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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.

Luke Jacobus is a sophomore Mandarin / International Studies double major at the University of Mississippi's Chinese Flagship Program. Jacobus is passionate about China's popular culture, cinema, and online media.

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China Celebs

Female Comedian Yang Li and the Intel Controversy

A decision that backfired: Intel’s act of supposed ‘inclusion’ caused the exclusion of female comedian Yang Li.

Manya Koetse

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“How to look at the boycott of Yang Li?” (#如何看待抵制杨笠#) became a top trending topic on social media site Weibo on Monday after female comedian Yang Li was dismissed as the spokesperson for American tech company Intel over a controversial ad campaign.

On March 18, Intel released an ad on its Weibo account in which Yang says “Intel has a taste [for laptops] that is higher than my taste for men” (“英特尔的眼光太高了,比我挑对象的眼光都高.”)

The ad drew complaints for allegedly insulting men, with some social media users vowing to boycott the tech brand. On Sunday, Intel deleted the ad in question from its social media page and reportedly also removed Yang from her position as their brand ambassador.

The commotion over the ad had more to do with Chinese comedian Yang Li (杨笠) than with the specific lines that were featured in it.

Yang Li is controversial for her jokes mocking men (“men are adorable, but mysterious. After all, they can look so average and yet be so full of confidence“), with some blaming her for being “sexist” and “promoting hatred against all men.”

Since she appeared on the stand-up comedy TV competition Rock and Roast (脱口秀大会) last year, she was nicknamed the the “punchline queen” and became one of the more influential comedians in present-day China. Yang now has nearly 1,5 million fans on Weibo (@-杨笠-).

Yang Li’s bold jokes and sharp way of talking about gender roles and differences between men and women in Chinese society is one of the main reasons she became so famous. Intel surely knew this when asking Yang to be their brand ambassador.

In light of the controversy, the fact that Intel was so quick to remove Yang also triggered criticism. Some (male) netizens felt that Intel, a company that sells laptops, could not be represented by a woman who makes fun of men, while these men are a supposed target audience for Intel products.

But after Yang was removed, many (female) netizens also felt offended, suggesting that in the 21st century, Intel couldn’t possibly believe that their products were mainly intended for men (“以男性用户为主”)? Wasn’t their female customer base just as important?

According to online reports, Intel responded by saying: “We noted that the content [we] spread relating to Yang Li caused controversy, and this is not what we had anticipated. We place great importance on diversity and inclusion. We fully recognize and value the diverse world we live in, and are committed to working with partners from all walks of life to create an inclusive workplace and social environment.”

However, Intel’s decision backfired, as many wondered why having Yang as their brand ambassador would not go hand in hand with ‘promoting an inclusive social environment.’

“Who are you being ‘inclusive’ too? Common ‘confident’ men?”, one person wrote, with others saying: “Why can so many beauty and cosmetic brands be represented by male idols and celebrities? I loathe these double standards.”

“As a Chinese guy, I really think Yang Li is funny. I didn’t realize Chinese men had such a lack of humor!” another Weibo user writes.

There are also people raising the issue of Yang’s position and how people are confusing her performative work with her actual character. One popular law blogger wrote: “Really, boycotting Yang Li is meaningless. Stand-up comedy is a performance, just as the roles people play in a TV drama.”

Just a month ago, another Chinese comedian also came under fire for his work as a brand ambassador for female underwear brand Ubras.

It is extremely common in China for celebrities to be brand ambassadors; virtually every big celebrity is tied to one or more brands. Signing male celebrities to promote female-targeted products is also a popular trend (Li 2020). Apparently, there is still a long way to go when the tables are turned – especially when it is about female celebrities with a sharp tongue.

By Manya Koetse

Li, Xiaomeng. 2020. “How powerful is the female gaze? The implication of using male celebrities for promoting female cosmetics in China.” Global Media and China, Vol.5 (1), p.55-68.

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China Celebs

The Online Hit of the China-US Meeting in Alaska: Interpreter Zhang Jing

While the China-US meeting is all the talk, it is interpreter Zhang Jing who has hit the limelight.

Manya Koetse

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It probably was not easy to translate the tough talks at the high-level meeting between the U.S. and China in Anchorage. Chinese female translator Zhang Jing became an online hit in China for remaining unflustered, graceful, and accurate.

Over the past days, the U.S.-China strategic talks in Anchorage have been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

The first major U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration ended on Friday, March 19. Despite the tense start of the meeting and some describing the talks as a “diplomatic clash,” China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) called the meeting “frank, constructive and helpful,” New York Times reports.

While international media focused on the meeting and what their outcome means for Sino-American relations and the foreign strategies of China and the U.S., many Weibo users focused on interpreter Zhang Jing (张京) who joined the meeting.

One video of the first session of the diplomatic talks shows how Yang Jiechi starts his response to the American side at 8.30 minutes, going on for over 15 minutes until the 24.36-minute mark. Next to him, interpreter Zhang Jing is fiercely taking notes.

When Yang is finished speaking, he glances to foreign minister Wang Yi on his right to let him speak, after which Zhang says, “Shall I first translate?”

While the U.S. side was awaiting the translation, Yang then says: “Ok, you translate,” adding in English: “It’s a test for the interpreter,” after which the American side says “We’re gonna give the translator a raise!”

Zhang then goes ahead and calmly translates Yang’s entire 15-minute speech directed at American secretary Blinken and national security advisor Sullivan.

To give a speedy translation of such a lengthy off-the-record speech is seen as a sign of Zhang’s utmost professionalism as an interpreter, which many on Weibo praise. “She’s my idol,” multiple people write.

On Sunday, the hashtag “China-U.S. Talks Female Interpreter Zhang Jing” (#中美对话女翻译官张京#) had reached 200 million views.

It’s not the first time for Zhang to become an online hit. She was previously also called “the most beautiful interpreter” of the National Congress in 2013.

Zhang Jing is a graduate of the China Foreign Affairs University (外交学院) and has been working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2007.

Being an interpreter is generally regarded an exciting and attractive job by many Chinese netizens, as the career involves much traveling and international contacts. But the ability to master another language than Chinese is also often admired.

In 2016, a TV drama titled The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官) became a major hit, featuring Chinese actress Yang Mi who plays a Chinese-French interpreter on her way to start her professional career.

“Translators are usually the ‘heroes behind the scenes’,” one commenter writes, pointing out how rare it is for an interpreter to hit the limelight like this.

“There are still people saying it’s not important to learn English,” another Weibo user writes: “But if that were true, how could we educate brilliant interpreters like Zhang Jing? How else could we quarrel with Americans at the conference table?!”

Many who write about Zhang on Weibo say that she is an example or a role model to them: “I hope that my spoken English one day would be as excellent as hers. This motivates me to try even harder.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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