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Why Paint Buckets Are This Spring Festival Travel Season’s Hottest Item

Spotted at train stations and bus terminals: this Spring Festival travel season’s ‘magical object’ is a plain paint bucket.

Manya Koetse

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Spotted during the first days of the Spring Festival travel season: paint buckets. Why are so many people bringing plastic barrels with them on their travels home for the Chinese New Year?

During Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, China’s urban areas gradually become more deserted as people return to their native provinces and hometowns to celebrate the new year with their family and friends.

Many of those returning home are migrant workers, who struggle to make money all year long and often only return home during the Spring Festival.

Chunyun’ (春运), the Chinese term for the passenger transportation around Chinese New Year, is the biggest annual mass migration of the world. The travel season has kicked off this weekend and will last until approximately March 12. About 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made during the chunyun, Chinese state media reports.

With so many people on the move, it is easy to detect what objects and products are the trend or the ‘chunyun magical tool’ (春运神器). After the travel pillow with earphones, or the underwear with money pockets, this season’s hot item is the paint bucket.

After one netizen named ‘Little Grass’ (@小小草) first noted the trend, various (media) accounts on Weibo, such as that of the Communist Youth League Shanghai, have starting reporting about it; the paint bucket has become such a popular product that some people are even taking more than two dozen with them.

Travelers have discovered that the big, plastic, empty painting buckets are very useful both during their travels and back home. As stations, trains, and buses get overcrowded during the chunyun, it is often impossible to find a seat – the paint buckets serve as an excellent ‘stool’, or as a ‘table’.

The buckets are also a solid and easy-to-carry ‘trunk’ to hold traveler’s articles during transit. They’re especially popular to put eggs in – because they won’t break as easily in the bucket – or to transport large volumes of rice.

Plastic buckets are also a popular item to bring home to the rural areas because they can be used to store (animal) food and feed the pigs or to hold liquid to water the crops.

Because the buckets are cheap, light, and easy to stack, people can bring home many of them – enough to give away to family members and neighbors in their hometowns.

On Weibo, the latest paint bucket trend has set a discussion in motion, receiving thousands of comments.

“These buckets are strong and practical, my family uses them as garbage bins,” one commenter writes. Other people praise the multifunctional item for being eco-friendly in its re-use.

Some people note that the bucket trend is nothing new: “My dad has been using them for years.”

“Nothing but good stuff to say about these buckets,” one other person says: “They’re durable and will last for years!”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 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 Arts & Entertainment

Luo Tianyi and the Booming Virtual Idol Market in China

The virtual entertainment market is exploding in China.

Manya Koetse

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They are featured on China’s biggest TV shows and on the covers of fashion magazines: they’re virtual idols yet their success is very real.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

At the Spring Festival Gala of 2021, the Chinese state media’s annual televised event that only invites the country’s top-notch performers, the virtual idol Luo Tianyi (洛天依) made a guest appearance.

It was a big media moment that showed the growing importance of virtual superstars in Chinese pop culture. Luo’s performance was even announced on the show’s promo posters, making this the first time ever for a virtual star to be on the show like this.

Virtual celebrities such as Luo Tianyi are also called ‘vsingers’ and often have an enormous fanbase. What is the story behind Luo Tianyi and the boom of virtual superstars in China, leading to the remarkable appearance of a non-human celebrity in the country’s biggest mainstream TV show?

 
Luo Tianyi: The First Chinese Vsinger
 

Although it was the first time for Luo Tianyi to appear at the Spring Festival Gala, it was not her first big performance. The superstar previously showed up as holograph live at big events such as the Bilibili night, and in 2019 she shared a stage with renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Promotional poster for the Luo Tianyi and Lang Lang concert.

Such a performance does not come easy. It takes months to design the looks and the moves. The holographic appearance of Luo Tianyi and the spectacular two-hour show took around six months of preparation by around 200 professionals involved in the production of Luo Tianyi.

Luo Tianyi is a so-called ‘vocaloid’ singer – a Mandarin Chinese language virtual character that was originally featured in the voice synthesizer software called VOCALOID developed by Yamaha, using third parties to create the characters. Vocaloid is a commercial product (released in 2004) with the purpose of enabling users to get a singer for lyrics and melodies without needing to hire an actual human singer.

The Shanghai Henian company collaborated with Tokyo-based Bplats in developing Luo Tianyi. The character was based on the winner of a contest that was organized in support of creating the first Chinese Vocaloid. The real-life singer whose voice was used for the creation of Tianyi is Chinese singer Shan Xin (山新).

Luo Tianyi was officially launched in 2012 as a 15-year-old entertainer and vsinger. By now, she has around five million followers on her Weibo account (@Vsinger_洛天依) where she posts about her performances, with thousands of people liking and sharing these posts.

 
Virtual Idol Boom: From Japan to China
 

According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times, 2020 was the year that virtual idols really took off in China, going hand in hand with the growing popularity of livestreaming.

Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili has contributed to the growing success of virtual idols in China. Bilibili is a homebase for many fan communities in China, since it is mainly themed around animation, comic, and games (ACG). It is one of the earliest platforms in China to broadcast virtual idol concerts, and in 2020 it held China’s first concert consisting solely of virtual performers under the title ‘BML-VR 2020’ (link).

The Bilibili concert featured a performance by various virtual entertainers, including the popular Hiseki Erio. Hiseki Erio is not Chinese, but Japanese. So is Hatsune Miki, one of the most famous virtual idols ever.

You could say Japan is the birthplace of virtual idols – a history that goes back to 1996 when Kyoko Date, also known as DK-96 or ‘Digital Kid 1996,’ made her debut as the first virtual talent.

Virtual idols come in various shapes, forms, and subgenres, and they all have their different background stories. Hatsune Miki was released in 2007 as the embodiment of the Vocolaid software developed by Crypton Future, and then there are the popular virtual Youtubers, ‘vtubers’, with virtual talent agencies such as Hololive also thriving in Japan.

The term ‘virtual Youtuber’ came with the arrival of Kizuna AI, who posted her first introduction Youtube video in late 2016. Kizuna, who later became a cultural ambassador for the Japan National Tourism Organization, is still considered one of the most popular vtubers on earth.

With the great popularity of Japanese manga and anime on the Chinese market, Japanese virtual idols also gained a strong foothold in the People’s Republic since around 2017. Hatsune Miki alone already has over 3,4 million fans on Weibo (@初音未来CryptonFutureMedia).

Virtual idols are increasingly popular in China, where Chinese virtual stars are springing up (Luo Tianyi, Ling, Xing Tong, Yousa).

The virtual entertainment market is now exploding in China, where the online ACG culture is flourishing on Bilibili and beyond.

Since Japanese popular culture products began to gain popularity in China in the early 1990s, there have been various developments that have shown the government’s dislike of the ‘Japanese cultural invasion’ in the country. As a counter-reaction, there has been stronger promotion of the production of made-in-China animations and other ACG products.

While China is seeing a steady release of domestic animated films and series, there is now also a wave of new China-born virtual stars, such as the Bilibili idol Yousa (冷鸢), or Xing Tong (星瞳), a virtual idol from Tencent. Chinese gaming company Papergames made the virtual character Nuan Nuan (暖暖) to also live outside of the gaming world; she is now a singer, a stylist, and a popular fashion ambassador.

Ling (right) featured on the cover of Vogue Me.

There is also Ling (翎), the Chinese virtual influencer who loves Peking opera, tea culture, and calligraphy. Ling, who was created by Next Generation studio and Shanghai AI startup Xmov, appeared on the CCTV show Bravo Youngsters (上线吧华彩少年) and was featured on the cover of Vogue Me in February 2021 alongside actual real-life celebrities.

Chinese virtual influencer Ling.

The number of Chinese virtual celebrities is expected to grow along with the growing market. In October of 2020, the Chinese variety show Dimension Nova (跨次元新星) first aired as a talent show scouting new virtual talent.

 
Virtual Commercials and Controversies
 

The growing influence of the virtual entertainment economy and culture in China is becoming more and more noticeable in pop music, commercial culture, and even in the sphere of politics.

Virtual celebrities are so popular that brands are also jumping in on this craze by hiring them as brand ambassadors or by creating their own cyber stars. Tencent’s Xing Tong, for example, modeled for Levi’s and sportswear brand Li Ning. Nuan Nuan, among others, was featured in a commercial for hair care brand LUX. Luo Tianyi appeared in campaigns for Huawei, Pizza Hut and KFC.

In January of 2021, McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador. They are not the only one: there are over thirty companies in China now using a virtual brand ambassador. The new McDonald’s idol was welcomed by Weibo users, where the news of her launch received 200 million views.

McDonald’s China announced their own virtual idol “Happy Sister” (开心姐姐) as a brand ambassador.

The virtual idol influence also became apparent when Japanese ‘Hololive’ virtual celebrities Akai Haato and Kiryu Coco recently got caught up in a diplomatic row because they referred to Taiwan as a “country” when discussing their YouTube channel analytics during a livestream, leading to controversy among their Chinese fanbase.

In a statement published on Bilibili by Cover (the Japanese company behind the Hololive talent agency that the virtual celebrities in question were under), the agency apologized for what had happened. Nevertheless, both virtual stars involved in the controversy were banned from Bilibili and eventually the entire Chinese Hololive branch was shut down.

This example shows that although virtual idols are generally regarded as a safe option for brands and companies because, unlike real celebrities, they are not likely to get caught up in scandals, it is still possible for them to spark controversy.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for virtual stars in China with still an enormous market for Luo Tianyi and others to conquer, with plenty of room for growth. From concerts to fashion shows to live streaming channels, from Weibo to Bilibili and beyond, we are bound to see virtual stars increasingly become a part of everyday life in China.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 

This text was written for 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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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Shoppers Are Going Absolutely Crazy over UNIQLO x KAWS Collection

Everybody wants KAWS – Chinese shoppers were even spotted fighting in front of a UNIQLO store today.

Manya Koetse

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First published

The Chinese sales of the UNIQLO KAWS collection are so crazy that the craze itself has become an online hit. “I don’t even like UNIQLO, I just like to compete,” some shoppers say.

Chinese shoppers are going completely crazy over the latest collection sold by Japanese fashion company UNIQLO (优衣库) today. The summer collection is a cooperation between UNIQLO and the renowned American artist and designer KAWS (Brian Donnelly).

It is not the first time for the American street artist to partner with the Japanese chain: they previously also collaborated on a Sesame Street-themed collection.

The current collection first started selling in mainland China stores in the early morning of Monday, June 3, and soon became a top trending topic on social media.

The online sales reportedly were sold out in seconds.

Photos and videos circulating on Weibo show people fighting to get into UNIQLO stores, pulling clothes off the shop mannequins, and buying piles of clothes from the stores (see embedded tweet below):

The hashtag “Everybody KAWS” (#全员kaws#) had received 140 million views on Weibo by Monday evening, China time.

Many netizens on Weibo are confused about the big hype surrounding the latest UNIQLO selection, with some wondering who KAWS is, and why people are so eager to wear his design.

Some commenters joke that it actually is not really about the KAWS collection at all, but more about the competition between shoppers on who can score the most clothes from the special product line.

The topic has set off various memes and online jokes, with some people saying: “I don’t think there is any need to learn self-defense skills. I only need to wear UNIQLO KAWS clothes, and no one will dare to touch me. They will all know that I can not only fight very well but also run very fast!”

Some memes suggest that KAWS sales have been so successful that everybody on the street or at work will walk around in the same t-shirts this week.

A meme that’s going viral saying: “Entering the office on Monday and seeing my colleagues…”

“I finally understand now,” one Weibo user writes: “What I love is not UNIQLO, nor KAWS – what I love is to rush and clash with all these people!”

The online sales of the UNIQLO x KAWS collection will start on June 6 in Europe. Its American sales started on Monday 10 AM ET.

Meanwhile, in China, the T-shirts that were bought for RMB 99 ($14) today are being resold online for four-five times their original price.

This is not the first time the Japanese UNIQLO brand becomes a viral hit on Chinese social media, albeit for different reasons. In 2015, the brand became the talk of the week when a naked girl and a man recorded an adult video in the fitting room of their Beijing flag store.

Also read:
* Chinese Kid Destroys Lego Sculpture Within Hour After It Is Displayed
* Kidnappers? Crazy Fans? No, It’s Chinese Parents on Their Kids’ First Day at School

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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

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