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No WeChat, No Access – How China’s Digital Revolution is Leaving behind Its Elderly Population

With apps and QR code scanning taking over day-to-day necessities in China, elderly citizens are feeling increasingly alienated from society.

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As daily life in China becomes ever more digitally dependent, China’s elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from a wide range of services. Here’s an overview of this new societal problem by What’s on Weibo’s Brydon Brancart.

“If you don’t take cash then put a sign up!” yelled 67-year old Mr. Xie after trying to use cash to pay for his groceries at a checkout aisle reserved for mobile payments.

Enraged at his treatment, Xie’s initial reaction was to cause a ruckus, lunging at the security guards surrounding him. “You shame me, an old guy, for not being able to use WeChat!” Xie explained later on, after regaining his composure.

The video, posted on Weibo in late September of this year, quickly made its way around Chinese social media, renewing a controversy that goes right to the heart of China’s fast-paced digital revolution: can the elderly keep up?

 

No App, No Access: Seniors without Wechat

Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living

 

The issue became prominent last year after writer Xiao Ao (小奥) published an article titled: “Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living” [“对不起,由于你已经超过70岁,你已经不适合活下去了!”].

In the article, Xiao voiced her frustration over how difficult it was for her 90-year-old grandfather to receive a package she had mailed him.

“I thought it would be a simple delivery,” Xiao recalls. “My grandfather would just have to walk to his door, open it, open the package, and then could [retrieve the gift]. But I was wrong.”

Packages sent to her grandfather’s housing complex are stored for pickup in new delivery lockers – which can only be unlocked by the intended recipient using their Wechat account.

“My grandfather is only able to receive calls and can only make them with his glasses on. He can’t text, so Wechat is even more [out of the question],” Xiao explained.

According to her, there is a widespread alienation of China’s elderly from the digital economy, evident from countless reports of elderly struggling to use digitalized services that come second nature to younger generations: cab-hailing, queing in a bank or hospital, bike-sharing, the list goes on and on.

“I’ve realized that the ‘convenient life’ before my eyes is, in fact, a great disaster impeding our parents’ everyday necessities, one they can neither dodge nor escape…”, Xiao concluded.

Wang Qipeng, writing for the Beijing Evening Paper, presents a similar viewpoint.

“One can say that we live in a ‘scanning’ age,” Qipeng writes: “Yet (…) there are many elderly people who, because they cannot scan, have no way of using bike-sharing, have no way of getting discounts at the store, and can’t even open the smart-boxes that are delivered to them.”

The store owner holds up a sign that says “Mobile Payments.”

Wang’s reference to “the scanning age” is no overstatement. Whether unlocking a bicycle through a bike-sharing app such as Mobike or Ofo, or ordering lunch in the office through the meal delivery app Eleme, all transactions are performed through apps that in turn rely on mobile payment apps.

Even public institutions are adapting to the scanning age, for purposes ranging from public announcements to dispensing toilet paper.

Unlocking a Mobike by scanning a QR code (image via CGTV).

QR codes are ubiquitous across China’s public and commercial landscapes. They are posted on walls in vegetable stalls, sit beside registers at department stores, and are even used by beggars in first-tier cities.

Their function is simple. In order to access them, one opens up the relevant app and selects ‘scan’. The app opens the phone’s camera function and scans the QR code. Then, all one has to do is simply select an amount to pay or agree to terms of service. Whether it ’s scanning a QR code, or producing one to be scanned, the process takes seconds.

Reliance on mobile payments has been increasing globally, but nowhere has that growth been faster and more extensive than along China’s Eastern seaboard. According to the South China Morning Post, in the third quarter of 2017, earnings in the mobile payment sector reached 29.5 trillion RMB (almost 4.25 trillion USD), a three-fold increase in just one year.

For younger urban residents, doing away with cumbersome cash is a welcome change. A 2017 Penguin Intelligence study found that 92% of those polled in China’s cities primarily use mobile payments methods. Cash, on the other hand, is preferred by less than 10% of this group.

Handing the elderly a smartphone is in no way a solution. The replacement of the wallet by the smartphone comes with its own set of rules and requirements. Using mobile payments does not solely depend on familiarity with smartphones, it also assumes an eyesight keen enough to read the small print on phone screens.

Operations such as linking a bank account to a phone can be a nightmare for the technologically illiterate. In the absence of easily accessible courses suited to the learning speed of elderly citizens, mobile payment’s effect on this age group is precisely the opposite of what it intends, adding rather than alleviating the chores of everyday life.

 

Viral Stories of Seniors in Digital Trouble Resurface

To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

 

Besides Xie’s viral rant, a plethora of online essays and news reports highlighted just how ill-equipped China’s eldery citizens are in today’s digital era.

In January of this year, Xin Lan News reported the story of an elderly man who, in what seems like a foreshadowing of Xie, broke down into tears at a train station after having to admit he did not know how buy a ticket online.


Incapable of buying a ticket, an elderly man cries in frustration (via Sina.com).

Around the same time, another story described the plight of a sweet potato salesman who complained that his son took advantage of his unfamiliarity of scanning to steal a large portion of his salary. And only a few days after Chinese netizens moved on from Xie’s rant, news came of an elderly woman who was tricked by a man pretending to help her use scan a QR code.

On Weibo, many commenters support the elderly in these stories. A typical comment said: “To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

Unfortunately, despite the frequency of these stories, there is little consensus on how to better prepare the elderly for an increasingly digitalized tomorrow.

 

Proactive Solutions with Long-Term Consequences

Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities.

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Charities have sought to implement educational programs to tackle this issue. The most proactive of these organizations, See Young (夕阳再晨), a volunteer organization that started in Beijing, is now operating in sixteen Chinese provinces, having already provided individualized support to over 18,000 elderly citizens, and helped educated over a million.

The government has been supportive of See Young, mentioning them in the 13th five-year plan. Li Zhihong, head of the policy research division of the China National Working Commission on Ageing, commented to the People’s Daily that, “when it comes to helping the elderly become immersed in the information age, there are already organizations actively working [towards this].”

Yet, many disagree with forcing the elderly to continually learn, including the founder of See Young, Zhang Jiaxin (张佳鑫). In Wang Qipeng’s article “Does Scanning Leave the Elderly Without Money to Spend?” [“扫码让老人无钱可花?”], an interview with Zhang is cited where the philanthropist states:

Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities. [Society] mustn’t force them to expend all their energy in learning this or learning that, forcing them to act in this way. Only through such [a change] will [society] truly help and respect the elderly.”

Zhang worries that continued pressure on the elderly to keep up to date on the newest technologies will only make them feel that “at home, and in society, they exist in an inferior position.”

By Brydon Brancart, edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Brydon Brancart is a writer and Chinese translator. Originally from California, he has lived in both Beijing and Shanghai. He is interested in understanding the role modern media trends play in shaping worldviews, personal identity, and social behavior.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Willowjuice

    November 1, 2018 at 5:05 am

    Being old isn’t an excuse to stop learning, just like being poor isn’t an excuse to commit crime.

    Just learn.. ask the children or social workers to help set up accounts or bind bank cards, and learn.. It’s not at all rocket science unless you are illliterate or mentally retarded. You have plenty of time after retirement and you’d rather spend time eating seeds or walking dogs, and turn around and blame the development of society has left you behind? Isn’t that a bit of a joke?

    My 92-year-old grandpa uses WeChat everyday to send us message and share subscriptions. He can also ‘recall’ a message on WeChat or share videos. He chooses clothes himself on Taobao and asks his ayi to deal with the payment for him. So, what is the problem?

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Backgrounder

Full Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post and Timeline of Events

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Over the past seven weeks, the whereabouts and safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai have been a matter of constant concern in international (social) media. Here is a timeline of events and a full translation of the Weibo post by Peng Shuai – where it all began.

On the night of November 2nd of 2021, a Weibo post by the 35-year-old Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) sent shockwaves across social media. In her lengthy post, the three-time Olympian describes details surrounding an alleged affair she had with the 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), who served as China’s senior Vice-Premier (2013-2018) and was also a member of China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (2012-2017).

Here, we will give you a short timeline of the things that unfolded from the moment Peng Shuai’s story was published on Weibo, as well as providing the full text of her post and a translation.

 

Timeline of Events

 

November 2nd, 2021

On the night of November 2nd of 2021, 35-year-old tennis player Peng Shuai posts her story on her Weibo account, where she has over 590,000 followers. The post comes online at 22:07 and is sent through a mobile phone.

Although Peng’s post was only online for about twenty minutes before it was deleted, its impact was irreversible. Peng Shuai’s Weibo account remained online, but the name ‘Peng Shuai’ started to be censored on Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms, where online discussions about the tennis player and Zhang Gaoli were soon silenced. Peng Shuai’s post and the ensuing silence triggered a wave of global concern about her wellbeing and whereabouts.

 
November 3, 2021

Peng Shuai’s story makes headlines in the international media, with many Western media outlets describing the issue as a “#MeToo allegation.” within the context of the global #MeToo movement, suggesting Peng’s post was a “MeToo post.” The tennis star did not mention ‘#Metoo’ in her own writings.

 
November 16, 2021

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka attracts more international attention for Peng’s whereabouts when she posts the #WhereisPengShuai hashtag on Twitter. Two days later, tennis star Serena Williams also writes on Twitter: “I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”

 
November 17, 2021

While the issue is still completely silenced in Chinese (social) media, the English-language state media outlet CGTN addresses the commotion on Twitter on November 17, when they share a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Peng to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, saying she was not actually missing and not unsafe.

 
November 19, 2021

While many people still raised their concerns on Twitter – and a White House spokesperson even said the Biden administration was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports alleging that Peng Shuai had gone missing – photos of Peng Shuai in her home showed up on November 19th, posted on Twitter by Chinese journalist Shen Shiwei (沈诗伟) claiming the tennis star posted them on her WeChat moments herself.

 
November 20, 2021

One day later, a video was also shared on Twitter by the same Shen, showing Peng enjoying dinner with friends and having conversations in which it was clearly indicated that the date was November 20, 2021.

 
November 21, 2021

During that very same weekend of November 20-21, Peng also reappeared in public when she attended the Junior Tennis Finals in Beijing. This was also the very first time in 19 days that she ‘reappeared’ in mainland China’s online media spheres, where photos of her attendance at the games were also shared online.

On that same day, it was announced by the Olympics governing body that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a 30-minute long video phone call with Peng Shuai. Chinese sports official Li Lingwei and the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho, reportedly were also on the call, during which Peng explained that she was safe and well at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected.

 
November 22, 2021

A Weibo post published by the French embassy in Beijing marks the first time for Peng Shuai’s case to be addressed on Chinese social media.

In their post, the French embassy expresses concerns about the lack of information surrounding Peng Shuai, and reiterates its belief in promoting freedom of expression, equality between men and women, and combating sexual and gender-based violence. The post receives many replies, but its comment section is heavily censored.

 
December 1st, 2021

The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) announces the suspension of all tournaments in China amid concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.

In a statement by Steve Simon, WTA Chairman & CEO, the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, was said to also be related to concerns about risks that all players and staff could face if the WTA were to hold events in China in 2022.

Due to the Covid19 situation, there were no WTA events scheduled for China in the near future.

 
December 7, 2021

The US announces a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. American athletes will still compete at the Winter Games. Although this boycott was not necessarily directed linked to Peng Shuai, many media outlets did connect it to concerns over the tennis player.

 
December 19, 2021

In an interview with Singapore-based media outlet Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), Peng Shuai claims she did not accuse Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.

A video issued by Lianhe Zaobao shows a reporter asking Peng questions during a skiing competition event in Shanghai, where Peng could be seen talking to Chinese basketball player Yao Ming. When the reporter asks Peng if she is free, she answers that she has always been free and is not being monitored.

When the reporter addresses the allegations of sexual assault, Peng says:

First and foremost, I must emphasize. I have never said or written about anyone sexually assaulting me. That’s a very important point. On the Weibo post, that’s my personal issue.”

Peng also confirms that the English email that was screenshotted and published by CGTN on November 17 was written by her in the Chinese version, but that it was translated into English for her since her English language skills aren’t good enough to write such an email herself.

 

Full Text Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post

 

In a previous post, What’s on Weibo gave a partial translation of Peng’s Weibo post. Here, we will provide a full translation. Please note that this is a translation provided by What’s on Weibo and not an official translation issued by any other party.

 

我知道说不清楚,说了也没有用。但还是想说出来。我是多么的虚伪不堪,我承认我不是一个好女孩,很坏很坏的女孩。大概三年前张高丽副总理你退休了,找天津网球中心的刘大夫再联系到我,约我打球,在北京的康铭大厦。上午打完球,你和妻子康洁一起带我去了你们家。然后把我带进你家的房间,和十多年前在天津时一样,要和我发生性关系。

I know I can’t say it clearly and that it’s useless to say. But I want to say it anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. I’ll admit I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad bad girl. About three years ago, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you had retired and asked Dr. Liu from the Tianjin Tennis Center to contact me again to play tennis at the Kang Ming Hotel in Beijing. After we finished playing in the afternoon, you and your wife Kang Jie took me with you to your home. You then took me to your room, and like what happened in Tianjin over ten years ago, you wanted to have sex with me.

那天下午我很怕,根本没想到会是这样,一个人在外帮守着,因为谁都不可能相信老婆会愿意。七年前我们发生过一次性关系,然后你升常委去北京就再没联系过我。原本埋藏了一切在心里,既然你根本不打算负责,为何还要回来找我,带我去你家逼我和你发生关系?是我没有证据,也根本不可能留下证据。后来你一直否认,可确是你先喜欢的我,否则我也不可能接触的到你。

I was very scared that afternoon, I had not expected things to go this way, someone was guarding outside, because nobody would believe that a wife would allow this. Seven year earlier we had sexual relations once, and then you – promoted as a member of the Standing Committee – went to Beijing and never contacted me again. I had buried it all inside me, and since you were not planning on taking responsibility at all, why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me [逼 = force, press for] into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterward, but it is true that you liked me first, or otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a way to come into contact with you.

那天下午我原本没有同意一直哭,晚饭是和你还有康洁阿姨一起吃的,你说宇宙很大很大,地球就是宇宙的一粒沙,我们人类连一粒沙都没有,还说了很多很多,就是让我放下思想包袱。晚饭后我也并不愿意,你说恨我!又说你这七年从未忘记过我,会对我好等等……我又怕又慌带着七年前对你的情感同意了……是的就是我们发生性关系了。

That afternoon I originally did not agree and cried the whole time, and I still had dinner with you and auntie Kang Jie together. You said the universe is so big, that the earth is just a grain of sand in the universe, and that we as mankind are not even a grain of sand, and you said a lot more to alleviate the load on my mind. After dinner I still did not want to, and you said you hated me! You also said that in these seven years, you never forgot me and that you would be good for me etc etc. I was afraid and panicked and carrying the emotions of seven year ago, I agreed…yes, we had sex.

感情这东西很复杂,说不清,从那日后我再次打开了对你的爱,后来与你相处的日子里,单从你人相处你是一个很好很好的人,对我也挺好,我们从近代历史聊到远古时代,你同我讲万物的知识再谈到经济哲学,聊不完的话题。一起下棋,唱歌,打乒乓球,桌球,包括网球我们永远可以打得不亦乐乎,性格是那么的合得来好像一切都很搭。

The feelings between two people can be very complicated, I can’t clearly explain, [but] after that day I again began to open up to your love. In the days I interacted with you afterward, purely from how we got along, you were a very good person and also treated me well. We would talk about anything from modern history to ancient times, you spoke to me about so much knowledge and talked about economic philosophy, [we had] endless talks about topics. We played chess together, sang songs, played ping pong, billiards, and, including tennis, we could always have a good time. Our personalities got along well together, it looked like we were a great match.

自小离家早,内心极度缺爱,面对发生这一切,我从不认为我一个好女孩,我恨我自己,恨我为什么要来到这个世界,经历这一劫。你同我说你爱我,很爱很爱,来生希望在你二十岁我十八岁时我们就遇见。你说你很孤独,一个人很可怜,我们有聊不完的天,讲不完的话,你说你这个位置没有办法离婚,如果你在山东时认识,还可以离婚,可是现在没有办法。我想过默默无闻就这样陪着你,开始还好,可是日子久了慢慢的变了,太多的不公与侮辱。每次你让我去,背着你你妻子对我说过多少难听侮辱的话,各种冷嘲嘲讽。我说喜欢吃鸭舌,康洁阿姨会冲着我说~咿真恶心。冬天北京雾霾我说有时候空气不太好,康洁阿姨会对我说,那是你们郊区,我们这儿没感觉。等等诸如类似的话说了很多很多,你在时候她不这样说,好像和我们一样,两个人相处时是一个样,有旁人时你对我又是一个样。我同你说过,这些话听多了心里特别难受委屈。

Since I left home early in my childhood, I felt a lack of love in my heart. Facing everything that was happening, I never thought I was a good girl. I really hated myself, hated why I had to come into this world and experience this disaster. You told me that you loved me, very very much, and that in the next life you hoped to meet me when you are 20 and I am 18 years old. You said you were very lonely, that you felt miserable, we had days of endless chats, endless talks, you said there was no way for you to divorce in your position, that if we’d met while you were in Shandong, you could have still divorced, but that there was no way now. I thought about staying with you like this without attracting public attention, which was okay in the beginning, but the days slowly started to change, and there was too much injustice and insult. Every time you let me go, your wife would say many offensive insulting words to me behind your back, [giving me] all kinds of sneers. When I said I like to eat duck tongue, auntie Kang Jie would go and say ~ ugh, how disgusting. During Beijing’s winter smog, I said sometimes the air is not very good, and auntie Kang Jie would tell me ‘that’s just your suburbs, we do not notice a thing here.’ And so on, there were many of such talks, but she would never do it when you were there. It was similar to when we were together – when it was just the two of us you’d be this way, when there were others there you’d act that way. I told you that these kinds of words were really painful to hear.

从认识你第一天到现在没用过你一分钱,更没通过你某去过任何利益或者好出,可名分这东西真重要。这一切我活该,自取其辱。从头到尾你都是一直让我保密和你的一切关系,更不可以告诉我妈和你有男女关系,因为每次都是她送我去西什库教堂那儿,然后换你家的车才能进院里。她一直以为我是去打麻将打牌,去你家玩。我们在彼此的生活中都是真实生活中的一个透明人,你的妻子好像甄嬛传的皇后一样,而我无法形容自己多么的不堪,很多时候我觉得我自己还是一个人吗?我觉得自己是一个行尸走肉,装,每一天都在装,哪个我才是真的我?我不该来到这个世界,可又没有勇气去死。我好想可以活的简单点,可事与愿违。

From the first day I met you up to today, I’ve never used a penny of yours, and I’ve never used you for any personal benefits, but a person’s status is very important. I deserved all of this, I courted disaster. From beginning to end, you have always asked me to keep my relationship with you secret, let alone tell my mother that we were in a relationship. Every time she brought me to the Xishiku cathedral, I would have to change to your car to be able to enter the courtyard. She always thought I was going to your place to play mahjong and cards. We were transparent individuals in each other’s lives. Your wife seemed like the Empress in Empresses of the Palace (甄嬛传), and I can’t describe how bad I felt, and how many times I wondered if I was still an actual person myself. I felt like a zombie, I was pretending so much every day that I didn’t know who the real me was anymore. I shouldn’t have come into this world, but I didn’t have the courage to die. I wanted to live a simpler life, but things turned out contrary to what I wanted.”

30号那天晚上争议很大,你说2号下午再去你家我们慢慢谈,今天中午打电话来说有事再联系,推脱一切,借口说改天再联系……,就这样和七年前一样“消失了”,玩玩想不要就不要了。你说我们之间没有任何交易,是,我们之间的感情和钱,权利没有任何关系,可这三年的感情我无处安放,难以面对。你总怕我带什么录音器,留下证据什么的。是的,除我以外我没留下证据证明,没有录音,没有录像,只有被扭曲的我的真实经历。我知道对于您位高权重的张高丽副总理来说,你说过你不怕。但即使是以卵击石,飞蛾扑火自取灭亡的我也会说出和你的事实。以你的智商某略你一定否认或者可以反扣给我,你可以如此玩世不恭。你总说希望你母亲在天可以保佑你,我是一个坏女孩不配为人母,你为人父也有儿有女,我问过你就算是你的养女你会逼她这么做吗?你今生做的这一切日后心安理得的去面对你的母亲吗?我们都很道貌岸然……

There was a big dispute on the night of the 30th [October], and you told me to come to your place on the afternoon of the 2nd [November] so we could talk things over. Today a phone call came that something had come up and you’d contact me again. Evading everything, with the excuse that we would get in touch another day ……, this is the same “disappearing act” as seven years ago, getting rid of me after you’re done playing with me. You said there were no transactions between us, that’s true, with all the feelings and money between us, it had nothing to do with power and wealth. But I have nowhere to leave my feelings of the past three years, it’s very hard to face. You were always afraid that I would bring some kind of recorder and leave evidence or something. Apart from myself, there is indeed no evidence left, no recordings, no videos, only my distorted real experiences. I know that for someone of your status, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid. But even it’s like striking a stone with an egg, and courting self-destruction like a moth to the flame, I will tell the truth about you. With your intelligence, I’m certain you will deny it or you can blame it on me, or disregard it. You always said you hoped your mother in heaven could bless and protect you. I am a bad woman who doesn’t deserve to be a mother, but you are a father with both a son and a daughter. I have asked you this before: if it was your adopted daughter, would you have forced her to do this? Do you still have the courage to face your mother after everything you’ve done in your lifetime? We sure all like to pose as people with high morals…

 

By Manya Koetse

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Backgrounder

Mainstream, Underground, and Online: Electronic Dance Music in China

A peek into China’s electronic dance music scene, from Jean Michel Jarre to the country’s post-covid club scene.

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China has been called the “promised land for electronic dance music,” but some critics say the industry is negatively affected by those prioritizing money over music. Still, the country’s mainstream and underground dance scenes are thriving and the pandemic has brought increased recognition of local artists. This is a peek into China’s electronic music scene, from Jean Michel Jarre to the country’s post-covid dance scene.

This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

More DJs, more festivals, more fans, more online communities. Over the past few years, China’s dance music scene has seen enormous growth in popularity, and electronic music now appears wherever people go, both online and offline, from live music events, night clubs, and fashion shows to reality shows, movies, and social media.

Following the continued explosion of electronic music culture in China’s major cities, DJMag, a renowned UK-based platform dedicated to electronic dance music, even launched a special China Awards section in 2021. In this year’s Top 100 DJ list there are eight Chinese DJs, the highest number ever since a DJ from China first made the list in 2017.

As an unexpected consequence of the pandemic, China’s local dance community has seen heightened popularity of local DJs. While Covid19 has seriously affected the global dance music scene, it has been an ongoing opportunity to shine for local talents in mainland China.

This was the first year for Chinese DJ Panta Q to enter the renowned DJMag Top 100 DJs list (image via DJMag).

Just five years ago, China-based DJ Spencer Tarring discussed the huge potential of China as “the rising promised land for electronic dance music.” But what’s the status quo of China’s dance and DJ culture? Here we’ll explore China’s electronic music scene, from mainstream to underground and the online community.

 

From ‘EDM’ to ‘Haoshi’

 

Let’s first explain some terminology. ‘Electronic dance music’ is actually a huge umbrella term for percussion-based electronic music produced primarily for nightclubs, raves, and festivals, and performed/presented by DJs. In Europe, electronic dance music is often simply called ‘dance’ or ‘dance music,’ with subgenres including techno, house, trance, and many others (deBoni 2018).

There’s also the acronym ‘EDM.’ Although it literally stands for ‘Electronic Dance Music,’ it is not the same as the overarching ‘electronic dance music’ genre, as it was adopted in the US to label commercial dance music. It has since been commonly used to solely describe the mainstream electronic dance music that is represented by world-famous DJs such as Tiësto, Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, or David Guetta (see Androids 2017; Jori 2021; Magnetic 2021).

In Mandarin Chinese, the term Diànzǐ yīnyuè (电子音乐), often abbreviated as Diànyīn (电音), literally means ‘electronic music’ and is used as a catch-all term for any music made using electronic instruments or involving electronic processing.

DJ Lizzy, a popular female DJ in China, image via Lizzy Wang Weibo account.

EDM is translated as Diànzǐ wǔqǔ (电子舞曲) (‘Electronic Dance Music’), and also refers to commercial dance music. House is generally translated as Hàoshì yīnyuè (浩室音乐), techno as Tiěkènuò yīnyuè (铁克诺音乐), and trance as Chūshén yīnyuè (出神音乐).

 

Rewind: A Very Short History of Electronic Music in China

 

The history of electronic dance music in China brings us back to the early 1980s. In the decades and years before, there was strict music censorship under Mao’s rule and the influx of Western music was limited. After Mao’s death and the start of the Open Door policy, modern music from outside of mainland China became increasingly popular among young Chinese, inspiring local musicians to start writing and recording their own pop, rock, and modern music (Holm 1983; Latham 2007: 336).

China’s ‘New Wave’ movement was partly triggered by ‘The Concerts in China‘ by the French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre in 1981, who performed in Beijing and Shanghai in October-November of that year for a combined audience of 150,000 people (Billboard 1982).

“Electronic music visits China for the first time” – Jean-Michel Jarre performs in China in 1981 (让-米歇尔·雅尔).

Following the Jarre concerts, the New Wave movement also became visible at conservatories and music schools across China in the early 1980s when Chinese composers started to experiment with electronic music. While influenced by Western music, many examples of Chinese electronic music created in these years featured Chinese traditional musical elements (Li 2018).

Many Chinese people became more familiar with modern Western music in the 1980s and 1990s through cassette tapes that were shared and copied hundreds of times, and the so-called dakou culture which emerged in the mid-90s.

Dakou (打口) CDs were dumped by Western countries and imported into China as plastic garbage, intended to be recycled, but then flowed into Chinese cities and became available for listeners to buy from black markets.

A dakou cd with a punch hole (source).

Dakou CDs (and tapes) have a cut-out, a punch hole, or crack in them to mark them as waste and prevent them from being resold, but people were still able to restore them and listen to most of the music. The dakou culture greatly influenced China’s music scene.1

Proper nightclubs first started to open up in big Chinese cities in the early 1990s, a time in which many people in the electronic music scene were more focused on the music rather than the money.

This is also when Ben Huang, who would become one of China’s most well-known DJs, started his career. The Shanghai-born Huang was a student of modern dance and fine arts before he became active in the Beijing music scene and kick-started China’s club culture.

Other big names emerging around this time are the so-called “godfather of Chinese dance music” Mickey Zhang, DJ Youdai (Zhang Youdai), Yang Bing, and famous electronic musician Weng Weng. They later also started organizing dance parties or setting up their own labels.

1998 saw the first rave party named ‘Cheese’ at the Great Wall. Image via The Beijinger.

Although illegal rave parties emerged in various cities across the country since the mid-90s, China’s first big rave party took place in the late 1990s at the Great Wall, organized by the Swiss collective ‘Cheese’ (Grefer 2016; Yiu & Charrieras 2021: 233). Vice China (2019) writes:

“What was most magical about China’s party culture in the 1990s, is that it miraculously united all participants of any subculture. The people coming to these rave parties could come from completely different communities, from doctors to lawyers, from hoodlums to diplomats, local punks and sightseeing exchange students (..), on the dance floor surrounded by electronic music, nobody would talk about ideals and doctrines, actions and problems, everyone put all their conflicts aside and danced.”

Nevertheless, much of the scene remained underground and many people in China had not been exposed to electronic dance music yet or did not understand it.

When the renowned British-Canadian electronic musician Richie Hawtin performed in Shanghai at some of the city’s earliest techno events in the 1990s, some people wondered if the CD was stuck and if the mixer needed to be fixed.2

 

The Mainstream Scene: “Tuhai” and Rock Music Envy

 

Starting in the 2000s, more money-driven clubs started to open and the electronic dance music scene in China started to develop into two separate worlds; the underground with its underground scene and the mainstream with its mainstream scene.

“And there I am in the middle,” DJ Ben Huang said in a 2009 interview.

Huang’s comment is telling for a market where electronic music has become the second most popular music genre, while the ‘real’ Chinese fans of electronic dance still complain that there has been too little progress in the scene in recent years.

Online discussions indicate that many think that electronic dance music in China has become too commercialized too quickly and has become all about the money rather than the music – leaving little space for the underground scene to flourish, and lacking breeding ground to boost a stronger development of the local electronic music scene.

In 2016, Jiangsu television aired China’s first-ever variety show featuring Electronic Dance Music (EDM) titled Heroes of Remix (盖世英雄remix). The show introduced international electronic dance music genres to a mainstream audience, mixing it with Chinese traditional influences. Two years later, the talent reality show Rave Now (即刻电音) premiered on Tencent Video, further promoting the popularity of EDM in China.

Against the backdrop of an ever-growing EDM industry in China with numerous nightclubs opening up all over the country, the release of the 2021 movie Upcoming Summer (盛夏未来), which focuses on electronic music, further assimilated dance music into China’s mainstream pop culture. A hashtag dedicated to the movie on Chinese social media received over 650 million views (#电影盛夏未来#). (Note: the movie can now also be viewed through Netflix.)

The film Upcoming Summer, where EDM plays a major role.

While electronic music is divided into many genres, commercial EDM is by far the most popular type of electronic music in China. Some of the music played by Chinese local DJs that is deemed to be of lower quality than ‘legitimate’ EDM is also called ‘Tuhai’ (土嗨), a wordplay on ‘too high’ that refers to unoriginal bounce music with whistles and repetitive melodies.

The more the popularity of electric dance music is growing among the masses, the more music fans speak out, saying that China’s mainstream electronic music does not represent authentic electronic dance music, even arguing it that it negatively influences the development of the entire genre; excessive commercialization has neglected the music itself.

The recent surge of Tuhai in Chinese clubs is also a side-effect of the pandemic, during which clubs have started booking far more local DJs with little experience to keep the shows going. To counter the so-called ‘Tuhai virus’, China’s top DJ Carta launched the ‘Chinese Bounce Mafia’ alias together with trance DJ Luminn and DJ/producer Unity to mock the repetitive music genre.

‘Chinese Bounce Mafia’ promo poster from 2020.

In an interview with MixMag (Wycech 2020), Carta says:

“We started Chinese Bounce Mafia after seeing the number of shows these guys were doing and what was happening to the market. We all hated the music, so we said ‘fuck these guys, if they can get all these shows, so can we’. So Chinese Bounce Mafia is our stand against what we see as a problem within the market. The name is a troll because people thought we’ve all sold out and given into bounce but we actually play anything from house to trance to big room to techno.”

It is not easy to counter the Tuhai trend, which is not just ubiquitous in China’s clubs but is also everywhere in the Chinese online music environment, triggering online discussions on how the low-standard music is negatively impacting the overall music quality in the online libraries of platforms such as QQ Music, Kugou, and Tencent Music.

Some Chinese electronic music fans even say they envy China’s rock music scene. One article by the Music Economy Official Weibo Account (@音乐财经官方微博) on Sina said:

“As a fan of electronic music, I feel envious [of the rock music scene]. I envy their music festivals, I envy their good musicians, I envy their good fans, and this isn’t the first time for me to admire China’s rock scene in this way.”

The Music Economy author argues that although it’s been a bumpy ride for rock music in China, the genre has come a long way over the past four decades and has since been embraced by the general public.

Chinese rock music fans enjoying a concert, image via Music Economy.

One of the reasons why the author argues that China’s dance music community has reason to envy the rock music scene is that there is an alleged pure love for music that draws people into the rock scene, while many people coming to the DJ culture enter the market for the money, not for the music. Because people are prioritizing money over music, too many compromises are often made, resulting in low-effort productions or mediocre festivals.

Another difference between China’s dance and DJ culture compared to the rock scene, is that many rock music fans have grown up listening to the music and have followed their favorite musicians for years. China does not (yet) have a greater electronic music history to build on.

The author writes:

“I know it’s not very scientific to compare rock to electronic music, but they are both imported products and when I see how rock is finally flourishing after having been through so much, I can’t help feeling envious. Electronic dance music and electronic music in China still need to build on more experience. I hope more musicians can stop worrying about income and focus on the music, following their own dreams. I also hope more people will really start caring about electronic music and dance, and that they will start spending money on tickets and records to support their organizers and favorite musicians.”

What also plays a role in this, is that DJ culture mostly takes place inside nightclubs and entertainment venues, where drinks and socializing are often considered more important by Chinese clubgoers than whoever is standing behind the DJ table. China’s current commercial club culture is not a fruitful breeding ground for the further development of China’s electronic dance music scene, the author claims.

 

Underground & Online Electronic Dance in Post-Covid China

 

Despite all negative consequences of Covid19 for the music industry, the pandemic has also had an unexpected positive influence on China’s dance culture. With no international DJs allowed to travel into China, local DJ talents are getting increased recognition and there is more interest in the domestic dance scene.

As clubs were shutting down across the world in the spring of 2020, China entered its post-lockdown phase and nightclubs came back to life, with more people ready to explore the club scene.

Despite those voices expressing concern about the lower-quality EDM that is dominating China’s club scene, there are also those who think it is not necessarily bad for electronic dance to go mainstream this way because it also indirectly creates more acceptance for non-mainstream sub-genres and electronic music at large.

In recent years, new underground nightclubs, festivals and independent labels have mushroomed in China. There is now a flourishing club music scene in various cities across the country: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Kunming, and Guangzhou have all played a pivotal role in the development of China’s electro dance music culture, with Chengdu leading the way (Neocha 2021).

Partying at TAG, image via Tag Changdu Weibo account.

Among Chengdu’s many electronic music clubs, there’s .TAG (‘To Another Galaxy’). The club, located on the 21st floor of Chengdu’s Poly Centre, was founded by a small group of Chinese and Dutch music lovers and entrepreneurs, taking inspiration from clubs in Amsterdam and Berlin. TAG has become a city hotspot for underground house and techno, with local DJs such as Cora and HAO attracting a young and free-spirited clubbing crowd.

TAG was founded in 2013, the same year in which renowned record label SVBKVLT was established in Shanghai. SVBKVLT has pushed works from many local talents, including the Beijing-based electronic music duo Zaliva-D and Shanghai producer and artist 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin).

Chengdu’s .TAG and Shanghai’s SVBKVLT are just some examples of China’s thriving underground scene, as there are many other important players, including Beijing’s underground techno club Zhao Dai, Shanghai’s 3NTRY, club Elevator and ALL, or OIL in Shenzhen, featuring Chinese DJs and electronic music artists such as Slowcook, Yang Yang, Temple Rat, Knopha, Chuan, Max Shen, Luna Li, and many, many more.

Image via Weibo account of 33EMYBW.

China’s electro music culture goes beyond clubs and festivals – the online environment is a big part of it. Although the 2021 shutdown of the Xiami Music app from the Chinese market created a vacuum for online electronic music streaming, other online music libraries such as QQ Music, Netease Cloud Music, Kuwo and Kugou are now competing over listeners.

On social media platforms Weibo and Wechat, there are various electronic music blogging accounts with thousands of followers but there are also hundreds of festival accounts, club accounts, label accounts, and DJ/creator accounts.

More in-depth discussions on China’s electronic music scene can also be found on Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu.com, the social networking sites QQ and Douban, and on Bilibili. Over the past few years, other smaller online communities, from Moresound to Abletive, have also arrived at the scene for people to discuss the development of Chinese dance music.

Although many online discussions about the state of China’s electronic dance music scene are quite critical of how the scene is evolving, it could still be seen as a sign of how the industry and its audience are maturing – growth comes with growing pains.

Despite all hurdles, new China-based talents are gaining traction and electronic music labels are popping up one after another. Covid has posed a major challenge to the scene but has also injected new energy into the domestic market.

Electronic music in China has come a long way since Jean Michel Jarre first made waves in the country, and after all these years, the genre is entering a new era. The next few years will show which direction Chinese electronic music is moving in, but one thing is certain: electronic music is part of China’s music scene today and, whether or not everyone agrees on the quality of the beats that are booming, the music is here to stay.

On one online discussion page about Chinese electronic music, someone asked how others feel about Chinese DJ PantaQ arriving in the DJMag Top 100 DJ list. One commenter answered: “This is only the beginning. Chinese electronic music will start to shine on the international stage.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

1 Professor Jeroen de Kloet did extensive research into China’s dakou culture. For more on China’s dakou generation, we recommend reading: Jeroen de Kloet, China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010).
2 This scene was described by Chinese DJ / producer Ma Haiing (MHP) in the book by Matthew Collin, Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music (London: Profile Books, 2018), Chapter 6.

References

– Androids. 2017. “An Idiot’s Guide to EDM Genres.” Complex.com, October 13: https://www.complex.com/music/an-idiots-guide-to-edm-genres/ [Oct 11, 2021].
– Billboard. 1982. “Jarre Fame Spreads – Even to China.” Billboard Magazine (March 13): page 22.
– Collin, Matthew. 2018. Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music, London: Profile Books.
– De Boni, Luka. 2018. “The Rise of China’s Electronic Dance Music Scene: From Underground Culture to Online Communities.” What’s on Weibo, August 26
https://www.whatsonweibo.com/the-rise-of-chinas-electronic-dance-music-scene-from-underground-culture-to-online-communities/ [Nov 1, 2021].
– De Kloet, Jeroen. 2010. China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
– Grefer, Philipp. 2016. “Disco(s), Techno and the EDM Storm: A Brief (and Personal) History of Electronic Music in China.” The Beijinger, Nov 16 https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2016/11/04/discos-techno-and-edm-storm-brief-and-personal-history-electronic-music-china [Nov 12, 2021].
– Holm, David. 1983. “The Difficulty of ‘Walking on Two Legs.’” Index on Censorship: 12 (1): 34-37.
– Jori, Anita. 2021 “The Meanings of ‘electronic dance music’ and EDM.” In: The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music , edited by Ewa Mazierska, Tony Rigg and Les Gillon, Chapter 1. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
– Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. California: ABC-CLIO.
– Li, Qiuxiao. 2018. “Characteristics of Early Electronic Music Composition in China’s Mainland,” Contemporary Music Review 37:1-2.
– Magnetic. 2021. “STOP CALLING EDM EDM – HERE IS A PROPER DEFINITION.” Magnetic Magazine, Jan 13 https://www.magneticmag.com/2015/10/stop-calling-edm-edm-here-is-a-proper-definition/ [Oct 12, 2021].
– Music Economy Official Weibo Account 音乐财经官方微博.2020. “电音圈有什么资格羡慕滚圈.” Sina News, August 20 https://k.sina.com.cn/article_5255791141_13945022501900poao.html [Nov 27, 2021].
– Neocha. 2021. “Sleepless in Chengdu.” July 5, https://neocha.com/magazine/sleepless-in-chengdu/ [Nov 27, 2021].
– Yiu, Alex and Damien Charrieras. 2021. “On the Fence: Electronic Dance Music Cultures in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.” In: Sébastien Darchen, Damien Charrieras, John Willsteed (eds), Electronic Cities – Music, Policies and Space in the 21st Century, 223-243. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.
– Vice China. 2019. “触电中国 EP1:从荷东到锐舞,中国电音的起源与脉络.” Tencent News, July 30 https://new.qq.com/omn/20190730/20190730A0CTCB00.html?pc [Oct 12, 2021].
– Wycech, Olivia. 2020. “An Edm Club In Taipei Has Unabashedly Banned Bounce Music…But What Even Is Bounce Music?” MixMag, October 20 https://mixmag.asia/feature/what-is-chinese-bounce-music [Nov 17, 2021].

Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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