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Ai Wei Wei vs Lego: Chinese Media Respond

An issue involving Lego and Ai Wei Wei has caused controversy this week when the Danish toymaker brand told the Chinese artist that he could not use their bricks for “political work”. Chinese media respond.



An issue involving Lego and Ai Wei Wei has caused controversy this week. The Danish toy manufacturer told the Chinese artist that he could not use Lego bricks for “political work”. China’s state news media respond with a remarkable article, telling Chinese dissidents not to overplay their hand.

It was all the talk on Twitter for the past few days: Ai Wei Wei accused Lego of “censorship and discrimination” after they refused to deliver Lego for the upcoming exhibition of his art project in Australia. Lego reportedly said it did not want its bricks used for a political statement.

After the news made its rounds on Twitter and Instagram, thousands of people offered Ai their Lego bricks. The Beijing-based artist has now announced the set-up of Lego collection points in different cities for his upcoming art projects.

Artist and activist Ai Wei Wei (艾未未) is known for controversial art that critiques censorship by the Chinese government. He used Lego for an exhibition in the U.S. last year, that included portraits of activists and dissidents.

oct14_o03_colaiweiwei.jpg__600x0_q85_upscaleAi Wei Wei’s Lego project, portraying 176 different political activists and dissidents. (Image: Smithsonian)

As many Chinese media have reported on the issue (including Guancha, Phoenix News and Sina News), Weibo netizens have also started to comment on it.

Lego China has not addressed the issue on its official Weibo account.


“Ai Wei Wei used Lego for his political work, and in doing so, was cheered on by his Western supporters.”


Lego has a strong presence in China. The brand is popular for multiple reasons. Unlike many China-made toys, that often make headlines for safety hazards, Lego is a safe and trusted brand. It is also popular because of its educational value. In many of China’s one-child-policy families, parents are more than willing to spend money on the best toys for their only child.

The Chinese name of Lego is ‘Legao‘ (乐高), its characters meaning ‘happy heights’.

Chinese state-owned media outlet Global Times has responded to the issue with an “opinion piece” by commentator Shan Renping (单仁平). The same article was also published by Sina News and People’s Daily as a regular news article (link).

“This is an interesting conflict,” the article says: “Ai Wei Wei used Lego for his political work, and in doing so, was cheered on by his Western supporters. But the Lego company, following the general principle of Western multinational corporations, refused to be connected to Ai’s political work. They want to keep their business commercial, and avoid any involvement in political disputes.”


“Chinese people have to get used to these kind of situations.”


The Global Times article describes how Ai Wei Wei used Lego for his portrayal of 176 “political offenders” (政治犯) and “political exiles” (政治流亡者). It mentions how his work also includes the portrait of activist Liu Xiaobo, who is still detained in China, and how Western supporters are sending Lego to the controversial artist to encourage him.

“As China rises, it is developing profitable relations with more and more Western multinational companies, as well as close ties with many governments. They are at the center of China’s foreign relations,” the article says. It continues to explain that China’s relation to the world is complex, as there are different political influences and forces from outside that clash with Chinese principles.

“Lego’s refusal of Ai Wei Wei is an appropriate decision,” the article says: “But there are also companies with more ideological interests, such as Google. Chinese people will have to get used to these kinds of situations in the future, and that they might escalate.”


“When China was poor and weak, the West was not interested in Chinese dissidents. Now that China is rising, they suddenly are.”


The article shows little sympathy for Ai’s supporters: “When China was poor and weak, the West was not interested in Chinese dissidents. Now that China is rising, with more power and good prospects, Chinese dissidents have suddenly won the favour of the West.”

The article warns China’s political activists that they should be careful about what they do. Western governments or companies might cheer them on now, but will not risk their profitable relations with China to support a dissident. “Today’s issue is no breaking point yet,” the article states: “But dissidents should carefully watch changes in the relations between China and the West. They should not overplay their hand, or they could become an “nuisance” to the West. They have to understand that the West enjoys seeing them challenge the Chinese system, but will not necessarily support them if doing so affects its relations with China.”


“How funny to see Global Times writing about ‘dissidents’”


Some Weibo users seem surprised with the sudden seemingly open discussion of Ai’s work, saying: “Apparently, more and more people now know Ai Wei Wei, and Global Times has no other choice than to bring this story and to make everyone think the same about it.”

Another netizen called Ajinjin says: “How funny to see Global Times talking about ‘dissidents’ and such – only they can do that.”

Some other netizens express their annoyance with the West: “They say that China doesn’t have human rights and is not free, but do you think yellow and black people have human rights in the US? That they have perfect laws? First look at yourself before you look at another!”


“Don’t abuse children’s toys like this!”


Many Weibo users express their support for Lego’s decision. Netizen Howard Xue says: “Lego does not want their toys, designed for kids, to be used for political purposes by some provocative criminal. Mr. Ai has some famous works (such as a picture of him with his middle finger on Tiananmen, him posing with four naked women, (..) etc.), that are not suitable for children. Let the children be!”. Another user agrees: “Don’t abuse children’s toys like this!”

Other users just think Ai Wei Wei is acting childish, saying: “Ai Wei Wei’s mental age is only six years old.”

Contrary to what Lego intended with its refusal of Ai Wei Wei, the brand has now become associated with political issues anyway. “It became political, as expected,” one netizen says: “Lego, that is your karma for refusing.”

The Ai Wei Wei conflict is unlikely to influence Lego’s sales in China. If it does affect sales in America or Europe, Lego would have no immediate reason to panic: the company still is the world’s best-selling toymaker.

Because of Lego’s growing popularity in China and other countries, it has not been able to meet demands. The company is currently dealing with worldwide Lego shortages.

In the unlikely case of an actual Lego crisis, the Danish company will still have an eager customer waiting for them in Beijing.
Ai Wei Wei, apparently, is not done building yet.

By Manya Koetse

©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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China and Covid19

King of Workout Livestream: Liu Genghong Has Become an Online Hit During Shanghai Lockdown

Liu Genghong (Will Liu) is leading his best lockdown life.



With their exercise livestreams, Liu and his wife are bringing some positive vibes to Shanghai and the rest of China in Covid times, getting thousands of social media users to jump along with them.

On Friday, April 22, the hashtag “Why Has Liu Genghong Become An Online Hit” (#为什么刘畊宏突然爆火#) was top trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Liu Genghong (刘畊宏, 1972), who is also known as Will Liu, is a Taiwanese singer and actor who is known for playing in dramas (Pandamen 熊貓人), films (True Legend 苏乞儿), and releasing various music albums (Rainbow Heaven 彩虹天堂). He is a devout Christian.

Besides all of his work in the entertainment business, Liu is also a fitness expert. In 2013, Liu participated in the CCTV2 weight loss programme Super Diet King (超级减肥王, aka The Biggest Loser) as a motivational coach, and later also became a fitness instructor for the Jiangsu TV show Changing My Life (减出我人生), in which he also helped overweight people to become fit. After that, more fitness programs followed, including the 2017 Challenge the Limit (全能极限王) show.

During the Covid outbreak in Shanghai, the 50-year-old Liu Genghong has unexpectedly become an online hit for livestreaming fitness routines from his home. Together with his wife Vivi Wang, he streams exercise and dance videos five days of the week via the Xiaohongshu app and Douyin.

In his livestreams, Liu and his wife appear energetic, friendly, happy and super fit. They exercise and dance to up-beat songs while explaining and showing their moves, often encouraging those participating from their own living rooms (“Yeah, very good, you’re doing well!”). Some of their livestreams attract up to 400,000 viewers tuning in at the same time.

The couple, both in lockdown at their Shanghai home, try to motivate other Shanghai residents and social media users to stay fit. Sometimes, Liu’s 66-year-old mother in law also exercises with them, along with the children.

“I’ve been exercising watching Liu and his wife for half an hour, they’re so energetic and familiar, they’ve already become my only family in Shanghai,” one Weibo user says.

“I never expected Liu Genghong to be a ‘winner’ during this Covid epidemic in Shanghai,” another person writes.

Along with Liu’s online success, there’s also a renewed interest in the Jay Chou song Herbalist’s Manual (本草纲目), which is used as a workout tune, combined with a specific dance routine. Liu is also a good friend and fitness pal to Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

This week, various Chinese news outlets such as Fengmian News and The Paper have reported on Liu’s sudden lockdown success. Livestreaming workout classes in general have become more popular in China since the start of Covid-19, but there reportedly has been no channel as popular as that of Liu Genghong.

The channel’s success is partly because of Liu’s fame and contagious enthusiasm, but it is also because of Vivi Wang, whose comical expressions during the workouts have also become an online hit.

While many netizens are sharing their own videos of exercizing to Liu’s videos, there are also some who warn others not to strain themselves too quickly.

“I’ve been inside for over 40 days with no exercise” one person writes: “I did one of the workouts yesterday and my heart nearly exploded.” “I feel fine just watching,” others say: “I just can’t keep up.”

Watch one of Liu’s routines via Youtube here, or here, or here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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China Music

Weibo is Watching the DJs & Sports Presentation Team at the Winter Olympics Venues

Chinese netizens are not just closely following the athletes, they are also paying more attention to the “atmosphere enliveners” at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.



Chinese netizens are not just closely watching the athletes at the 2022 Winter Olympics – the DJs who are performing at the various venues and their noteworthy song selections have also become a popular topic on social media.

On Feb 8th, the US-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu (谷爱凌, Gu Aling) became the youngest ever gold medalist in freestyle skiing, winning the big air event for China. The American-born Gu has become a superstar in China, and everything related to her is going viral these days, including the songs that were playing when Gu had won gold.

The hashtag “When Gu Ailing Won the Gold, Jay Chou’s Song Huo Yuan Jia is Played” (#谷爱凌夺冠现场放周杰伦的霍元甲#) has received more than 29 million on Weibo. Chinese netizens praised the DJs for the song selection, saying it perfectly captured the scene as the song has a strong rhythm, and is also known as ‘Fearless.’

Before the hashtag about Gu went trending, the DJ team already attracted attention on Chinese social media for the interesting and noteworthy music selection at various events.

During the Ice Hockey Women’s Preliminary Round Group A, when Team US competed against Team ROC, there was a conflict between the two teams and the DJ played a remixed version of Katyusha, a Russian song that became famous during World War II. The dramatic effect of the scene and wartime song pairing made the song’s name (#喀秋莎#) and a video of the DJ trying to ‘make some noise’ on the venue go trending on Weibo with over 53 million views. Many netizens thought the music selection was humorous, with some joking that the DJ was adding oil to a burning fire.

Xie Xiao (@篮球DJ小牛), the ice hockey stadium music director for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics who played the song that day, later clarified on Douyin that the selection of Katyusha was not a response to the conflict. Before that game, he allegedly had already planned to use it because it is a famous song in Russia, and he already played a lot of well-known American songs.

Photo via Xie Xao, @篮球DJ小牛

Another creative song choice by this DJ team that resonated with Chinese netizens occurred during another ice hockey match between Team China and Team Japan, when an American DJ performed Defending the Yellow River on a keyboard. In China, Defending the Yellow River is a famous patriotic song. It was the seventh chapter of the classic Yellow River Cantata, written in 1939 to praise the fighting spirit of the Chinese people (#美国DJ现学后现场弹奏保卫黄河#).

A list of popular hashtags on Weibo relating to which songs are played at the venue of the Winter Olympics also demonstrates that music has become a more relevant and popular part of the Olympics, and is also an attractive component of the event that is encouraging more people, especially younger generations, to watch and participate in the Games.

Xie also said that the team is only allowed to select songs from a specific Winter Olympics music library due to copyright and licensing. The library includes 16000 musical tracks divided into various (sub)categories based on music styles, language, and themes, covering many hit songs and different music from all across the world. On the first event day of speed skating, for example, Adele’s Rolling in the Deep blasted through the speakers.

The pandemic has made the role of so-called ‘atmosphere enliveners’ or ‘vibe teams’ (气氛组, 氛围组) more important. This already became clear during the Tokyo Olympics, where we saw empty stadiums due to coronavirus measures, with DJs creating playlists to motivate athletes in the absence of cheering fans. This shift has also brought more online attention for DJs and other crew members, who would usually stay behind the scenes.

On the venues, the atmosphere is raised by Olympic mascots walking, jumping, and running around the venues interacting with smaller audiences. Meanwhile, the DJs are playing energetic tracks or are creating remixes and mash-ups while producers use different elements at the venue to enhance the audience’s experience.

Li Helin, the deputy manager of the venue operations team at Beijing National Speed Skating Oval, takes care of the event presentation at the venue. He also worked as an MC at the volleyball stadium during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Li has also been in charge of some popular music selections played by the DJs during events involving the China team, including Calorie (卡路里) by the Chinese idol girl group Rocket Girls 101 and Immortal Sound Above Cloud Palace (云宫迅音), the opening theme of Journey to the West, a 1986 TV series that is still considered one of China’s most popular TV dramas. These song selections also were popular on Weibo.

Li Helin, image via Sina.

Li previously said he believed that using DJs to connect with the audiences and to enliven the atmosphere at the venues will become a bigger trend for big sports events in the future. As the standard of sports presentation and fan engagement rises, more new elements, such as spectacular lighting, drones, 3D projects, etc. will also be included: “Sports presentation serves the game, but also adds fresh elements to it.”

Meanwhile, many social media users praise the music crew: “This time, the DJs at the Olympics are really awesome and their song selection is on point.”  “If you don’t know what kind of work you want to do, becoming an Olympic DJ is a good choice,” one Weibo user writes, with others agreeing: “Seriously, if I cannot be an Olympic athlete, then I’ll strive to be an Olympic DJ.”


By Wendy Huang

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