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Sad Sunshine After the Rain: Zhang Zhehan’s New Record Becomes #1 on iTunes

Zhang Zhehan’s latest song is his first success after he suffered scrutiny in China, but his song wasn’t released in the mainland.

Manya Koetse



Zhang Zhehan became a ‘tainted celebrity‘ in mainland China in 2021. Now, the Chinese singer is enjoying a major career comeback as his latest single is topping iTunes charts. Despite his success, Zhang’s comeback is taking place outside of China.

The past one and a half years have not been easy for Chinese actor and singer Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚, 1991). With his latest song becoming a top record in the worldwide iTunes charts, it seems that Zhang is finally seeing some sunshine after the rain.

Zhang Zhehan was a celebrated and award-winning artist in mainland China, especially known for his roles in Legend of Yunxi (2018), The Blooms at Ruyi Pavilion (2020) and the highly popular costume drama Word of Honor (2021).

Zhang got caught up in controversy in August of 2021 after photos surfaced online of the actor attending a wedding ceremony at the Japanese Nogi Shrine and of him visiting the area near the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Both shrines are historically sensitive places and are linked to Japanese militarism, war crimes, and the Sino-Japanese War.

These social media posts played an important role in Zhang Zhehan’s fall from grace in mainland China.

As the incident went completely viral, Zhang was harshly criticized. Although his loyal fans defended him, many netizens were less forgiving. The Zhang incident also came at a time when various Chinese celebrities were investigated, blacklisted, or banned, with an “entertainment circles earthquake” occurring at the time.

Despite issuing an apology statement, in which Zhang explained he was unaware of the historical significance of the places where he previously took photos, the incident had a profound impact on his life and career.

Brands working with Zhang Zhehan canceled their partnerships with the actor, Zhang’s account and an affiliated work account were suspended by Weibo, and his name was included on a ‘black list’ (or ‘warning list’) released by China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA/中国演出行业协会).

In December of 2021, What’s on Weibo published an Op-ed contribution by the founder of the Teddyfoxfluff blog which did a deep dive into the Zhang Zhehan controversy. In this article, the author claims that Zhang had become a victim of online fake news propagation and cyberbullying.

One important person who came to Zhang’s defense is the famous producer/distributor/actor Li Xuezheng (李学政), director of the Golden Shield Film and Television Center, who posted dozens of Weibo posts in which he questioned the criteria of the names that are included on the CAPA ‘warning list’ and how an entity such as China’s Association of Performing Arts could have the legal power to enforce disciplinary measures over Chinese celebrities beyond the realm of their own association membership circles.

After these challenging times, Zhang Zhehan’s latest song “Sad Sunshine Is Here” (憂傷的晴朗) has now finally been released and is out on Spotify and iTunes, where it soon soared to the top of the popular song charts of worldwide and U.S. iTunes.

Zhang’s “Sad Sunshine Is Here” ranked number one song on the American iTunes charts on 17 December, just two days after its release, according to iTunesCharts and Popvortex. The song’s success shows that Zhang still has many fans, also outside of China, supporting him throughout his ordeals.

Zhang Zhehan comes in at number one in U.S. iTunes top charts, via Popvortex.

“Sad Sunshine Is Here” is a dreamy popsong with cryptic and poetic lyrics. Zhang sings about the “devil’s curse”, “resurrection,” fireworks lighting up the sky and a “stormy sea in the blink of an eye” – enough to make fans connect the meaning of the song to what Zhang has experienced since 2021.

The ‘sad sunshine’ title perhaps also refers to the bitter-sweet experience of Zhang’s comeback. Although Zhang is stepping back into the limelight, it is not the limelight in the country he perhaps would have preferred, namely China, the motherland he himself said he “deeply loves.”

Zhang Zhehan’s new song is available on Western platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube, but it has not come out on Chinese music platforms.

Nevertheless, the song release did trigger discussions on Chinese social media platform Weibo, where some wondered if international listeners would understand how meaningful Zhang’s successful song release – without any major record companies backing it – actually is.

Still, many Chinese netizens praise Zhang’s sudden international success. “I’m so proud to be your fan,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

Many Chinese social media users did not spell out Zhang Zhehan’s name, hoping to circumvent potential censorship of his name.

“He’s rising on the world’s stage!” some commented.

“After 492 days, I am still waiting for your return,” another Weibo user wrote, referring to early August of 2021 when Zhang first got caught up in controversy.

Listen to Zhang Zhehan’s latest single here. To get more insights on just how difficult it is to rise up after being canceled as a celebrity in China, check out our article on ‘tainted’ celebrities in China here. For more about Zhang Zhehan, check our articles here. If you like what we do – please consider becoming a premium member to support us and get full access to all of our articles.

By Manya Koetse 


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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar


    December 19, 2022 at 1:20 am

    Thank you for the article. I thought to provide some additional third-party information from reputable sources with regard to the background about how Zhang Zhehan was framed:

    1. Legal talk given in 2022 by respected China legal scholar Wang Yong from Hong Fan Research Institute and China University of Political Science and Law about the defamation of Zhang Zhehan, with English subtitles:
    *You can verify the authenticity of the talk and the credentials of the speaker since he is famous in the China legal circle and is often invited on shows to talk about China law. In Chinese, this is his name, designation and related institutes: 洪范研究所/中国政法大学教授王涌

    2. Subtitled version of Zhang Zhehan’s IG video where he talks in first person about how he was framed as seen on Chinese Stars News:
    Should you wish to see the version of Zhang Zhehan’s on IG, you may go to

    3. Yahoo report about Zhang Zhehan speaking of how he was framed and about his criminal defamation report:

    4. Singapore’s Straits Times podcast which talked about the false rumours and how Zhang was framed:
    Time code: 00:48 Chinese entertainment/Zhang Zhehan update

  2. Avatar


    December 22, 2022 at 5:57 am

    Zhang Zhehan had a small part in the acclaimed Nirvana in Fire as the young General Lin Shu who was victim of political frame-up by evil rivals in the royal court. This is coincidentally parallel to what happened to him in real life. Given the geopolitical backdrop of China/US rivalry and American determination to beat China at all costs, this seems to be part of a soft power war using Zhang as a tool to manipulate public opinion against China.

  3. Avatar


    December 23, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    I’m very happy for this comeback, even if it’s only a partial one.
    I’m from Italy and I was very affected by his sad history. I was so incredulous and sad, I couldn’t understand or believe in what was so clearly a see of misinterpretations, misunderstandings, false accuses, absurdities and vicious lies…
    There are clearly hidden powers at work, and a great artist paid the cost. Shameful.

  4. Avatar


    January 11, 2023 at 12:04 pm

    It was obvious that there was an organized effort to defame Zhang Zhehan in Aug 2021, which seemed to have started way before that.
    – Zhehan himself has reported his case as being defamed.
    – There have been numerous research and findings that showed an organized cyber crime was committed that lead to the Aug 13, 2021 event.
    – All of the disinformation that were circulated were found to be started and circulated quickly by internet trolls.

    Frankly I cannot understand what is really going ok in China. Is it because one citizen out of 3 billion people is not significant, or some other hidden corrupted powerful forces / officials are behind the scenes pulling strings.

    More information about how a defamation campaign is designed and works is detailed in the following Ted Talk video:

    Another article about water army (paid internet fake accounts to manipulate public opinions):

    Article about how China influencer, who can be bought and paid for, can manipulate public opinion to the extreme of getting a professor fired:

    In recent congress meetings in China, the issue of cyber crime was discussed at length, Zhang Zhehan case was even brought up, but we still have not heard any good news yet…only a few officials and water army companies were caught since then.

    I do hope China will show to the world that its government is for the people at large, and not just for a few in power.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”




This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian


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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse



This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

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