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Bizarre Buildings & Ambitious Architecture of Rural China: Here’s Chinese Vlogger ‘Schlieffen’

Chinese vlogger Schlieffen explores a bizarre and amazing side of rural China many have never seen before.

Anna Wang

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“Making Hebei great again” is one of his slogans. Schlieffen is China’s first self-proclaimed ‘agritourism’ vlogger, showing Chinese netizens the unexpected sides of Hebei, an “almost invisible” province in Northern China. Anna Wang explains.

It all started in May of 2018 when Schlieffen (@史里芬Shǐlǐfēn) launched his first video titled “World’s Biggest Tortoise” (“世界上最大的王八“), introducing a 1680-square-meter turtle-shaped sports venue at Hebei’s Lake Baiyangdian.

An example of wondrous Hebei architecture (image via https://xw.qq.com).

Ever since that time, Schlieffen has grown out to become a popular Chinese vlogger and blogger who is active on various social media platforms. Focusing on unexpected architecture in lesser-known parts of China, he has a fanbase of thousands of followers, from Weibo to Bilibili.

His fourth video, “A Trip to Hogwarts Hebei” (“霍格沃茨河北分校之旅”) launched him to stardom in his channel’s first month.

The video documents the bizarre architecture of the Hebei Academy of Fine Arts, which has been compared to the ‘Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from Harry Potter due to its bizarre castle campus.

The Hebei Academy of Fine Arts is one of the wondrous places Schlieffen introduces in his vlogs. (Image via Twoeggs.com).

Schlieffen’s 4-minute video shows the vlogger’s exploration of the ‘Hogwarts’-like area. After a long drive down a country road, he arrives at the so-called ‘Empire Square’, which is surrounded by three magnificent rococo, Renaissance and Gothic-style buildings.

The center building, adorned with dramatic towers and turrets, is the school’s administration building. Imagine grading student work in a medieval castle in the middle of a cornfield!

Guiding the viewer through the premises, Schlieffen shows the hotel and conference center on the left; the interior is crammed with densely arranged pillars and painted ceilings  – which might be a homage to the Sistine Chapel, without the high ceilings.

The pseudo-European buildings are somewhat laughable on their own, but there’s a lot more. The campus is divided in two halves: one is European-themed, and the other one focuses on ancient China. The two are separated by a manmade “Mediterranean” lake complete with manmade islands covered in artificial palm trees.

Schlieffen’s videos always follow a similar pattern. He often uses a wide-angle lens and speeds up the video to four or even eight times its normal speed, with quick edits – no shot lasts longer than 3 seconds. Each video begins with the vlogger getting off from a train or getting out of a car from where he starts his tour. “Please hold on and sit tight,” is one of his signature phrases.

 

They suddenly seemed to realize that there were parts of China they had no clue about.

 

“A Trip to Hogwarts Hebei” soon started making its rounds on Chinese social media, and was especially shared among well-educated netizens and white-collar workers, who suddenly seemed to realize that there were parts of China they had no clue about.

The Chinese term “shanzhai” (山寨) is a derogatory term for “knock-off goods,” but it literally means “mountain village.” The assumption is that people from rural mountain villages cannot afford real luxury goods, so they buy cheap counterfeits made in poorly run factories. The metropolitan middle class already knew about shanzhai Louis Vuitton bags, but they weren’t aware that hillbillies were capable of building a 288-acre shanzhai Hogwarts.

Schlieffen’s video on the noteworthy Hebei Academy of Fine Arts has currently been viewed over nine million times on Miaopai alone.

After the success of his initial videos, Schlieffen continued filming knock-off world wonders in Hebei. By now, he has made fifty vlogs, including those on wondrous places such as Hebei Jerusalem or Hebei Venice.

‘Hebei Venice’ is one of the spots highlighted in one of Schlieffen’s vlogs. Image via http://blog.sina.com.cn.

Through the course of his vlogging career, Schlieffen expanded his field of interest to include any attraction teetering on the thin line between ambitious and ridiculous.

Whether sharing images and videos on the world’s largest cement elephant or the biggest turtle sculpture, Schlieffen’s posts always attract hundreds of likes. One of his other popular videos explores the somewhat bizarre site of the Baoding Zoo.

 

Hebei is an almost invisible province, as transparent as the air – I used that invisibility to make myself visible.

 

There are not many online influencers focusing on Hebei, a place that is not exactly known for its glamor and charm. At a December 2018 event hosted by Chinese tech news site Huxiu.com, Schlieffen said that “Hebei is an almost invisible province, as transparent as the air – I used that invisibility to make myself visible.”

Hebei, a coastal province in Northern China, contains two municipalities under the direct control of the central government: Beijing and Tianjin. People often say that Beijing and Tianjin are the flavorful ‘fillings of a dumpling’ while Hebei is ‘the plain wrapper.’

Under the current household registration system, being a resident of Beijing or Tianjin means better social welfare than the rest of Hebei. Thus, the ‘brain drain’ from Hebei to the cities has been ongoing for decades.

When people talk about Hebei, they usually describe it as an uneventful place, but Schlieffen’s representation of Hebei completely changes their idea of the region, turning it into a place where people can be wildly ambitious.

Their ambitions can take on two forms: first, they are obsessed with huge, grand buildings. Second, they want to include every aesthetic they can think of, Chinese or European, ancient or contemporary. These ambitions come together in a brazenly unsophisticated form of architecture.

Hotel in Hebei in one of Schlieffen’s videos (天子大酒店).

Schlieffen (1992) was born and raised in Hebei. After college, he went to England for graduate school until 2018.

While he was studying abroad, a new wave of Chinese vloggers launched their careers in mainland China. Many of them, such as the female vlogger Zhuzi (@你好_竹子), were studying abroad in Western countries. They shot and shared short videos of their daily lives, satisfying their audience’s curiosity about life in a strange land.

Schlieffen began to seriously consider vlogging as a career after finishing his studies and returning to his hometown. He found that his prospective audience seemed to have grown tired of watching Chinese exchange students living happy, fashionable lives overseas. As a lover of traveling, he decided to start his own travel vlog.

Schlieffen, image via Sina News.

In an interview with Li Dangxin for Huxiu.com, Schlieffen explains: “You have to ask yourself time and time again why the audience wants to watch your videos.” Careful consideration led him to shoot the bizarre buildings in Hebei.

There are tens of thousands of Hebei natives working in big cities, Schlieffen thought; they care about what’s going on in their hometowns, but they haven’t necessarily seen these incredible buildings in person. They would be his first audience and if they shared his posts, his videos would surely go viral.

Things happened just as Schlieffen expected. Well-educated white-collar workers who had left their hometowns behind were stunned by Schlieffen’s discoveries and collectively reposted his videos with their friends.

 

“Making Hebei great again.”

 

Even after having produced dozens of vlogs and posts, Schlieffen is not worried about running out of stories. After his initial success, he also began covering stories in other provinces.

Schlieffen found that if a village’s richest man happens to be the local party secretary and is also a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member, you’re sure to find ridiculous architecture in that village.

These locally powerful people often want to put up monuments and realize impressive structures to build on their legacy. Their power often goes largely unchecked in the various corners of Chinese -more rural- provinces, and their subordinates will not question them – those with the ability to challenge them aesthetically have probably already fled to bigger cities.

One example features in Schlieffen’s video on the Long Wish Hotel International. Boasting an elevation of 328 meters, the hotel is ranked No. 8 in China and No. 15 worldwide in terms of height. It isn’t in densely populated Beijing or Shanghai, but in Huaxi village in Jiangsu province. When asked why one would build such a gigantic hotel in a rural area, the village party secretary answered: “Because we can.”

The gigantic hotel in Jiangxi, image via http://blog.sina.com.cn.

The hotel in Huaxi has nouveau riche written all over it. Every corner is decorated with glittering sculptures made with gold, silver or crystal. There are miniatures of Tiananmen, the White House and Arc De Triomphe in the village. On top of the White House stands a miniature Statue of Liberty.

In reporting on all these wondrous places and buildings, Schlieffen avoids making strong statements about them. Instead, he often makes playful or edgy comments. His slogan “Make Hebei great again” also means different things to different people. Some instantly understand his application of the phrase, while others simply take it literally.

What is noteworthy is that Schlieffen rarely offends locals. He’s welcomed wherever he visits. After he made a video about Wan Jia Li, a hotel/shopping mall in Hunan, the owner supposedly even invited Schlieffen to visit his home, saying: “My home is more fun than my business.”

Being featured in one of Schlieffen’s video can be lucrative for places in Hebei and elsewhere, as these places in rural areas will suddenly see a flux of visitors. Hebei Academy of Fine Arts has even become a popular destination for wedding photos.

Schlieffen is convinced he has found the right perspective from which to observe China’s rapidly changing areas. Meanwhile, his next video is on its way. “Please hold on and sit tight,” Schlieffen says again. Enjoy the ride. 

By Anna Wang

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Born and raised in Beijing, Anna Wang received her BA from Peking University and is a full-time author/translator. She has translated Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock into Chinese. Her latest work is Inconvenient Memories, an autobiographical fiction about her coming-of-age amid the Tiananmen Square Protests. She is living in Southern California.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Anti-Bullying Movie “Better Days” Becomes Hit at Box Office and on Social Media

Chinese movie ‘Better Days’ is praised by online celebrities and experts for addressing the problem of campus bullying.

Chauncey Jung

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The Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你) is a hit; not just in Chinese cinemas, but also on social media, where campus bullying – one of the film’s main themes – is a recurring topic of debate.

Over the past week, Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你), by Hong Kong director Derek Kwok Cheung Tsang and produced by Jojo Hui, has continued its extraordinary performance in movie theaters across China.

The drama movie, starring two popular celebrities Jackson Yi (易烊千玺) and Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨), reached more than 1.4 billion CNY (almost 200 million US$) in box office revenue this week, already making it one of the most lucrative movies of this year.

Better Days is noteworthy for its narrative, which focuses on campus-bullying. In the film, high school student Chen Nian (Zhou Dongyu) is struggling with the stress of her gaokao exams when her best friend, who is bullied by a group of girls at school, commits suicide by jumping off a building.

While mourning over the loss of her friend and dealing with the aftermath of her suicide, Chen becomes a bullying target herself. The story takes a turn when she meets the small criminal Xiao Bei (Jackson Lee).

China’s bullying problem, central to this movie, has been an ongoing topic of discussion in online media over the past few years.

In 2016, a prominent elementary school in Beijing ended up at the center of controversy when various bullying incidents came to light. In that same year, a mother’s social media article on her son’s severe bullying at school went viral and triggered heated discussions.

In 2017, one bullying case became big news after a student from a Beijing-suburb area junior high school was reportedly forced to swallow feces from the restroom by his fellow classmates.

According to Chinese media outlet Caixin, China has yet to have specialized legislation against bullying. A 2016 study suggests that one-third of Chinese students experience school bullying on a frequent or occasional basis, and the bully problems are even more serious in rural areas, where more than 40% of the school-age children experienced some kind of bullying during their school life.

The heightened use of social media among China’s younger generations seems to have only aggravated the bullying problem, with campus violence and bullying being filmed and published online, making victims more vulnerable to further harassment. “Extreme bullying videos” even became a concerning online trend over the past years.

Some argue that China’s current legislation on protecting underage children is, in fact, protecting the bullies rather than those being bullied. A China News Service news report suggests that while most bullies are also individuals under 18 years old, penalties of bullying are also undermined because of the protective provisions in the current legal systems on minors.

In addition to calls to toughen related legislation, media commentaries are also calling for more resources to eradicate the bullying culture and toxic environment on campus. Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, for example, recently suggested the problem should be addressed through family education, counselling services, and more training for teachers and practitioners.

By addressing the issue of campus bullying in China, Better Days seems to have won the favor of moviegoing audiences in China. On the Chinese movie commentary site Douban, the film is receiving hundreds of positive comments and high ratings. The movie currently has a Douban score of 8.4 and a 98% “recommendation rate” on Weibo.

Better Days is also praised by online celebrities and experts. Renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河), actress Ma Yili (马伊琍), and historian Yi Zhongtian (易中天) all complimented the great acting and the themes of the movie recently.

On Weibo, the movie has become tied to anti-bullying campaigns, with people sharing their own experiences and stories on school bullying and linking the film to hashtags such as “Unite in saying no to campus bullying” (#一起对校园欺凌说不#) or “How to combat campus violence” (#校园暴力到底该如何解决#).

By now, the movie’s hashtag (“Movie Better Days” #电影少年的你#) has seen over 540 million views on Weibo.

See the trailer of Better Days here (with English subtitles). Better Days is still airing in cinemas across China and is also played at various theaters in Europe, America, and Australia.

By Chauncey Jung

Edited by Manya Koetse
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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 10 of Popular Chinese Podcasts of 2019 (by What’s on Weibo)

What are Chinese podcast app users listening to? An overview.

Jialing Xie

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As the podcasting industry only seems to become more thriving around the world, What’s on Weibo tunes into China’s podcast market and selects ten of the most popular Chinese podcasts for you.

Ever since it first made its entrance into the entertainment industry, the podcast – a term coined in 2004 – has kept growing in listenership in most Western countries.

The same holds true for China, where podcasts are mainly concentrated on a couple of bigger online audio streaming platforms.

What are the most ear-catching podcast streaming services in China now? While various podcast apps have been competing with each other to attract users with their trending content, Ximalaya is one of the most popular ones as it offers the widest range of content of all major podcast apps in China. The app was first launched in 2013, and has been a top-scoring app ever since.

In terms of popularity, Ximalaya (喜马拉雅) is closely followed by DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM), LycheeFM(荔枝FM), and a series of other podcast platforms with each implementing different business models.

How do we know what’s trending on these podcast apps? Based on user clicks and other metrics, Ximalaya has its own ranking lists of popular podcasts for five major categories: classics, audiobooks,crosstalk & storytelling, news, music, and entertainment.

DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM) and other podcast apps also have their own rankings for even more narrowly defined categories, although these rankings often feature the same ‘most popular’ podcasts as Ximalaya and other apps.

To give you an impression and an overview of the kind of podcasts that are currently most popular in China, we have made a selection of trending podcasts across various audio apps, with some notes that might be useful for those tuning into these podcasts as learners of Mandarin (all of these popular podcasts use Mandarin).

Please note that this is not an ‘official’ top 10 list, but one that is compiled by What’s on Weibo based on various popular ranking lists in different categories. Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling podcast, for instance, is ranked as a number one popular podcast on both Ximalaya and Dragonfly FM, which is why it comes in highest in our list, too.

What’s on Weibo is independent and is not affiliated with any of these audio platforms or podcasts.

 

#1 Guo Degang: Crosstalk Collection of 21 Years (郭德纲21年相声精选)

Link to podcast

Category: Crosstalk & Storytelling

Duration: 20-90 min/episode

About:

Guo Degang (郭德纲, Guō Dégāng) is one of the most successful crosstalk comedians in China. In 1995, he founded his own crosstalk society, Deyun Society (德云社, Dé Yún Shè), which aims to “bring crosstalk back to traditional theaters.” Guo Degang has succeeded in making the general public pay more attention to crosstalk (相声, xiàngsheng), a traditional Chinese art performance that started in the Qing Dynasty. Like many other traditional Chinese arts, crosstalk performers are expected to have had a solid foundation that is often referred to as “kung fu” (功夫, Gōngfū) before they can perform onstage. Among the many collections attempted to gather Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling performance, this podcast is probably the most comprehensive attempt thus far to gather Guo’s crosstalk and storytelling – it lists Guo’s best performances throughout his nearly three-decade career.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast contains a lot of word jokes, special idioms, and cultural and historical context, making it more suitable for advanced Mandarin learners. But beginners, don’t be discouraged! Get your feet wet with Guo’s sense of humor if you like a challenge. Accent Alert: you will hear the Tianjin accent in Guo’s performance, which is also encouraged by the crosstalk & storytelling art genre.

 

#2 King Fafa (发发大王)

Link to podcast

Category: Talkshow & Entertainment

Duration: 1 – 2 hr/episode

About:

This podcast provides a glimpse into Chinese society through the lens of ordinary people and their own stories. These stories range from a Chinese mother going through struggles to give birth to her child in the UK as an immigrant, to the love-and-hate relationship between Chinese youngsters and marriage brokers. Or how about Huawei employees’ personal anecdotes, or a self-made millionaire’s confession on his sudden realization of the true meaning of life? Looking beneath the surface of people’s lives with a compassionate and sometimes somewhat cynical attitude, the talk show podcast Fafa King has won over Chinese podcast listeners.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Enrich your vocabulary and phrases bank with this daily-conversation based podcast. Suitable for medium-level Mandarin learners.
Accent Alert: you will hear mostly Beijinger accents from the two hosts.

 

#3 Chasing Tech, Teasing Arts (追科技撩艺术)

Link to podcast

Category: Technology & Art / Business podcas

Duration: 30 min -1 hr/episode

About:

This Doko.com podcast allows listeners to get new perspectives on technology, art, environmental protection, and business through the voice of aspiring Chinese youths from within China and abroad. Doko.com used to be a digital marketing agency but now describes itself as a “group of people passionate about the internet, a diverse, interesting and exciting place.”

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Doko’s podcast features interviews between the host and guests on topics mainly relating to art and technology in a semi-formal setting. Listen to learn how to discuss these topics in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear the host speaking Mandarin with a slight accent and guest speakers with various accents of their origin.

 

#4 Let Jenny Tell You (潘吉Jenny告诉你)

Full title: Let Jenny Tell You – Learn English and Talk about America (潘吉Jenny告诉你-学英语聊美国), Link to podcast

Category: Education

Duration: 10 – 20 min/episode

About:

Let Jenny Tell You is one of the most popular podcasts around for Chinese listeners to learn English. Hosted by Jenny and Adam, the podcast offers quite rich and unique content, discussing various topics often relating to Chinese culture and news, and of course, diving deeper into the English language.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a language learning podcast, this podcast is actually perfect for intermediate learners of Chinese; it works both ways for Chinese-English learners as well as for English speakers who are interested in learning Mandarin. Because Adam speaks English, you always know what the podcast is about. Accent Alert: Jenny (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#5 Stories Across the Globe (环球故事会)

Link to podcast

Category: Society & Culture

Duration: 20 min/episode (length differs on Podcasts App Store)

About:

A skillful narrator digs into stories behind the news, examining various topics involving cultures, history, politics, international relations. This podcast, by China’s state-owned international radio broadcaster, often comes up as a suggestion on various platforms, and also seems to be really popular because of its news-related stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Well-paced speech with an intimate tone, this podcast is a good source for learning new vocabulary and improving your pronunciation if you are already an advanced learner of Mandarin. Accent Alert: the host speaks fairly standard Mandarin with a Beijing accent.

 

#6 Watching Dreams Station (看理想电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Interviews & Culture

Duration: 20 – 40 min/episode

About:

A fun and informative podcast with varied content coverage, this podcast has a refreshing tone and smooth transitions between narratives and (expert) interview footage. A great source to learn more about what Chinese ‘hipsters,’ often referred to as literary and arty youth (文青, wén qīng) care about with regular mentions of social media stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast has relatively slow-paced speech covering various topics, which helps to make you more familiar with new vocabulary and practice how to explain things in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear hosts speak fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#7 Black Water Park (黑水公园)

Link to podcast

Category: TV & Movies, Talkshow

Duration: 1 – 1.5 hr/episode

About:

Learn what’s commonly discussed among Chinese young adults about movies and TV shows through these entertaining conversations between the two good friends Ài Wén and Jīn Huā-er.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Suitable for medium-to-advanced-level Mandarin learners; highly engaging conversations involving lots of slang and colloquial expressions.
Accent Alert: the hosts speak with recognizable Beijinger accents, so be prepared.

 

#8 The Sketch is Here (段子来了)

Link to podcast

Category: Comedy

Duration: 45 min/episode

About:

With 5.426 billion user clicks on Ximalaya, this podcast featuring funny sketches is super popular and has become a household name in China’s podcast market. It offers a taste of humor appreciated by many Chinese, which is very different from what you’d get from a podcast in the West within the same category.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Great source to learn colloquial Mandarin and funny ice-breakers, but challenging as humor is intrinsically linked with inside jokes and word play. Accent Alert: the host has what’s considered a soothing voice and speaks fairly standard Mandarin.

 

#9 Ruixi’s Radio (蕊希电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Lifestyle & Bedtime

Duration: 10 min/episode

About:

One way to examine culture is to look at what people generally worry about the most. This podcast, that always starts with the soft voice of Ruixi (the host) asking listeners “Hey, are you ok today?”, focuses on a darker side of society and addresses the social and mental struggles that adults in China are facing. Ruixi’s Radio is one of those podcasts that enjoy equivalent popularity across several podcast platforms, which indicates strong branding. For many people, it’s a soothing podcast to listen just before bedtime.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

The slow-paced monologue using language easy to understand makes a great learning material for beginning learners. Accent Alert: Ruixi (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with insignificant accents.

 

#10 Stories FM (故事FM)

Link to podcast

Category: Stories & Bedtime

Duration: 20 – 30 min/episode

About:

Described by the New York Times as a “rarity in a media landscape full of state propaganda and escapist entertainment,” Gushi FM was launched with the idea “Your story, your voice.” As one of China’s popular audio programs, Gushi FM features stories told by ordinary Chinese of various backgrounds.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a collection of monologues that detail stories, describe emotions, and argue ideas, this podcast suits advanced level learners. Accent Alert: in every episode, guests with speaking and telling stories in their own local dialects.

Want to understand more about podcasts in China? We’d recommend this insightful article on the Niemanlab website.

Because there are many more popular Chinese podcasts we would like to share with you, this probably will not be our only list. A follow-up list will also contain other favorites such as Two IT Uncles (两个IT大叔), BBPark (日坛公园), and One Day World ( 一天世界).

Want to recommend another Chinese podcast? Please leave a comment below this article or tweet us at @whatsonweibo, leave a message on Instagram or reach out via Facebook.

By Jialing Xie, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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