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Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Weibo – Cleaning Up China’s Internet

The Chinese government has released its 2014 ‘anti-porn’ campaign. What’s the history behind China’s crusade against pornography?

Manya Koetse

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On April 13th 2014, the Chinese government released an announcement about its renewed nationwide campaign against pornography. The campaign, tagged ‘Eradicating Pornography & Illegal Publications – Cleaning the Web 2014’, will be held from mid April until November 2014. Contrary to previous campaigns against pornography, this one specifically targets online activities (Sina News 2014). Since when did pornography become such a sensitive topic within China, and how political is the ‘anti-porn’ battle?

China’s war against obscenity is in full swing. Over 3000 Weibo accounts and 100 websites have already been shut down for disseminating pornographic information (NDTV 2014). Despite the current anti-porn campaign and overall strict censorship, pornography is very much alive on Weibo and the Chinese Internet. The number of porn users within Mainland China has reached millions (Bin&Hong 2012, 111).

 

Pornography in Chinese History

 

Pornography has existed in China for thousands of years, and is imbedded in its cultural history. The origins of Chinese erotica and pornography can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), and remained prevalent up to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Erotic images and symbols were expressed through literary fiction, paintings and sculptures, displaying different sexual practices- from lesbian sex or homosexuality to threesomes and anal sex (Griffiths 2011; Bin&Hong 2012, 114).

                                          Beijing

Beijing handscroll, late 19th century

The explicit erotic images within China’s historical art were not necessarily intended to be ‘pornographic’; they were influenced by practices from the ancient Daoist religion. In Daoism, sex was a way to be one with nature and to reach happiness and long life. The importance of Daoist practices made sex a major issue throughout dynastic history (AFP 2014; Griffiths 2011).

 

Mao & Sex

 

Sex is still a major issue in China, but campaigns against pornography have put a different light on erotica. Since the start of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, censorship became prevalent throughout the country. During the Mao years, sexual expression was considered taboo. Love and sex did not contribute to the common good, and erotic material was banned in every form. The government determined what was allowed to be published on the subject, which was limited material on reproduction within the context of marriage (Koetse 2012, 6-16).

Although written or visual material on sex was practically non-existent during the rule of Mao, it became more prevalent after Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms and the Open Door Policy in 1978.The first political campaign against pornography, called “sweeping away the yellow subjects” (‘yellow’meaning ‘erotic/pornographic’), was launched in 1989. It banned all publications describing sexual behavior. Punishment or infringement was heavy; over twenty people were sentenced to death for distributing pornography. Other campaigns against pornographic material took place in 2004, 2007 and 2009 (Pan 1993, 59; Bin&Hong 2012, 116).

 

What is ‘pornography’?

 

The government officially views pornography as something that “perverts China’s young minds” and harms the country’s “social ethos”(Kuo,2014). The first definition of ‘pornography’ was laid out in 1988. It makes a difference between “obscene” (yinhui) and “pornographic” (seqing) material, although both are illegal. The first is something that “portrays and promotes obscene acts, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex, leads to the corruption of the average person, and lacks artistic or scientific value” (Bin&Hong 2012, 121), while the latter is “that which, taken as a whole, is not obscene but contains some obscene content, which is harmful to the health and spirit of an average person, especially an adolescent, and lacks artistic or scientific value” (ibid., 121). The problem of these definitions is that they are open for discussion: who decides, for example, what ‘artistic value’ is?

To further enlarge the scope of the battle against “unhealthy” information, the Chinese government launched a new term in 2007 to define other illegal online material, calling it the “low and vulgar” (disu). This includes, quoting Bin Liang and Hong Lu (2012):

(…) (1) illegal material portraying extreme violence, murder, cursing, and libel; (2) material that leads juveniles to wrongful thinking and behavior and disturbs their normal study and lives, including material directly or implicitly showing human sexual organs and sexual behavior, and pictures, sound, cartoons, or articles with a titillating or derogative nature; (3) illegal commercials for sex drugs and treatment, as well as information spreading sexual transactions and illegal friend- making; (4) material invading others’ privacy including exposure, secret photographing, and spreading others’ private information via the Internet; (5) material violating correct marriage and family values, such as material encouraging extra-marital affairs, one-night stands, or swinging (wife-swapping) (…) (122).

The current ‘2014 anti-porn campaign’ also includes this definition of the ‘low and vulgar’, which goes far beyond the scope of pornography.The government’s broad definition of what ‘obscenity’ and ‘porn’ entails has caused many critics to believe that China’s battle against porn is in fact a way to justify the censorship of political material.

Many Chinese artists have pushed the boundaries of censorship by playing with the concept of ‘pornography’ – after all, according to the legal definition, eroticism is not ‘pornographic’ when it has artistic value. Over the last decade, many cases have shown that government and artists have different views on what ‘art’ is.During his 2011 exhibition at Beijing’s museum of Contemporary Art, performance artist Cheng Li publicly had sex with a woman – the performance was titled Art Whore. Cheng was arrested and sentenced to one year in labor camp. Artist Ou Zhizhang is well-known for doing naked push-ups in front of famous Chinese places. He was arrested for public nudity at multiple occasions (Keating 2011).

110510_ouzhihang

Ou Zhizhang doing naked push-ups in front of China’s scenic spots
 

Another example is one of Ai Wei Wei’s pictures titled ‘One Tiger, Eight Breasts’. In this picture, Ai Wei Wei poses naked with four women, who are also naked. The photo led authorities to investigate Ai Wei Wei for the dissemination of pornography.This led to furious reaction of Weibo netizens, who believed the action was more about politically silencing Ai Wei Wei than about correcting his morality. They responded by putting naked pictures of themselves online to prove that nudity is not pornography (An 2011).

 

 

Pornography as Political Weapon

 

The battle against pornography has strengthened the government’s control and supervision over China’s Internet. ‘Obscenity’, ‘porn’ and the ‘low and vulgar’ have become buzz words that give grounds for the emergence of new technologies to screen the net. High-tech filter software, virtual police squads and online observation forces are important countermeasures against the fight for an ‘online civilization’.

China Internet specialist Rebecca MacKinnon has already stated that anti-porn technology has ended up being used more for the purpose of censoring political content than to eradicate ‘obscenities’ (Kuo 2014).

So is pornography a thing of the past for Chinese internet users? Most probably- no. The number of Chinese netizens using porn is still increasing. China already holds 28% of the world’s porn consumption. These kind of numbers show that a large part of China’s netizens does not take the government’s crusade against pornography that serious. It also means that online police squads and censor forces still have a lot of work ahead of them in the years to come. Good luck to them.

 
References 
AFP-Jiji.2014.”Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China’s Lost Sexual Philosophy. “The Japan Times (April 18) http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/18/asia-pacific/erotic-art-offers-glimpse-of-chinas-lost- sexual-philosophy/#.U1fwdeaSwxm (Accessed April 22, 2014).
An Xiao. 2011. “Getting Naked for Ai Wei Wei.” Hyperallergic (November 21) http://hyperallergic.com/41010/ai- weiwei-one-tiger-eight-breasts/ (Accessed April 22, 2014).
Bin Liang and Hong Lu. 2012. “Fighting the Obscene, Pornographic and Unhealthy- an Analysis of the Nature, Extent and Regulation of China’s Online Pornography Within a Global Context.” Crime Law Social Change 58: 111-130.
Griffiths, James. 2011. “A Brief History of Chinese Porn.” Danwei (August 14) http://www.danwei.com/a- brief-history-of-chinese-porn/ (Accessed online April 21, 2014).
Keating, Joshua E. 2011. “Cultural Revolutionaries.” Foreign Policy (May 10) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/
articles/2011/05/10/cultural_revolutionaries (Accessed online April 22, 2014).
Koetse, Manya. 2012(2008). “Shanghai Baby: Beyond China. A Chinese Novel Banished to the West.” Bachelor Thesis, University of Amsterdam. 
Kuo, Lily. 2014. “China’s Latest Crackdown on Porn has Little to do with Porn.” Quartz (April 14) http://qz.com/198932/china-latest-crackdown-on-porn-has-little-to-do-with-porn/ (Accessed online April 22, 2014).
NDTV Gadgets. 2014. “China Shuts Down 110 Porn Sites as Part of Internet ‘Cleanup’ Drive.” NDTV (April 21) http://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/china-shuts-down-110-porn-sites-as-part-of-internet-cleanup- drive-511567 (Accessed online April 21, 2014).
Pan, Sui-ming.1993.”China:AcceptabilityandEffectof ThreeKindsof SexualPublication.”Archivesof Sexual Behavior (22)1: 59-71.
Sina News. 2014. “Zhongguo ‘Saohuang’ Xingdong Shenru Wangluo Shijie 中国扫黄行动深入网络世 界 [China’s ‘Campaign against Pornography’ Infiltrates the World Wide Web]” http://news.sina.com.cn/o/2014-04-17/093029952736.shtml (Accessed April 18, 2014).
Images:
An Xiao. 2011. “Getting Naked for Ai Wei Wei.” Hyperallergic (November 21) http://hyperallergic.com/41010/ai-weiwei-one-tiger-eight-breasts/ (Accessed April 22, 2014).
Keating, Joshua E. 2011. “Cultural Revolutionaries.” Foreign Policy (May 10) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/10/cultural_revolutionaries (Accessed online April 22, 2014).
Tan Chong Kee. 2007. “Same-sex Love in Ancient and Modern Chinese History”. Fridae (June 19) http://www.fridae.asia/gay-news/2007/06/19/1879.same-sex-love-in-ancient-and-modern-chinese-history-2- 2 (Accessed online April 22, 2014).

 

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

This text was first published by 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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Backgrounder

How Chinese Kuaishou Rebel ‘Pangzai’ Became a Twitter King

He’s been called a ‘Twitter king’, but how did the unexpected online fame of this ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Jessica Colwell

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Twitter has fallen in love with a Chinese farmer after his drinking videos on Kuaishou were cross-posted abroad and went viral. He has embraced his new fans and Western social media, arguably becoming one of China’s most successful cultural ambassadors of the year.

He describes himself as the “inventor of tornado beer drinking style” and as an “ordinary peasant from China.” ‘Hebei Pangzai’ only joined Twitter in August of 2019, but he already has a Twitter following of more than 111.6K.

Although his account is temporarily restricted by Twitter at time of writing (“due to suspicious activity”), his popularity is only growing. Some Twitterers, such as the China twitterer Carl Zha (@CarlZha), are even initiating a “#FreePangzai campaign” to restore the account of the “one true King.”

But where and when did the online fame of ‘Hebei Pangzai’ start?

Let’s begin our introduction to Pangzai with one tweet from March of this year, when Twitter user ‘Hunnaban Trenchboss’ posted a video from Chinese short video app Kuaishou (快手) showing a man – ‘Pangzai’ – wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette while preparing an incredible mixed drink.

The man in the video smoothly pops the cap off a bottle of beer with a chopstick, pours some in a large jar, then twirls the bottle and propels the rest of the beer in a tornado of force down his throat.

He follows that up by pouring in more beer, some blue liquor, an egg, some Pepsi, and a hefty glass of baijiu – which he dumps in only after lighting it on fire, igniting his finger, and coolly lighting his cigarette. He then chugs the entire concoction in a matter of seconds.

“How do I become as cool as this guy, The Coolest Guy?”, the tweet said.

The same video was shared again in August by a few Russian accounts, was retweeted by an American account, and then went completely viral, racking up millions of views and tens of thousands of retweets.

That video has now been viewed almost 12 million times on Twitter, and has inspired tens of thousands of fans who herald him as ‘king.’

The man in the video referred to as ‘Pangzai’ (胖仔, ‘chubby dude’) is Liu Shichao (刘世超), a 33-year-old farmer and small-time Chinese internet celebrity from a city called Xingtai in Hebei Province.

According to an interview with Technode, he found out about the video on Twitter when some of his new foreign fans opened Chinese social media accounts to find him and tell him about his overnight online fame.

“One message told me that I was a celebrity now in America,” he told Technode: “So I chatted with the person [who sent the message] for a whole day, with the help of translation software.”

Within two days of his video going viral, Pangzai had figured out how to use a VPN, opened his own Twitter account and started uploading videos.

He even posted a reply on the original viral video to alert everybody to his account.

Liu’s early response to his viral video on Twitter.

Since then, Liu ‘Pangzai’ has amassed over 111,000 followers and has posted many more videos of everything from drinking, to cooking, to exploring his countryside hometown.

But it was the drinking videos specifically that earned him his following, both abroad and in China.

 

IT STARTED ON KUAISHOU

“Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account.”

 

Liu began his internet career three years ago on Kuaishou, a Chinese short video app massively popular among China’s lower-tier cities and countryside.

In contrast to the polished, celeb-heavy platform Douyin, which is most popular among urban youths, Kuaishou is a platform for the masses. Its users are known for their crazy antics and general disregard for personal safety.

Liu Shichao’s Kuaishou account has 354,000 followers, but the majority of his videos have been removed.

Pangzai epitomizes the typical Kuaishou account. Posting under the handle “Chubby Dude from Hebei” (@河北胖仔), he uploads videos of himself eating and drinking in eye-popping combinations, or sometimes smashing things – from bricks to unopened water bottles – with his bare hands.

Liu’s video of breaking bricks with his hands was also popular on Twitter.

Liu also gained notoriety, and a couple hundred thousand followers, from his mastery of the so-called ‘beer tornado technique’ (小旋风 xiǎo xuànfēng).

According to an interview with the BBC, he peaked at 470,000 followers on Kuaishou and was monetizing his online fame with some 10,000 RMB ($1420) per month.

Liu’s signature beer tornado technique features in the first video he posted to Twitter.

Unfortunately for Liu, China’s Cyberspace Administration announced a crackdown on vulgar and illegal content across multiple social media platforms in spring of 2018, with a focus on Douyin, Kuaishou, and its sister news company Jinri Toutiao. Kuaishou was pulled from app stores until it cleaned up its act.

It is unclear just how many videos and accounts have been removed as a result of the cleanup. We can get a rough idea from an announcement by Kuaishou earlier this year that in March of 2019 alone, it removed an average of over 11,000 videos and blocked almost 1,000 accounts every day.

The result for Liu was that his account was suspended for four months and the majority of his most popular videos, including the one that went viral abroad, were removed for promoting ‘unhealthy drinking habits.’

When you look at his Kuaishou account today, you won’t see many videos focused solely on baijiu and beer chugging.

The videos that remain on his account do include drinking (and his signature tornado move) but it is always accompanied by eating food or some other activity (such as sitting deep in a field of corn, munching on roast duck and dribbling baijiu down a corn leaf into a glass.)

In a video posted to Kuaishou, Liu pours baijiu into a glass from a corn leaf, before then lighting it on fire and chugging it.

Liu still has 354,000 followers on Kuaishou. His Chinese fans, like his foreign ones, marvel at his cool and collected manner as he eats and drinks all sorts of disgusting things.

Canned herring features heavily in his most popular recent videos, where he can be seen sipping the juice directly from the can.

In one of his videos on Kuaishou, Liu eating herring directly from the can, to the disgust of his fans.

“This has to be the most unaffected anyone has ever been by eating canned herring,” says one fan. “The flavor is disgusting! 99.9% of people who try this would vomit,” another online commenter replies.

 

AN UNEXPECTED TWITTER KING

“Liu is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life.”

 

This year, Liu seems to have embraced his newfound international stardom with grace and savvy.

He uses Twitter’s in-app translation to help him communicate with fans and has been highly interactive on the platform.

Liu ‘Pangzai’ was also quick to open up a Paypal account and share it with followers, and has recently made YouTube and Instagram accounts to prevent scams pretending to be him. He has also collaborated with a Twitter fan to sell T-shirts online in America.

Many online fans have dubbed him ‘king’, perhaps the highest praise one can receive on the internet today.

But in contrast to the sunglasses and chill demeanor of his videos, Liu does not appear to be an internet celebrity overly obsessed with being cool.

Instead, he is like many young men from the countryside of Northern China: open, friendly, humble, and genuinely excited to share his life (and drinking habits) with the rest of the world.

Liu began using translation software to communicate with fans soon after joining Twitter.

After reposting all of his old drinking videos from Kuaishou, Liu started asking Twitter fans what they would like to see from him. Many responded that they wanted more about his life in rural China.

He has since followed up with videos showing him fixing a pipe with his friends, exploring his local market, cooking sweet potatoes, and, of course, a tutorial on how to master the ‘tornado beer’ technique.

Liu explaining on Twitter how to perform the tornado beer technique that helped make him famous.

Many have expressed concern for his health in light of his drinking habits, but he has assured everybody that everything he does is “within his ability” and that he doesn’t drink like that very often.

Liu is grateful for all the support and praise he has received from abroad. “It’s crazy to have all of these foreign friends all of a sudden,” he recently said in an interview with Deadspin: “I really have to thank them a lot. If I have a chance I will find them and we can drink together.”

Seemingly to that end, Liu has recently organized a party to be held near his hometown in China, exciting fans all over the world and spurring many to apply for passports and visas.

Once Liu began inviting people to his party, he changed the date and location in order to accommodate more attendees.

The date is set for December 14, 2019 in Zhuamadian City, Hebei Province; too soon for many to make it, but he promises another party in the spring. There is talk also of organizing a visit for Liu ‘Pangzai’ to go to America.

 

WINDOW INTO CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA

“Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet.”

 

Although there are many vloggers like Pangzai in China, he stands out on Twitter as some sort of window into Chinese social media, especially because this online world is usually so separate from the Western realms of social media.

The recent explosive growth of Chinese social media apps such as TikTok has not done much to facilitate this kind of cultural interaction between China and the West.

Although Tiktok is, in fact, a Chinese app (called Douyin 抖音 in China), there are actually two different versions of the same app in mainland China and abroad, meaning that the other ‘Pangzais’ of the Chinese internet still remain within the social media spheres of the PRC, rarely gaining fame outside of the Great Firewall.

In China, aside from his fans on Kuaishou, Liu’s growing notoriety abroad seems to have flown completely under the radar of the Chinese internet. He is mentioned only one or two times across Weibo, and searches for his name and handle on WeChat, Baidu, and various Chinese tech news sites bring up nothing.

Liu is a rare example of genuine soft power coming out of China. A pure, grassroots man of the people with strong cultural appeal who sincerely enjoys sharing his life and his culture with the rest of the world. His tweets are full of affection and appreciation for his fans, as well as frequent prompts for followers to share their own lives and customs of their home countries.

To watch his introduction to Twitter and rise to fame is to see the best of the internet: cultural interaction, genuinely shared delight, and mutual admiration inspired by hilarious antics caught on camera.

His Twitter fans express their hope that Twitter Support will soon lift the temporary ban on their ‘Twitter king.’ To them, it’s perfectly clear: this online king is nowhere near dead, long live Pangzai!

Follow the #FreePangzai hashtag on Twitter.

Update: Panghaizi is out of Twitter jail!

 
Want to read more about unexpected online celebrities from China? Also see:
The Story of Two Farmers Who Became Internet Celebrities;
The “Vagrant Shanghai Professor”;
From Farmgirl to Fashionista: Weibo Celebrity Fairy Wang.

 

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

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