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Overview of China’s 2016 Top TV Dramas

These are the 10 most popular TV dramas in mainland China in 2016.

Manya Koetse

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The titles of Chinese TV dramas consistently pop up in the daily top trending lists of Sina Weibo. After featuring an overview of the most-watched Chinese TV dramas in 2015, What’s on Weibo has now compiled a list of 10 popular TV dramas in mainland China in 2016. These are the most-watched and most-discussed dramas according to Weibo and Baidu charts of March 2016.

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Update: Also Read Our Top 10 of China’s 2017 Top TV Dramas Now!

(Note: Depending on where you live, the websites where these series are listed might have geo restrictions. You can circumvent this with a VPN to change your IP geo-location. We recommend NordVPN for this, as it is known for its fast streaming of online video content online.)

 

#1 Descendents of the Sun (太阳的后裔/태양의 후예)

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War & Romance Drama / 2016 South Korea
Aired since February 24 2016 / KBS2 / 16 episodes
Directed by Li Yingfu / Lee Eung-Bok (李应福)

The number one of this list is the only drama out of these ten that was not produced in mainland China; it was made in South Korea, and it is a huge success both in Korea as in the PRC.

‘Descendents of the Sun’ tells the story of the unlikely romance between special forces captain Shi-Jin (Song Joong-Ki) and surgeon Mo-Yeon (Song Hye-Kyo). After their initial love-at-first-sight encounter, Shi-Jin and Mo-Yeon soon discover they have very different outlooks on life.

While out on a military mission, Shi-Jin has to fight and hurt people in order to protect his people, whereas Mo-Yeon does all she can to keep people alive – no matter what ethnicity, religion or culture they have. But despite their strong differences, Shi-Jin and Mo-Yeon cannot let go of each other.

A large part of this drama was filmed in Greece. The series can be viewed on Viki.

 

#2 The Imperial Doctress (明代女医师)

whatsonweiboming
Costume Drama / 2016 Mainland China
Aired since February 16 2016 / Online Drama / 50 episodes
Directed by Li Guoli (李国立), Zheng Weiwen (郑伟文) & Lu Zeliang (卢泽良)

‘The Imperial Doctress’, also known as ‘Ming Medicine Woman’, brings the most famous female doctor of the Ming Dynasty to the TV screen. Tan Yunxian (谈允贤) lived in the Ming Dynasty from 1461-1554, and was a female physician in a time when Confucian ethics played a crucial role in everyday life and women had a low status in society.

The costume drama tells the story of the Tans, a family that has the doctor profession in its bloodline – even its past ancestors were imperial doctors. But when the family is set up by a grudgeful enemy, the royal court no longer allows them to practice medicine. Young daughter Tan Yunxian, played by Liu Shi Shi (刘诗诗, a.k.a. Cecelia Liu) secretly learns the art of medicine from her grandmother and helps to cure plagues and illnesses among the common people. The drama follows her as she grows up and struggles with her pursuit to become the doctor she wants to be. Emperor Zhu Qi Zhen (actor Wallace Huo) comes to play an important role in fulfilling her destiny (Viki 2016).

 

#3 Legend of the Qing Qiu Fox (青丘狐传说)

foxspirit
Costume & Fantasy Drama / 2016 Mainland China
Aired Since February 8, 2016 / Hunan TV / 40 episodes
Directed by Lin Yufen (林玉芬), Gao Linbao (高林豹) and Xu Huikang (徐惠康)

‘The Legend of the Qing Qiu Fox’ aka ‘The Legend of the Nine Tails Fox’ is a drama that consists of different supernatural stories and folktales about fox spirits and ghosts, based on work by Pu Songling.

Pu Songling was a Qing dynasty writer. His most famous work is the classical Chinese Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from a Make-do Studio), a collection of stories about ghosts, spirits, and other extraordinary phenomena.

The drama can be watched through Viki.

 

#4 Far Away Love (远得要命的爱情)

yuande
Urban & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired March 1 / 36 episodes
Directed by Niu Le (牛乐) and Zhu Shimao (朱时茂)

‘Far Away Love’ tells the story of the romance between Shen An (沈岸, played by Korean actor Park Haejin) and Meng Chuxia (孟初夏, played by Li Fei’er).

Meng Chuxia is a kind-hearted and optimistic single 28-year-old ‘shengnu’ (‘leftover woman’) who takes care of the son of her long lost sister. Shen An is a businessman who has returned to China from overseas to start a new company. When Shen An and Meng Chuxia meet, they are both not expecting to find love. Shen An is engaged to be married and Meng Chuxia is struggling to raise her teenage nephew. But despite their life situations, different (hidden) pasts and prejudices, you can probably guess what happens..

AsiaStarz writes that this drama was already produced in 2013, but was only aired now due to the strict Chinese TV censorship policies.

This drama is popular in both China and Korea because of the lead played by Park Haejin, who is very popular in South Korea and mainland China. The actor also stars in the Korean television series “Cheese in the Trap,” which is also extremely popular in China. The series were sold to Chinese video platforms Youku and Tudou for $125,000 per episode – the highest price ever paid for a Korean cable drama according to the Korea Herald.

 

#5 Because of Love (因为爱情有幸福)

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Love & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 24 / Hunan TV (湖南卫视) / 70 episodes
Directed by Liu Junjie (刘俊杰)

‘Because of Love’, also known as ‘The Love of Happiness’, revolves around Lu Xiaonan (by Tang Yixin aka Tina Tang), an independent and strong woman who has just married to Kevin (William Chan), who has returned to China from America. As the newlyweds form a new family, Kevin gets reconnected to his roots as he finds the family he lost when he was young. But the reconnection with his family does not bring the anticipated happiness as memories from the past resurface, making Xiaonan and Kevin having to face difficulties in their young marriage.

The first episode can be viewed here.

 

#6 The Three Heroes and Five Gallants (五鼠闹东京)

threeheroes
Costume Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 17, 2016 / Anhui TV / 42 episodes
Directed by Wu Jiatai (吴家骀)

Based on the work by the 19th century Chinese writer Shi Yukun, this drama tells the 11th century story of the loyal knights who supported the legendary judge Bao Zheng in his fight against crime and corruption.

The first episode can be viewed here.

 

#7 The Legend of Mi Yue (芈月传)

miyue2

Costume and Historical Drama / 2015 Mainland China
First aired November 30, 2015 / Dongfang & Beijing TV / 81 episodes
Directed by Zheng Xiaolong (郑晓龙)

‘The Legend of Mi Yue’ tells the story of the first influential stateswoman of China, who lived over 2000 years ago. Just like the ‘Imperial Doctress‘, this drama also tells about the trials and tribulations of a strong female figure from China’s history.

Mi Yue, daughter of King Wei of Chu, was the first stateswoman in the history of China. The drama details her turbulent life, as Mi Yue becomes a concubine, gets separated her from first love Huang Xie, is banished, and eventually rises to power as the first Empress Dowager in China’s history (wiki). For more about Mi Yue, also read this article from the Women of China website.

The role of Mi Yue is played by renowned actress Sun Li (孙俪), who has previously won awards for best actress of China.

 

#8 The Lover’s Lies (爱人的谎言)

airende
Love & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 24, 2016 / LETV / 50 episodes
Directed by Yu Zhonghe (余中和) and Lin Hongjie (林宏杰)

When Tong Sijie (童四季) becomes an orphan at an early age, she struggles and has to work different jobs to take care of her siblings. Then she meets the rich Yiyi – a love that seems to written in the stars. Just when Sijie and Yiyi decide they want to stay together forever, Yiyi’s dominant mother interferes in their relationship, spreading lies that drift the two lovers apart.

Check out the opening tune and the first episode here.

 

#9 Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜)

nirvanainfire
Costume & Historical Drama / 2015 Mainland China
First aired September 19th, 2015 / Beijing TV / 54 episodes
Directed by Kong Sheng (孔笙) and Li Xue (李雪)

Nirvana in Fire‘ takes place in fourth century China, during the war between the feudal Northern Wei and Southern Liang dynasties. The story revolves around Lin Shu, the 19-year-old only child of General Lin Xie who is fighting in this war and does all he can to seek justice for him and his family. The series is based on the work by author Hai Yan.

The drama has won several awards.

 

#10 Addiction (上瘾)

上瘾
Gay Love Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired January 29th, 2016 / Beijing TV / 15 episodes
Directed by Ding Wei (丁伟)

This popular drama, that is also known under the English name of ‘Addicted’ or ‘Heroin’, is about the special bond that evolves between two young men Bai Luoyin (Xu Wei Zhou) and Gu Hai (Johnny Huang Jingyu). Bai, who lives with his father and grandmother, gets connected to Gu Hai when Bai’s mother remarries to Gu Hai’s father. Gu Hai harbors a deep grudge towards his father since his mother’s death, and the two men, both dealing with their family situations and personal conflicts, start to develop feelings for each other.

The show became big news in late February when media reported that the drama was taken offline by Chinese censors for showing “abnormal sexual relationships and behaviours”.

Although the drama was taken offline, it is still in the best-watched ranks.

– By Manya Koetse

©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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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    wendy mashabela

    June 23, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    I really like this Chinese movies , on channel 447 cctv4 .But what really hurts me is that these actors and actress speaks their language I really can’t hear them. if atleast they can explain or write in english on the screen please,,i really love this movies please help.And I’m from SA

    • Avatar

      Isy

      October 17, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      There’s a lot of websites where you can watch Asian drama’s with subtitles. Personally, I use a website called KissAsian. Hope I was of help!

  2. Avatar

    Marcia Curtain

    June 16, 2019 at 5:16 am

    Would like to know more about a TV series I started to watch on China recently I think it’s called Mai Xiang
    It as showing on CCTV I think
    Thank you

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China Society

The Concept of ‘Involution’ (Nèijuǎn) on Chinese Social Media

Nèijuǎn (involution) has become a commonly used term on Chinese social media, but what is it?

Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of ‘involution’ in Chinese society today.

A scene from the Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited online discussions on the concept of nèijuǎn 内卷, “involution,” which was also a top buzzword in China in 2020.

A Love for Dilemma is a 2021 TV drama directed by Zhang Xiaobo (张晓波), who also worked on other hit series including Nothing But Thirty. This season’s popular TV drama A Love for Dilemma is themed around family, parenting, and China’s competitive education system.

In the series, two stepsisters compete against each other over the school results of their children. The family’s ‘grandpa’, played by famous actor Zhang Guoli (张国立), tries to create harmony around the dinner table between his daughter and stepdaughter, but the rivalry between the two and how they raise their children intensifies nevertheless.

Scene from A Love for Dilemma.

While stepsister Tian Yulan urges her little son to work hard in school and focus on his grades so that he can go to the best high school and university, sister Nan Li places more emphasis on the general development of her children and wants them to enjoy their childhood. Both mothers, however, question their own choices when facing challenges with how their children perform at school.

The specific scene that has ignited current discussions is a dialogue between the husbands of the sisters, who sit outside to talk about the education system and how it sometimes feels like everyone is in a theatre watching a show together until one person stands up from their seat. This makes it necessary for other members of the audience to also stand up, until everybody is standing.

The dialogue continues, with the two talking about how it does not stop at the people standing up. Because then there are those who will take it a step further and will stand on their seats to rise above the others. And then there are even those who will grab a ladder to stand higher than the rest. But they are still watching the same show and their situation has actually not changed at all – except for the fact that everybody is now more uncomfortable than they were before.

Many netizens found it striking how this dialogue explains how the term ‘involution’ is used in China nowadays. After the show aired, the hashtag “How to commonly explain involution” (#如何通俗解释内卷#) became a trending topic in the week of April 19, receiving 260 million views in a few days.

 
What Is ‘Involution’?
 

As explained by Jialing Xie in this top buzzword article on What’s on Weibo, involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. Since recently, this word has come to be used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

The term ‘involution’ and how it is used today comes from a work by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz titled Agricultural Involution – The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963). In this work, Geertz explores the agricultural dynamics in Indonesia during the colonial period’s Cultivation System, where a radical economic dualism existed within the country: a foreign, Dutch economy and a native, Indonesian economy (p. 61-62).

Geertz describes how the Javanese faced a deepening demographic dilemma as they saw a rapidly growing population but a static economy, while the Dutch, who organized Javanese land and labor, were only growing in wealth (69-70). Agricultural involution is the “ultimately self-defeating process” that emerged in Indonesia when the ever-growing population was absorbed in high labor-intensive wet-rice cultivation without any changing patterns and without any progress (80-81).

When Geertz used the term ‘involution’ to describe the dynamics in Indonesia, he built on the work of another American anthropologist, namely Alexander Goldenweiser, who also used the term to describe “those culture patterns which, after having reached what would seem to be a definitive form, nonetheless fail either to stabilize or transform themselves into a new pattern but rather continue to develop by becoming internally more complicated” (Geertz 1963, 81).

 
The Involution Concept in the Chinese Context
 

The popular use of the Chinese translation of ‘involution’, nèijuǎn 内卷, started to receive attention in Chinese media in 2020. It is deviating from the original use of the term and is meant to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class.

As suggested in the article “‘Involution’: The Anxieties of Our Time Summed Up in One Word” by Zhou Minxi (CGTN), the popularity of the term comes from “a prevalent sense of being stuck in an ever so draining rat race where everyone loses.”

China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest. Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University, is quoted by Zhou:

The lower class still hopes to change their fate, but the middle and upper classes aren’t so much looking upward, and they are marked by a deep fear of falling downward. Their greater fear is perhaps losing what they already have.”

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism on China’s ‘996’ work system (working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week). Although Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 12-hour working day a “blessing,” the system is a controversial topic, with many condemning how Chinese (tech) companies are exploiting their employees, who are caught in a conundrum; they might lose their sanity working such long hours, and might lose their job and future career prospects if they refuse to do so.

But the term also comes up when discussing China’s education system, where competition starts as early as kindergarten and the pressure on children to succeed in the ‘gaokao’ college entrance exam starts many years before it takes place.

This image shows the “juan” 卷 character from ‘nei juan’ (involution) changing into a person on their bike with laptop. Image via http://www.bajieyou.com/new/431e6ef39aac4a6da232671122f66ff4

This discussion also came up with a now-famous image of a student riding his bike while also working on his laptop, using every moment to study. This was then also called “Tsinghua Inversion” (清华内卷), referring to one of China’s top universities, where competition is so vicious that students must double their efforts to catch up with others.

 
‘Involution’ Discussions on Chinese Social Media
 

By mid-2020, ‘involution’ attracted the attention on Weibo when popular academic accounts started discussing the term. Recently, ‘involution’ is used so often on Chinese social media that it has already gone beyond its original context, leading to many people discussing its meaning.

“We are forced to work overtime and are unable to resist, and yet it seems that everyone is doing it out of free will,” one Weibo user says, with another person adding: “The abnormal state of inversion has already become our normal state.”

A popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) on Weibo writes:

It is an internal bottomless vicious cycle of competition. For example, everyone used to work eight hours per day, five days per week. Then one company comes up where people work twelve hours per day, six days per week. Then this company will have major competitive strength in the market economy. But the outcome is that other companies are also compelled to do the same in order to compete. As time goes by, all companies will shift to a twelve-hour workday, six days a week, and job applicants entering the market can’t find any eight-hour workday positions for five days a week anymore. So, if another company wants to beat its competitors, it will have to introduce a seven-day workweek. And then other companies will need to follow in order to make a living. That is involution.”

By now, there are various images and memes that have come to represent the meaning of ‘involution’ in present-day China, such as one cram school sign saying: “If you come we will train your kids, if you don’t come, we will train the competitors of your kids.”

“The society’s resources are in short supply and to obtain the limited supplies, people are all madly practicing their skills to obtain them – regardless if they need them or not,” another Weibo user says.

Most comments relating to the discussion of ‘involution’ on Chinese social media express a sense of fatigue with an ongoing rat-race in the education and employment market.

On the interest-based social networking platform Douban, there are even some support groups for people who feel stuck in ‘involution’ and are looking for a way out. The “Center for Victims of Involution” (内卷受害者收容中心) group has over 3000 members, with smaller groups such as “Let’s Escape Involution Together” (我们一起逃离内卷) having a few dozen participants.

The generation that is mostly affected by this sense of socioeconomic stagnation is the post-90 generation. In 2020, a record high of 8.74 million university graduates entered the job market, but their chances of finding a job that suits their education and personal expectations are slim; many industries are recruiting fewer people than before in an employment market that was already competitive before the COVID19 pandemic. It leaves them facing a troubling Catch 22 situation: they will be stressed and pressured if they do not find that top job, but when they do, they are often also stressed and pressured.

It is a recurring topic on social media. Five years ago, a song by the Rainbow Chamber Singers (彩虹室内合唱团) titled “The Sofa Is So Far” immediately became a hit in China. Many young Chinese recognized themselves in the hardworking and tired people described in the lyrics, which started with: “My body feels empty / I am dog-tired / I don’t want work overtime.”

How to get away from the involution rat race is also a much-discussed topic on Weibo, where the hashtag page “How can young people resist involution” (#年轻人如何反内卷#) has received over 280 million views.

Some suggest the answer to ending the vicious cycle is to find a way to get rich fast, others suggest that not getting married and staying child-free is also a way to alleviate the pressure to participate in this zero-sum game.

Tech blogger Sensai (@森赛), who has over 2 million followers on Weibo, advises young people to find their true interest and to invest in it before the age of 30. Doing something that sparks joy, such as learning a new language or working on art, might start as a hobby but could turn into a valuable side business later, Sensai says.

For some, however, that goal seems unattainable. “I am already working 15 hours a day, how could I ever do that?!”

“This is just bringing us into a whole other level of involution,” others write.

In order to watch A Love for Dilemma (小舍得), the show that started so many of these discussions this month, you can go over to iQiyi or YouTube.

By Manya Koetse

References

Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Zhou Minxi. 2020. “‘Involution’: The anxieties of our time summed up in one word.” CGTN, Dec 4 https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-04/-Involution-The-anxieties-of-our-time-summed-up-in-one-word-VWNlDOVdjW/index.html [20.4.2021].

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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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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie “Sister” Stirs Discussions on Traditional Family Values in China

The movie ‘Sister’ has sparked online discussions on whether or not personal values should be prioritized over traditional family values.

Manya Koetse

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Mainlaind Chinese drama My Sister (我的姐姐, also known as ‘Sister‘) was just released in theatres and is sparking online discussions on family relations and the role of women in China.

After the hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) received praise earlier this year for focusing on the role of mothers within Chinese families, this film zooms in on the role of older sisters.

My Sister, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. While trying to find her own path in life, she suddenly has to step into the role of caregiver for her younger sibling. But does she want to take on this role?

Actress Zhang Zifeng (张子枫) is playing the main lead in this movie, which touches upon the issue of dealing with traditional family values and personal dreams and ambitions. Sister reveals the difficulties women face within the traditional Chinese-style family structure and the sacrifices they make for their parents, their children, siblings, and their husbands; and how the roles and tasks that are expected of them also clash with their own ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

For An Ran, the relationship with her little brother is troublesome. As a young girl, she had to pretend to be disabled in order to allow her parents to have a second child, preferably a son (under the One Child Policy, families with children with disabilities were allowed to have more children). Now, as a young adult, she once again has to sacrifice her own individual freedom in order to let her brother thrive.

The renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) dedicated a lengthy post to the movie on her Weibo account, where she called the film “fascinating” and “thought-provoking.”

Li suggests that multiple social issues play a role in this film. First, there is the conflict between individual-oriented values and traditional family-oriented ethics. While traditional Chinese ideas about family require An Ran to put her brother first and move personal self-fulfillment to the backseat, An Ran is a young woman who grew up in a rapidly modernizing China where women are more empowered and independent. Why should she sacrifice her personal education and career in order to devote herself to raising her brother?

Another social topic that plays a major role in this film is the deep-seated cultural preference for sons over daughters. An Ran literally had to make herself weaker in order for her brother to be brought into this world – and in doing so limiting the possibilities for her future career, – with these patriarchal practices prioritizing the thriving of sons over the happiness of daughters. An Ran’s anger and resistance show that traditional ideas about male superiority clash with modern-day Chinese society, where profound changes within gender relations are already taking place.

“Sisters do not dislike their little brothers,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “What they dislike is the hidden meaning behind their brother.”

Another female blogger responded: “Within my family, from my grandpa’s generation up to myself, it is actually the women who discriminate against women. I think these are deeply rooted ideas that can’t be changed. Look at my second elder aunt; she had seven children, all girls, and only four were left. The others were given away. However, my grandfather has always been good to me, and has never made me feel any less than the boys. Yet my grandma and my mother sometimes make me doubt about my life.”

Under the hashtag “How to Evaluate the Movie My Sister” (#如何评价电影我的姐姐#), which attracted 150 million views on Weibo, many ask the question of what they would do if they were An Ran. Would you take care of your little brother? Or would you leave his care up to other family members and choose your own path in life?

“If it were me, I’d raise my brother. Although it’s actually the parents’ problem, the little brother is innocent.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t raise him,” another commenter writes: “Although the little brother is innocent, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my life for him. And it might be a better choice to leave him with other family members than with me.”

These discussions also triggered the hashtag “Should Personal Values Be More Important Than Family Values?” (#个人价值必须高于家庭价值吗#). One top commenter raised the issue of ‘what if this was about a little sister instead of about a little brother,’ again provoking the idea that existing gender roles and the preference over sons play a major part in these discussions.

“These traditions no longer suit this era of a developing society. Let me ask you this question: would the little brother also take care of his sister once she grows old?”

“Personal values should always have priority. If you are not happy yourself, how could you ever take care of your family?”

“I have the perception that the family-oriented concept is deep-rooted. Although there consistently are new values and personal-oriented viewpoints, when it comes to real problems, most people will still be family-oriented.”

One commenter wrote: “What are ‘values’? What is the family in modern-day society? What does it mean to prioritize something? If we don’t first clarify this, the discussion becomes meaningless.”

Meanwhile, all the online discussions on Sister have boosted the film. By now, the movie has already become a box office hit and defeated the American Godzilla vs. Kong.

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.

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

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