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Online Influencers: New Perspectives on Social Change (Live Event)

What are the challenges bloggers are facing in China today? How can blogging help create tolerance in a divided society? These are the questions addressed at today’s event about New Perspectives on Social Change at the RNW headquarters

Manya Koetse

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The age of digitalization and social media empowers young bloggers and journalists to get their voices heard and influence politics and society. RNW Media has organized an event where a number of these online influencers will talk about how they are shaping the future of journalism – an issue not just relevant for the case of China, but for the world at large.

What are the challenges bloggers are facing in China today? How can blogging help create tolerance in a divided society? These are the issues addressed at today’s event about New Perspectives on Social Change at the RNW headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

The speakers at today’s event are Chinese blogger and journalist Yuan Chang, who will focus on the challenges facing bloggers in the PRC; Dacia Munezero (@mdacia), co-founder of the influential Yaga bloggers project in Burundi, who will explain how blogging can help create tolerance in a divided society; and Abir Sarras (@abirsarras), coordinator of Love Matters Arabic, who will talk about the recent trial of an Egyptian blogger (RNW event page).

Director RNW Media Robert Zaal (@RobertZaal) welcomes today’s audiences. Today’s host is mass media researcher and author Piet Bakker (@pietbakker). “Digital first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.”

“Digital comes first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.” This is what today’s event is about:

The Challenges Facing Bloggers in China

Yuan Chang is a Chinese blogger and journalist. He has worked for the New York Times, and is now a blogger for RNW. He speaks about censorship and online freedom.

“There is a small space between hardcore politics and personal rights in China,” Yuan Chang says. “Censorship in China is not a black and white issue. The PRC is not North Korea. There is a small space of freedom, and that is where I move around.”

“In China, we work with a VPN [virtual private network] to get access to the sites that are blocked. It is getting harder and harder as the Great Firewall of China is getting more sophisticated all the time, but we always find a way to circumvent it.”

“With my blogging, I never got any real problems. I was censored before, but I am still here. When I worked for the New York Times, the police did in fact give me a call multiple times – but that is not really surprising when you work for foreign media as a Chinese citizen.”

“In Europe, people fuss about privacy a lot. In China, we don’t fuss about it, because we know they know everything about us. They would give me a call and say: ‘Ah, you’re back in China for the summer, why don’t you relax for a while now and don’t work – remember you still have a Chinese passport.’ For me, I don’t worry too much about it. It is actually transparent: I know they know everything I do.”

“I have no expectations of foreign companies like Facebook or Google in China. For them, it is business first, and they will not help to overcome censorship. Instead, these kind of companies impose self-censorship.”

“There will not be a big change in China because of what is happening online now. It will take a lot of little changes before, slowly but surely, a bigger change will come about.”

Burundi: Blogging as a Bridge in a Divided Society

Burundi blogger Dacia Munezero would have been here today, Piet Bakker (@pietbakker) says, but the circumstances in her country unfortunately did not allow her to come.

In this video she talks about the letter she wrote to the wife of President Pierre Nkurunziza, which she wrote out of sheer desperation over the current crisis in her country.

Antoine Kaburahe , director of the Iwacu media group, has come to talk about the situation in Burundi: “Last year there was an attempt at a coup in Burundi. During this night, all traditional media were destroyed. This was the moment where bloggers, like the Yaga network, but also Twitter and Facebook, really exploded.”

“Those platforms were the only windows to the world for us at that point. We in Burundi live in a radio culture, but nowadays most people have smartphones. So when the credible radio station suddenly disappeared, these smartphones became our source of media.”

“My father was a journalist as well, and he created the first Catholic newspaper of Burundi. This is why I also wanted to start a newspaper, which also works with social media and Web TV. I believe I have enough impact now – I don’t need to make radio.”

“Our regime does not like social media. Dacia already says [in the video] how she was threatened after sending a letter to the first lady – this is what happens. It might happen that we are cut off from Internet completely – we don’t know.”

Talking about Sex and Online Freedom in Egypt

Ahmed Naji would be one of the speakers with Abir Sarras today. Ahmed Naji is a journalist, blogger and published author in Egypt who was prosecuted last year (read more). “Ten days ago the court found that Ahmed was innocent,” Abir Sarras, producer of the Arabic blog Love Matters, says: “But it was overruled and he has not off the hook yet.” Abir Sarras will talk about her work and online freedom in Egypt here.

Love Matters is the first blog about love and sexual health in Egypt, it is an encyclopedia about everything related to sexual health – from lovemaking to pregnancy. We use a big network of bloggers from the region. People who blog for us talk about things that are actually taboo – we give them a platform to talk about these things.”

“The blog has only been around for 1,5 years, but it is already very popular. There is a real lack of information. People learn all their lives that sex is taboo, and when they get married, they suddenly are expected to know what to do during their wedding night. Porn is actually very well-watched in Arabic countries. Actually – in the areas where ISIS is most active, there is a lot of porn viewing going on.”

“We talk about health risks and points of focus when you want to try different things. We have also done an item about anal sex.”

“We are online – we are ‘outside’ – and that makes us safe. Also, a lot of experts are endorsing our content. We are a scientific website, and we try to keep away from religion. We don’t criticize it, but we do try to balance out the [sexual] advice people have got from their religious background.”

*This blog is now closed. *

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

©2016 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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China Local News

Sudden Ground Collapse at Metro Station in Xiamen

A sudden collapse occurred near Xiamen’s Lucuo station, just two weeks after a similar incident took place in Guangzhou.

Manya Koetse

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First published

In the evening of December 12, Xiamen’s Lvcuo (Lǚcuò 吕厝) metro station became a breaking news topic in Chinese media after a ground collapse incident occurred at a nearby intersection, followed by a major flood in the Xiamen subway.

Xiamen, Fujian Province, is one of China’s major coastal cities. According to Xiamen Metro News, the collapse happened at 21:52 local time.

At time of writing, rescue teams are still investigating the scene. It is unclear if people have been trapped or injured due to the collapse.

An apparent dashcam video shared by Sina News and People’s Daily on Weibo shows the moment right before the sudden collapse.

The video captures how the road is relatively busy at the time of collapsing, and at least one car can be seen crashing into the sinkhole.

Other footage shows that the Xiamen metro line is currently flooded (also see video in this tweet).

The scene of the collapse at 0:10 local time.

The metro station where this incident occurred is relatively new. Xiamen’s metro line was first opened in late December 2017.

Just two weeks ago, another major ground collapse accident occurred at the construction site of a metro line in Guangzhou. Three people remain missing after the incident.

On Thursday night local time, the Xiamen metro collapse was the number one trending topic on social media platform Weibo. Many netizens commenting on the incident express worries about the safety of roads and construction sites in China.

Update (Dec 13): According to the latest Chinese media reports, the drivers of two cars who were at the scene at the moment of the ground collapse have both been recused. One female pedestrian who also fell into the sinkhole is receiving medical treatment..

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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

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