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The Success of China’s Hit Talk Show Qi Pa Shuo (U Can U Bibi)

The fourth season of China’s most popular online talk show Qi Pa Shuo is well underway. Using trendy design and funny sound effects, the show is a fresh debate competition where Chinese celebrities and showbiz newcomers discuss contemporary social and cultural issues. Qi Pa Shuo is a new type of entertainment show especially liked by China’s post-1980s and post-1990s generations for various reasons.

Manya Koetse

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The fourth season of China’s most popular online talk show Qi Pa Shuo is well underway. Using trendy design and funny sound effects, the show is a fresh debate competition where Chinese celebrities and showbiz newcomers discuss contemporary social and cultural issues. Qi Pa Shuo is a new type of entertainment show especially liked by China’s post-1980s and post-1990s generations for various reasons.

Not a week goes by without Qi Pa Shuo (奇葩说), an online talk show competition created by iQiyi (爱奇艺), becoming the focus of discussion on Chinese social media sites. Although the show is already in its fourth season, it is now more popular than ever.

Qi Pa Shuo is a contemporary talk show concept that brings together a group of very diverse – often funny and extravagant – Chinese people to debate various topics and dilemma’s relating to, amongst others, love, marriage, family, career, and friendship.

Qi Pa Shuo was first aired in November of 2014 and still has staggering viewer ratings. The talk show is also big on Weibo, where its official page has over 1,1 million fans. Hashtags related to the show often become trending topics.

The panel of hosts/judges on Qi Pa Shuo, led by He Jiong, a key figure in China’s entertainment industry.

The huge success of the show lies in its marketing and concept as a purely online variety show that brings a somewhat sophisticated form of celebrity entertainment.

 

LET’S GET IT ONLINE: BOOMING ONLINE VIDEO MARKET

“Chinese tech giant Xiaomi paid a staggering 140 million rmb (±20 million US$) to be Qipashuo’s main sponsor.”

 

Qi Pa Shuo is an online talkshow, meaning that is created by Chinese online video portal iQiyi, where it is streamed twice a week. It is also online in the sense that the show interacts with topics that come from Chinese online social media.

Although China still has a flourishing television market, younger audiences now prefer online streaming to traditional TV channels. China has the largest online population in the world, and 88% of its internet users watch online videos, either on mobile or computer.

This percentage is higher when it comes to the younger online audiences, with 90.6% of the post-95s generation visiting video websites.

iQiyi (爱奇艺) is one of the biggest online video platforms of China. Sometimes referred to as “China’s Netflix”, iQiyi is an ad-supported video portal that offers high-definition licensed content to registered users. Apart from its online library with a myriad of movies from China and abroad, iQiyi also has its own production studio that produces films and other online content.

With the creation of Qi Pa Shuo, iQiyi has made a smart move. Since the majority of iQiyi users are born post-1980s, the program caters to the interests of that generation – not just in terms of content, but also in terms of style and fashion. The show already had 260 million views and then 300 million views in its first and second season.

The show is free to watch but is heavily sponsored; not a scene goes by without seeing product placement. Chinese tech giant Xiaomi reportedly paid a staggering 140 million rmb (±20 million US$) to be Qi Pa Shuo’s main sponsor for the fourth season. The Xiaomi brand name is visible in the show’s logo and practically everywhere else in the studio.

Qi Pa Shuo’s host He Jiong with branded content from sponsors on his desk.

Besides Xiaomi and Head & Shoulders shampoo, Chunzhen Yoghurt is also a prominent sponsor of the show, with packs of the products standing on all desks and tables.

As mentioned, the show is not just broadcasted online, it also interacts with online topics; the issues addressed in the show are selected from different online Chinese Quora-like Q&A forums such as Baidu Zhidao and Zhihu.

The most popular online topics related to love, lifestyle & career are selected to come on the show. In selecting the topics this way, the producers already know that they are of interest to a great number of netizens.

 

RIGHT TOPICS, RIGHT PEOPLE

“Is it a waste for women with a higher education to become a full-time housewife?”

 

Over the past few years, Qi Pa Shuo has seen a myriad of topics, including:

– “Is it okay to check your partner’s mobile phone?”
– “Should you have a stable career by 30 or should you chase your dreams?”
– “Can you get married without being in love?”
– “Is it a waste for women with a higher education to become a full-time housewife?”
– “Should you push your friends to return the money you borrowed them?”
– “Could you be a single mum?”
– “Should you help a school friend who is being bullied in fighting back or do you tell the teacher?”
– “Will you be happier with or without buying a house?”

Participants on the show, some being established names and others newcomers to Chinese showbiz, battle against each other in two teams in who is the best debater and who has the best Chinese speech skills. Celebrity judges or ‘mentors’ have to comment on the performance of the debaters, and debaters also have to try to convince the audience.

Qi Pa Shuo is called ‘Let’s Talk’ or ‘U Can You BiBi’ in English (the latter is a wordplay on Chinglish), but its Chinese title can be roughly translated as “Weirdo’s Say” or “Unusual Talk.” The term “Qi Pa” (奇葩) is often used to describe someone or something that is very odd or unusual. Participants on the show, both the newcomers and the well-known faces, are outspoken personalities with a special way of talking or unique fashion style.

By bringing together an eclectic group of big names and newbies, Qi Pa Shuo has the best of both worlds; it is a platform that attracts viewers because it features some of China’s most loved celebrities (host He Jiong, for example, has 83.8 million followers on Weibo), and it also keeps fans curious and attracted by introducing some new faces (Hu Tianya, Yan Rujing, Jiang Sida, etc.) – many of which have already become major celebrities themselves since the start of the show.

Presenter Shen Xia a.k.a. Dawang (1989) gained popularity after appearing on Qipashuo as a debater.

Although many of the topics discussed are frivolous and funny (“What would you do if you found an egg placed by an alien?”), the show has also seen some groundbreaking moments since it first aired.

Yan Rujing (1991) had her major breakthrough after becoming a Qi Pa Shuo debater.

In 2015, an episode on whether or not gays should come out to their parents moved many people to tears when celebrity mentor Kevin Tsai (Cai Kangyong/蔡康永) spoke openly about coming out as homosexual during his career as a Taiwanese TV host.

In an emotional speech, Tsai shared his difficult experiences of being openly gay in the showbusiness and said he hoped to convince people that “we’re not monsters.”

The show also made headlines in 2016 when internet celebrity Xi Ming a.k.a. Chao Xiaomi came on the show to talk about how it is to be gender fluid and not conform to a certain gender.

Chao Xiaomi came on the show in 2016 and discussed experiences as gender fluid individual (image via Time Out Beijing 2016).

Reactions on Chinese social media show just how alive the issues discussed in Qi Pa Shuo are, as topics adressed during the show often turn into heated discussions on Sina Weibo and other social media platforms, where netizens give their own viewpoint or discuss why they think their favorite debater is the best public speaker.

 

IMPROVING SPEECH SKILLS

“Communicating, convincing, negotiating, public speaking, debating – it is a basic skill we use in everyday life, but really mastering it is not easy.”

 

Recently, the success of Qi Pa Shuo is also often discussed in the Chinese media. According to an article by Rednet.com, one important reason why the talk show is such a hit is because young people in China are increasingly interested in debating and improving speech skills.

The Rednet article argues that Qi Pa Shuo is part of a broader talk show entertainment genre that is currently becoming more popular, showing that after online games and more superficial types of entertainment, there is now a new group of online audiences who want to see entertainment that is a bit more sophisticated and educational.

The growing interest in speech skills is also evident looking at the success of the podcasts and books on how to speak that sprang from the show, initiated by mentor Ma Dong and debater Ma Weiwei. Having good debating skills and general eloquence is seen as an asset for one’s career and social status.

Ma Weiwei (left) and Ma Dong.

“Because Qipashuo recommended this book, I simply just bought it to read it,” one netizen says on Weibo: “Who does not want to be able to speak like people such as Ma Dong or Ma Weiwei, so composed and self-assured. The book is pretty good, it teaches people how to speak well and how to say the right thing, it all makes sense. Communicating, convincing, negotiating, public speaking, debating – it is a basic skill we use in everyday life, but really mastering it is not easy.”

“How to Speak Well”, the book that have sprung from the Qi Pa Shuo programme.

On Weibo there are also vloggers like Baituola Junior (@拜托啦学妹) who take the topics as discussed in Qi Pa Shuo and make people on the streets discuss them.

These kinds of videos and trends show the rise of a generation that has a passion for speaking their mind and building strong arguments. Qi Pa Shuo further stimulates this drive by showing that anyone – girl or boy, young or old, gay or straight, goofy or trendy, celebrity or not – can be an effective and witty speaker if they put their mind to it.

Qi Pa Shuo is broadcasted every Friday and Saturday at 20.00 at iQiyi.com.

– By Manya Koetse

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. 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 hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    Alex

    May 25, 2017 at 4:36 am

    Very interesting article! Is there somewhere I can watch this with English subtitles? My Chinese is not good enough to follow yet… I’m particularly interested in Chao Xiaomi’s episode about gender fluidity

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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.”

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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 Zhihu.com, 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

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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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