it another man had grabbed the purse that was right to her.

Xiaohongshu user BoomerXu shares their experience of the pigeon scam in Milan.

What better distraction than pigeons fluttering around near the Duomo di Milano? A popular Milan tactic involves thieves and scammers coming up to people admiring the view and the many pigeons near the square, and then handing them birdseed causing the pigeons to all come over at the same time – a perfect picture moment. The scammers will then use this as an opportunity to suddenly surround tourists with multiple people and demand money in a forceful and aggressive manner.

◼︎ Rome: Don’t Judge by Appearance

Rome is another notorious place for getting robbed. Some experiences shared on Chinese social media about becoming a victim of theft in the Italian capital are less subtle than those of others. One female solo traveler shared how she walked back to her hotel at night while listening to some music on her headphones, not far Roma Termini, when someone suddenly grabbed her by her throat from behind and robbed her of her camera before running off.

In August 2023, a Chinese PhD student shared a previous incident involving the theft of her belongings in Italy. While enjoying a moment at a cafe in Rome with a group of four women, they engaged in conversation, casually placing their bags on two vacant chairs beside them. Shortly thereafter, they were met with the shocking realization that their belongings had disappeared. This incident was particularly distressing for the PhD student, as her stolen bag contained not only her passport but also her laptop housing valuable research materials and papers.

The circumstances leading to the ladies not noticing the perpetrator’s proximity can be attributed to the deceptive nature of appearances. As fellow travelers emphasize, it is vital not to judge Roman thieves based on their looks. That stylishly attired, elegantly tall woman seated adjacent to you on the subway might very well be a pickpocket.

◼︎ Returning Home

Chinese tourists have also reported instances of theft during their return journey to China. When travelers need to make transfers within Europe on their way back to China, there’s a risk of items being stolen from their suitcases, including valuable possessions like stylish handbags.

Some online users share that the locks they use on their suitcases seem ineffective, as airport thieves seem knowledgeable about opening them. The combination of a Chinese name, a destination in China, and a relatively nice suitcase appears to be an opportunity for thieves. One traveler even recounted the surprising discovery that their box of chocolates had been opened during transfer and partially eaten!


The Anti-Theft Strategy


With so many people getting robbed in Europe, it is only natural for netizens to actively search for content on how to protect themselves.

Those who have had the unlucky experience of getting robbed share advice on how not to become a victim of theft while traveling, but many of these online “Preventing Theft and Robbery Guides” (防偷防抢指南/欧洲防小偷指南) or “Anti-Theft Strategy” posts (欧洲最强防盗) are also written by Chinese nationals studying or working in cities like London, Amsterdam, Paris, who have become adept at spotting theft tactics and protecting their belongings.

Anti-theft products recommended by Xiaohongshu user 一只小卷卷🍓.

Here is a compilation of recurring tips gathered from various Chinese netizens, vloggers, and bloggers on avoiding theft and safeguarding your belongings while in Europe:

◼︎ Wear an anti-theft waist bag / waist belt (防盜腰包) to store valuables such as cash, phones, passport, or creditcards.

◼︎ Other Chinese social media users go a step further and even recommend special underpants with pockets to store valuables such as passport and cash money.

◼︎ Try to maintain a low profile while traveling. Refrain from wearing designer clothing, don’t wear expensive watches, and leave your jewelry at home. This is a tip that is repeated by most anti-theft guides.

◼︎ When going out, it’s best to carry minimal valuables and leave the rest in your hotel room. Given existing concerns about hotel room safety, it’s advisable to use the hotel’s safety box to store your belongings.

◼︎ Some people suggest using phones with lanyards attached to your body to prevent the phone from being snatched while you’re distracted. (However, there’s a potential drawback to this approach – if a thief employs aggressive tactics and snatches the phone while running or on a motorcycle, it could lead to injury.)

◼︎ Many posts also recommend purchasing different strong locks for Europe travels: S-locks for handbags to prevent zippers from being easily opened, a strong anti-theft lock for the suitcase, and even door locks to prevent (hotel)doors from being opened from outside.

Images showing variou lock to prevent theft, by Xiaohongshu user 岛屿啊.

◼︎ Stay vigilant about your surroundings: who is walking in front of you, who is walking behind you, who is at your left and right, and is anyone getting too close?

◼︎ Since public transport and stations are a pickpocket hotspot, it is better to walk to your destination if possible instead. At night, go by taxi.

◼︎ When traveling by train, it’s crucial to keep your luggage within sight at all times. For many Chinese tourists, this might be an unfamiliar practice, as on high-speed trains, luggage can be conveniently stored in designated compartments, allowing travelers to relax until their destination is reached. However, the situation is quite different in Europe.

◼︎ A thief only needs a small window of opportunity to snatch your phone. When you’re outside, try to minimize the frequency of looking at your phone or having your phone in your hand, and always stay vigilant. Never put your phone in the outer pockets of your coat.

◼︎ When renting a car in Europe, it’s imperative to never leave valuables behind inside the vehicle.

◼︎ Stay vigilant against distraction tactics. Whether you’re on the street or dining at a restaurant, if someone approaches you to ask questions, hand out flyers, display a paper or sign, be mindful of your phone and wallet. While they engage you in conversation or divert your attention, another individual could take advantage and attempt to steal from you.

◼︎ Don’t accept any items from strangers. For instance, in Rome or Paris, some people might try to offer you a bracelet, claiming it’s free, but then demand money if you take it.

◼︎ When using a taxi during your travels, ensure that you keep valuable items near you. Also, make sure to personally place your luggage in the back of the taxi or watch the driver stow it for you. One Chinese tourist shared her experience on Xiaohongshu, where she entered the taxi while the driver loaded her luggage into the trunk. Unfortunately, upon reaching her destination, her luggage was nowhere to be found.

◼︎ When purchasing luxury items such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton bags, make sure to take your purchases out of the original luxury shopping bags and carry them in normal tote bags. Walking around with a Vuitton or Chanel shop bag just screams: ‘I just bought a super expensive designer product’ and not only street thieves will know, but people working in and around the hotel will also notice.

◼︎ Using a simple canvas tote bag is a recurring tip in the online Europe anti-theft guides. However, a controversial tip advises travelers to use frog-themed bags to ward off Roma thieves because they think that they see frogs as signs of bad luck.


Disappointed, Disillusioned


The changing view of Europe as a potentially hazardous destination for Chinese tourists signifies shifting times. Instead of a dream destination, Europe is increasingly described as a place that is “chaotic” or that is “lacking law and order.” Many people who share their experiences online suggest that they are “disappointed” or “won’t be coming back.”

Partly, this phenomenon could be labeled as the “Paris syndrome,” an extreme sense of disillusionment experienced by certain individuals during their visit to Paris, where they find the city not aligning with their expectations. This condition is often seen as an acute form of culture shock.

However, this trend also signifies changing times. In the present context, many Chinese citizens consider their home country a secure haven, largely free from concerns like robbery or personal safety on the streets; their major cities are considered much more secure. As mentioned by some bloggers, this disparity has seemingly become more noticeable after the pandemic. At the same time, due to all the warnings about theft in Europe, Chinese travelers are more conscious of how they are being perceived as attractive targets for thieves while traveling abroad.

Besides the risks of getting robbed, one factor seemingly influencing this portrayal of a “chaotic” Europe, particularly among Chinese travelers who have fallen victim to theft in Europe and reported such incidents, is their perception of local law enforcement as unresponsive or inadequate when addressing such thefts.

From Italy to the Netherlands, Chinese netizens express frustration about police merely making police reports for insurance purposes, but otherwise not actively chasing thieves, even if there is security footage or if the perpetators were caught on camera. “The chances of ever getting your stuff back are very, very low,” one Xiaohongshu user said. One Weibo user reiterated this idea, sharing how the police responded after their Rimowa suitcase with all their belongings was stolen on a Munich train station: “They were actually very quick in providing a written case report, but it was clear that no measures would be taken to actually solve the case. When we told them there were surveillance cameras on the platform recording the incident, the police officer stated that they didn’t have the authority to view the surveillance footage according to the law.”2

Another person shared how their laptop was stolen inside a train in Amsterdam and that even though they could show the police the exact location of their stolen laptop due to the ‘Find my Apple’ function, the police officer seemed “lethargic” and told them to try and find the laptop themselves. “I was simply stupefied, more upset by this response than the actual theft,” they wrote.3

Xiaohongshu user (一只虎虎酱) shares experiences of reporting a theft at Dutch police station.

Besides the lack of police actionability, immigration and lack of border security are also often mentioned as additional factors that contribute to Europe being perceived as a ‘messy place.’

“Is Europe really that chaotic?” one person recently asked on Xiaohongshu, getting over 3000 likes and more than 160 replies. “In Europe, many illegal immigrants resort to stealing money for survival because they don’t have jobs,” one person replied, with others explaining: “Sigh, insisting on whatever humanitarian efforts, they’ve let in a large influx of African refugees, as well as Roma people. When you travel or have a tour guide, they’ll always remind you about this. Additionally, we Chinese are relatively wealthy and tend to flaunt luxury purchases, which makes us targets for theft.”

“Although countries in Europe are mostly very developed, the public order is not safe at all,” one Chinese vlogger reports: “The thieves aren’t necessarily strictly locals; many are outsiders. Because in Europe, you know, there are no borders or security checks, so getting in is quite easy and straightforward.”4

For individuals who have not yet traveled to Paris or other places in Europe, the abundance of negative posts detailing incidents of theft may not exactly serve as an encouragement to visit.

“I’ve decided not to return to Paris or visit Europe for the time being. I’ll see how it is next year,” wrote one commenter: “If a city cannot guarantee my safety, what’s the point of traveling there?”5

“God please make sure I don’t get robbed in Europe this time around,” another Weibo user wrote: “I’m just a poor guy. If anything, give me some money instead of stealing it from me.”

“You should just assume that everyone around you is a thief,” some travelers on Xiaohongshu recommend: “That’s the only way to prepare yourself for your upcoming Europe trip.”

By Manya Koetse, co-author & initiator Miranda Barnes

1 我和我朋友走回家的路上,大概下午6点左右,走到Primark那条街上(人挺多挺杂的),我俩买了一袋散装的巧克力,因为拿了两块吃,所以袋口是打开的。刚走出店门,一个男的迎面走来,要把手伸进巧克力袋子,给我朋友吓懵了,等她反应过来,那男的手已经伸进袋子了,而且直接伸到最底下抽出一块,然后离开,我真的崩溃了。听描述好像觉得我们完全可以拒绝或者立刻离开之类的,但实际上事情发生的太突然了,估计也就3到5秒。我们最后把整袋巧克力都扔了。

2 发现箱子被盗后,立即做了报警处理。警方倒是痛快,很快出具了书面的立案报告,却显然并不想采取任何有助于破案的措施。当我们提供站台上有监控录像的信息时,接待的警察表示,根据法律其无权查看监控录像。

3 “偷东西的不见得是非常本地人了,很多都是外来人,因为欧洲这边嘛,他没有边境也没有安检,所以想进来很容易很简单”

4 我直接惊呆了,这比小偷偷我包还气愤,一个关键的交通枢纽大机场的警察竟然让我们(我和我男朋友)自己去找。然后我质问说,如果我们找到了,小偷要攻击我们怎么办?

5 如果一个城市无法确保我的安全,还有什么谈论的旅行可言呢?

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Farewell to a Self-Taught Master: Remembering China’s Colorful, Bold, and Iconic Artist Huang Yongyu

Renowned Chinese artist and the creator of the ‘Blue Rabbit’ zodiac stamp Huang Yongyu has passed away at the age of 98. “I’m not afraid to die. If I’m dead, you may tickle me and see if I smile.”

Manya Koetse



The famous Chinese painter, satirical poet, and cartoonist Huang Yongyu has passed away. Born in 1924, Huang endured war and hardship, yet never lost his zest for life. When his creativity was hindered and his work was suppressed during politically tumultuous times, he remained resilient and increased “the fun of living” by making his world more colorful.

He was a youthful optimist at old age, and will now be remembered as an immortal legend. The renowned Chinese painter and stamp designer Huang Yongyu (黄永玉) passed away on June 13 at the age of 98. His departure garnered significant attention on Chinese social media platforms this week.

On Weibo, the hashtag “Huang Yongyu Passed Away” (#黄永玉逝世#) received over 160 million views by Wednesday evening.

Huang was a member of the China National Academy of Painting (中国国家画院) as well as a Professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美术学院).

Huang Yongyu is widely recognized in China for his notable contribution to stamp design, particularly for his iconic creation of the monkey stamp in 1980. Although he designed a second monkey stamp in 2016, the 1980 stamp holds significant historical importance as it marked the commencement of China Post’s annual tradition of releasing zodiac stamps, which have since become highly regarded and collectible items.

Huang’s famous money stamp that was issued by China Post in 1980.

The monkey stamp designed by Huang Yongyu has become a cherished collector’s item, even outside of China. On online marketplaces like eBay, individual stamps from this series are being sold for approximately $2000 these days.

Huang Yongyu’s latest most famous stamp was this year’s China Post zodiac stamp. The stamp, a blue rabbit with red eyes, caused some online commotion as many people thought it looked “horrific.”

Some thought the red-eyed blue rabbit looked like a rat. Others thought it looked “evil” or “monster-like.” There were also those who wondered if the blue rabbit looked so wild because it just caught Covid.

Huang’s (in)famous blue rabbit stamp.

Nevertheless, many people lined up at post offices for the stamps and they immediately sold out.

In light of the controversy, Huang Yongyu spoke about the stamps in a livestream in January of 2023. The 98-year-old artist claimed he had simply drawn the rabbit to spread joy and celebrate the new year, stating, “Painting a rabbit stamp is a happy thing. Everyone could draw my rabbit. It’s not like I’m the only one who can draw this.”

Huang’s response also went viral, with one Weibo hashtag dedicated to the topic receiving over 12 million views (#蓝兔邮票设计者直播回应争议#) at the time. Those defending Huang emphasized how it was precisely his playful, light, and unique approach to art that has made Huang’s work so famous.


A Self-Made Artist

“I’m ugly, but my mum likes me”

‘Ugly Mouse’ by Huang Yongyu [Image via China Daily].


Huang Yongyu was born on August 9, 1924, in Hunan’s Chengde as a native of the Tujia ethnic group.

He was born into an extraordinary family. His grandfather, Huang Jingming (黄镜铭), worked for Xiong Xiling (熊希齡), who would become the Premier of the Republic of China. His first cousin and lifelong friend was the famous Chinese novelist Sheng Congwen (沈从文). Huang’s father studied music and art and was good at drawing and playing the accordion. His mother graduated from the Second Provincial Normal School and was the first woman in her county to cut her hair short and wear a short skirt (CCTV).

Born in times of unrest and poverty, Huang never went to college and was sent away to live with relatives at the age of 13. His father would die shortly after, depriving him of a final goodbye. Huang started working in various places and regions, from porcelain workshops in Dehua to artisans’ spaces in Quanzhou. At the age of 16, Huang was already earning a living as a painter and woodcutter, showcasing his talents and setting the foundation for his future artistic pursuits.

When he was 22, Huang married his first girlfriend Zhang Meixi (张梅溪), a general’s daughter, with whom he shared a love for animals. He confessed his love for her when they both found themselves in a bomb shelter after an air-raid alarm.

Huang and Zhang Meixi []

In his twenties, Huang Yongyu emerged as a sought-after artist in Hong Kong, where he had relocated in 1948 to evade persecution for his left-wing activities. Despite achieving success there, he heeded Shen Congwen’s advice in 1953 and moved to Beijing. Accompanied by his wife and their 7-month-old child, Huang took on a teaching position at the esteemed Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美术学院).

The couple raised all kinds of animals at their Beijing home, from dogs and owls to turkeys and sika deers, and even monkeys and bears (Baike).

Throughout Huang’s career, animals played a significant role, not only reflecting his youthful spirit but also serving as vehicles for conveying satirical messages.

One recurring motif in his artwork was the incorporation of mice. In one of his famous works, a grey mouse is accompanied by the phrase ‘I’m ugly, but my mum likes me’ (‘我丑,但我妈喜欢’), reinforcing the notion that regardless of our outward appearance or circumstances, we remain beloved children in the eyes of our mothers.

As a teacher, Huang liked to keep his lessons open-minded and he, who refused to join the Party himself, stressed the importance of art over politics. He would hold “no shirt parties” in which his all-male studio students would paint in an atmosphere of openness and camaraderie during hot summer nights (Andrews 1994, 221; Hawks 2017, 99).

By 1962, creativity in the classroom was limited and there were far more restrictions to what could and could not be created, said, and taught.


Bright Colors in Dark Times

“Strengthen my resolve and increase the fun of living”

Huang Yongyu’s winking owl, 1973, via Wikiart.


In 1963, Huang was sent to the countryside as part of the “Four Cleanups” movement (四清运动, 1963-1966). Although Huang cooperated with the requirement to attend political meetings and do farm work, he distanced himself from attempts to reform his thinking. In his own time, and even during political meetings, he would continue to compose satirical and humorous pictures and captions centered around animals, which would later turn into his ‘A Can of Worms’ series (Hawks 2017, 99; see

Three years later, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese major artists, including Huang, were detained in makeshift jails called ‘niupeng‘ (牛棚), cowsheds. Huang’s work was declared to be counter-revolutionary, and he was denounced and severely beaten. Despite the difficult circumstances, Huang’s humor and kindness would remind his fellow artist prisoners of the joy of daily living (2017, 95-96).

After his release, Huang and his family were relocated to a cramped room on the outskirts of Beijing. The authorities, thinking they could thwart his artistic pursuits, provided him with a shed that had only one window, which faced a neighbor’s wall. However, this limitation didn’t deter Huang. Instead, he ingeniously utilized vibrant pigments that shone brightly even in the dimly lit space.

During this time, he also decided to make himself an “extra window” by creating an oil painting titled “Eternal Window” (永远的窗户). Huang later explained that the flower blossoms in the paining were also intended to “strengthen my resolve and increase the fun of living” (Hawks 2017, 4; 100-101).

Huang Yongyu’s Eternal Window [Baidu].

In 1973, during the peak of the Cultural Revolution, Huang painted his famous winking owl. The calligraphy next to the owl reads: “During the day people curse me with vile words, but at night I work for them” (“白天人们用恶毒的语言诅咒我,夜晚我为他们工作”) (Matthysen 2021, 165).

The painting was seen as a display of animosity towards the regime, and Huang got in trouble for it. Later on in his career, however, Huang would continue to paint owls. In 1977, when the Cultural Revolution had ended, Huang Yongyu painted other owls to ridicules his former critics (2021, 174).

According to art scholar Shelly Drake Hawks, Huang Yongyu employed animals in his artwork to satirize the realities of life under socialism. This approach can be loosely compared to George Orwell’s famous novel Animal Farm.

However, Huang’s artistic style, vibrant personal life, and boundary-pushing work ethic also draw parallels to Picasso. Like Picasso, Huang embraced a colorful life, adopted an innovative approach to art, and challenged artistic norms.


An Optimist Despite All Hardships

“Quickly come praise me, while I’m still alive”

Huang Yongyu will be remembered in China with love and affection for numerous reasons. Whether it is his distinctive artwork, his mischievous smile and trademark pipe, his unwavering determination to follow his own path despite the authorities’ expectations, or his enduring love for his wife of over 75 years, there are countless aspects to appreciate and admire about Huang.

One things that is certainly admirable is how he was able to maintain a youthful and joyful attitude after suffering many hardships and losing so many friends.

“An intriguing soul. Too wonderful to describe,” one Weibo commenter wrote about Huang, sharing pictures of Huang Yongyu’s “Scenes of Pooping” (出恭图) work.

Old age did not hold him back. At the age of 70, his paintings sold for millions. When he was in his eighties, he was featured on the cover of Esquire (时尚先生) magazine.

At the age of 82, he stirred controversy in Hong Kong with his “Adam and Eve” sculpture featuring male and female genitalia, leading to complaints from some viewers. When confronted with the backlash, Huang answered, “I just wanted to have a taste of being sued, and see how the government would react” (Ora Ora).

In his nineties, he started driving a Ferrari. He owned mansions in his hometown in Hunan, in Beijing, in Hong Kong, and in Italy – all designed by himself (Chen 2019).

Huang kept working and creating until the end of his life. “It’s good to work diligently. Your work may be meaningful. Maybe it won’t be. Don’t insist on life being particularly meaningful. If it’s happy and interesting, then that’s great enough.”

“Hometown Scenery” or rather “Hunan Scenery” (湘西风景) by Huang.

Huang did not dread the end of his life.

“My old friends have all died, I’m the only one left,” he said at the age of 95. He wrote his will early and decided he wanted a memorial service for himself before his final departure. “Quickly come praise me, while I’m still alive,” he said, envisioning himself reclining on a chair in the center of the room, “listening to how everyone applauds me” (CCTV, Sohu).

He stated: “I don’t fear death at all. I always joke that when I die, you should tickle me first and see if I’ll smile” (“对死我是一点也不畏惧,我开玩笑,我等死了之后先胳肢我一下,看我笑不笑”).

Huang with Yiwo (伊喔), the original model for the monkey stamp [Shanghai Observer].

Huang also was not sentimental about what should happen to his ashes. In a 2019 article in Guangming Daily, it was revealed that he suggested to his wife the idea of pouring his ashes into the toilet and flushing them away with the water.

However, his wife playfully retorted, saying, “No, that won’t do. Your life has been too challenging; you would clog the toilet.”

To this, Huang responded, “Then wrap my ashes into dumplings and let everyone [at the funeral] eat them, so you can tell them, ‘You’ve consumed Huang Yongyu’s ashes!'”

But she also opposed of that idea, saying that they would vomit and curse him forever.

Nevertheless, his wife expressed opposition to this idea, citing concerns that it would cause people to vomit and curse him indefinitely.

In response, Huang declared, “Then let’s forget about my ashes. If you miss me after I’m gone, just look up at the sky and the clouds.” Eventually, his wife would pass away before him, in 2020, at the age of 98, having spent 77 years together with Huang.

Huang will surely be missed. Not just by the loved ones he leaves behind, but also by millions of his fans and admirers in China and beyond.

“We will cherish your memory, Mr. Huang,” one Weibo blogger wrote. Others honor Huang by sharing some of his famous quotes, such as, “Sincerity is more important than skill, which is why birds will always sing better than humans” (“真挚比技巧重要,所以鸟总比人唱得好”).

Among thousands of other comments, another social media user bid farewell to Huang Yongyu: “Our fascinating Master has transcended. He is now a fascinating soul. We will fondly remember you.”

By Manya Koetse 

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Andrews, Julia Frances. 1994. Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979. Berkley: University of California Press.

Baike. “Huang Yongyu 黄永玉.” Baidu Baike [June 14, 2023].

CCTV. 2023. “Why Everyone Loves Huang Yongyu [为什么人人都爱黄永玉].” WeChat 央视网 June 14.

Chen Hongbiao 陈洪标. 2019. “Most Spicy Artist: Featured in a Magazine at 80, Flirting with Lin Qingxia at 91, Playing with Cars at 95, Wants Memorial Service While Still Alive [最骚画家:80岁上杂志,91岁撩林青霞,95岁玩车,活着想开追悼会].” Sohu/Guangming Daily March 16: [June 15, 2023].

Hawks, Shelley Drake. 2017. The Art of Resistance Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Matthysen, Mieke. 2021. Ignorance is Bliss: The Chinese Art of Not Knowing. Palgrave Macmillan.

Ora Ora. “HUANG YONGYU 黃永玉.” Ora Ora [June 15, 2023].

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