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Mirror of Time: Chinese Weddings Through the Decades

Changing wedding customs are the mirror of a rapidly changing China. Over the past 50 years, China has seen drastic changes in the process of getting married and how weddings are celebrated. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Chinese weddings since the 1950s.

Manya Koetse

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Changing wedding customs are the mirror of a rapidly changing China. Over the past 50 years, China has seen drastic changes in the process of getting married and how weddings are celebrated. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Chinese weddings since the 1950s.

The staggering increase of bride prices in China’s rural areas has been a much-discussed topic in Chinese (social) media, as prices have increased sixty-fold (!) since the late 1990s.

But it is not just the custom of bride prices that has drastically changed over the past decades. In pace with a rapidly-changing China, the whole process of getting married and wedding traditions have undergone enormous changes.

Liu Tong (@丹东刘彤), deputy director of a Liaoning local TV channel, writes on Weibo: “In my parent’s generation, picking up the bride by bicycle was the equivalent of what the BMW car norm is now. After the establishment of a new China, the era of changes is reflected in the wedding transformations.”

Liu writes about what has characterized Chinese weddings through the ages, using a widespread Chinese phrase: “In the 1950s it was about having a bed, in the 1960s it was just about a bag of sweets, in the 1970s it was the Little Red Book, in the 1980s it was about having a radio, in the 1990s there was the extravagance of top-class hotels, and in the 2000s the wedding reception is a display of individuality”.*

Others on Weibo call China’s changing wedding traditions a “mirror of their time.”

Since China’s 1940s, the custom of wearing a white dress and making wedding photos had come into fashion (see image below).

Getting married in the 1940s: wearing a white dress had come into fashion (image via Ycwb).

But with the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China, wedding customs changed enormously within a relatively short time frame.

 

1950s: Plain and simple

 

In the 1950s, getting married was not much of a fuss, as China’s political situation and social revolution were deeply influencing people’s lives.

Getting a marriage certificate was enough to consider yourself married.

Wedding in Liaoning, China, in 1957 (image via Weibo and Wanhuajing).

An elder female resident from Hubei province named Mrs. Zhang tells Chinese media channel Cnchu.com that the weddings in those days were nothing comparable to what they are today: the marriage certificate was not much more than a paper with an official seal on it.

Wedding certificate from the 1950s.

People did not buy special clothes or gifts for the occasion: a simple gathering with some friends, neighbors, or family was enough.

Wedding portrait 1950s (via Weibo user @钦佩2013).

Liling county in Hunan Province, a couple registers their marriage with the local government on November 9, 1952 (image via Weibo and Women of China).

Mrs. Zhang says: “What left the deepest impression on me, was that I lived in a dorm for singles and had to go and collect my luggage and take it to my husband’s house to start my new life.”

“Although the wedding was very simple,” she says: “It was in fact very meaningful. We had the wedding certificate framed.”

 

1960s: Politics First

 

The 1960s wedding were similar to those in the 1950s in that they were quite simple, and that they would be celebrated with “just a few sweets and a plate of peanuts” (Liu 2013, 27). But with the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the impact of the Communist Revolution on people’s everyday lives was pushed a step further.

The wedding photo of a couple during the 1960s. [photo via Women of China].

There would be no flowers, no gown. Couples would get married by bowing their heads to a portrait of Mao Zedong at the local government office, holding the Little Red Book in their hands.

Wedding photo of China’s 1960s (image via Sina Blog).

The idea of free marriage, and marrying for love rather than material possessions, was something that had become the norm in most areas throughout China in the 1960s (Yu 1993, 110); the Marriage Law of the PRC was already introduced in 1950, and one its main principles was the free choice of partners.

Getting married in China’s 1960s (image via Weibo).

For a wedding, friends would gather for some peanuts, sweets, and tea, but there would not be big celebrations: people had to get up for work early the next morning, like any other day.

A marriage with tea and peanuts in 1968, Heilongjiang (via ifeng blog).

Journalist Li Zhensheng, who got married in 1968 at his work in the Heilongjiang Daily Newspaper’s office (see photo below), writes on iFeng Blog that it already cost one month’s wages (56 RMB/±8$)* to buy some candies, tea, and cigarettes. *(Please note that this is the present conversion rate and does not reflect the worth of 56 RMB in 1968).

PRC wedding certificate from 1968 (Image via ifeng blog).

Li tells that together with their co-workers, the married couple sang some revolutionary songs. Their friends gave them some signs to hang on their necks as a sort of joke, saying: “The bride/groom taking the socialist way.”

 

1970s: The Three Most-Wanted Items

 

In the late 1970s, after the ending of the Cultural Revolution, getting married became more connected to material possessions and a dowry. The idea of having “the three essential items” (三大件) came into fashion upon getting married. These items were a watch, a bicycle, and a sewing machine. A radio was later also included (三转一响).

The “three big items” of the 1970s.

Although these items were generally the most desirable ones in the 1950s-1970s period, there were unattainable to many, as were things like leather shoes.

Household furniture was also becoming more important; newlyweds were expected to own at least one complete set of furniture (including a table, 4 chairs, a bed, a writing desk, a couch, a coffee table, besides cabinet, etc.)

Nevertheless, the wedding ceremony itself would still be relatively simple: there was a marriage certificate, the couple would face the portrait of Mao Zedong and have one witness, which would be enough.

One Weibo user from Beijing (@婷是我六六也是我) shared the wedding picture and certificate of her parents, who got married in this era (images below).

According to wedding service company Jieqinwang, the price of a wedding ceremony in those days would be around 700 RMB (±100 US$ presently), with around a 420 RMB (60 US$) for the ‘three main items’ (watch, bicycle, and sewing machine) (this China.org article points out people would need coupons to purchase these items).

The rest of the money could be used for clothes (180 RMB/26$), and a wedding meal for 10 people (100 RMB/14$).

A 1970s wedding portrait in regular clothes, if people could afford it (via Jieqingwang).

Not all couples would be able to purchase new clothes, but if they could, they would. For many people, their wedding photo would be their first real portrait photo. Besides the photo in the Communist outfit, they would also have a photo in normal clothes.

 

1980s: Real Dress, Fake Flowers

 

After the end of the Mao era and the introduction of economic reforms by Deng Xiaoping, the 1980s showed some drastic changes to the previous decennia in wedding customs.

The general necessities for a marriage were now household electric appliances. Instead of items such as a watch, sewing machine, and bicycle, the new “three main items” were a television set, washing machine, and refrigerator – although not many people could actually afford them.

Chinese wedding portrait in 1980s (image via Weibo user @钦佩2013).

The custom of taking one’s vows in front of the Mao Zedong portrait was slowly disappearing, and weddings were becoming more formal again.

1980s wedding: the dress was real, the flowers were fake (image via Vision Times).

Those who could afford it would wear a Western-style dress and carry plastic flowers. Weddings would increasingly often take place outside the home, in hotels or restaurants.

The custom of picking up the bride with a group was also becoming more prevalent – she could sit on the back of the bike.

Picking up the bride per bike (image via Jieqinwang).

According to Jieqinwang and Phoenix News, the cost for a somewhat extravagant wedding in the 1980s would be around 3300 RMB (±480$), including the price for the “three items”, clothing, wedding pictures, and a wedding banquet for 10 people.

 

1990s: Higher Expectations

 

In the 1990s, the costs and expectations of wedding ceremonies became much higher than in the previous decades. The custom of making pre-wedding pictures came into fashion and the so-called bride prices or dowries came to play a more important role.

Pre-wedding photos in the 1990s (via Jianqinwang).

The day itself was also a much bigger event than in previous era’s. On the day of the wedding, the groom’s side would often rent a car to pick up the bride, and the wedding would often be celebrated in a hotel or restaurant.

1990s wedding in more rural area: electric appliances played a major role (image via TJFer).

Newlyweds in their ride (rural, image via TJfer).

1990s wedding: newlyweds pay their respects to each other (rural, image via TJfer).

Owning a house also became to play a more important role, although this was financially impossible for many.

One Chinese man born in 1967 shares the story of his marriage day in 1995 with China.com, saying: “Getting married in the 1990s had become a lot more complicated and needed a lot of preparation, selecting the day, settling the dowry, seeing the new house (..), everything had to be prepared.”

The average price of a wedding had become about ten times higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s. People would spend about 500 RMB (±75$) on taking wedding photos in a studio.

Taking pre-wedding studio photos became fashionable in the 1990s. 

Other costs included the buying of the ‘must-have’ electrical appliances of the 1990s (motorbike, air-conditioning, video recorder), buying a wedding dress and the suit, renting a wedding car, and paying for a lavish wedding banquet for about 20 people.

Excluding the price of buying or renovating the house, this would still make the wedding price of around 33000 RMB (±4800-5000$, estimated by Jieqinwang).

 

2000s: Individuality & Extravagance

 

Since the 2000s, the organization and payment of weddings have become an increasingly heavy burden, especially for the groom’s family.

Although the custom of bride prices varies across China, it has come to play a more significant role in China’s countryside, where bride prices reached a new height due to the shortage of women of marriage age.

More original and individual style weddings have become popular since the 2000s.

Whereas the ‘three main items’ of the 1970s-1980s period were a sewing machine, bike, and a watch – later substituted with a washing machine, TV set, and fridge, and a motorbike, video recorder and air-conditioning – the magic words of the 2000s became ‘house’ and ‘car’ (买房买车); meaning that for a man to be considered eligible for marriage, they are usually expected to buy a house and own a car.

In the 21st century, Chinese weddings incorporate more Chinese traditional aspects (image via BBC).

Chinese weddings after 2000 are especially marked by their combination of traditional and western influences. Around 2003, a survey by People’s Daily revealed that an average newly married couple in Tianjin would spend around 191,000 RMB (±27,800$) on their wedding. This money would go towards the banquet, housing and furniture, wedding pictures, etc. (Liu 2013, 27).

Present-day wedding portrait, as shared on Weibo by Luce Artiz Studio (2017).

The pre-wedding photo sessions have now become an integral part of the Chinese wedding customs. As Cat Hanson wrote here previously, the perfect wedding shoot has actually become a top priority in Chinese wedding arrangements. Many couples even travel abroad for their pre-wedding photo session.

Wedding photo by Blue Bay Wedding Photo Studio on Weibo (@蔚蓝海岸旅游摄影集团).

On Chinese social media, wedding photography companies offer all-inclusive packages that promise couples 10 different outfits (including make-up and hair) in 10 different scenic scenes, including hotel stays and free drinks. The photo tradition has become a honeymoon of its own.

Those wedding photos now also show that besides all the lavishness, people also find it increasingly more important to stress individuality: from traditional clothes to western style dresses to unique creations, the majority of China’s early 21st century couples like to keep their weddings classy, original, and expensive.

Wedding in Sichuan, 2008 (photo by author).

– By Manya Koetse
Follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook

* loose translation of the sentence: “五十年代一张床,六十年代一包糖,七十年代红宝书,八十年代三转一响,九十年代星级宾馆讲排场,二十一世纪特色婚宴个性张扬.”

Sources & Further Reading

Chen Mingyuan 陈明远. 2010. “20世纪中国的结婚照 [20th Century Chinese Wedding Photos]” (In Chinese). Sina Blog, May 3 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4bbb74a50100g4u7.html [20.2.17].

Cnchu.com. 2015. “50年代一张床 荆州社区居民话说那个年代的婚礼 [In the 1950s a Bed Was Enough – Jingzhou Community Residents Talk About the Weddings of The Time].” Cnchu, Oct 24 http://www.cnchu.com/viewnews-212816.html [19.2.17].

iFeng/Phoenix News. 2016. “父辈们的婚礼:自行车接新娘相当于现在宝马.” Phoenix News, Dec 16 http://share.iclient.ifeng.com/news/sharenews.f?aid=116557303&channelId=default&mid=&vt=5&srctag=cpz_sh_imtj_a [19.2.17].

Jieqingwang. “婚礼中婚纱最耀眼 盘点中国婚纱的变化” http://www.jieqinwang.com/article/detail/id/992
iFeng/Phoenix News. Special “Getting Married in the 1980s.” http://js.ifeng.com/special/80nd-hunli/#p1 [21.2.17].

Liu, Fengshu. 2013 (2011). “Social Transformation in China.” In Fengshu Liu, Urban Youth in China: Modernity, the Internet and the Self, 15-35. New York: Routledge.

Liu Qingmei 刘清梅. 2016. “六十年婚礼进行曲 [Sixty Years Wedding March].” Sina Blog, June 8 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4e74289e0102x7y5.html [19.2.17].

Li Zhensheng 李振盛. 2010. “我在1968年的“文革”婚礼 [My ‘Revolutionary’ Wedding in 1968].” iFeng Blog, Dec 24 http://blog.ifeng.com/article/9306039.html [21.2.17].

Steinfeld, Jemimah. 2015. Little Emperors and Material Girls: Youth and Sex in Modern China. I.B.Tauris.

TJFER. 2016 “老照片:90年代农村结婚场面 [Old Photos: 1990s Weddings in the Countryside].” TJFER, 23 Nov http://www.tjfer.com/detail/g6356076561996906754/ [21.2.17].

Vision Times. 2011. “清末到80年代 百年婚纱照的演变 [From the End of the Qing to 1980s: The Development of 100 Years Marriage Pictures].” Vision Times, Dec 20 http://m.secretchina.com/news/gb/2011/12/20/433617.html.%E6%B8%85%E6%9C%AB%E5%88%B080%E5%B9%B4%E4%BB%A3%E3%80%80%E7%99%BE%E5%B9%B4%E5%A9%9A%E7%BA%B1%E7%85%A7%E7%9A%84%E6%BC%94%E5%8F%98(%E7%BB%84%E5%9B%BE).html [20.2.17].

Wanhuajing. “父辈们的婚礼:自行车接新娘相当于现在宝马 [The Weddings of Our Parents: Today’s BMW is the Bike that Picked Up the Bride Then]” Wanhuajing, Dec 29 http://m.wanhuajing.com/d673875 [19.2.17].

Women of China. 2009. “Changes in Chinese Weddings Over 60 Years.” Women of China, http://www.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina/html1/features/family/10/2641-1.htm [19.2.17].

Women of China. 2011. “‘Barometers’ of Fashion: Chinese Women’s Hairstyles Change; Reflect Altering Trends Over Past 60 Years.” Women of China, 14 Dec http://www.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina/html1/special/13/6006-1.htm [21.2.17].

YCWB. 2015. “婚礼中婚纱最耀眼 盘点中国婚纱的变化 [The Wedding Dress Is The Most Dazzling Part – Inventory of Chinese Wedding Changes].” YCWB, July 27 http://life.ycwb.com/2015-07/29/content_20473410.htm [19.2.17].

Yu, George T. 1993. China in Transition: Economic, Political, and Social Developments. Lanham: University Press of America.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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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