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Messages of Sympathy Flooding Weibo after Death of Young Bilibili Blogger ‘Mo Cha Official’

Mo Cha was just another Bilibili user until his tragic death triggered a flood of condolence messages and tributes on Chinese social media.

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The anonymous and rather unknown blogger ‘Mo Cha Official’ became famous after he died. His death casts light on young Chinese people living in extreme poverty.

On 21 January, the name of a Bilibili content creator called Mò Chá Official (墨茶Official) first appeared on the hot search list of Weibo, shortly after news of his death made its rounds on Chinese social media.

Thousands of netizens started empathizing with this young anonymous blogger after background information about his unhappy and difficult life surfaced online.

Mo Cha Official was a rather unpopular content creator on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing site that is mainly themed around animation, comics and games.

Before the news of his death went viral, Mo Cha Official’s channel, which focused on gaming and anime-related content, only had a few hundred fans.

Over the past week, much has become clear on Mo Cha Official and his mysterious death as other Bilibili users and media outlets shared more information on the circumstances leading up to his passing.

Mo Cha Official was a young man, born in 1998, who lived in Huili County in Sichuan province. He first started uploading content to Bilibili about a year ago, sharing his passion for games with other netizens, but also sharing details about his life.

According to other Bilibili users, Mo Cha suffered from nasal tumors and other health problems. Although doctors advised that he needed to be hospitalized, he could not afford the treatment and surgery he needed.

As his health problems grew worse, some of his online friends suggested that Mo Cha could do online fundraising to pay for his surgery. However, since the blogger could not afford to get an official diagnosis on his condition, he could not get the documents needed to organize such online crowdfunding.

On 29 December 2020, he posted: “I’m craving strawberries. Recently, tortured by illness, I vomited out everything that I have eaten. I really want to eat strawberries, but strawberries are too expensive.”

His last post was on the last day of 2020, in which he wrote “I’m still lying on my sick bed, sigh.”

Chinese news outlet The Paper reports that the blogger and his family slipped into poverty after his grandmother became ill and the family had to pay for high medical bills. After the grandmother passed away, the family faced high levels of debt.

Mo Cha moved to Chengdu where he worked as a longshoreman, making 800 yuan ($123) per month of which 500 yuan ($77) was spent on rent, leaving only 300 yuan ($46) for food and other expenses.

According to online friends, Mo Cha developed stomach problems due to malnutrition, and the blogger complained about his stomach hurting in online posts.

Mo Cha’s situation went from bad to worse when he lost out on wages, became a victim of online fraud, and developed symptoms of diabetes.

He was last seen online on January 4th. Media reports claim the young man passed away around January 10, after which his body was found in his room by his landlord. It took about ten days before his death started to be discussed by former fellow Bilibili users.

Over the past week, many netizens empathized with Mo Cha and noted the calm way in which he talked about his life despite his suffering. “I hope your next life is better than this one,” many commenters wrote.

By now, the hashtag “Mo Cha Official” (#墨茶official#) has reached 600 million views on Weibo; the hashtag “Huili County Responds to Mo Cha Official’s Passing” (#会理县回应B站UP主墨茶去世#) – which relates to the official confirmation of Mo Cha’s death – received 620 million views.

“Really sorry I got to know about you like this,” one popular comment said.

On video site Bilibili, the 墨茶Official account now has over 1.7 million followers, with many Bilibili users uploading videos and art dedicated to the blogger. Bilibili has officially verified his death and turned his Bilibili account into a memorial account.

Besides the stream of sympathy messages flooding social media, there are also other responses to Mo Cha’s passing.

Firstly, the blogger’s story triggered online discussions on various social issues including China’s poverty alleviation policies. Many online commenters express their shock that young people such as Mo Cha could die unnecessarily due to poverty and untreated illness.

Although some think better poverty alleviation policies could have prevented the blogger’s death, others think it would take more than that. One Weibo user wrote that changing poverty policies would not have helped his situation, writing: “To get subsidies he would also need to have the right channels and have a certain level of knowledge. He probably really didn’t know.”

Then there was also speculation on the degree of exaggeration in the news regarding Mo Cha’s death, especially after stories surfaced in the media that Mo Cha’s parents’ financial situation was not too bad and that Mo Cha allegedly had a criminal record.

But one of the things that’s most-discussed on social media is the mere fact that Mo Cha could not afford to eat strawberries when he craved them most – a detail in his story that strikes a chord for many.

And so, many people express their wishes for Mo Cha to find strawberries forever in an afterlife. One of the most popular comments on Weibo in one of the threads on this story said: “Hope that you can have many, many strawberries over there.”

By Christopher Yong

edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

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Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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China Digital

From Red Packet to Virtual Hongbao: Lucky Envelopes in China’s Digital Era

Raising virtual cows, shaking with phones – this is the Chinese New Year tradition of giving red envelopes in the digital era.

Things That Talk

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The custom of giving out red paper envelopes has evolved into a world of virtual lucky money and online games. This is the transformation of a Chinese New Year’s tradition, reported by Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

Ever wanted to raise a digital cow? This year, you can raise your own lucky cow (福牛) for Chinese New Year on Weibo. Through maintaining and raising their virtual cow (or ox), users can participate in this online game to win red envelopes, a well-known and beloved tradition linked to Chinese New Year.

The hashtag “Lucky Cow’s New Year’s Travelogue” (#福牛新春旅行记#) is linked to Weibo’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Ox. Users are expected to be active on Weibo daily to raise their cow/ox, similar to the once so popular Tamagotchi. Whilst leveling up their cow, users get the possibility to earn digital red envelopes.

The online game is another development in the story of the red envelopes, known in China as hongbao (红包). Often given during Chinese New Year, the envelopes can also be given at other joyous occasions like weddings. These red envelopes are given to each other by friends and family members to wish each other a happy new year and are always filled with an amount of money.

Red envelopes for sale via Taobao.

The practice of giving money during Chinese New Year goes far back in Chinese history. The earliest form of the red envelope is said to be yasuiqian (压祟钱). In order to keep evil spirits away, called sui (祟), people put money underneath children’s pillow since the evil spirits were said to be warded off by coins.1 These coins were woven together using a string.

Yasuiqian

As time went by and paper money and envelopes became more widespread, string and coins were replaced and the red envelope was created.

Red envelopes are used by Chinese all over the world nowadays. The amount of money inside depends on many factors. Recently, the tradition has left behind its tangible form and entered the digital era.

 

“Adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes”

 

In 2014, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat (微信) launched a new function that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes. Users could send an amount of money directly to another user, or an amount of red envelopes could be sent into a groupchat. When the function launched, users worldwide could shake their phones in order to receive free red envelopes. The amount of money that was given to users surpassed 500 million yuan ($77.5 million).

WeChat’s inventive idea put digital red envelopes on the map in China. During the peak of the event, 800 million shakes were recorded per minute. There were two types of envelopes introduced in 2014 by Tencent, the company that owns WeChat:

1. A regular red envelope that could be sent directly from one user to another.
2. A ‘group’ red envelope, with a limited number to be grabbed and a limited sum of money which can be grabbed by all users in a group if they are fast enough. The sum inside this envelope is randomized, adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes.

Other companies also wanted a piece of the digital red envelope cake: Weibo and AliPay combined their strengths a year after WeChat introduced its digital hongbao in order to promote their version of the digital red envelope.

A ‘war’ then broke out between the two companies. AliPay handed out 600 million renminbi ($93 million) worth of red envelopes as a response to WeChat’s 120 million envelopes sent out during the televised celebration of Chinese New Year.2

 

“Digital red envelopes can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact”

 

In the years after, the digital red envelope became more and more popular. Weibo and Alipay also came with their version of sending red envelopes online. The companies organized large-scale actions to make users make use of their form of digital red envelopes.

WeChat, for instance, gives users the option to make the red envelopes very personal through adding stickers and personal messages, making the digital red envelope an even more enjoyable experience.

Does this new development of the traditional red envelope make the tangible envelope obsolete?

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻) about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible brother, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan (田兆元) of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that it replaces the tangible red envelopes.3

The tradition of sending red envelopes is and will be inherently linked to Chinese New Year. Though both the paper and digital forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular, the virtual hongbao will definitely win territory once more this year as travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Especially in these times, the digital red envelope is the best digital way of wishing family and friends a happy new year.

Why are ‘lucky envelopes’ not just red, but sometimes also green or purple? Read more via Things That Talk here.

 
By Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

Xiaojun Zhang (China Studies, BA) is an MA student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on contemporary Chinese culture, symbolism and food. For Things That Talk, she currently works on a project about Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. Check out the story “Hongbao: from paper envelope to digital gift” on Things That Talk here!

 
Footnotes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Kin Wai Michael Siu. 2001. “Red Packet: a Traditional Object in the Modern World.” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (3), 103.
2 Chen, Liyan. 2015. “Red Envelope War: How Alibaba and Tencent Fight Over Chinese New Year.” Forbes, Feb 19 https://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2015/02/19/red-envelope-war-how-alibaba-and-tencent-fight-over-chinese-new-year/?sh=1b88bccccddd.
3 The Paper, Zuowei yi zhong “xinnian su”, weixin hongbao hui qudai zhizhi hongbao ma? 作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?, https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm.

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China Digital

Conversations Behind the Wall: Clubhouse App Now Blocked in China

While the Clubhouse app is no longer accessible from within the PRC, conversations continue behind the wall.

Manya Koetse

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The Clubhouse app became a hot topic among web users in mainland China this weekend. On Monday, the platform was no longer accessible from within the PRC.

On Saturday, we posted an article about the surge in popularity of American ‘drop-in audio chat’ social media platform Clubhouse in mainland China.

As conversations about the popular app continued throughout the weekend, the app was no longer accessible from within mainland China on Monday.

Clubhouse describes itself as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations—with friends and other interesting people around the world” where you can “go online anytime to chat with the people you follow, or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.”

The app has virtual rooms and events themed around various topics – anything from politics to music – and lets hundreds of members join conversations as moderators, speakers, or listeners.

The Clubhouse app was developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Seth. It was first launched in April 2020 on iOS only, and is still only accessible through iPhone for users who have an invite.

Before Monday, the Clubhouse app was freely accessible from within China for those people who had an invite, but only if they had access to the non-Chinese Apple store to download the app.

The app was a hot topic on various Chinese social media platforms this weekend. On Weibo, the civilized and open character of the Clubhouse conversations were praised, allowing a broader understanding of issues that otherwise remain untouched or are limited within the Chinese social media sphere.

One Chinese-language virtual room about the Xinjiang camps was joined by hundreds of people on Saturday. But besides the room focused on Xinjiang, there were also other rooms where discussions took place about the status of Hong Kong and about issues such as whether or not (overseas) Chinese are willing to return to the mainland and why.

“It is like a small crack in a window,” one person on Weibo said about Clubhouse, while others already predicted the app would become unavailable from within mainland China soon.

When it finally happened on Monday, the responses on Weibo were mainly those of disappointment. “Bye bye Clubhouse,” some Weibo users wrote, with others expressing their surprise: “What?! It was just popular for two days and it’s already blocked? They move so fast it’s scary.”

“I was active on Clubhouse for two days. I didn’t expect it to be shut down so soon already.”

Although many commenters previously expressed that they expected the app to become unavailable within the PRC, the fact that it was shutdown while it was just exploding online comes as a surprise to some, as various commenters write.

The term ‘Clubhouse’ was also temporarily blocked on Weibo by Monday night Beijing time; over the weekend various hashtags relating to the app made their rounds on Chinese social media, but the hashtag pages were no longer online by Monday evening.

‘Clubhouse’ no longer shows results on social media platform Weibo. Screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

Meanwhile, various Chinese-language rooms on Clubhouse discussed the topic of its disappearance in China.

A room titled “Clubhouse is blocked, and now?” was joined by over a hundred people on Monday night. The room “Clubhouse is blocked” attracted over 3000 participants. These conversations are likely to continue for the time to come, but now they must continue behind the Great Firewall of China.

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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