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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

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©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 Celebs

Meet Ding Zhen: Khampa Tibetan “Horse Prince” Becomes Social Media Sensation

Ding Zhen’s quiet life out in the grasslands is seemingly over.

Luke Jacobus

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A Khampa Tibetan farmer has become an online sensation in China due to his handsome features. His overnight fame, which comes with legions of adoring fans and TV show invitations, has sparked discussions about the often-overwhelming loss of privacy that can accompany online stardom.

The recent rise to internet fame of a young man named Ding Zhen (丁真) has sparked controversy over the benefits and downsides of e-celebdom.

The 20-year-old farmer, who lives in Litang in the Kham region of Tibet, found accidental online fame after being captured in a blogger’s photography session in Nyima County, according to a Haixia News article.

His handsome features attracted online attention, snowballing out of control after his appearance on a livestream. The young man shyly admitted to having little proficiency in reading or speaking Mandarin, but managed to express his love for raising horses.

The cameraman and other villagers apparently later publicized Ding Zhen’s name, address, and other personal info, soliciting gifts and leading some netizens to mock Ding Zhen’s village neighbors as “blood-sucking vampires.”

Ding, still unaware of his own fame, mentioned with some difficulty on the livestream that his dream was simply to become a “horse prince” (马王子) by winning his local horse races. His dream after that? To raise more horses, of course much to the delight of many Weibo users, some of whom have begun creating fan art in the young man’s honor.

Calls for Ding Zhen to open a Douyin account of his own, or even to appear on reality television shows such as The Coming One (明日之子) and Produce Camp (创造营), have inspired heated debate.

“This kind of person,” wrote one Weibo commenter, “should be riding horses and shooting arrows out on the grasslands; he shouldn’t be imprisoned in Vanity Fair by your fan club’s cultural values.”

Others worried that this young man, “uncorrupted by the world,” might be taken advantage of by others for financial gain.

This concern over the invasiveness of online fans likely stems from previous incidents where ordinary Chinese citizens became extraordinarily famous overnight, such as in the cases of ‘Brother Sharp,’ a homeless man similarly inundated with adoring praise online for his good looks and stylish appearance, and Shanghai’s ‘Vagrant Professor,’ both of whom found their privacy constantly invaded by fans seeking photos or just a chance to meet the new stars. Soon both men could hardly walk outside without being swarmed as their private life had been effectively ended- all because they happened to become popular online.

‘Brother Sharp’ (on the left) and the ‘Vagrant Professor’ (right) both also went viral overnight.

Two phenomena unique to the Chinese internet seem to place these e-celebrities at a higher risk of being tracked down offline by their fans. One of them is the “human flesh search engine” (人肉搜索,) a massive online effort tapping into the knowledge and offline connections of netizens to track down and identify a person, often for shaming or as justice for perceived wrongdoing. The other is the highly-organized “super fan club” phenomenon prevalent in Chinese e-celeb culture, some of which boast structures rivaling the biggest corporations, with PR and financial departments. It’s no wonder then that some netizens fear for Ding Zhen’s personal life.

Many of these concerned netizens seem to particularly admire the simple, pastoral lifestyle of the “grasslands” (草原) which Ding leads, one which has been popularized in novels like Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳), which details the adventures of the young Guo Jing, a Chinese boy who joins the court of Genghis Khan. The novel has been read by millions across China and has become a prominent source of political metaphors on the Chinese web. One commenter exhorted others to “Let him become his own hero, a horse prince! Don’t let the worst impulses of the internet corrupt him.”

With the question “Should Ding Zhen leave the grasslands?” (#丁真该不该离开草原发展#) becoming a trending topic all of its own, it seems opinions about his popularity are fiercely divided. “I hope this handsome guy can make his own choices,” writes one Weibo user: “..and no matter whether he becomes a star or not, I hope he can keep such an innocent heart!”

According to the latest reports, Ding has received a job offer from a Chinese state-owned company since his unexpected rise to online fame. CGTN writes that the ‘horse prince’ has now signed the contract, but they do not mention if this new job will allow him to do what he loves most – raising horses and being out in the grasslands.

 
By Luke Jacobus

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©2020 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

Oh, the Drama! Chinese Opera Performance Turns into Stage Fight as Drunken Man Attacks Actors

This local traditional opera performance unexpectedly turned into a stage fight.

Manya Koetse

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On October 9 in Zhejiang’s Lishui city (Laozhu Town), a theatrical performance unexpectedly turned very dramatic when a drunken man stormed on stage to fight with the performers.

A video showing the Chinese opera performance being disturbed by the drunkard, turning it into a chaotic stage scene, is gaining major attention on Chinese social media.

The incident occurred Friday night around 9 pm, when the Laozhu Theatrical Troupe was performing.

Videos of the incident that are circulating online show how one man comes on stage, attacking one of the actors. The scene escalates into a big fight when others try to intervene. The police were quick to arrive at the scene.

Various news reports suggest the man started to act out after getting into an argument with one of the ‘Huadan’ (花旦) performers of the troupe. In traditional Chinese opera, the Huadan characters are young female roles, often seductive in appearance and quick with their words.

Local police posted on Weibo that the chaos was caused by a 33-year-old local who started to become aggressive after he had too much to drink. The man is charged with disorderly conduct and is currently detained.

The case received even more attention on social media when it turned out that the 33-year old troublemaker is the son of the head of a neighboring village.

Many Chinese netizens feel that the man is spared by Chinese news media outlets, which only report about a “drunken man” who was “causing trouble.” They insist that the real story should be properly reported.

“The son of the village chief took liberties with a huadan actress who rejected him, and then he kicked her, causing her to lose consciousness. He then beat up other actors,” some commenters explain.

“He is not just a ‘drunkard’, he’s the son of the village secretary.”

“What an explosive performance it was!” one Weibo blogger writes.

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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