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Hong Kong Stars Shine in Call Me By Fire: ‘Greater Bay Area Brothers’ Go Viral on Chinese Social Media

The popularity of the ‘Greater Bay Area Brothers’ is part of a bigger trend of Hong Kong entertainers finding renewed success in mainland China.

Wendy Huang

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The Cantonese-speaking celebrities in the hit show Call Me By Fire have contributed to an increased social media interest in the Greater Bay Area, with some saying a ‘Hong Kong Music Revival’ is blossoming in the Chinese entertainment industry. Entertainers from Hong Kong are finding renewed success in mainland China.

Produced by Mango TV, the Chinese all-male variety show Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥) has concluded its super successful first season. With the last episode airing on October 29 of 2021, the show, starring 33 male celebrities, has brought some well-known Hong Kong actors and singers back into the spotlight in mainland China. On social media, they’ve been nicknamed “The Greater Bay Area Brothers” (“大湾区哥哥”) or “The Group of Greater Bay Area” (“大湾区组”).

The Greater Bay Area, also known as ‘Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’ (粤港澳大湾区) refers to the Chinese government’s scheme to link the cities of Hong Kong, Macau, and some cities in Guangdong Province including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, and Zhaoqing, into one major integrated economic and business hub.

In the Call Me By Fire variety show, male celebrities who’ve since long been active in the entertainment industry are competing to form a performance group. The five actors/singers from Hong Kong, including Chen Xiaochun (陈小春/Chan Siu Chun), Zhang Zhilin (张智霖/Cheung Chi-lam), Xie Tianhua (谢天华/Tse Tin-wah), Lin Xiaofeng (林晓峰/Lamb Hiu-fung) and Liang Hanwen (梁汉文/Leung Hon-man), have been in one group together ever since the first episode of the popular reality show.

(Zhang Zhilin, Lin Xiaofeng, Xie Tianhua, Chen Xiaochun, Liang Hanwen)

When group member Xie joked about their ‘too relaxed’ attitude in the first episode – while other people were busy practicing, – he referred to their group as “The Greater Bay Guys” (“大湾仔”). This seeded the concept to the audience, who adopted the term to refer to the team.

Illustration of The Greater Bay Guys, source http://dianyingfengyun.com/

On Chinese social media, the five Cantonese-speaking artists of the group then started to go viral as “The Greater Bay Area Brothers” (大湾区哥哥). Other Cantonese-speaking artists in the show including Huang Guanzhong (黄贯中/Wong Koon-chung) and Ouyang Jin (欧阳靖/Jin Au-Yeung aka MC Jin) also came to be regarded as ‘extra’ members of the group.

Various social media users call the success of the Greater Bay Brothers a sign of a greater “Hong Kong Music Revival” (“港乐复兴”). But the trend goes beyond music alone, as actors and comedians from Hong Kong are also increasingly moving to the mainland industry.

“The Greater Bay” Goes Trending

Recently. the the “Greater Bay Area” (大湾区) term was added to numerous Weibo hashtags relating to the show, garnering many views. Some examples:

The official data analysis tool of Sina Weibo, the Weibo Index (@微指数), shows that from August 12, when the first episode of the show aired, the trend volume for the “Greater Bay Area” (大湾区) started to peak.

Besides the Call Me By Fire show, other news about the Greater Bay area also contributed to this peak.

On August 26, the General Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China announced that Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, and Macau would host the 2025 National Games of China together.

Following the announcement on the closing ceremony of the 14th National Games of China in Xi’an, netizens made the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, go to the top trending lists with the hashtag “Carrie Lam Accepts the Flag of National Games of China” (#林郑月娥接过全运会会旗#) which received more than 100 million views.

Along with the hashtag created for Lam, another hashtag about the announcement using the ‘Greater Bay Area’ term also went trending that day and received more than 170 million views (“2025 National Games to Be Held in the Greater Bay Area” #2025全运会将在大湾区举办#).

The recent social media trend peak for ‘Greater Bay Area’ occurred on September 21, the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when a concert was simultaneously held in Shenzhen (main venue) and Hong Kong (sub-venue). The concert was live-streamed on national platforms and shown in Hong Kong by public broadcasters. The hashtag of the concert, “The Full Moon Rises in the Great Bay Area” (#湾区升明月#), received over 1.38 billion (!) views.

The ‘Greater Bay Brothers’ were also invited to perform at the concert, along with many other singers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. More than one-third of the songs performed at the concert were in Cantonese. A Hong Kong movies montage of clips also quickly went viral on Weibo, leading Chinese netizens to share memories of watching these movies again and again.

All of these recent trending topics show how much Cantonese songs and movies resonate with netizens in mainland China. Especially for those born in the 1970-1990 era, Hong Kong popular culture has become a part of their childhood memories.

Finding Renewed Success in the Mainland 

The five members of the Greater Bay Group in Call Me By Fire and its extra Cantonese-speaking members are mostly known by the mainland audience because of their songs or for the drama series or films they starred in.

For example, Huang Guanzhong is known as a member of the legendary band Beyond, while Chen Xiaochun became popular because of his role as Wei Xiaobao (韦小宝) in the TV drama The Deer and the Cauldron (鹿鼎记), and for playing “Chicken” Chiu (山鸡哥) in the Young and Dangerous film series (古惑仔系列电影). His songs, Heartless You (算你恨) and Exclusive Memory (独家记忆) were also very popular in mainland China in the early 2000s.

Zhang Zhilin is widely known by audiences in mainland China due to his role in The Legend of the Condor Heroes (射雕英雄传) produced by TVB in 1994. Other TV dramas such as Return of the Cuckoo (十月初五的月光) and Triumph in the Skies II (冲上云霄2) further boosted his popularity in the mainland.

The legendary band Beyond, the first one on the right is Huang Guanzhong.

Chen Xiaochun in “The Deer and the Cauldron” as Wei Xiaobao, and in the “Young and Dangerous” Film Series as “Chicken” Chiu.

Zhang Zhilin in “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” as Guo Jing (郭靖), and in the “Triumph in the Skies II” as Captain Cool.

There was a time when singers or actors in mainland China, including the two other Greater Bay Area Brothers Zhao Wenzhuo (赵文卓) and Zhang Jin (张晋), would move to Hong Kong for better career development. Along with the fast developments of the entertainment industry in mainland China, things have changed. Some Hong Kong artists have now begun to shift their career focus to mainland China.

One example is the Hong Kong actress Sheh Shiman (佘诗曼, also known as Charmaine Sheh), who started her career by winning second runner-up in the 1997 Miss Hong Kong pageant. She stood out for her roles in Return of the Cuckoo in 2000 (partnering with Zhang Zhilin) and War and Beauty (金枝欲孽) in 2004.

Sheh Shiman and Zhang Zhilin in Return of the Cuckoo.

In 2011, Sheh decided not to renew her long-term contract with TVB, and started to focus more on acting in TV dramas in mainland China. In 2018, she starred in the hugely popular The Story of Yanxi Palace and gained many fans in the mainland for her acting skills. She was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 24th Huading Awards – China’s equivalent to the American People’s Choice Awards.

Sheh Shiman in the Story of Yanxi Palace.

Another example of a Hong Kong entertainer achieving new career success in mainland China is Wang Zulan (王祖蓝/Wong Cho-lam). As a comedian, Wang has been participating in various variety shows. He is well known by the mainland audience for impersonating different celebrities or story characters.

In March 2018, a group of senior Hong Kong artists set up the Association for Betterment of Hong Kong’s Entertainment Industry in Mainland China (HKEIMC) in Hong Kong in the hope of becoming a bridge between the mainland and Hong Kong, Macau, and promoting more exchanges and cooperation within the entertainment industry.

The HKEIMC also aims to help the development of Hong Kong and Macao artists in mainland China, with Jacky Chan (成龙) as the chairman and Zeng Zhiwei (曾志伟/Tsang Chi Wai) as the executive chairman.

Talking about the founding of HKEIMC, Vice President Wang Mingquan (汪明荃/Wang Ming-chun) said that most of the local residents in the Greater Bay Area already communicate in Cantonese and watch Hong Kong TV programs, suggesting that the cultural differences are relatively small and that there is more room for cooperation.

The entertainment industry in Hong Kong has recently shown more signs of moving to the mainland. Earlier in 2021, for example, Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG), one of the largest entertainment groups in Hong Kong, announced the opening of its Greater Bay Area headquarter office in Guangzhou.

More Greater Bay Coming to China’s Mainstream Entertainment

As Call Me By Fire has geared up the audience’s huge interest in the Greater Bay Area, it is reported that a new variety show featuring the five brothers of the Greater Bay Area named Nights of the Greater Bay Guys (大湾仔的夜) has already started filming.

In addition, audiences interested in Cantonese songs can also expect a new singing show which will be co-produced by Mango TV and TVB. The producer of the show, Wang Zulan, said in a recent interview that he will bring his ten years of experience in the mainland back to Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area at large.

All of these recent developments are signs of a more flourishing future for the entertainment industry in mainland China, presenting more job opportunities for artists from Hong Kong.

“As Hong Kong singers are gathering in mainland variety shows and the Greater Bay Brothers are now going viral across the country, is this the 2021 beginning of the great ‘Cantopop’ revival?”, some Weibo users wonder. It may very well be.

 

By Wendy Huang

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Wendy Huang is a China-based Beijing Language and Culture University graduate who currently works for a Public Relations & Media software company. She believes that, despite the many obstacles, Chinese social media sites such as Weibo can help Chinese internet users to become more informed and open-minded regarding various social issues in present-day China.

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China Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”

 

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